On Monday, January 30, Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe and Councilman William Sealock gathered an informal meeting with Town staff to formulate a plan to address and improve pedestrian safety in Town. Two pedestrians struck and killed within a two-week period in January prompted the meeting. Tharpe said it was Sealock who suggested an immediate staff sit-down to address traffic safety concerns.
Just prior to the meeting’s 1 p.m. start, Sealock commented that in his workplace experience if there was a fatality – “EVERYTHING STOPPED!” That pause in the conduct of normal business routine was made in order to ascertain WHY and HOW to prevent a recurrence – and so it was Monday.
Also present were Interim Town Manager Joe Waltz, Planning Director Jeremy Camp and a trio from the Front Royal Police Department: Acting Chief Bruce Hite and Captains Kevin Nicewarner and Jason Ryman. The FRPD contingent referenced four applicable State Codes regarding pedestrian and vehicular traffic encounters as a backdrop to the discussion. Those included marked crosswalks giving pedestrians right of way; jaywalking codes; guidelines in “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” signalized crosswalks; and pedestrians entering roads from visually-obstructed positions.
But even more than the law and its enforcement, the discussion evolved around how best to heighten public awareness and elevate common sense in conjunction with existing traffic laws to reduce the likelihood of more vehicular-foot traffic collisions.
Front Royal’s two pedestrian fatalities in the first 23 days of 2017 both occurred during early-evening rush hour traffic on two primary entrances into Town.
On January 11 at 6:30 p.m. 56-year-old Jeffery Green was struck by a westbound (into Town) vehicle at the 800 block of John Marshall Highway (Rt. 55 East) not far from Royal Lane on the Town southeast side.
On January 23 at 6:15 p.m. 54-year-old Annette Suggate was attempting to cross North Shenandoah Avenue near 15th Street when she was struck by a vehicle that had just turned left off of 14th Street, heading northbound toward the South Fork Bridge construction.
Both Green and Suggate succumbed to their injuries a short time after the accidents after being transported by emergency services from the respective scenes.
The accidents had several things in common:
- neither Green nor Suggate was walking in a marked pedestrian crossing;
- both accidents occurred during rush hour on high-volume Town entranceways;
- both areas contain a mix of residential and commercial development – the northside scene in particular has both private home and motel accommodations, with convenience store and fast-food options on the other side of the street;
- and both were on multiple lane streets – North Shenandoah Ave. is five lanes and John Marshall Hwy. goes from two lanes to five just prior to Royal Lane and the 800 block.
Sealock asked Waltz to take the lead in developing a plan of action, including prioritization of “how to tackle” the problem with an eye on immediate results in preventing recurrences. Asked for a timeframe, Waltz said dependent on the availability of law enforcement – “They are the boots on the ground,” Waltz observed – he believed at least a strategical outline could be brought forward within a week.
Several paths forward were suggested. One was the use of media outlets in educating the public to the problem and increasing awareness on BOTH ends of the equation – foot and motorized travel inside the Town limits. High on the list of that public educational initiative are what the laws of pedestrian traffic and right of way actually are, basic safety precautions, and heightened driver awareness of pedestrians and the potential of their entering traffic zones.
Revisiting existing marked pedestrian crosswalks, the potential of additions, ongoing maintenance and coordination with changing traffic patterns also appeared high on the group’s to-do list.
Wildcat golfers suffer close loss to Hawks
The WCHS Golf team had a match Wednesday, September 18, at Shenandoah Valley Golf Course in Front Royal. The team lost a hard fought match against Skyline High School 191 – 194. WCHS Coach, Matt Wadas, stated that “although they lost the match, the team had fun and played well. Jackson Pond posted a personal best of 47.”
WCHS junior Michael Kelly was top finisher for the Wildcats, placing second in the match, shooting a 45. Jackson Pond placed third overall in the match. First year Wildcat Will Waller shot a 50, placing third for Wildcats.
