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Judge rules Town Charter Section 47 does not prohibit council appointments for one year

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It appears that Jacob Meza will be allowed to retain his appointed seat on the Front Royal Town Council following a Wednesday morning, April 7, ruling by Warren County Circuit Court Judge William Sharp. Following 40 minutes of oral arguments in support of and opposition to the defense filing Sharp granted defendant Meza and the Town’s Demurrer motion for dismissal of plaintiff Paul Aldrich’s Complaint for Declaratory Judgement against Meza’s appointment.

That complaint was based on the contention that Town Charter Section 47 prohibits “appointment” or “election” of members of council for one year after their term in office expires. However, the court ruled Section 47 applied only to paid staff appointments, not council member appointments.

The plaintiff was given five days to file a motion for reconsideration of the court’s ruling, the defense seven days to respond to that filing.

Following Wednesday morning motions ruling it appears that both Jacob Meza, center and Chris Holloway, right, will remain on the Town dais, though with Holloway repositioned to the mayor’s central seat. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini


During oral arguments by plaintiff counsel David Downes and defense attorney Heather Bardot, Judge Sharpe raised the issue of Section 47 wording that would seem to raise the issue of council members not being able to run for reelection for a year after their four-year term expired. Sharpe said it seemed clear that the Town Charter’s intent, dating to its 1937 adoption, was not to prevent council members from running for re-election for a year. So, the court sided with Bardot’s stance for the defense that Sections 6 and 9 of the Charter were the applicable sections on council appointments, rather than Section 47.

“No member of the council of the Town of Front Royal shall be appointed or elected to any office under the jurisdiction of the council while he is a member of the council, or for one year thereafter,” the relevant Section 47 passage reads, continuing to note for an unexplained reason an exception for the position of Town Treasurer.

In her Demurrer filing for dismissal, Bardot pointed to Section 6D and related wording on filling council vacancies, such as the one created by Councilman Chris Holloway’s November 2020 election to mayor. “The council may fill any vacancy that occurs within the membership of council for the unexpired term, provided that such vacancy is taken within 45 days of the office becoming vacant,” Section 6D states. No reference to a one-year hiatus per appointment is made here, Bardot noted.

Only the court’s authority to make the appointment were council to deadlock and be unable to fill the seat within the prescribed 45 days, is acknowledged. Meza’s appointment was made January 4, four days after Holloway relinquished his council seat to become mayor and four days after Meza, who did not run for re-election after a controversial final year in office related to his Valley Health employment, vacated his seat.

During the 40-minutes of oral arguments in support of their written filings on the defense Demurrer, Bardot had also argued for dismissal on jurisdictional and constitutional grounds. Jurisdictionally, she cited undue court influence on legislative matters already accomplished.

“In the context of a declaratory judgment, that means there must be specific adverse claims, based on present rather than future or speculative facts … When there is no actual controversy courts do not have jurisdiction to issue declaratory judgments because ‘the rendering of advisory opinions is not part of the function of the judiciary’,” Bardot wrote in her Demurrer filing. She asserted the plaintiff’s claims of potential damages as a town citizen from an allegedly illegally appointed Meza’s votes on budgetary or other matters, as well as his application among five others for Holloway’s vacant seat did not reach the necessary specificity to involve the court.

“What other remedy is available if not the court to rule that the Town has not upheld its own rules,” Downes asked the court of the jurisdictional issue. While the defense took the day, as explained below it appeared Downes won on this one.

On the Constitutionality issue, Bardot asserted that the above-referenced exception to a council member’s appointment as Treasurer in Charter Section 47 has been illustrated by other case histories to violate the Virginia Constitution. So, she reasoned as a legally challengeable Charter Section it should not be the one to hold sway in this case.

The Warren County Circuit Court 9 a.m. docket of April 7, saw a crucial ruling for the defense in a citizen challenge of the town council’s appointment of Meza to fill now Mayor Holloway’s vacated council seat.

