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Front Royal mayor under investigation – expresses shock, seeks answers

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Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe, right, chairing recent town council work session – Royal Examiner File Photo/Roger Bianchini

Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe says he was blindsided by information that Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden has recused himself from any possible prosecution relating to an “Investigation Concerning Hollis Tharpe” – the informational heading at the top of Madden’s August 30 notice of recusal.

In that notice Madden states that he is “so situated with respect to conducting an investigation and determining whether to file charges against the above named individual and to prosecute the same if filed, so as to render it improper for (him) to act in his official capacity as Commonwealth’s Attorney in any further official duties as required in said matter …”

Madden could not be reached for further comment on the basis of his recusal.


Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Marc Abrams was appointed by the court to replace Madden in the matter should charges be filed from the investigation.  Contacted by phone on Friday, September 7, Abrams declined comment on the nature of the investigation or whether the Front Royal mayor was its primary target.

In fact, Abrams told this reporter, “I was waiting for a call from an investigator to give me some information on the case – I thought maybe you were him.”

For his part, Mayor Tharpe denied any wrongdoing past or present and expressed frustration at a process that saw him alerted to the situation by the media.

“I have no clue, none whatsoever – and I can’t find anything out.  I don’t know if it has something to do with the EDA or Mr. Egger,” Tharpe said in a phone interview on Friday, September 7.


Mr. Egger is Mark Egger, father of former Front Royal Town Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger.  Mr. Egger has continued to publicly confront local officials at the town and county levels over allegations of improprieties in Economic Development Authority business dealing raised by his daughter prior to her resignation to marry and move from the area in June 2017.

EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, who is Tharpe’s cousin, was charged by Virginia State Police investigators in June with one misdemeanor count of filing a false police report related to an alleged incident of vandalism at her home in June of 2017.  That incident report occurred about one month after a reported break-in at the EDA headquarters off Kendrick Lane in Front Royal.  A trial date of October 31 has been set in Warren County General District Court in McDonald’s misdemeanor case.

On Friday Tharpe expressed frustration at an inability to gain any information on the investigation “concerning” him as stated in Madden’s recusal filing.

“I can’t find anything out – no one has called; no one has threatened to take me to court.  If someone would pick up the phone and call me, I could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – but I guess the system doesn’t work that way,” Tharpe lamented of the informational vacuum he is operating in.


“It’s just baffling – I’m absolutely clueless.  I don’t do murder; I don’t write bad checks; I haven’t had any dealing with the EDA and Jennifer McDonald – I don’t have any loans with the EDA; I don’t shoplift; and I don’t do, I don’t mess with drugs – we know people who have lost kids to addiction,” Tharpe continued as he tried to fathom the nature of any potential criminal investigation into his behavior.

Knowing that any investigation into a local public official would be turned over to the Virginia State Police by local authorities, Royal Examiner contacted the VSP office in Culpeper.  State Police press liaison Les Tyler offered “No comment” and referred us to the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s media contact Michael Kelly replied by e-mail that the office does not generally comment on investigations, even to confirm or deny their existence.

Tharpe is running unopposed for reelection as mayor on this November’s ballot.


A search of court records indicates a lone 1995 assault and battery conviction in Tharpe’s past.  When that issue came up during his first run for public office this reporter contacted Tharpe, his wife and sister-in-law, the latter who filed the charge that conviction was based on.  She told this reporter that she had been in a fragile emotional state after exiting an abusive relationship.  Tharpe and his wife took her in at the time and when his sister-in-law lost her balance on a ladder helping with housework, Tharpe, who was holding the ladder, braced her fall with what she initially considered inappropriate or aggressive contact.

She expressed regret for filing the charge and said after the fact, with time to heal from her abusive relationship she believed she had overreacted to the incident.

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Former FRPD Chief Richard Furr remembered fondly

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A Celebration of Life and Memorial Service for former Front Royal Police Chief Richard Furr was held Sunday afternoon, March 19th on the eve of the Spring Equinox, at Riverton United Methodist Church. Friends and colleagues – often both – and family bid a fond farewell to a friend and servant to his community and his family. Furr passed away February 27 at the age of 66.

