The Fiscal Year-2023/24 budget public hearing of Tuesday evening, June 6, may have inadvertently, yet appropriately, been scheduled for the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the pivotal Allied invasion of the Nazi Germany-led fascist Axis’s “Fortress Europe” that turned the tide of World War 2 on the western European front.
For what transpired inside and outside the Warren County Government Center as the FY-24 budget public hearing approached and was then launched at 7:30 p.m. led the Warren County Board of Supervisors to view a lengthy “beachhead” battle, albeit verbal, over the future shape the political, governmental, cultural, and societal standards this community may take.
At issue for the bulk of over 70 speakers at both the budget public hearing (our count was 65) and majority of Public Comments (counted 9 total) on non-agenda items was whether continued County funding of Samuels Public Library should occur while a total of 134 books requested for removal by the “CleanUpSamuels” website advocacy group remain on library shelves. The budget public hearing, at which board Chairman Vicky Cook explained the defund/fund issue should be the focus of comments, was convened at 7:30 p.m. in front of a packed to capacity WCGC meeting room. With most speakers going to or near their 3-minute speaking limit, the public hearing adjourned some 65 speakers later at 11:12 p.m. Our count was 34 to defund pending removal of cited books, 26 to fully fund the library and let its own review process control content, with a few who seemed on the fence favoring removal of certain books but not really favoring defunding of the library.
The board took no action, as they must wait a week following the public hearing to vote on approval of the budget. After the meeting went back to a few more Public Comments and other more routine business items, the meeting was adjourned at 11:57 p.m. But prior to that adjournment, County Administrator Ed Daley congratulated the board and staff on their FY-2024 budget preparation, noting that no negative public hearing comment had been directed their way on any other budgetary matter than library funding. County Finance Director Alisa Scott made a PowerPoint summary of budget highlights and proposed expenditures to kick off the public hearing, prior to public feedback.
But on that Samuels Library public feedback D-Day “beach front” it was on. To one side were CleanUpSamuels advocates who see continued use of county tax revenue in support of the library an unacceptable use of public funds while 134 books they seek removal of as “pornographic” remain on library shelves. And to make their point, many pro-defund library speakers read sexually-tinged passages from some books in question.
On the other side, an attempt to institute religious extremist-based censorship was cited by library defenders and opponents of a blanket banning of the books requested for removal by the CleanUpSamuels group and supporters. As noted in a July 5 article in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, the book removal website received initial social media exposure from a May Facebook post by the “Young Adults of St. John the Baptist (Catholic Church)”. A number of defund the library pending removal of the books in question speakers either cited ties to the church or are known congregation members.
However, one library funding supporter, Tom Howarth, described himself as a lifelong Catholic, but not of the type he had listened to speak prior to his rising to be the 50th public hearing speaker. Noting an abundance of what he termed “zeal” in comments of library critics, of much of that zeal he observed, “This strikes me as an incredibly gross character assassination of the director of the library and her staff. And it’s done, apparently in the name of religious zeal. I can’t believe that my Lord and Savior would have anything to do with destroying a person’s public reputation. And that is what’s happening here tonight,” Howarth said.
After referencing his Catholicism from the “cradle” though work on two parish councils through a decade of work with the poor and homeless, Howarth added, “I’m a Catholic but I don’t want a Catholic library. I don’t want a library that’s run by any religion. Jefferson would be spinning in his grave if he listened to this conversation tonight in Virginia in 2023. Unfortunately, what we have is another orchestrated political attack on a public institution: the press, your electoral system, public schools, and now the public library. Where does it end?” Howarth asked of religious zeal being applied to how a community’s entire population, perhaps a nation’s, must live.
The CleanUpSamuels website front page describes “The Issue” as the presence of “many pornographic books in the children’s section of Samuels Public Library. These books graphically detail sexual activity between minors and are written for young readers. Our tax dollars fund the purchase and circulation of these abhorrent books. We need to let the Board of Supervisors know that these books do not align with our values.” A number of library defunding speakers said they were parents whose families use the library and expressed concern about their children, and others, having access to material tackling LGBTQ and other issues of a sexual nature.
However, one library supporter who spoke later in the meeting noted that children under 12 were not allowed in the library without an accompanying adult or parent, though another person present suggested the library age cap for parental accompaniment was 10. A check with the library the following day revealed that library policies list the accompanied by parent or adult age at 11 and under. A number of County public library funding supporters wondered if parental involvement and oversight shouldn’t be the pivotal controlling factor for what the community’s children are reading, as opposed to political calls for governmental defunding of the community’s public library. For as a “public library” it is open to all of a community’s citizens regardless of religious affiliation or political perspective.