Following a 20-minute adjournment to consider the arguments in support of the plaintiff and defense filings on the defense Demurrer motion for dismissal, Judge Sharpe reentered the court at 10 a.m. to make his ruling. He began by noting that while court authority regarding the legislative branch should be viewed in the “narrowest possible grounds” that he believed in this case he could “provide some guidance on actions and the legitimacy of those actions” by the town’s elected officials.

That said, he sustained the defense motion on the grounds that Town Charter Sections 6 and 9 controlled the appointment issue “without resort to Section 47” as noted above. Of the 1937 Town Charter and Section 47 specifically, Judge Sharp observed, “It predates all of us, it’s been there a long time … it has never been understood to interpret that councilmen can’t run again for re-election” which he observed were it to be applied to council member appointments, it “could be interpreted that way”.

One successive term limit – now there’s an interesting municipal concept had Section 47’s somewhat jangled wording been taken literally over the past 84 years.

 

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Zoning Ordinance Changes and Comprehensive Plan rewrite considered at Town Planning Commission Work Session

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The Front Royal Planning Commission met April 7 for a work session to discuss several items left over from their March 17th meeting. Town Manager Steven Hicks was asked to take the opportunity to brief the commissioners on the strategy for the rewrite of the Town’s Comprehensive plan, which is badly outdated, having been last written and adopted in 1988. The Code of Virginia requires every governing body to develop a comprehensive plan and to review it for potential amendments every 5 years.

Now former Planning Director Tim Wilson had recommended to the commission that it ask the Town Council to fund the plan rewrite in its 2022 Budget, which it has now done. Town Manager Hicks provided a background briefing on the purposes of the Comprehensive Plan and a proposed timeline with milestones for completion. There will be several opportunities to provide public input to the plan during the preparation and drafting during late 2021 and early 2022, and the commissioners were united in their desire to see as much public input as possible. Under the proposed timeline, public input will begin with a Joint Town Council/Planning Commission meeting to adopt vision, goals, and objectives in December 2021, and continue through December 2022 with Public Forums, Hearings, and final adoption. The Comprehensive Plan’s companion document is the Zoning Ordinance and Map, which will be jointly developed with the plan.

The Chairman then turned to the first left-over item from its March 17 meeting. Council has asked the Planning Commission to weigh in on proposed ordinance changes to the Front Royal Town Code covering Abatement of Blighted buildings. It is not difficult to find buildings in the town that have been allowed to fall into disrepair, and the means to mitigate the situation has historically been a balancing act for town officials as they attempt to induce property owners to keep their buildings safe and attractive. Virginia law grants municipalities the authority to declare properties as blighted and to take action to remove the blight, but it is a complex process and time consuming.

Many properties that could be cited under the Blighted Buildings ordinance are on nonconforming lots, so owners are restricted from improving the building so long as it violates current zoning restrictions. In some cases, the current ordinance restricts the cost of repairs to the property, which acts as a disincentive to owners to improve them legally. The Town Council wants to make it as easy as possible to bring properties into compliance with the law. The commission requested that the planning staff provide a redline version of the proposed ordinance to reflect changes since the last review for the next regular commission meeting.


A text amendment to the Planning section of the Front Royal Town Code was tabled by the Commission at the last meeting to allow for discussion at a work session. The genesis of the proposed amendment was a resolution from the town council in February that directed the planning department to prepare an ordinance amendment for a public hearing and a Planning Commission recommendation for approval by the Town Council. The amended ordinance mainly rescinds or loosens some restrictions on developing apartments in the Downtown Commercial District (C-2). The commissioners agreed that the proposed amendment might have unintended consequences by applying exemptions too broadly, and agreed to strike – temporarily, at least – a provision that created an exception to the supplementary regulations in section 175-113 related to lot sizes, building height, and parking, for apartment development in that entire district, which runs from Jackson Street on the south, to E. 4th St on the north. Commissioners felt that a future, smaller exemption covering East Main Street and Chester Streets might be more appropriate. The amended proposal can now be acted on by the Commission at its next meeting.

