Discover our International Dark-Sky Park! Our evenings begin with a half-hour children’s “Junior Astronomer” program, followed by a discussion about the importance of dark skies and light conservation. Then join NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) Ambassadors for a presentation on the latest news in astronomy. Finish the evening by relaxing and enjoying the night’s beauty with the members of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club for a tour of the night sky. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs and/or blankets. Feel free to bring your telescope or binoculars for your own exploration.
Entrance gates close one hour after the program start time.
Farms POSF board members, supporters ask supervisors hard questions on Sanitary District management transfer strategy
As noted in our first story on action items on the Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting agenda of Tuesday, May 17th, a contingent of seven speakers supported by five written messages forwarded to the board by people who could not attend the meeting, leveled scathing criticism at the county board and staff for actions or inaction related to the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary Districts’ management future.
And for a board majority elected over the past three years on a “reform” platform related to oversight lapses allowing the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial scandal to boil over to the tune of $21 million dollars, it must have been difficult to listen to accusations of possible financial misappropriations, coverups, and a lack of good-faith communications with taxpaying citizen stakeholders directed their way.
Weren’t those the very type of things these supervisors, particularly the three-person majority of Cheryl Cullers, Delores Oates, and Walt Mabe elected in November 2019, ran on platforms to change for the better?
But some constituents with roots in the Farms’ geographically sprawling subdivision in Mabe’s Shenandoah Magisterial District appear to feel those supervisors, along with the more recently elected Vicky Cook and Jay Butler, have collectively failed to live up to campaign promises concerning transparency, accountability, and constituent communications. Due to the Public Comments format, there was no response during the meeting by board members to the criticism leveled their way. Should a subsequent response be offered by board members to what they heard during the May 17 Public Comments, it will be covered in a future Royal Examiner story.
As previously reported, the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms Inc. (POSF) notice of termination of the 2011 Sanitary District Management Agreement between POSF and the County appeared to have been made with the intent of the Farms’ citizen-elected POSF Board retaking direct Sanitary District project management authority. That transfer of authority would take effect at the turn of the fiscal year on July 1, 2022. However, as a number of May 17th speakers, including POSF board members past and present, noted, the County staff and elected officials have ignored as many as six requests by the POSF board for face-to-face meetings to discuss the Farms Sanitary District management transfer. And without notice to the POSF Board of Directors, the County has moved toward a supervisor-appointed Farms Sanitary District “Advisory Board” with no involvement by the POSF.
Following Farms resident and longtime POSF critic Lynda McDonough’s somewhat rambling opening Public Comment beginning with a perceived threat to America’s national sovereignty from public health, global pandemic guidelines being established by the World Health Organization, among other topics unrelated to POSF, things took an unexpected Public Comments turn – not as if that initial comment was expected.
That turn was seven consecutive speakers to the 7:30 PM Public Hearing cutoff time, later followed by five of six more messages from citizens unable to be present at the meeting read into the record by Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi in support of the POSF’s past and future role as the project and maintenance management organization for the Farms Sanitary District.
The sixth letter from Kristin Iden to the board addressed other concerns, beginning with the overly physical taking into custody of 77-year-old Ralph Ennis by WC Sheriff’s Office deputies (Ennis later died) LINK-Body camera footage details circumstances of Ralph Ennis’s April 2 traffic stop; and issues with a deputy serving as a school resource officer she said had bragged to students about intentionally inflicting pain on suspects being cuffed and arrested.
But back to the majority-referenced topic of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District management, speakers supporting the POSF were in turn Tracie Lane, Patrick Skelley, Doris Harrington, Joe Longo, Ryan Messinger, Kathleen George, and Jesse Lepinsky. Beginning with Lane those speakers are called starting at the 7:50 mark of the linked County video. Messages later read into the meeting record in support of the POSF were from POSF Chairman Ralph Rinaldi, Norman Nelson, Laura Corebello, Bruce Boyle, and Dr. Stephanie Shaefer. Those letters are read into the meeting record beginning at the 1:00:10 mark of the meeting video.
All those supporters seemed to have something in common, either current or past POSF board service or involvement with that board as a concerned Farms citizen. Leading off the negative critique of the supervisors and staff was Tracie Lane. She opened by citing her disappointment in having to bring the POSF Board’s concerns about the county’s current elected officials and Sanitary District involved staff publicly forward. Lane’s comments outlined the range of issues the board would hear from those following her to the speaker’s podium.
“For more than a year we have been trying to serve the property owners of Shenandoah Farms by being good stewards of the resources of the community. Repeatedly our requests were ignored.