A presenting of the colors by the FRPD Honor Guard set the celebration of the life of Richard Furr Sr. in motion… Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Scheduled speakers in order of appearance included Chaplain Jackie Thurston of the Virginia State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, Chaplain Roger Vorous of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Captain, retired, Clint Keller formerly of the Front Royal Police Department, Sgt., retired, Jim Nicholson formerly of the Page County Sheriff’s Office, and U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Richard “Ricky” Furr Jr., son of the departed. A free, catered meal at the church, provided by employees of Samuels Public Library, awaited attendees following the ceremony.

As noted in his Obituary, the Page County born-and-raised Furr: “reached the pinnacle of his (law enforcement) career in 2009 when he was appointed Chief of Police (in Front Royal where he had served since 1982). Although Richard retired from duty in 2012, he remained active in law enforcement by continuing to serve in the Fraternal Order of Police at local and state levels. Richard is survived by his wife, Ruth; children, Richard “Ricky” Jr. (Amy) and Danielle; mother-in-love, Willie; sister-in-love, Robin (Gary); and half-siblings, Brenda (Larry), Christine (Jack), and David (Lori).”

The family has created a website for those who knew Richard to share stories and memories. It can be accessed at richardfurr.wixsite.com/memories.

Rest In Peace, Richard Harvey Furr Sr.

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Warren County Public Schools Kindergarten registration information for the 2023-2024 school year

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This is a reminder to parents with children that will be 5 years old on or before September 30, 2023.

WHO:

  • Children who will be 5 years old on or before September 30, 2023
    *Register at the school in which you are zoned to attend

WHERE AND WHEN:

Starting March 27, 2023 – Register online @ www.wcpsva.org


  • March 28, 2023
    4:30 pm – 6:30 pm
    Individual Elementary Schools – *Register at the school in which your child is zoned to attend

WHAT TO BRING:

  • Certified Copy of Birth Certificate
  • Parent/Guardian Photo ID
  • Physical Form (physical must be within the last 12 months prior to the first day of school)
  • Proof of Residence (utility bill, lease, mortgage statement)
  • A notarized residency affidavit is required if living in another household

PLEASE REGISTER YOUR CHILD EVEN IF ALL OF THE ABOVE INFORMATION HAS NOT BEEN OBTAINED.

If you have any questions, please call your child’s school:

A.S. Rhodes Elementary School 540-635-4556
E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School 540-635-4188
Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School 540-622-8090
Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School 540-635-3125
Ressie Jeffries Elementary School 540-636-6824


Technical Questions:

Amy Himes (540) 635-2171, extension 46125
Kendall Poe (540) 635-2171, extension 34230

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Belle Grove Plantation opens for the 2023 season

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On Saturday, March 18, Belle Grove Plantation will reopen daily to the public. Guided tours of the Manor House are offered Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. at 15 minutes past each hour. The Belle Grove grounds and the Beverley B. Shoemaker Welcome Center (including the Museum Shop and exhibits) are also open during these hours.

Manor House tours include touring the permanent exhibit, Unearthing Enslaved Lives at Belle Grove, which features the archaeology conducted at the Enslaved Quarter Site from 2015 to 2019. The 60,000 excavated artifacts and supporting archival research reveal details about the more than 270 men, women, and children the Hite family enslaved.

Also, on Saturday, March 18, Belle Grove will open a .75-mile walking trail that connects to existing trails on Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation’s property. Visitors may start the trail either at Belle Grove or the 128th New York Monument (on Route 11 near the intersection with Water Plant Road). The path is largely wooded and follows trenches dug by the US 19th Corps as they prepared for a possible attack. This ultimately happened in the initial stages of the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. Hikers on the Belle Grove property should follow the yellow blazes along the trail. A map is posted at the trailhead and will be available in the Museum Shop.

In addition to offering daily tours, Belle Grove hosts school and group tours, event rentals, and special events.  Belle Grove has a full schedule of events for 2023, including the “Of Ale and History” Beer Festival on May 13. Now in its 28th year, this festival is Virginia’s longest-running Beer Festival, and tickets will go on sale in April. For more information about Belle Grove events, visit www.bellegrove.org/calendar


As a partner in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, Belle Grove is the site of free, 30-minute programs led by National Park Rangers. Cedar Creek & Belle Grove in a Box gives an overview of the Park at 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays, March 18 and April 8, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays, March 26 and April 2. Kneading in Silence: A Glimpse into the Life of the Enslaved Cook Judah, which discusses the life of Judah, the enslaved cook of Belle Grove, will be presented on Sunday, March 19, and Saturday, March 25, at 2:30 p.m. More information about the Park is at www.nps.gov/cebe.