The remaining changes include:

  • adding text to the ordinance section 175-47(A) that limits conversion of existing residential and/or commercial structures to a maximum of eight total dwelling units.
  • Removing text in section 175-48(A) that permits conversions only in buildings constructed after January 1, 1999.
  • Removing text in Section 175-49(A) that imposes a requirement for an additional 1,000 square feet of lot area for each dwelling unit in excess of 1.
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After history lessons – Ouch, that must have hurt! – supervisors scrutinize budget details

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After getting a couple of history lessons, first from Richard Hoover on the breadth and depth of Warren County’s place front and center of American History from the Revolutionary War for independence from the British Empire, on through the Civil War that asserted federal authority to end states’ rights to continue the institution of slavery, to the mid-20th century-to-present-day fight for civil rights and racial equality; and then from David Downes on the 2005 Congressional declaration of April 6th as “National Tartan Day” in honor of the Scot and Scot-Irish immigrant contributions to American culture, the Warren County Board of Supervisors got down to business as a public hearing on the Fiscal Year-2022 Budget approaches.

That FY-22 Budget Public Hearing was set for Thursday, April 15, at 7 p.m. A special meeting to vote on approval of the FY-22 county budget, as promised without any tax increases, was set for Tuesday, April 27, also at 7 p.m.

Above, portrait of Gen. Joseph Warren meeting his end at the wrath of the British crown in response to his prominent role in promoting American colonial independence, as Richard Hoover, below, begins his recitation of Warren County’s place in American history with its namesake. And further below is David Downes acknowledging April 6 as National Tartan Day as declared by Congress in 2005. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini


But one other agenda item addition also prefaced that budget process scrutiny. That was Warren County Department of Social Services Director Jon Martz introduction of his staff as part of a request the County acknowledge by proclamation April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. For it is that DSS staff that works to, among other duties, identify and stop child abuse in our community.


Referencing her work in nursing, County Board Chair Cheryl Cullers commented on the emotionally taxing job of dealing with child abuse: “I just want to thank you all, you guys have a horribly difficult job – I don’t know how you do it, to go out and see the things you see. I remember when I first got out of nursing school and was working, I had two children under the age of 12 months (abused) … It broke my heart. I don’t know anybody can harm any child, any child but especially babies. You have a horribly hard job and I appreciate every one of you … Thank you all very much,” Cullers concluded leading to applause from those present for the emotionally draining, sometimes life-and-death work they do for the community and its children.

WCDSS Director Jon Martz and staff being acknowledged for their year-round work on behalf of the community’s children, as the supervisors acknowledge April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

After other reports it was down to budget business. Among that business was authorization to advertise for Public Hearing an FY-22 Warren County budget of $124,614,829 – there must have been some late cuts to the $126,592,012 work session total presented March 20, further assuring there will be no tax increases tied to this budget. But if no tax hikes were a sure thing, not so on some departmental and school board requests.

About those Ford Explorer SUVs

First under the microscope was County Building Official David Beahm’s departmental vehicle request for a 2021 Ford Explorer through a State Purchase Contract at a price of $30,320.82. The agenda packet staff summary noted “the vehicle will be used by the office to perform daily job assignments which include site inspections, emergency calls, site investigations, meeting and other duties.”

Questioned about the type of vehicle, Beahm traced the department’s history with a pickup trucks, including extended cab models, which ultimately proved counterproductive to the type of space suited to departmental needs and protection of code books and other materials carried to jobs.

Responding to a price comparison question from Chairman Cullers, Beahm acknowledged a $2,000 cheaper price for a “Colorado” model SUV. However, Beahm pointed to 3 miles less per gallon that the Colorado gets compared to the Explorer. It had been calculated with the average annual mileage racked up by the department that equated to a loss of $500 per year in fuel expenses, which Beahm pointed out made the additional $2,000 spent to purchase the Explorer a moot point after 4 years.