Finally we accepted that transparency on the part of Warren County wasn’t going to happen and took action and gave notice that we intended to take back the management of our Sanitary District,” Lane said of the POSF notice of intent to terminate the 2011 Management Agreement handing lead authority to the County.
“But instead of the civility one would expect from the board of supervisors for whom many of us voted, we were yet again ignored. When we asked for meetings to work together on the transition, we discovered that instead of answering our questions and working with us to resolve these concerns, we, the elected POSF Board were to be replaced by appointees. This stinks of an attempt to keep all of us, board members and property owners, in the dark. It stinks of a coverup,” Lane continued. – But coverup of what?
On a side note to the background of the 2011 shift of project management oversight to the County, it must be noted that the POSF had served the management role for the Farms Sanitary District from its creation in 1995, until that 2011 agreement. Several prominent POSF critics have given credit for that 2011 management shift to themselves and like-minded Farms citizens. However as would later be referenced by Patrick Skelley during his comments to the board, Rinaldi has noted that he as POSF board chairman at the time brought the suggested shift to direct County oversight forward due to that POSF board’s inexperience in handling a growing annual budget that had soared as high as $800,000. Recently Rinaldi has said he believes the current board is much more experienced to handle such high-dollar budgets, as the POSF has lost faith in the County’s current capacity to do so. That is a theme that would be revisited somewhat harshly several speakers later.
“The Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District is not the personal piggy bank of Warren County,” Lane continued Tuesday evening, adding, “The concerns I have imply that Warren County, not only want their collective hand in the piggy bank, but want the entire bank to themselves. Why else would you choose to appoint a new board, rather than meet with the existing board?” Lane asked those supervisors she faced from the speakers’ podium.
“While I wait for civility and respect, until we meet let me share with you a list of my concerns,” Lane said as she initiated an impromptu POSF-BOS meeting with the remainder of her 3-minute speaker’s time allotment. Those concerns included “Financial” which she began by citing a “lack of financial reports and a failure to respond to requests for those reports for more than 18 months.”
But she was only getting started.
“How has the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District balance sheet shed $700,000 in 30 days? Last time we were here it’s at $2.7 million and when the financial sheet that we finally got the day before our meeting on Saturday, it’s now at $2.04 (million). Where is the carryover from the last two years?” she asked referencing other financial variables involving the Sanitary District manager salary and out-of-Sanitary District budget transfers.
Patrick Skelley followed Lane to the speaker’s podium with a vote of support for the POSF retaking management control of the Sanitary District. He also expressed “gratitude to the County for the administration that they’ve done since they were requested by us” to take over those administrative duties in 2011.
“A lot of people are misinformed and think that we were taken over because of some degree of malfeasance, which has never been proven. Of course, social media is such an accurate reflection of reality,” Skelley joked of a preferred means of communication among some who like to sit on the sidelines and point fingers at those willing to undertake the work necessary to take on subdivision or Sanitary District management responsibilities.
Doris Harrington was next in line in support of the POSF and its elected board of directors of which she noted she was a current member. After acknowledging fellow board member Tracie Lane’s issues brought forward, Harrington observed that, “When we originally wrote our letter of intent telling you that we believed we could effectively manage the Sanitary District ourselves, that our present board had the commitment, the expertise and we felt we could exhibit the sense of common purpose and unity that would allow us for a better meeting of goals for the Shenandoah Farms residents – Nowhere in that letter did I see anything that would lead me to believe that you would dissolve our board if we withdrew from our contract.
“And yet that seems to be what you intend to do. And I’m wondering why. Most of you don’t know all of us on the board … I don’t know why you would appoint X number of people that may or may not have any knowledge of how Shenandoah Farms functions. I would really appreciate an answer to that question,” Harrington told the supervisors, adding that no information had been circulated on the process of the proposed appointed “advisory board” as to makeup, meeting schedule, or qualifications if any.
Her second question involved the lack of response from the board or its staff to what she said were five or six POSF requests “I am aware of” for meetings with county officials on the management transfer.
“Not only do we not get granted a meeting with you; we don’t even get acknowledged … And that just seems so discourteous and so unprofessional. I’m disappointed, I’m disheartened, and I’m very concerned for the residents of Shenandoah Farms,” Harrington concluded.
POSF Board member Joe Longo was next to the podium and things were about to be taken up a notch. He began by citing numerous social, legal, and infrastructure issues the Farms subdivision faced when he moved there 26 years ago. “The sheriff at the time called the roads creek beds and wouldn’t let his deputies drive over them. The Fire Department couldn’t get its equipment to calls.