But as noted above, to make their point on the pornographic context of books in question, many defund the library speakers quoted graphic passages at length from several books on the requested removal list. Library funding supporters countered that graphic passages were being taken out of context so that the theme of the books referenced was not conveyed. The pro-funding and self-described anti-censorship contingent argued that rather than pornography, many, if not all, the books in question were written to provide emotional guidance or support to school age youth facing sexual identity crises of their own. Does a book describing teens falling into a life of prostitution do so to encourage such a life, or to warn against it as a tragic mistake, some wondered of one repeatedly referenced book.
A visit to the CleanUpSamuels website the day after the public hearing revealed that the group had advertised prepared comments and book transcripts for supporters to read at the June 6 meeting: “We will provide excerpts from the books and a script, so you don’t need to worry about what to say! Please arrive at 6:30 p.m. for handouts and instructions,” the CleanUpSamuels website front page stated.
The day following the public hearing debate Samuels Library staff verified that 597 requests for reconsideration forms (on library content) from 53 individuals seeking to have 134 books removed from the library had been received to date. That is in a county of some 40,000 people, one library supporter noted.
Stay tuned as the supervisors proceed to their vote on a final FY-2023/24 budget, with Samuels Public Library funding or not, at its special meeting of June 13.
However, we noticed that the first three budget public hearing speakers — following Finance Director Alisa Scott’s PowerPoint presentation on the FY-24 budget (31:00 to 36:11 mark where color bars appear to interrupt the video) — John Lundgren, Dale Carpenter, and Tom Hinnant, appear to be missing prior to Chris Estes taking the podium at the 36:35 video mark. There was some discussion with staff during the meeting concerning some technical problems.
Safety First: ACES Drives Initiative to Protect Pedestrians on West Criser Road
Push for High-Visibility Flex-Stakes Aims to Secure Prominent Front Royal Routes.
In Front Royal, the ever-busy West Criser Road plays a pivotal role for pedestrians, cyclists, and students. Recognizing the road’s prominence and inherent dangers, the Advisory Committee for Environmental Sustainability (ACES) is spearheading a crucial fundraising campaign. Their objective? To install high-visibility flex-stakes, enhancing the road’s safety and ensuring a secure passage for all.
West Criser isn’t just any road in Front Royal; it forms an integral connection between Eastham Park and the esteemed Skyline High School, creating a widely frequented loop. Cyclists, joggers, and walkers often use this scenic route to revel in the town’s natural beauty or engage in daily exercises. Moreover, the pathway is indispensable for students traveling to and from Skyline High and Skyline Middle School.
However, the increasing foot and vehicular traffic warrants a closer examination of the road’s safety features. The proposed flex-stakes, with their high-visibility feature, are specifically designed to draw attention to the pedestrian shoulder, offering a clear and safe boundary. This installation is not only expected to shield pedestrians and cyclists but also act as a reminder for drivers to slow down, particularly in this densely populated zone.
ACES’s commitment to environmental sustainability has always been evident in its various initiatives. With this campaign, they extend their dedication towards ensuring that Front Royal’s natural beauty can be enjoyed safely by all its residents. This fundraiser isn’t just about installing stakes; it’s about building a more secure community, one flex-stake at a time.
As ACES pushes forward with its mission, community support becomes paramount. Donations, both big and small, can play a part in safeguarding the residents of Front Royal and enhancing the overall safety of West Criser Road. With collective effort and community backing, these high-visibility flex-stakes will soon become a reality, offering peace of mind to many.
Please consider donating to help make this section of roadway safer for everyone to use.
Adverse Weather Can’t Dampen Spirits at Celebrate Kids Day
As dark clouds loomed and Tropical Storm Ophelia made its presence felt on September 24th, the Warren Coalition’s 10th annual Celebrate Kids Day proceeded with a vigor and energy that the storm couldn’t dampen. A change in venue to the Health & Human Services Complex did little to deter hundreds of families from partaking in this beloved event.<br><br>
The popular inflatable rides found a new home at the 15th Street Gym, thanks to a quick-thinking reorganization plan. Nearby, Diversified Minds from Warren County Public Schools offered their conference room for local agencies to set up shop. The sheer number of attendees highlighted the event’s significance: rooms brimming with activities, face painting sessions in the “band room,” and games galore.
Though the pony ride vendor had to cancel, the rest of the outdoor activities, like the pitch burst and petting zoo, stood their ground. Nearly a thousand visitors, both young and old, made their way through the attractions, enjoying everything from a T-ball challenge to inflatable rock walls.