About Belle Grove—Belle Grove Plantation is located off Route 11 at 336 Belle Grove Road just south of Middletown, Virginia, and is conveniently situated to I-81 (exit 302) and I-66. Belle Grove Plantation is a non-profit historic house museum, a National Trust for Historic Preservation historic site (www.savingplaces.org). It is also one of the partners in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/cebe).

 

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VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for March 20 – 24, 2023

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The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.

*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.

INTERSTATE 66
Mile markers 6 to 13, eastbound and westbound – Single lane closures for maintenance to various bridges, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday.

INTERSTATE 81
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight single lane closures for equipment moving and bridge removal work, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through the night of April 27.


PRIMARY ROADS
*NEW* Route 340/522 (Winchester Road) – Northbound and southbound overnight shoulder closures for vegetation management between Route 661 (Fairground Road) and Clarke County line, Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

SECONDARY ROADS
No lane closures were reported.

Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.

Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.


The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information about Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR-ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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New leader approved for Blue Ridge Tech Center; new school choice position adopted

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The Warren County School Board, during its Wednesday, March 15 work session, unanimously voted to approve the appointment of a new director/principal for the Blue Ridge Technical Center (BRTC) and likewise adopted legislative positions that the board wants the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) to institute.

WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger (right) introduces the new director/principal of Blue Ridge Technical Center, Vince Gregg (left), during the School Board’s Wednesday work session. Photo and Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

School Board Chair Kristen Pence and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins were present for the votes, while Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi was absent from the meeting.

Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Christopher Ballenger recommended Vince Gregg be appointed as the BRTC director/principal starting on July 1 to replace the current leader, Jane Baker, who retires on June 30.


Gregg has been employed by WCPS since 2008, when he was hired as a social studies teacher at Skyline High School, where he then became dean of students in 2011, serving in that capacity until joining Warren County High School as an assistant principal two years ago, according to Ballenger.

“Mr. Gregg has shown outstanding leadership qualities within our division,” Ballenger said, noting that there will be an overlap in duties during July, with Gregg coming in and Baker finishing out her duties.

Following the board’s approval of Ballenger’s recommendation, Gregg thanked the members for their support.

“I feel like the luckiest guy in the school system,” Gregg said. “I’ve admired the good work done by the staff of the Blue Ridge Tech Center and all of our CTE teachers for the last 15 years.


“I think we all go into this line of work in order to help kids and help set them on the right path in life, to show them a viable route to honest employment and the happiness that follows hard work and a plan for the future,” he added. “I don’t think there’s a group of people who do this better than our [CTE] teachers, and I am humbled and beyond excited to join their team.”

The School Board also unanimously voted to approve WCPS legislative positions related to the VSBA’s Support for Private Education, Vouchers, and Tax Credits; the State School Health Advisory Committee; and Disorderly Conduct for School-Based Offenses.

Specifically, the School Board would like to see their adopted legislative positions likewise adopted by the VSBA in its legislative policies.

For instance, the VSBA currently opposes federal or state efforts to mandate school choice, including efforts to divert or condition funding from existing federal and state programs.


The School Board’s position now states that “VSBA will remain neutral on federal or state efforts to allow school choice.”

Also, in this section on Support for Private Education, Vouchers, and Tax Credits, the School Board would like to see this deleted from the VSBA legislative policy: “Private and home schools have no direct accountability to taxpayers for their use of tax revenues because they are explicitly excluded from public accountability under both state and federal law. With vouchers and tuition tax credits, private and home schools would have an advantage in competition with public schools because they can be selective in admissions and can refuse to provide services that public schools, by law, must provide. Vouchers and tuition tax credits for private and home schools could result in fewer existing state and federal funds appropriated to support public school programs. The VSBA opposes any federal or state voucher and tuition tax credit legislation and any legislation that would provide vouchers or tuition tax credits for elementary and secondary private and homeschooled school students. The VSBA also opposes measures requiring the transfer of local taxpayer funds to other jurisdictions or to private providers should a student choose to enroll in a virtual program outside of their home school division.”

On its agenda, the School Board listed its reasoning for the changes in this section: “The generalized belief and reason we have public education is because, as a society, we recognize that education is important to our future, and we are willing to work together to make sure all children receive a quality education. As we progress, we have learned to appreciate and respect the wide array of learning styles and needs. We are past the point of one size fits all education and need to continue to expand the methods and opportunities available. As voters elect representatives and call on them to expand school choice opportunities through newly proposed legislation, it is counterproductive for the VSBA to lobby to kill such bills. Expanding opportunities for others does not mean lesser opportunities for local school districts.”