“Our community was called ‘where the sleaze meets the trees’ in a local newspaper article,” Longo said of the myriad issues he had not been unaware of when he moved into the Shenandoah Farms subdivision. Becoming aware, Longo said he got involved with the POSF Inc. to try and help address the subdivision’s image and reality.
Eventually, during the POSF’s initial run as the Sanitary District’s hands-on management entity Longo noted he became the Sanitary District’s first manager: “I picked up trash, cut back trees, cut grass and did repairs on the community center and the docks. The creation of the Sanitary District made this possible, as well as road construction and road repairs … and as the roads became drivable the local contractors started building. The revenue increased and we were able to repair more roads,” he said of the experience and improvements wrought through the Sanitary District designation.
However, everything wasn’t rosy back then either he observed.
“When I was out working people would stop and threaten me – and they would accuse me of all kinds of things. So, what you’re doing is not new to me and it’s not new to the long-term board members,” Longo said pointedly to the supervisors.
“Until the last couple of years the county government has been a willing and helpful partner in the improvement of our community. We were all shocked at the EDA scandal. We’re now being treated like we’re a part of that somehow. You came in and got rid of all the people who knew what they were doing in this county for the past two decades,” Longo said appearing to reference without specifically citing the forced departure of long time County Administrator Doug Stanley followed shortly by the resignation of Deputy County Administrator and Sanitary District Manager Bob Childress, the latter who brought an earlier career with VDOT to the table of his Sanitary District responsibilities.
“Now you are lost, without a clue. You don’t know how to make this county work. And since you took control our road construction has stopped. We have no clue where our tax money is. We’re still getting road maintenance; we’re still getting snow removal – but we were getting that for $50 a year,” Longo said of Sanitary District fees of 20 or more years ago.
Earlier in his remarks Longo observed that during that earlier time Sanitary District lot fees were $50 per year, compared to $350 now. He also said that between those early days and now, 1700 homes had been added in the Farms to increase the lot-fee Sanitary District tax revenue base.
“Our community has paid millions of dollars in road construction taxes and nothing to show for it. And now you want to do a hostile takeover. You want to bring the same incompetent mismanagement to Shenandoah Farms that you brought to Warren County,” Longo said as Board Chair Cheryl Cullers attempted to get the speaker to wrap up with an expired time notice.
However, Longo was just getting up a head of steam as he continued.
“You’re stealing our road tax money and that’s embezzlement – you’re taking it and using it to pay Warren County bills. And that makes you a criminal organization,” Longo told the “reform board” of his theory of how the Farms Sanitary District money was being misdirected, as Cullers tried again, telling the speaker, “And your time’s up, sir. Thank you,” to which Longo concluded with a flourish, “We’ve invested too much into our homes and our community to let you screw it up,” as he turned from the podium.
“Anyone else, Mrs. Ciarrocchi?” the chair asked the board clerk, which led to three more speakers coming forward to carry the same pro-POSF management theme forward, if somewhat less aggressively perhaps, to the 7:30 PM cutoff for the evening public hearings on scheduled agenda items.
Those speakers were Ryan Messinger, Kathleen George, and Jesse Lepinsky. From their individual perspectives, each addressed themes previously mentioned that revolved around the current supervisors seeming to have taken the side of a few, often vocal POSF critics who admittedly don’t generally bother to become directly involved with POSF meetings on Sanitary District management issues, but choose to criticize and accuse of financial or procedural improprieties at distance.
Some POSF supporters might have wondered if earlier assertions of intentional financial misappropriations of Farms Sanitary District tax revenue by current county officials, and an attempt to cover such misuse up, was the bottom line of the County’s moves against POSF or could it be something more obtuse. Obtuse as in a psychological identification with critics at a distance who scapegoat those in the trenches of day-to-day Sanitary District or County management for removal over alleged, if unproven, misdeeds, as fellow “reformers”.
But we all may have to be on “the couch” way too long to ascertain an answer to that looming question.
McFadden bows out of mayoral race, throws support to Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell
Front Royal Town Councilman Joe McFadden has announced, through a media release from the Warren County Republican Committee, that he is withdrawing from his mayoral campaign.
In a recent release sent by GOP spokesman Steven Kurtz, McFadden wrote, “I have realized that I simply do not have the time required to collect signatures or run a campaign to get elected to the position of Mayor of Front Royal. I also understand that the level of time commitment needed to be Mayor may be more than I would be able to accommodate at this point in my life. When I announced I was running, I asked that you all vet the very best candidate. I’ve been working behind the scenes to do that very thing too.”