Inside, organizations like the Salvation Army, St. Luke’s Community Clinic, and the Department of Social Services, to name a few, had tables set up, offering a range of activities and information. As children flitted between buildings, taking in all the fun, some were drawn to the pitch burst. There, brave volunteers sat poised for a splashy surprise, all in good fun and for a charitable cause, raising over $6,000.
Thanks to generous sponsors like Front Royal Dental Care, Fraternal Order of Police, and City National Bank (which covered the entire petting zoo’s expenses), the event’s price remained a mere dollar per child. Local businesses, from Horton’s Nursery and Garden Center to Martin’s, also chipped in, showcasing a heartwarming communal spirit.
Reflecting on the day, Christa Shifflett, Executive Director of the Warren Coalition, remarked, “This is a testament to our community’s resilience and togetherness. Everyone, from sponsors to parents, played their part, ensuring that Celebrate Kids Day was a roaring success, even in the face of unpredictable weather.” The Warren Coalition, a beacon for health care and substance abuse awareness since 1994, remains dedicated to fostering a safe and nurturing environment in Warren County.
Shenandoah Rail Trail: An Ambitious Vision On Track
Stitching Towns and Nature Together with a 50-Mile Thread.
A broad coalition of elected officials, economic development leaders, business owners, nonprofit partners, and state legislators gathered last week in Front Royal to discuss progress on the proposed Shenandoah Rail Trail. This ambitious 50-mile multi-use trail would convert an abandoned railroad corridor into a shared-use path connecting nine towns and three counties along the Shenandoah Valley.
The meeting provided an opportunity to update Senator Tim Kaine on the status of the project and emerging funding opportunities. Kaine has been a longtime supporter of the trail, noting during the discussion that he’s an avid cyclist familiar with the region’s trails. “When I first heard about plans for the Shenandoah Rail Trail, I thought it would work great, and it’s exciting to see the progress made,” he said.
Kaine emphasized the value of demonstrating successful trails to gain local buy-in, saying, “The more model trails are up and running, the more small towns can see the benefits and want to get on board.”
The diverse group highlighted how their coordinated efforts are building momentum for the project. Natasha Skelton of The Conservation Fund, which is negotiating the acquisition of the corridor from Norfolk Southern, said: “We have strong localized support up and down the corridor, with all nine towns and three counties in agreement that this is what they want to do with the vacant rail line.”
The newly formed Friends of the Shenandoah Rail Trail will spearhead private fundraising efforts. The trail partnership is also pursuing federal funding through a $25 million RAISE grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. At the state level, $35 million has been allocated so far from the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Proponents emphasized the potential economic benefits of the trail for tourism and small businesses focused on outdoor recreation. “We see this as an asset that businesses can build off of,” said Joe Petty, Executive Director of the Front Royal/Warren County Economic Development Authority.
Others highlighted community engagement progress, including a series of public meetings that collected input on trail preferences from over 700 residents. Outreach to diverse populations, such as non-English speaking poultry plant workers who could use the trail to commute, is also underway.
The scenic value of trail bridges slated to cross rivers and rail lines was noted as iconic attractions for visitors. Local connections via trails and greenways linking to the main corridor will also help residents access the amenities.
Senator Kaine’s visit gave the partners a high-profile platform to share their vision and progress. With strong local alignments, funding pursuits underway, and engagement efforts to spread awareness, the Shenandoah Rail Trail initiative appears to be building unstoppable momentum.
Behind the Badge: A Day in the Life of a Warren County Sheriff’s Animal Control Officer
Protecting the Animal Kingdom, One Day at a Time.
At first glance, Deputy Greg Long of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office may look like any other law enforcement officer. But, his daily encounters with animals of all kinds, from snakes to stray cats, set him apart.
Deputy Long serves as the county’s primary animal control officer. This role sees him overseeing the annual statistics of received animals, ensuring that the training requirements for the animal control division are up to par, and liaising with the general public about animal-related matters.
Not just limited to domesticated pets, Deputy Long’s responsibilities also extend to inspecting commercial kennels twice a year and managing the dangerous dog registry. These dogs, once identified as ‘dangerous,’ are subjected to yearly checks to guarantee public safety. Even hybrid animals, which surprisingly find their homes in the county, aren’t exempt from these periodic checks.
Despite what some might think, animal control isn’t a one-person job. The department also employs several animal control officers who aid in handling various situations. These situations range from dealing with livestock to answering calls about injured wildlife. Their collaboration with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries ensures that injured wildlife, such as deer or birds of prey, receive the proper care they need.
When asked about the necessity of having deputies handle animal control, Deputy Long explained the intricate legal framework surrounding animal control. Officers go through rigorous training, amassing 120 hours of comprehensive learning. This training educates them on first aid for animals, recognizing different species and breeds, and even discerning potential rabies cases.
One of the many commendable initiatives under the purview of the department is its emergency sheltering plan. Echoing the challenges faced during hurricanes in states like Florida and Louisiana, where animals were left stranded due to inadequate shelter provisions, Warren County’s response involves a fully equipped trailer. This trailer, loaded with essentials like cages and ID tags, aims to ensure that no pet is left behind during natural or man-made disasters.
The vehicle that Deputy Long operates may appear ordinary, but it’s specially adapted for animal transport. Designed with the comfort and safety of the animals in mind, it boasts air-conditioned cages, ensuring animals aren’t exposed to extreme temperatures. From dogs to ducks, this vehicle can transport a variety of animals safely and comfortably.
One challenge that Deputy Long highlighted is the issue of stray cats. While many might think that animal control should handle these felines, the reality is more complex. The shelter’s policies allow them to accept cats only under specific conditions.
At the end of the day, whether it’s assisting a neighbor distressed by a barking dog or untangling a dog that’s gotten itself caught up, Deputy Long and his colleagues are committed to serving both the human and animal residents of Warren County.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic Alert for September 25 – 29, 2023
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.
Mile markers 6 to 9, eastbound and westbound – Overnight single right lane closures for inspection of bridge over Norfolk Southern Railway and Shenandoah River, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Wednesday night.
*NEW* Mile marker 9 to 7, westbound – Right shoulder closures for sign work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight lane closures as needed for road and bridge work, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through the night of November 27. Shoulder closures 24/7. Work zone speed limit: 55 miles an hour. Work is related to southbound acceleration ramp extension and bridge widening, with estimated completion in fall 2024.
Route 340 (Stonewall Jackson Highway) – Shoulder closures between Route 619 (Rivermont Drive) and Route 607 (Rocky Lane) for tree removal operations, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday.
Route 522 (Remount Road) – Flagger traffic control between Route 665 (Chester Gap Road) and Route 604 (Harmony Hollow Road) for tree removal operations, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday.
Route 702 (Baugh Drive) – Flag traffic control between Baker Plaza and Route 661 (Fairground Road) for paving operations, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through October 6.
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.
A Salute to General Daniel Morgan: Virginia’s Revolutionary War Hero
Honoring a Legend: SAR Dedicates Plaque at the Historic Burwell-Morgan Mill.
Millwood, Clarke County, Virginia – General Daniel Morgan, a stalwart of the American Revolution, was honored with a dedication ceremony hosted by the Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Virginia Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) on 15th September 2023. The picturesque Burwell-Morgan Mill served as the backdrop for the event, with a bronze plaque celebrating the General’s extraordinary life taking center stage in the meadow.
Daniel Morgan’s journey from a young New Jersey lad to a Virginia legend is one for the books. As a youngster who could hardly read or write, he ventured to Virginia, making the Shenandoah Valley his home. From his humble beginnings as a teamster to playing a crucial role in the War for Independence, his life was nothing short of extraordinary. Morgan’s resilience was evident when, after receiving a near-fatal injury from an ambush outside Fort Edward, he carried the scars and stories proudly. His tactical brilliance shone brightest at the Battle of Saratoga and later, Cowpens, setting the stage for Cornwallis’ eventual defeat.
The event was a grand spectacle, with the Virginia SAR State Color Guard presenting colors and dignitaries from various societies paying their respects. Marc Robinson emceed, while Paul McComb undertook chaplain duties. The guest list was illustrious: Mid-Atlantic District Vice President General James Engler, Sr; Virginia Society SAR President Ernie Coggins; representatives from DAR and C.A.R., among others. Dale Corey painted a vivid picture of Morgan’s life after which numerous SAR Societies and DAR Chapters presented wreaths in the General’s honor.
As James Graham, Morgan’s biographer, once wrote, his “strength and spirit, his frank and manly bearing, his intelligence and good humor” made him beloved by many. This sentiment echoed throughout the ceremony as attendees remembered the General’s influence on the colonial victory.
The event reached its crescendo with Anita Bonner and Jocelynn Wilson leading the attendees in a rendition of “God Bless America,” culminating in a musket salute by the Virginia State Color Guard.
In an era where heroes often emerge from the pages of fiction, General Daniel Morgan’s story stands as a testament to the mettle and spirit of real-life warriors. This dedication serves not only to commemorate his incredible life but also to inspire future generations to value sacrifice, strategy, and resilience.