Prior to the board’s vote to adopt the WCPS legislative positions, Warren County resident Bertha Jenkins (above) told members it was “disappointing and concerning” that the School Board was voting to amend and remove the legislative positions adopted by the VSBA.


“The same School Board took an oath of office to the Virginia Constitution,” said Jenkins, “and nowhere in the Virginia Constitution does it say free parental school choice for private education or homeschooling while disenfranchising your fellow taxpayer that has no child and infringing on your First Amendment right to petition government for redress of grievances.”

Jenkins said she “never imagined” she would have to address a public education school board to remind members of their constitutional duty to the public education system.

“School choice should never have a seat at the table in public education,” she said. “School choice is a private education choice by parents funded by taxpayers at the expense of the public education system. Parents already have the right to choose what education best suits their child.”

Jenkins also said that she has observed “the systematic tearing down” and dismantling of the public education system in Warren County by local officials, political candidates, politicians, parents, religious groups, special interest groups, “and now our School Board.”


“Vote to continue to support VSBA and their legislative positions that were originally presented to this court, not the amended or omitted [proposals] that are on this action agenda,” she urged board members. “Remember your oath and be a champion for public education.”

Nevertheless, the board unanimously voted to adopt the WCPS legislative positions.

Prior to their vote, board member Salins said there was “a misunderstanding” about what VSBA is and then provided what she called “a quick reminder” that VSBA is a lobbying group that is funded by tax dollars.

According to the VSBA — which is a nonpartisan, voluntary organization of Virginia school boards — the organization has as one of its goals “to advocate effectively for Virginia’s public schools and children before all levels of government and the public.”

Additionally, the VSBA also provides a variety of services, such as governance training, policy services, legal services, superintendent search assistance, collective bargaining services, and strategic planning services, among others. The organization also consists of several task forces, such as the VSBA Task Force on Students and Schools in Challenging Environments, that make recommendations to the Virginia Board of Education and the state Department of Education on a variety of topics.

Salins said VSBA’s legislative positions are not legally binding laws and that the Warren County School Board is “not amending laws, changing laws, or doing anything else. We are simply requesting that they stop lobbying against the actual state representation, who are the elected officials to speak on behalf of the taxpayers.”

“None of this in any way, shape, or form is a means by which to undermine the public school system,” she said. “It’s actually to provide for the sustainability of it and make sure the parental rights are intact.”

In another action, the School Board approved the Architect and Engineering (A&E) design cost of $20,850 to replace the Blue Ridge Technical Center roof. The project will be funded by federal government grants.

The board also unanimously approved the Interagency Agreement between WCPS and RSW Regional Jail. The agreement establishes the guidelines and areas of responsibility between WCPS and RSW Regional Jail for the provision of special education and related services to eligible inmates.

Click here to view the work session in its entirety on this exclusive Royal Examiner video.

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Rappahannock resident arrested after investigation by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force

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The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force has concluded a two-month long investigation with the arrest of a Rappahannock County, Virginia resident. Keith D. Robinson II, 20, was arrested by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force following a search warrant executed at a residence in Culpeper. Through the course of the investigation, Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force officers learned that Robinson was involved with distribution of illegal narcotics in the counties of Rappahannock and Culpeper.

On Thursday (March 9), members of the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force obtained a search warrant for a residence located along Nancy B Williams Drive in Culpeper County. During a search of the residence, approximately 27 grams of powder cocaine, 13 grams of methamphetamine, 13 grams of crack cocaine, 13 grams of fentanyl, prescription pills, $3,163 in currency, and a vehicle were seized. The drugs seized have an approximate street value of $7,900.

Keith D. Robinson II – Photo Courtesy Culpeper Sheriff’s Office

Robinson was charged with five felony counts of distribution of a schedule I/II drug. Robinson was transported to the Culpeper County Jail where he is being held without bond.


The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force is composed of law enforcement personnel from the Rappahannock, Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison Sheriff’s Offices; Culpeper, Warrenton, Orange Police Departments; and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office.

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10:00 am Career & Internship Fair @ Laurel Ridge Community College
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Join us as we bring to campus more than 80 employers with job openings and internship opportunities for a Career & Internship Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21. Sectors represented[...]
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6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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