McFadden indicated that he and Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell “had a long discussion after which we agreed that Lori would take my place and run for Mayor.”
McFadden stated in the release, “Over the past several months, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that Lori is in fact the best choice for the WCRC endorsement and for all Front Royal citizens.”
Contacted by telephone, McFadden told Royal Examiner that he remained committed to serving the citizens but felt he could best serve his constituents by supporting Cockrell in her run. He acknowledged that while the town council and mayoral races are supposed to be nonpartisan, he felt the Warren County Republican Committee would endorse Cockrell’s bid for mayor.
McFadden pointed out in the release that Cockrell “has my full committed support. I hope she will also garner the committee’s support as she collects signatures and campaigns to be the Mayor of Front Royal.”
Royal Examiner reached out to Cockrell, who replied via email, “After much prayer and following a long discussion with many family members and friends, I have decided to seek the endorsement of my party for a term as Mayor of the Town of Front Royal.
In the coming weeks, I plan to meet with the citizens of Front Royal on their doorstep and seek their advice on the direction of the town government over the next two years. Based on those discussions, I intend to propose a series of goals the town could achieve if I am fortunate enough to be elected Mayor. If elected, I will work closely with the council in both settings and achieve those goals. I greatly appreciate Councilman McFadden’s support of my candidacy.”
Mayor Chris Holloway was elected to serve a four-year term from January 2019 to December 2022. He previously served as Councilman from 2008 to 2010 and as Vice Mayor from 2010 to 2012. He indicated earlier this year that he would not launch a mayoral campaign.
In addition to Cockrell throwing her hat into the ring, councilman Gary Gillespie announced his bid for the mayor’s seat earlier this spring.
Holly Marie Bradshaw (1977 – 2022)
Holly Marie Bradshaw, 44, of Front Royal, Virginia, passed away on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in the comfort of her home.
A graveside service date and time will be posted in the upcoming days.
Holly was born on November 8, 1977, in Maryland to her mother, Mary Jane Jones. Holly enjoyed knitting, crafting, and making beautiful art. She was deeply loved by her family.
Surviving Holly is her loving husband of 10 years, Phillip Bradshaw; her mother, Mary Jones; her brother, Matt Slemmer; her sister in law, Michelle Bradshaw; her niece, Audrey Bakker; her father in law, George Bradshaw; her mother in law, Matilde Bradshaw; and numerous extended family members.
Strasburg Councilman John Massoud announces candidacy for State Senate
John Massoud recently announced his candidacy for the newly created 1st state senate District, which encompasses Shenandoah, Clarke County, Frederick County, Warren County, and Winchester City.
“After some deliberation and prayers from friends and family, we have decided to run for State Senate,” said Massoud.
“As State Senator, I will be the 21st conservative vote in bringing down Senator Louise Lucas’s Liberal “Brick Wall ” stonewalling Governor Youngkin and Speaker Gilbert’s legislation. I will vote to cut the gas tax, end the grocery tax, restore our constitutional right to bear arms and repeal red flag, support pro-life legislation to end taxpayer-funded abortion and late-term abortion in Virginia, and pass pro parent common-sense policies to put a stop to masking and woke bureaucrats shoving liberal nonsense down our kids’ throats. I will also ensure that ALL Virginian’s religious freedoms are respected and oppose so-called COVID mandates that only mean more government and less liberty.”
Massoud added: “My father moved to America in 1962 after my father was forced to leave because he refused to convert to Islam and renounce his Christian faith. America is the land of promise, but every day radical leftist policies encroach on our religious, social, and personal freedom. I am running because it’s time we stood up and said no to more government, more mandates, and win back Virginia for conservatives. If I am privileged to serve in the State Senate, I will be fighting for our Valley Values in Richmond.
Governor Glenn Youngkin announces the restoration of rights for thousands of Virginians
Governor Glenn Youngkin announced on May 20, 2022, that civil rights have been restored to 3,496 Virginians. The consideration for restoration of rights is coordinated by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the Department of Corrections, with thorough consideration by the Department of Elections, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, and the Compensation Board.
“I am encouraged that over 3,400 Virginians will take this critical first step towards vibrant futures as citizens with full civil rights,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “Individuals with their rights restored come from every walk of life and are eager to provide for themselves and their families and put the past behind them for a better tomorrow.”
“The restoration of rights process provides a fresh step forward for individuals who have made mistakes but have done their duty to our community and wish to be full and productive citizens of our Commonwealth,” said Secretary Kay Coles James. “I look forward to their successful futures.”
The administration will be restoring rights on an ongoing basis. Individuals looking to have rights restored and meet the criteria should visit www.restore.virginia.gov. Applicants waiting for rights to be restored may check the status of an application online.
School division proposes grading policy changes, relocating LFK students during construction
The superintendent and staff at Warren County Public School (WCPS) earlier this week detailed proposed plans for an updated division-wide grading policy, as well as where to relocate students during upcoming renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School.
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and other division staff provided information and recommendations to Warren County School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice-Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins during the board’s Wednesday, May 18 work session.
In discussing updates to the grading policy, Ballenger told the board that he has been meeting with three committees of teachers and administrators from elementary, middle, and high schools to revise the current policy, which most recently was updated in January 2018.
Ballenger’s presentation to the School Board included the recommended changes by each of the committees at the respected level, and he said a final draft will be presented to the board for consideration.
“We have been able to put out a decent product that teachers are proud of,” Ballenger said about the draft grading policy document.
One of the “biggest changes,” he said, includes the addition of definitions for several terms, including ‘no credit,’ which is defined as a zero for an assignment in middle or high school.
Ballenger explained that all three committees felt it was important to define what no credit means. “It means that you’re not getting anything,” he said. “We needed to make sure that students, parents, teachers, and everybody understood that no credit means a zero.”
For instance, the proposed high school grading policy states that credit will only be given for assignments that are attempted. No credit will be awarded for any assignments that are not attempted.
At the teacher’s discretion, students may be permitted to make up, retake, and/or correct material in a timely manner as appropriate to the course pacing, and students must schedule a time with the teacher that may fall outside of the course’s normal class time, according to the draft document.
The goal, said Ballenger, is to “make sure students take some responsibility for their grades.”
Pence, who said she appreciated the work that’s gone into drafting an updated grading policy, said: “This is going to be a hard year for some students, but hopefully, this gets them better prepared for the real world and college.”
WCPS is now seeking public input on this and all of the proposed grading policy changes. Click here to read through the draft policy.
Draft grant applications presented
WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille, who is also the principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, and WCPS Coordinator Title I & Title III Donna Boies presentation to School Board members with details for the school division’s Title I, II, III, and IV draft grant applications.
The Title I-A, II-A, III-A, and IV-A applications seek federal funding to improve basic instructional programs, teacher and principal training and recruiting, support for language instruction for English learners, and to increase the capacity of school divisions to provide all students with access to a well-rounded education, according to the administrators.
While no motion was needed on Wednesday from the School Board, Rudacille and Boies said a motion and vote for approval of the grant applications will be requested at the board’s June 1, meeting. They wanted to give board members a chance to go through the draft applications now before making any decision on them next month.
Where will LFK students go?
Division staff pointed out that with the construction of the LFK renovations scheduled to start in January 2023, there are several considerations to make now prior to the start date so that the board can make decisions and parents can be notified. Students will be relocated beginning in August, they said.
“We have to have a plan in place,” said Ballenger, who added that staff is looking at its options and what would be the best choices to ensure consistency for students, as well as accommodating for construction.
For instance, one of the challenges is limited space on the LFK property site that will not allow for modular buildings to be utilized for the duration of the project, which is slated to be completed by August 2024, said Livesay.
Ballenger added that the topography at LFK also poses an issue since the school is on a hill. And it’s not feasible to put a modular unit on the asphalt where it would take up parking spaces. Livesay noted associated additional costs to installing modulars, as well.
LFK Assistant Principal Jessica Vacca agreed with Ballenger’s recommendation to relocate fifth-grade students to Warren County Middle School during specific construction phases. The school’s administrators have experience with such a move because that’s what was done during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when students had to socially distance themselves.
Having a school with over 530 students, no walls, and no doors made it difficult to keep students at LFK during the pandemic, so the fifth graders went to the middle school. Vacca said that students and parents did well with that strategy.
Relocating pre-kindergarteners is also a consideration, said Hirsch. Some of the options suggested included moving their classes into available spaces at other elementary schools during renovations or to the Riverton United Methodist Church, which has offered class space to WCPS.
Hirsch noted that there are many students with disabilities among the incoming class of preschoolers who will need specific accommodations, as well, and he noted that minimizing their transitions is key.
Smith said there are also bus considerations to make, as well as food service, access to a nurse, ensuring the facility is ADA compliant, that there are sufficient communications available, and green space for outdoor play. “These are just some of the challenges to overcome,” he said.
Rinaldi said he supports the division’s current plan and recommendations and added that there’s always room for adjustments to be made.