The Wildcats’ next match will be the District Conference Match on Monday, September 23 at Bryce Resort Golf Course at Basye, VA.
FRPD project ‘double draw’ draws EDA Finance Committee’s attention
The so-called January double draw on the United Bank account the Economic Development Authority is using to pay for work or debt service on the Front Royal Police Station project was a topic of conversation at Friday morning’s EDA Finance Committee meeting. The double draw involves a second deposit from the EDA’s Construction Account into its checking account from which payments are made.
It came to light in recent weeks that a January 30 transfer of $1.1 million to the EDA checking account was not necessary because of a January 8 transfer of $2.8 million from which funds were still available.
Finance Committee Chairman and EDA Treasurer Tom Patteson raised the issue, stating, “Nothing was lost, stolen or misdirected.” He added that the Town, for whom the EDA has been overseeing project payments, had not been charged interest for the period of time the second checking account deposit had been received until the requisition for project payments utilizing the second deposit.
Retired Warren County Finance Director Carolyn Stimmel, who has been helping with the audit and bookkeeping review of EDA finances in the wake of the financial fraud investigation, observed that the second draw was made during a time of transition for the EDA. That transition included the hiring of an interim executive director for resigned Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.
Stimmel noted that one thus far unsolved mystery of the second January draw on the construction account was that no draw request signed by an authorized EDA official has been discovered.
“The process was flawed but the money was used for the correct purpose,” Committee member Jorie Martin noted, adding, “There was no malfeasance,” in that once deposited into the payment checking account the money was eventually used for payments on the FRPD headquarters project.
“We do want an explanation of how this happened,” current EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons told the committee and media present.
The January 30 deposit carried a draw notice addressed to then EDA and County Attorney Dan Whitten stating the deposit was being made “upon your request”. But prior to his weekend departure for the county attorney’s job in Prince George County, Virginia, Whitten said he hadn’t made the request and noted he didn’t have the authority to make it. He also has indicated in the past that the January 8 draw was set in motion by former EDA Executive Director McDonald prior to her December 20 resignation.
EDA Treasurer Patteson and others with the authority to request the draw at the time have also denied having requested the second January draw. Bank officials have not yet publicly commented or responded to requests for information about where the impetus for the January 30 draw came from.
So while the process remains a mystery under investigation, according to the EDA the end result seems to be mysteriously-transferred money spent on what it was supposed to be spent on, without undue expense to the Town of Front Royal.
The Finance Committee also discussed negotiations and the bid process on several outstanding projects. Those include repairs on the residential apartment building at 514 East Main Street attached to the old Stokes Mart building at 506 East Main; roof repairs at 1325 Progress Drive in the EDA’s Happy Creek Technology Park; and a contract negotiation on the Fairgrounds Road property. Prior to his early departure from the 11 a.m. committee meeting, Greg Harold told the committee he had another meeting with the Afton Inn developers on a mutually agreeable path forward.
Harold has previously told the EDA board that the developer is anxious to be allowed to resurrect the project halted upon filing of the EDA civil litigation in March due to the alleged use of the project to move some misdirected EDA assets. However the development group 2 East Main Street LLC was not cited as involved in that alleged misdirection of EDA assets. The EDA suit contends that former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald utilized project funds for unauthorized transfers for personal use.
The EDA hopes to have several bids in place on repairs to the 514 East Main Street apartments within the week. It has given the three displaced tenants notice the EDA will stop covering their living expenses in a nearby motel as of September 30. Parsons later noted the tenants will be allowed to apply their rent payments to their accommodations until they are resituated in the repaired apartments.
Conversation early in the meeting indicated that Interim County Attorney Jason Ham of Litten & Sipe LLP had declined to also serve as EDA attorney. Parsons later explained that Ham indicated potential conflicts of interest between the County and EDA Attorney roles due to the swirling civil litigation had made him uncomfortable serving in both positions.