While money could be saved buying used vehicles, depending on how used that would take some years off the length of service to the department. Interim County Administrator Ed Daley pointed out that the quoted price for a new model SUV of Explorer quality through the State contract was a good price. Daley also noted that various dealerships periodically offered “significant savings” incentives to switch to their models, making brand variables vary from year to year. Questioned about the dominant make of County-purchased vehicles, including the sheriff’s office, Daley said he believed it was Dodge.

Seated at left, Deputy County Administrator/Planning Director Taryn Logan awaits her turn to present a planning department vehicle purchase request as Building Code Official David Beahm, at podium, is grilled on his department’s identical request.

After 21 minutes of grilling, on a motion by Delores Oates, seconded by Archie Fox, the purchase request was approved unanimously.

Next up was the same vehicle purchase request at the same price by the Planning Department, also through the State purchase contract. With the logistical questions around why this model at this price having been answered over the previous 21 minutes, Deputy County Administrator/Planning Director Taryn Logan saw the planning department’s request approved after a five minute Q&A.

School Surplus funding request

Also in the board’s budget cross hairs Tuesday was Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Ballenger. Ballenger was present to answer questions about the schools budget, particularly the recent request that $2.38 million in FY-20 school system surplus funding be appropriated to the public schools FY-22 budget on three fronts. As the staff agenda summary noted, those fronts are the School Capital Improvement Fund ($1 million); the School Transportation Fund ($1 million); and the School Textbook Fund ($380,365).

Discussion by North River Supervisor Oates and Chairman Cullers indicated a desire to keep the surplus funding under direct control of the supervisors until specific requests for portions of it to specific uses as cited in the budget request were made by the school board. Acknowledging the board’s desire to dole out money for specific capital improvements and school bus purchases, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley expressed some confusion on the intent with the School Book Fund disbursement.

“You don’t want them to say, ‘We want to purchase this book or this book’?” Daley asked of board oversight of specific textbook purchases.

“No, we’re not getting into the selection of curriculum – we’re just making sure the funds are available when needed,” Cullers replied.

“Because they had requested the $380k to go to the School Textbook Fund directly for the textbooks, we’re kind of duplicating on that part if we set up a County Textbook Fund … if all you want to know is that it goes to textbooks because they can’t use it for anything other than textbooks,” Daley said of the process as applied to textbook purchases versus transportation or capital improvement funds that have myriad aspects to them.

“Basically what we’re doing is setting up a savings account for you – the money’s going to be there, and it’s assured to be there. I would think it’s kind of a win-win because you know you’ve got this, set off to the side and it’s not inadvertently on your side to be a temptation to pull from,” Cullers told the schools superintendent in his first year on the job here.

After another approximate 20-minute conversation on the appropriation dynamics of the surplus funding transfer, on a motion by Oates, seconded by Walt Mabe, the board unanimously approved the use of the $2.38 million by the school system as represented, without yet appropriating the money to the direct control of the school board.

Background

That there were questions about past school budget appropriations and expenditures was illustrated in one page of the budget packet containing an April 5 email from Ballenger responding to a question raised by Chairman Cullers, apparently at a joint supervisors-school board budget work session. That question revolved around a current FY-21 appropriation to hike staff salary scales for teachers, Instructional Assistants and Nurses that did not reach the “IA’s or nurses. It might be noted that Cullers is a retired school system nurse.

It’s WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger’s turn to face scrutiny on how the school board really might, or might not, spend requested surplus allotments.

After prefacing his explanation by welcoming the supervisors support and due diligence in exploring submitted budgets, Ballenger wrote, “Mrs. Cullers was correct in stating that the Board of Supervisors (BOS) gave Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) funds this year to help correct the IA and Nurse salary scales, as well as the teacher scale. The reason WCPS did not address the IA and Nurses scales this year was that WCPS was projected to receive a reduction in state funding.”

Ballenger continued to explain that after the FY-21 budget was approved the school board had received the news of “a hold back on state sales tax and to expect a reduction in overall state funding.” While not specified, that reduction was likely related to projected declines in state sales tax revenues related to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency responses limiting business activities due to social distancing parameters and executive orders in that regard.

“Since the majority of projected new revenue were state funds, we were not able to address all three salary scales,” Ballenger continued, adding, “Therefore, when going into this school year with the expectation of a revenue loss, WCPS decided to hold back the other adjustments to ensure that funding was available to make it through the school year.” Ballenger added that “In hindsight” the held salary scale funds had not been necessary to balance the budget but had been considered a necessary precaution to avoid a repeat of shortfalls experienced in 2009.

And so the Fiscal Year-2022 Warren County Budget process proceeds towards its April conclusion – without any tax increases, if with some pointed scrutiny of its own departments’ and the School Board’s shares of that $124.6 million dollar budget.

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County Board Chair responds to questions about software ‘intrusion’ and IT system shutdown

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As part of her Board Chairman’s report Tuesday morning, April 6, Cheryl Cullers read a prepared statement into the meeting record addressing the County software situation in the wake of the early March discovery of what has been termed an “intrusion” as opposed to a hack due to a lack of thus-far-discovered use, theft or manipulation of data. As previously reported by Royal Examiner, County staff emails have been shut down for about three weeks now as a consequence of the County Server being taken offline as a security measure as system upgrades and alterations have been undertaken.

The “intrusion” of the Warren County software is believed to be part of a larger hack of sites around the nation, thus involving federal and state law enforcement agencies, which Cullers referenced in her statement as an explanation for the pace and lack of release of details of the County response.

Following is Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Cullers’ software-IT report in its entirety:

County Board Chair Cheryl Cullers revealed breadth of agency involvements, responses to County software intrusion. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini


“I would like to take a few minutes to make a statement about the recent incident with our system. As you know, Warren County, like many other localities around the country, was the victim of a cybersecurity incident in March.

“After learning of the incident, Warren County staff quickly took action to contain the threat, secure systems and to notify the Board of Supervisors. In addition, the County staff notified and began working with law enforcement – both the FBI Cyber Crimes Division and the Virginia State Police High Tech Crimes Division. Warren County staff also gave notice to its cyber insurance provider, who in turn engaged cybersecurity lawyers and cybersecurity forensic teams, on behalf of Warren County to investigate this incident.

“Warren County staff have been hard at work restoring services to a secure and safe environment, including moving a number of services into the cloud. While we are eager to resume operations, we need to do so in the most prudent way possible. Therefore, we have taken the time to build out our IT infrastructure and improve our security posture.

Work by Shentel personnel on upgrading the County’s IT system and online communications network was progressing Tuesday morning at the WCGC as the supervisors were meeting nearby. County/WCPS tech people noted the April 6 meeting would not be live streamed, but would be posted online, likely within a day as other meetings will begin to be taped and posted pending restoration of the full IT system facilitating live broadcast to immediate archiving.

“Investigation into this incident is ongoing, we are continuing to work with law enforcement and legal team on this matter.

“I have read and heard many comments, concerns and accusations on social media and in the public, questioning our handling and transparency regarding this incident. I can assure you we are and will continue to address this incident in cooperation with and according to guidelines and instructions of the cybersecurity law enforcement and legal experts that have spent many long hours working with us on this incident. We will not jeopardize the investigation into this incident to appease those that feel they are entitled to information on demand.

“I can assure you I stand by my pledge to my community to be honest, transparent and accountable as a County supervisor. When we have complete and accurate information, and have been assured by the investigation and legal teams we can share this information with the citizens of Warren County, we will gladly do so.”

Above, WCGC flags illustrate three levels of government working together: Information dissemination by County officials on its software situation has been impacted by cyber-criminal investigations at the federal and state levels, as well as jurisdictions impacted across multiple states. Below, the County’s laptop upgrade for staff and board has arrived.

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County Fiscal Year-2022 Budget will not require any tax increases

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Following a four-hour, open budget work session on Tuesday, March 30, the Warren County Board of Supervisors is headed toward a late April public hearing on its proposed Fiscal Year-2022 budget. The good news is varying factors, including some increased revenues at the State level and a reduction in health insurance coverage costs, as well as cuts to some originally submitted departmental budgets, have allowed the $126,592,012 budget proposal to be achieved without any tax increases.

Those State revenue increases included a 5% hike to Social Services Department funding and plus 2% to Constitutional Officer’s departments. There was also a 9% reduction in health care coverage costs.

At the 4 p.m. start of the work session, the County Supervisors prepare to adjourn to a closed session to discuss cybersecurity in the wake of the recently discovered ‘intrusion’ of County software. While work continues to assure the intruder is blocked from further access, thus far no impacts on county information or systems has been discovered. Royal Examiner Photo by Roger Bianchini

Of the $126.59-million total, $62.64 million is non-schools related, with $63.94 million covering the nine-school, multiple-auxiliary programs public school system. That compares to the current FY-21 budget total of $118.61 million, $56.36 million non-schools budget, and a $62.24 million public school budget. The local appropriation portion of the public school budget is $27.72 million, with the balance covered by state, federal, or self-generated revenues.


County Administration and Departments

The $6.28 million increase in the county’s non-school budget includes three new positions, a grant coordinator and two I.T. specialists.

Administrator’s departmental budgets to be forwarded for approval included:

County Administration at $521,686, a $120,635 decrease from the FY-21 appropriation;

The WC Sheriff’s Office at $4,997,524, a $584,153 increase over the FY-21 appropriation;

The School Resource Officers at $766,865, a $62,945 increase over the FY-21 appropriation;

Volunteer Fire & Rescue system at $939,994, a $36,783 decrease from the FY-21 appropriation;

The Fire & Rescue Department at $4,376,005, a 536,314 increase over the FY-21 appropriation, with both fiscal years seeing offsetting revenue streams of $303,663;

Treasurer’s Office at $543,648, an $11,632 increase over the FY-21 appropriation;

Elections/Registrar’s Office at $423,709, a $55,622 increase over the FY-21 appropriation;

And Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office at $1,059,325, a $2,522 decrease from the FY-21 appropriation;

Among many others.

The “Board of Supervisors” budget line saw a significant decrease from the current budget, as over $1.66 million in FY-21 legal expenses for EDA civil litigation was moved into the EDA budget, which the County is covering as necessary. The administrator’s EDA budget forwarded is $3,000,000 compared to the FY-21 appropriation of $1,972,669, though as noted those numbers reflect the movement of EDA legal expenses projected at $1,800,000 into the EDA budget from the BOS budget in FY-21.

And that’s enough numbers for one budget article.

With the entire budget to be reviewed and a closed session to discuss upgrades to the County’s cybersecurity infrastructure and protocols slated to begin the work session, it was convened at 4 p.m. and wound up slightly after 9 p.m.

The closed session to discuss cybersecurity opening the work session lasted about one hour. The County is still working to secure its system after the early March discovery of an intrusion of the County’s software that appears to be part of a larger, nationwide intrusion. County officials have not called the unauthorized access a “hack” because thus far no consequences, as in manipulated or stolen files or information has been discovered.

Authorization to advertise the public hearing on the FY-22 Budget proposal is on Tuesday morning, April 6, board meeting agenda. Also, on that agenda is a Public Schools request that an additional appropriation of $2,380,365 is added to its budget. The funding would be covered by a surplus carried over from the school system’s FY-20 budget cycle. Of that additional surplus revenue, $1 million would go to the School Capital Improvement Fund; $1 million to establish a School Transportation Fund; and $380,365 to the School Textbook Fund. The use of the surplus funds was a topic of a joint supervisors-school board budget work session on March 23.

 

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Family, old roots drew town planning director away after less than a year on the job

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Just eight months on the job in the Town of Front Royal, Planning Director Tim Wilson has announced his departure. Wilson began here on July 30, 2020, filling the spot vacated by Jeremy Camp’s departure as part of a downsizing/reorganization of town departments undertaken during Matt Tederick’s tenure as interim town manager. Wilson’s final day will be Wednesday, April 7.

Rather than any unhappiness here, Wilson said the opportunity to return to an area near where he was raised and currently has two daughters and three grandchildren in less than an hour’s proximity, was a driving force in his decision to take the job of county manager in Gates County, North Carolina. Born in Texas, Wilson was raised in Newport News, Virginia, and spent a lot of time in the Outer Banks area. He described Gates County as “below Suffolk, not far from the Virginia-North Carolina border”. His oldest daughter and three grandchildren, aged 12, 8, and 6, are in Chesapeake, Virginia, and his younger daughter resides in Sanford, North Carolina.

Tim Wilson reflects on his brief tenure here and ponders a return to familiar ground. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

And he noted his work background was a good fit for the Gates County job. “They were looking for a manager with a strong planning background” on a variety of levels and in a rural community setting, he said, adding, “It was a good match personally and professionally, and I decided to take advantage of it.”


Of his time in Front Royal’s municipal trenches at a time of flux, Wilson said, “It was a pleasure working with the staff here. They do good work and work long hours as needed, and it’s a good management team in place. The developers and landscape professionals were all cooperative and good to work with.”

And while again being director-less after a relatively short tenure of departmental leadership might rattle some staffs, probably not the Front Royal Planning Department staff, including Chris Brock, Alfredo Gutierrez Velasquez, and Connie Potter. Wilson came aboard about six months after his predecessor Jeremy Camp (now in Clarke County) was part of the loss of three department heads in early-February 2020. Those losses were part of former Interim Town Manager Tederick’s controversial expenditure-slashing FY-2021 town budget proposal. That proposal’s departmental cutbacks, termed “right-sizing” by Tederick, reduced municipal functions and positions as part of a plan to enable a tax reduction in the FY-21 budget despite revenue shortfalls to support the existing municipal structure. So, the town planning staff has some experience of self-directing.

 

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County updating equipment, rewriting IT software in wake of system ‘intrusion’

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During his update on County business at the virtual meeting of the Warren County-Front Royal Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Friday morning, March 26, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley addressed the status of the County’s software situation in the wake of the early March discovery of what has been termed an “intrusion” of that system. Daley has fallen short of calling the incident a “hack” due to an absence of discovered consequences such as stolen files or manipulation of existing files or systems.

However, the consequences which began with a nearly three-week halt in use of all county officials and staff emails due to the County server being taken down as a security precautionary measure, continues to be felt. As previously reported, the local IT system intrusion was part of a larger “intrusion” of software at various unspecified locations across the country. It’s source and purpose continues to be a matter of investigation from the federal level down.

A day prior to Daley’s report at the EDA’s monthly meeting, Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall’s March 25 County “Situation Report” also began with an update on the post software “intrusion” consequences:

COMMUNITY INFORMATION


  1. Warren County Email Update
    1. Warren County, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services are still experiencing significant computer/email issues.  The County is working diligently to restore full computer and email service to all personnel.
    2. Please note that any emails sent to County personnel at warrencountva.net, warrencountysheriff.org, or warrencountyfire.com may not be received until all email services are fully restored.

File photo of County Emergency Services vehicle in front of WCGC in March 2020. A year later the on-site emergency services have revolved around software protection and clean up. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

A clue to that restored service came Friday during the interim county administrator’s report to the EDA. Daley told the EDA board that 150 new laptop computers were slated to arrive Tuesday (March 30). Contacted late Friday afternoon, Daley told Royal Examiner by phone that it was anticipated all County emails would be back online at the beginning of the coming week, possibly coinciding with the arrival of the new computers and a rewrite of the County IT network. The system overhaul is to assure whoever was behind the intrusion no longer has access to the system, Daley explained. In a late update Monday morning, Daley said it now appeared the computers would not arrive until Thursday, delaying the restored email use until later in the week.

“We’re just busy buying computers and throwing computers out and wondering why we still have 2007 computers… – It’s a new experience every day,” Daley began his report to the EDA board Friday morning.

“Well, we wish the County well – it’s a horrible problem,” EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne told his former fellow EDA Board member and chairman. EDA officials later told Royal Examiner the separate EDA server had not been impacted by the County intrusion, though a downed 10-year-old router had temporarily taken the EDA system offline for about a day this past week.

As noted in our original story on the hack – “A new municipal ‘normal’ – large scale software ‘intrusions’ and targeting an international human organ harvesting business?!?” – Daley said that while the beginning date of the intrusion hadn’t been established, it was verified it did not involve or impact election data from last November.

Interim County Administrator Ed Daley at early March county supervisors meeting. A portion of his recent reports, regardless of to whom, has traced the impact of and reaction to the county software intrusion discovered earlier this month.

Daley told us that discussion of acquiring upgraded technology for the County was already underway when the intrusion was discovered March 7 to 12. In fact, the old County Information Technology was only capable of support of Windows 7, which will soon be non-serviceable as Window 10 and beyond continue development.

“So this gave us a reason to upgrade now,” Daley told Royal Examiner of the County IT software intrusion. One sign of the upgrade will be an eventual switch from .net to .gov in the County network, including staff and other official emails.

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Front Royal
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Upcoming Events

Apr
13
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10:00 am Mah Jongg “Players Club” @ Warren County Community Center
Mah Jongg “Players Club” @ Warren County Community Center
Apr 13 @ 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Mah Jongg “Players Club” @ Warren County Community Center
Players will enjoy several hands of Mah Jongg against skilled opponents. This club meets on Tuesdays from April 6, 2021 through April 27, 2021 from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Warren County Community[...]
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Apr 13 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Apr
17
Sat
all-day Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
Apr 17 all-day
Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
This tried and true Epic 24-hour AR will test your biking, paddling, trekking, and navigation skills as you explore two state parks (one of them brand new!) and national forest lands. Join soloists and teams[...]
9:00 am Basic Pistol Shooting Class @ Warren County Community Center
Basic Pistol Shooting Class @ Warren County Community Center
Apr 17 @ 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Basic Pistol Shooting Class @ Warren County Community Center
The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department and Defensive Firearms of Virginia, LLC will be holding a Basic Pistol Shooting Class for those interested on Saturday, April 17, 2021 from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.[...]
10:00 am 2nd United States Cavalry – Civi... @ Sky Meadows State Park
2nd United States Cavalry – Civi... @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 17 @ 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
2nd United States Cavalry - Civil War Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
Get up-close and personal with history. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a Civil War Encampment. Interact with the 2nd US Cavalry as they perform daily tasks of the Union soldiers. Activities[...]
Apr
18
Sun
9:30 am Forest Bathing Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Forest Bathing Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 18 @ 9:30 am – 11:30 am
Forest Bathing Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Join Kim Strader, ANFT Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, for a gentle walk (no more than a mile or two) where we will wander and sit. Through a series of invitations and prompts, we[...]
10:00 am 2nd United States Cavalry – Civi... @ Sky Meadows State Park
2nd United States Cavalry – Civi... @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 18 @ 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
2nd United States Cavalry - Civil War Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
Get up-close and personal with history. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a Civil War Encampment. Interact with the 2nd US Cavalry as they perform daily tasks of the Union soldiers. Activities[...]
Apr
20
Tue
all-day Mad Science Kit @ Warren County Community Center
Mad Science Kit @ Warren County Community Center
Apr 20 – Apr 23 all-day
Mad Science Kit @ Warren County Community Center
The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department Mad Science Kit contains experiments that focus on fun, interactivity, and entertainment. Participants ages 6-12 will be able to perform four (4) experiments, including Dyed Carnations, Lava Lamps,[...]
10:00 am Mah Jongg “Players Club” @ Warren County Community Center
Mah Jongg “Players Club” @ Warren County Community Center
Apr 20 @ 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Mah Jongg “Players Club” @ Warren County Community Center
Players will enjoy several hands of Mah Jongg against skilled opponents. This club meets on Tuesdays from April 6, 2021 through April 27, 2021 from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Warren County Community[...]