The EDA will utilize the services of counsel from Sands-Anderson, the Richmond-based company handling the EDA’s civil suit filed March 26. Bids on legal services long term are expected to be in by Monday. The EDA is exploring the use of independent counsel from the County’s in the wake of the prevalence of potential conflicts of interest that became increasingly apparent as the financial investigation and consequent litigation evolved in recent months.
See the entire open meeting of the EDA Finance Committee in this Royal Examiner video:
Warren County Sheriff’s Office responds to incident near Target
Warren County, VA- On September 19, 2019 at approximately 2:17 pm, Warren County Sheriff’s Office Communications received a call about a male subject, exhibiting signs of a mental health issue, in the grassy are between Target and the south bounds lanes of Rt. 522 north.
Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived on scene and observed a male subject, wearing only boxer shorts, walking around erratically while holding a sharp edged weapon against his torso.
Assisting deputies arrived and quickly established a perimeter, containing the male to the grassy area.
Crisis Negotiation Team members arrived on scene and established communications with the male. A short time later, the male subject dropped the weapon and was taken into custody without incident. After refusing EMS attention on scene, he was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital for a mental health evaluation.
Warren County Sheriff’s Office personnel were assisted by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Warren County Fire and Rescue.
Contact for this incident is Lieutenant Bockey at 540-635-4128 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
WCHS Cross Country Teams place 2nd in Central Quad Meet
Both Warren County Girls and Boys Cross Country teams placed 2nd at the Central (Woodstock) quad meet on Wednesday, September 18th, 2019. Competing in the meet were WCHS, William Monroe, George Mason, and Central High Schools, which was held at the North Street Park in Woodstock, VA.
The top three WCHS runners in the Boys’ race from were DJ Staton, finishing 1st overall; Malachi Quinn, 5th overall; and Patrick Trautlein, 8th overall. Top runners from WCHS in the Girls’ race were Ryleigh Breeden, 2nd overall; Nicole Ranney, 4th overall; and Kiersten Tanner, 5th overall.
Both teams next compete on September 28, 2019 at the Uniontown Invitational (PA).
Warren County School Board preps for superintendent search
FRONT ROYAL — Warren County School Board members on Wednesday started to get their ducks in a row regarding the forthcoming selection process for the next school district leader to replace current Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Greg Drescher, 59, who announced his retirement plans earlier this month.
“We need to have a discussion about how we want this process to go,” said School Board Chairwoman Catherine Bower during the work session portion of the School Board’s September 18th meeting.
“We have two new board members coming on in January and I think it’s probably not in our best interest to go ahead and start the search now,” Bower said. “We probably ought to think about appointing an interim superintendent and begin the search in January when the new board comes on so that they have a say in the process.”
In addition to Drescher retiring at the end of the year, terms are up at year’s end for School Board members Donna McEathron, who represents the South River District, and Vice Chairman Douglas Rosen, who represents the Shenandoah District. Neither are running for re-election in November.
North River District School Board Member Arnold Williams Jr. is running for re-election in November; his term ends on December 31.
Each of the five School Board members serve four-year terms. Terms for both Bower, who represents the Fork District, and for James Wells, who represents the Happy Creek District, end on December 31, 2021.
Bower suggested that members set a March 2020 deadline to hire a new superintendent. Wells, Rosen, and Williams agreed that was a good idea. McEathron gave no input.
More discussions about the superintendent search will be had, the chairwoman added.
Drescher on September 6 released a statement announcing his retirement, effective January 1, 2020. He has clocked 37 years in education, the last five years as the WCPS superintendent.
At the same time, Drescher has been on the fringes of the local Economic Development Authority (EDA) financial scandal, finding himself included in mounting public criticism as one of the primary public officials who could have prevented the alleged fraud and embezzlement. He’s been simultaneously holding the superintendent’s position for WCPS and sitting on the EDA Board of Directors — serving as chairman in 2017-18 when years of suspected EDA wrongdoing started to unfold.
Nevertheless, Drescher denied any related burnout factor.
“This is totally about my wife — this has been on the horizon for a while,” Drescher told the Royal Examiner on Sept. 7, referring to the health challenges faced by his wife, Debbie Drescher, also a former educator.
“The stage that she is in now is accelerating my retirement plans so that we can enjoy more time together,” according to his statement. “While certainly not the exact path I would be choosing, it is the right thing to do and I have no doubt will be best for all concerned.”
In another work session item, WCPS Maintenance Director Greg Livesay provided School Board members with a cost estimate for modular classrooms that would be placed at A.S. Rhodes Elementary School while renovations are completed this school year.
“We need modular units to create that swing space, or empty space, to provide the contractor more space to work within the school,” said Livesay.
He passed out a cost estimate from Charlotte, N.C.-based Mobile Modular Management Corp., which would deliver, set up, and install decks and ramps for four 24-by-34 modular classroom units at the school for just over $46,000. The company also would remove the units for an additional $29,000, according to the estimate.
The monthly rental of each modular unit for 18 months would run another $49,920 total; the electrical would cost roughly $15,000; and the poured footers for each unit — if required by the County — would tack on another $17,550, bringing the estimated total price tag to more than $157,000.
Livesay said the modular units would be located on the pad outside the school’s gymnasium, which inside would serve as temporary space for another four or five classrooms.
“That’ll free up about 75 percent of the building for the general contractor to be able to do his work throughout the school year,” said Livesay.
Regarding the general contractor bids for the A.S. Rhodes renovations, Livesay said the original bid due date, which was September 19, has been extended one week to next Thursday, September 26. He’s given several companies a tour of the school building to explain the scope of the work and said he will provide more tours this week.
“It appears we’ve generated more interest this time with this pre-bid,” he said.
School Board members also held a closed meeting to discuss, consider or interview “prospective candidates for employment; assignment, appointment, promotion, performance, demotion, salaries, disciplining or resignation of employees of the School Board, specifically two employee personnel issues,” according to the agenda. WCPS Director of Personnel George “Buck” Smith also attended the closed session.
No announcements were made following the closed session.
To view the entire discussion of these and other meeting topics, watch the Royal Examiner video:
Virginia First Lady visits E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School
As part of her annual statewide tour of Head Start programs, child care classrooms and elementary schools, Virginia first lady Pamela Northam on September 19th included E. Wilson Elementary School as part of her tour to highlight the importance of early childhood education. Steven Schetrom, Executive Director for the United Way of Front Royal-Warren County coordinated the tour with the first lady as part of their ongoing partnership with Warren County Public Public Schools.
First Lady Pamela Northam will visit early childhood education programs and elementary schools in each of the Commonwealth’s eight Superintendent Regions, highlighting the importance of school readiness.
In July, Governor Northam signed Executive Director Four, establishing the Executive Leadership Team on School Readiness that will be responsible for developing a plan to ensure that all at-risk three and four-year-olds in Virginia have access to a quality, subsidized early education option by 2025. Executive Directive Four also instructs state agencies to develop a uniform measurement and improvement system and make recommendations for streamlining early childhood governance at the state level.
This year all kindergarten teachers in Virginia public schools will be using the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program (VKRP) to evaluate and better support each child entering kindergarten. Through VKRP, families and educators will work together closely to build children’s literacy, math, and socio-emotional skills so they start off school fully prepared to succeed during the kindergarten year and into the future.
Before her arrival, Mike McCool, publisher of the Royal Examiner spoke with Principal Shane Goodwin, along with Jenny Dunivan, M.Ed, Family Engagement Coordinator for the Warren County Public Schools, James Wells, Warren County School Board member and Steven Schetron, Executive Director of the United Way. Donald Lambert and Rich Cooley from the Northern Virginia Daily were also present and asked several questions as well. After her visit at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, the first lady continued her tour and went to Ressie Jefferies Elementary School.
The Royal Examiner’s camera was there: