Warren County School Board members unanimously approved an online academic learning and remediation site and 15 additional temperature scanners for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) totaling nearly $70,000 in pandemic-relief funds during their Tuesday, November 17 meeting and work session.
Board members also heard from a concerned citizen about a bus stop on Apple Mountain Road in Linden, Va., that would end up sharing space with a proposed Sheetz gas station and convenience store, which the resident said could be easily used by child sex traffickers, child sex offenders, and illegal drug dealers due to its close proximity to Interstate 66.
During the work session portion of their meeting, Denisa Scott, who lives on Mountain Lake and has a five-year-old, urged School Board members against approving a bus stop at the forthcoming Sheetz location.
“Drug dealers and gas stations are an absolute correlated fact,” Scott said, citing various data from an academic publication and showing headlines from local news outlets during her PowerPoint presentation to the School Board.
Gas stations, among others, also have been shown to be regularly frequented by child sex traffickers and those who commit stranger abductions, Scott said, specifically those that are located near highway interchanges like I-66, which connects with other interstate highways in the state.
Additionally, Scott said a February 2019 study of U.S. gas stations published in the international journal, Science of the Total Environment, found that toxic benzene emissions vented from underground gasoline storage tanks were “sufficiently high to constitute a health concern at a distance of up to 518 feet,” posing more potential problems for children standing at a nearby bus stop.
“These would all be things we would be exposing our children to,” said Scott. “I’m not being dramatic; these are the facts. And I really don’t think you want our children’s body bags on your conscience.”
The School Board members thanked Scott for her presentation but made no comments.
During its action agenda portion of the meeting, the School Board approved $35,423 to purchase the online IXL Learning site for both high schools and middle schools in Warren County for 18 months, and to award a $33,737 contract to Geek Land USA, LLC for the purchase of 15 additional BIOS03 Multi-Person Walk-through Temperature Scanners. Funding for both will come from the county’s designated portion of federal funds allocated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
IXL Learning offers personalized skill recommendations based on what each student has been practicing, said WCPS Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox, who described IXL’s skills as being aligned with both the Virginia Curriculum Framework and the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).
“IXL’s state standards alignments allow students and teachers to easily find unlimited practice questions specifically tailored to each required standard,” Fox said, adding that the site also meets federal education law requirements for instructional intervention.
For instance, if an SOL question is successfully answered by a student using the program, then the subsequent questions become more difficult, said Fox. And if a student isn’t having success with a particular question, then the program “takes you backward until you can find success,” he said. Teachers at the same time can track a student’s progress and can see how much time a student is spending on a standard, how much practice time is put in, and whether a student is being successful.
“Warren County Middle School has been using this program for some time now,” Fox said, “and I was approached by [Skyline Middle School Principal] Bobby Johnston recently about the program and how we could possibly pay for it.”
WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger, who had experience with the program during his employment in Smith County, Va., called IXL “a great remote program” that teachers use with daily instruction, in addition to the SOLs practice because it’s not just for remediation but also “enhances student learning.”
Fox said WCPS also has spoken with colleagues in Shenandoah County, Va., who “seem to be very pleased with their results.”
All School Board members voted “yea” to purchase the IXL Learning site with Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr., Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members Kristen Pence, James Wells, and Ralph Rinaldi present.
The board members also voted unanimously to award a $33,737 contract to Geek Land USA for the purchase of 15 additional temperature scanners.
WCPS Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch said the school division already has tried the temperature scanners in various locations. “We feel that it can meet our needs,” he said.
The scanners can track temperatures of multiple people in flowing traffic at a distance of 10 to 15 feet in .7 seconds, said Hirsch, reminding board members that the original scanner purchased was previewed at the School Board’s November 4 meeting. The scanners are particularly useful at door entry points for schools and hospitals, for instance, Hirsch added and can decipher between false positives, such as a hot cup of coffee.
Each BIOS03 Multi-Person Walk-through Temperature Scanner costs $2,499, bringing the estimated amount to $37,485. But Geek Land provided WCPS with a 10-percent educational discount that brings down the total cost to $33,737.
Superintendent Ballenger said the temperature scanners will continue to be used even after the current pandemic is under control and could be useful during flu season.
The School Board also unanimously approved a new fuel oil contract for the school division.
Greg Livesay, WCPS director of maintenance, said the WCPS existing heating fuel oil services contract expired in June 2020 with no renewal options remaining. Staff solicited Invitations for Bid from four regional providers and two responses were received on November 9, with Fannon Petroleum Services being the low bidder at just more than $1.27 per gallon, said Livesay, adding that the estimated annual cost is $39,315.16 per year.
“This initial contract period, like most others, would be for one year with four one-year renewable options when we agree upon the pricing,” Livesay said.
Additionally, Livesay said the current contract price is significantly lower compared to prices roughly five years ago, largely due to the COVID-19 school shutdowns, last year’s mild winter, and overall decreased consumption due to some WCPS buildings being converted from fuel oil to gas.
“So, we still have quite a bit of inventory of fuel oil sitting in our tanks this year,” he said.
Watch the entire Warren County School Board meeting on this exclusive Royal Examiner video.
EDA welcomes Town Manager Steven Hicks to meeting & gets good news from McDonald bankruptcy hearing
Things appear to continue to be turning in a positive direction for the Warren County Economic Development Authority (WC-EDA) in the wake of the recent sale of the Afton Inn for redevelopment by the 2 East Main LLC investment group. On the heels of that sale, authorized at a Special Meeting of February 12 and finalized a week later, the WC-EDA held its monthly meeting by way of the now familiar virtually connected ZOOM format the morning of Friday, February 26.
Two things stood out during the open session sandwiching a 57-minute closed session. The first was the welcoming of Town Manager Steven Hicks shortly after the 8 a.m. meeting start. It was the first appearance of a town manager with an accompanying update on Town business at an EDA Board of Directors meeting in about 18 months.
That traditional line of communications was terminated during the tenure of former Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick as the town government took on an increasingly adversarial and litigious stance with the EDA as a revamped EDA board worked to right its ship in the wake of the $21-million-plus financial scandal alleged to have developed during the tenure of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.
EDA civil litigation gets reboot
The second positive note came post closed session during Board Chairman Jeff Browne’s Executive Committee Report. Browne acknowledged a decision by Harrisonburg-based U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Rebecca B. Connelly returning consideration of exactly what assets Jennifer McDonald can claim as part of her bankruptcy filing to the state court level.
“The bankruptcy court has remanded her particular case to state court to assess damages, at which point damages are assessed it will go back to the bankruptcy court to decide whether or not it should go back to the state courts or be handled in the bankruptcy court,” Browne told his board.
Contacted after the meeting, Browne elaborated on the implications of Judge Connelly’s ruling. He explained it will allow the EDA’s civil litigation against McDonald to re-start to determine exactly what EDA assets McDonald may have misappropriated and how they may have been used to purchase properties or other tangible assets. Her surviving real estate company MoveOn8 is also part of her bankruptcy filing, he noted.
When the state court findings are returned to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Harrisonburg, Judge Connelly will determine what assets McDonald can legitimately claim as her own that are subject to bankruptcy claims and asset distribution, versus what assets held by her or her real estate company the EDA would have civil claim to as restitution for her alleged criminal acts of embezzlement and misappropriation of EDA funds to her own use.
A virtual Town-EDA ‘lovefest’
Back on the Town-EDA relations front, EDA Board Chairman Browne welcomed Hicks by virtual connection, offering him the opportunity to give his report prior to adjournment to the closed session. And while an opening portion of that report was acknowledgment of the town council’s decision to move forward with creation of its own EDA with Hicks as executive director, that there was a renewed sense of Town-EDA cooperation was soon apparent.
“As town manager I’m here to help in any way I can,” Hicks told Browne and the four-member EDA Board quorum present virtually (Browne, Harold, Pattison, Wolfe), before reporting on the status of the Town’s FY-2022 Budget process.
“I just want to congratulate you on your new position. You must have found the secret to a 48-hour day,” Browne told Hicks at the conclusion of the town manager’s report. “I just want to tell you for our board, that anything we can do to help in the areas you’re focused on: redevelopment, tourism, retention of businesses are all good things that we look forward to working with FREDA (Front Royal Economic Development Authority) on.
“We would like to work with you and coordinate with the Town. I think that we can do a lot to help economic development for the entire area. So, we appreciate you’re stepping up and taking on what will be a challenging task,” Browne added of Hicks new dual role.
“Will do – I’ll definitely stay in contact and share everything as much as I can with you and Doug (EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons) and Ed (Warren County Interim County Administrator Ed Daley). So yea, sounds great,” Hicks replied.
At that point EDA Board member Jim Wolfe, who has taken point in his board’s work on development of short and long-term Strategic Planning on economic development and job creation, joined the conversation. Wolfe offered to get a copy of what the WC-EDA has done on that front recently to Hicks by Monday.
“Then you and I can sit down and talk about it at some point. And if any other board members want to join me … So, I want to make sure that the … Town has our plan and use that for a touch point for how you coordinate on different projects,” Wolfe said of developing a unified plan of action community wide.
“I’d appreciate that,” Hicks replied, perhaps seeing his “48-hour days” reduced in some measure by that level of County EDA involvement with his work on the Town side. Continuing in that vein of cooperation, Hicks added, “Again, I just wanted to call in (on ZOOM) and touch base with you all and be as transparent as I can. And always reach out to me when you need anything, and I’ll do the same.”
“Good, thank you so much,” Browne replied to the new attitude being reflected out of Front Royal Town Hall as Hicks signed off from the meeting.
Fire & Rescue staffing grant process, Happy Creek Rd. closure impacts highlight County work session discussion
The Warren County Board of Supervisors met for a work session on February 23, 2021, to review and discuss ongoing work by county departments to forecast funding needs and scheduled projects in the offing in an uncertain funding climate. Newly appointed Fire Chief James Bonzano and Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico provided the supervisors with a FEMA grant program the department has been using called Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER. According to FEMA, SAFER grants fund fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations directly to help them increase capacity in their communities. The 2020 request will close March 12 and will require the Supervisors to decide before then how to allocate between $965,000 and nearly $2 million among the fire stations should the grant at the maximum level be approved. The 2020-21 budget for the entire Fire & rescue department is $3.1 million.
Ed Carter of VDOT provided an update of the Happy Creek Phase IV improvement project that was originally planned to require a road closure from June 14 to July 30 to coincide with school summer break. He explained that this project is intended to improve the roadway by eliminating some curves, hills, and blind spots.
The project has already been bid, and the bid was substantially lower than originally estimated, based on the projected closure of Happy Creek Road, giving the contractor unobstructed access to the site without having to maintain public access to the road during construction, which is planned to be completed in December.
The road closure will extend from Leach Run Parkway to Dismal Hollow Road. The reason for the possible extension is that since the project requires temporary relocation of utility lines and the Norfolk Southern Railroad must issue permits for that to happen on their right-of-way, Rural Electric Cooperative and Comcast must submit requests for the permits.
The permits were not requested as soon as they should have been, and it may not be possible to have those permits in hand prior to the scheduled construction start. In that event, Mr. Carter indicated that there may be a necessity for a two-week extension of the temporary closure. VDOT and the Town will coordinate with the school district to develop a plan if the extension of the road closure becomes necessary. Access to both Shenandoah Shores Road and Loop Road will be continued during the closure, and provision will be made for emergency vehicles.
The School District representative, Aaron Mitchell, indicated it was a challenge to plan a reroute to accommodate the closure, then revert to a normal route within two weeks. It would be particularly hard on parents.
The closure extension may not be necessary, but if it is not possible to work out a plan for the closure, Mr. Carter indicated that the project could be pushed to next year.
VDOT will undertake to have a discussion with the school superintendent this week.
Residents of Happy Creek Road will be vitally interested in progress towards a solution as the start of this improvement project nears.
Judge hears arguments on Downes vs. Front Royal parking/zoning case dismissal motion
A decision on the Town of Front Royal’s Demurrer motion for dismissal of David Downes civil action seeking to overturn the Town Council’s decision not to reverse existing zoning requirements that he maintain 9 to 15 on-site parking spaces at his two Chester Street properties could be forthcoming within two weeks. Substitute Judge Craig D. Johnston of Prince William County cited that “hoped for” timeline after taking 2-1/2 hours of arguments under advisement shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, February 23.
Local defense attorney and Virginia Beer Museum proprietor Downes represented himself in the case heard in Warren County Circuit Court. The Town of Front Royal was represented by Heather K. Bardot of the Fairfax-based law firm of Bancroft McGavin Horvath & Judkins, PC. The Town’s legal representation is covered by insurance through the Virginia Risk Sharing Association (VRSA), a subset of the Virginia Municipal League (VML).
One interested observer in Circuit Courtroom “A” was Town Attorney Doug Napier, who appeared to be taking more notes than the two reporters present. What he and those reporters were scribbling occasionally frantically about was the fundamental issue of whether Plaintiff Downes civil filing contains adequate grounds to proceed to trial.
Bardot and the Town contend that no, it doesn’t, as reflected in their Demurrer filing of January 7. Downes countered in support of his February 8 reply to the Town motion for dismissal, that he has made sufficient cause to being singled out as what he termed “a party of one” treated in an “arbitrary and unreasonably” different manner than other business entities, property owners and museums in Front Royal’s downtown business district, save one. And that one, a residential rental building across Chester Street, is only mandated to keep three off-street parking spaces, Downes observed.
The dispute centers around Downes’ law office at 14 Chester and adjacent Virginia Beer Museum at 16 Chester Street. Existing Town Zoning requires that he maintain a total of 15 off-street parking spaces, nine in the rear of the two buildings and six abutting the Town’s Peyton Street parking lot on the north side of the Beer Museum. Primarily at issue are the nine spaces in the rear of the two buildings. Downes noted that employee-wise, he doesn’t need more than one or two parking spaces for either business.
Downes contends that, not only has the Town singled him out for a standard different for other businesses in the downtown district, but also in the case of the Virginia Beer Museum, differently than other museums and art galleries in the area. His rezoning request would allow him to revamp the rear portion of his property into an expanded Biergarten and events area for his museum dedicated to promoting Virginia-brewed beers and beer’s role in the history of the American nation.
On the Town’s behalf, Bardot countered that Downes had inherited the zoning’s parking requirements, particularly as to the 16 Chester Street property, dating back to 1992. Downes noted he has had his law office at 14 Chester since 1999. Bardot also pointed to business growth projections for Front Royal’s Downtown Business District, including the redevelopment of the Afton Inn, that will require additional downtown parking that will negate Peyton Street parking availability statistics overlapping Downes’ rezoning request initiated in 2017 and finally denied by the town council in January 2019.
Downes has pointed to a parking study the Town initiated the year prior to his rezoning request that indicated 22 of the available 42 spaces in the Peyton Lot area as available on average. Countering that, Bardot noted that once Downes fenced off the rear area of his property that availability had changed to 27 of the 42 spaces being taken, an increase of 16% occupancy she noted.
Bardot also cited what she called “a very low standard of reasonableness” by which a court should judge legislative decisions because the judicial branch of government is not supposed to interfere unduly with the legislative branch’s function. The dueling attorneys were also at odds over whether a Constitutional aspect of the case related to the discriminatory nature Downes claims is being applied to him in a “piecemeal” manner is still at issue in the case. The case was originally filed in federal court, but the two parties agreed for it to be moved to state court jurisdiction.
“Of course it’s piecemeal – that’s why I’m here,” Downes told the court. He said that any of the three zoning options he had offered the Town would have addressed and solved that discriminatory nature of the existing zoning he is claiming. “I have to maintain these spaces – the burden shouldn’t be on me – it must be uniform (by zoning code) he asserted. Downes noted a formula at the root of the existing zoning by which he is supposed to have a parking space for every 300 square feet of building space, a condition not applied to other businesses or museums in the downtown area.
Of his claim the Town is violating Constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law in its demand of the parking space requirements directed at his properties, he concluded, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree” that it was still in play at the state court level. In that regard, Downes cited Virginia’s Dillon Rule which prevents municipal governments from exceeding authorities not granted at the State level. – “Under the Dillon Rule the Town can’t do unconstitutional things,” he argued.
Bardot countered that rather than the “arbitrary and capricious” standard being violated by the Town, Downes simply disagreed with a council decision that could be viewed as reasonable in light of evidence of coming downtown parking needs.
Both attorneys cited case law in support of their opposing contentions on the level of proof necessary and present in the Downes litigation. “I’m living with Williams for better or worse,” Downes told the judge of one of his case law references.
“The Town has no obligation to show reasonableness until Mr. Downes shows unreasonableness,” Bardot told the court, adding that Downes’ amended complaint failed to meet that standard as illustrated by the public hearing debate and planning commission recommendation of denial.
However, Downes argued that much of the opposition to his request from nearby business or property owners upon which either the planning commission or town council decisions were based were not relevant to the zoning amendment at issue. Rather, he asserted much of the negative public comment amounted to specific dislikes of either a fence he installed around his back area to address security concerns or the fact the museum served beer, neither being relevant to the zoning and resultant parking requirements at issue in his litigation against the Town.
The attorneys also debated the relevance of meeting summaries versus transcripts and public comments for or against the rezoning request beginning at the planning commission public hearing level. As noted above, Bardot pointed to public opposition to Downes’ rezoning amendment proposal and the planning commission’s unanimous recommendation of denial to further the defense contention the town council decision to deny was a matter of reasonable debate, rather than an arbitrary or capricious decision aimed a lone property owner’s way.
“This goes back to the first year of law school, but don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees,” Downes countered of peripheral issues cited by opponents of his zoning amendment request referenced in the defense motion. Bardot suggested that the plaintiff was mixing apples and oranges in arguing against the defendant’s Demurrer request for dismissal of his case based on a fundamental standard of evidence required to proceed to trial.
Judge Johnston observed that “There are lots of apples in this case – how they relate to the oranges in the defense” was what was at issue for him to determine.
And within the next couple of weeks the plaintiff and defendant will know exactly how the judge juggled those apples and oranges in coming to a decision on the Town’s motion for dismissal of Downes’ case against it.
See the Town Demurrer filing and the Defense and Plaintiff motions in support and opposition to it at these links:
Amended Town Press Release on Hicks assumption of dual Town Manager/EDA Director job
Editor’s Note: Following the submission of several questions from Royal Examiner to the Town about Mr. Hicks appointment to the EDA Executive Director’s position, this amended press release was issued after 5 p.m., Tuesday, February 23, under the headline “Steven Hicks, takes on an additional role as FREDA Executive Director”
Front Royal, VA (February 23, 2021) – Last night the Front Royal Town Council formalized the establishment of the Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) effective March 15, 2021. To oversee FREDA, Council plans to appoint Steven Hicks as the Executive Director in addition to his role as Town Manager at his current salary. Council and Hicks felt this approach would offset the cost of hiring an Executive Director to save the taxpayer’s dollars.
Hicks has significant experience in leading public-private development projects targeting downtown revitalization. In Selma, N.C., he partnered with Eastfield Crossing Developers and Duke Energy to amend a 400-acre mixed-used development and incentive agreement to increase the Town’s tax base and create 3,100 jobs.
Hicks has a Master of Science Degree in Civil and Infrastructure Engineering (USE) from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Urban Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia Darden School Senior Executive Institute, the University of North Carolina School of Government Municipal and County Administration, and the Virginia Tech Transportation Construction Management Institute.
He served as the Commissioner of North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency, Triangle East Chamber of Commerce Board of Director and Uptown Selma Business Partnership Board Director. He is a member of the International City Management Association and Virginia Economic Developers Association (VEDA).
Council is currently seeking applicants to serve as members of the Board of Directors. Applications are available on the Town’s website at www.frontroyalva.com and will be accepted until March 31, 2021.
(The following press release was issued by the Town of Front Royal shortly after Mayor Holloway read it into the record of the Feb. 22 Town Council meeting, Monday evening.)
The Front Royal Town Council is pleased to announce plans to establish the Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) on March 15, 2021, and will be naming Town Manager, Steven Hicks as the Executive Director. The Town is currently seeking applicants to serve as members of the Board of Directors until March 31, 2021. Last year the Virginia General Assembly authorized the formation of the FREDA. Since that authorization, the Town has codified the Town EDA in Town Code.
The decision to move forward with FREDA was not taken hastily or lightly. The Town’s decision to move forward with its own independent EDA has more to do with the present and future rather than the past.
The Town has re-development and economic development needs now that Council does not believe the County’s EDA is in the position to perform. Small businesses have been impacted by the pandemic and are in need of recovery. In addition, there are many empty storefronts now and Council hopes we can prevent more in the coming years. Having FREDA will also make it easier and quicker to improve the quality of life and appearance of Front Royal by addressing blighted properties through various tools and resources available to EDA’s.
The challenges facing the current County EDA are significant. For example, on September 25, 2019, the EDA agreed to enter into a Confession of Judgment with The First Bank and Trust.
The Confession of Judgment and supporting documentation appear to indicate the following:
• The sum for the judgment is $9,015,742 at an annual interest rate of 6%
• The loan was a line of credit up to $17 million
• Security for the loan in part stated, “Security agreement granting an interest in all the borrower’s accounts and government payments and programs including but not limited to all present and
future payments now or hereafter appropriated and made or to be made by the Town of Front Royal, Virginia and/or the County of Warren, Virginia, to the borrower….”
Based upon legal interpretation, this Confession of Judgment means all EDA assets not currently secured by another party are subject to the Confession of Judgment or in essence, the property of The First Bank and Trust Company up to $9M. This Confession of Judgment impairs buying property for the County or the Town unless the bank allows it. If the EDA enters into a lease, lease revenues would go to The First Bank and Trust Company. Due to the low creditworthiness of the EDA, it cannot obtain bonds, loans, or other types of financing without the County and/or Town’s direct involvement. Couple this Confession of Judgment with the EDA’s insolvency, ongoing litigation, lack of three years of audits, and low creditworthiness, it will be difficult for the EDA to function as a traditional EDA for many years in order to help our community, specifically our Town.
The Front Royal Town Council is committed to working in partnership with Warren County and its EDA. By no means should the Town’s initiative to focus on the Town’s re-development be construed as an unwillingness to work with the County. We just believe from a business perspective; formalizing FREDA is the only way the Town can focus on re-development with real results.
The Town Council would consider joining the County’s EDA in the future once all the following takes place with the County’s EDA:
1. It not only has produced missing audits but previous and future audits need to be clean.
2. It is solvent.
3. The Confession of Judgment is released.
4. All possible criminal investigations and civil litigation has been concluded.
5. The Town taxpayers have recovered all misappropriated, stolen, or fraudulently obtained assets by the EDA or its employee(s).
As part of the Town’s FY22 Budget, the Town will be able to invest $100,000 without sacrificing services to start FREDA. Additionally, the Town anticipates receiving over $100,000 from the sale of real estate which will be re-invested into our Town.
In conclusion, considering the state of affairs with the County’s EDA and in consideration of the Town’s needs to expand its tax base through economic development and marketing, it is imperative that the Town move towards ramping up its own EDA as soon as possible.
If any member of the public has any further questions, please contact Todd C. Jones, Town Public Information Officer.
Council back to the drawing board on separation of Public Comments from meetings, live broadcast
As part of an overhaul of its meeting scheduling and procedures, the Front Royal Town Council was poised to approve the separation of the “Public Correspondence” or “comments” portion of meetings, along with not live broadcasting those comments as part of planned changes. But after Gary Gillespie’s initial motion to approve a change to the “Order of Business” for regular council meetings a rift appeared.
Two newly elected councilmen, first Scott Lloyd and then Joseph McFadden expressed opposition to the “Public Comments” aspect of the changes. Those changes would include moving the public input on matters of concern to 6:30 p.m., a half-hour prior to the start of the meeting. It appeared the earlier, opening segment devoted to public comments was repeatedly referred to as a “work session” that would be adjourned to allow the one monthly regular meeting to begin.
McFadden wondered what council was to do for a half-hour if, like Monday night, no one showed up to speak. Would council have to kill a half-hour before starting the scheduled 7 p.m. meeting?
Would public comments be cut off at 7 p.m. if there were a larger number of people present to address council? McFadden indicated he was going to be a “no” vote on the motion as presented.
Lloyd offered an amended motion that would include continuing the live broadcast of public comments. The conversation evolved into multi-faceted directions that led Councilman Meza to suggest returning the matter to work session for all the legal and procedural variables addressed to be reconsidered in some detail prior to a vote. And after Gillespie and Lloyd agreed to withdraw their respective motions, it was back to what will now be council’s lone monthly work session, which along with the change to one monthly meeting (from the previous two of each that has long been council’s monthly format), was approved on a second reading just prior to the “Order of Business” matter being brought forward.
Also, as of that above-referenced second reading council will no longer have the necessity of two votes of approval for the ordinance and other major business action items.
Town officially announces $100,000 investment in new EDA, names Town Manager Hicks new EDA director
While it’s back to a work session for further discussion of a plan to distance “Public Comments” from both the Town Council’s regular meeting agenda and live broadcast (see related story), not so for the Town of Front Royal’s plan to create its own unilateral Economic Development Authority. Near the end of a fairly brief 40-minute meeting Monday evening, February 22, Mayor Chris Holloway read a press release on the Town’s EDA decision into the meeting record. See the full text of that release to this story.
As of publication Royal Examiner had yet to receive a response to questions about Town Manager Steven Hicks appointment as executive director of the Front Royal Economic Development Authority, acronym-ed “FREDA”, as to any additional salary and how his time allotment to the two roles was envisioned to be divided.
The release did say the Town was poised to invest $100,000 in its new EDA without elaborating on where that money would be spent. It also said it anticipated an “over $100,000” return on investment related to future real estate sales.
Of the decision to abandon continuation of the over half-century partnership with Warren County in its joint EDA still recovering from the financial and legal aftermaths of the financial scandal alleged to have developed over the last five years or so of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s leadership, the release states: “The Town has re-development and economic development needs now that Council does not believe the County’s EDA is in the position to perform.”
Less than a week after finalization of the sale of the Afton Inn was announced by the EDA after the Town dropped its legal challenge of EDA ownership and right to sell the derelict structure for redevelopment, the release adds, “Small businesses have been impacted by the pandemic and are in need of recovery. In addition, there are many empty storefronts now and Council hopes we can prevent more in the coming years.”
Also, perhaps surprisingly in light of the fact, the Town has floundered for years, first on the passage of a derelict building maintenance code; and over the last year-plus with enforcement following the passage of an ordinance, the release continues to state, “Having FREDA will also make it easier and quicker to improve the quality of life and appearance of Front Royal by addressing blighted properties through various tools and resources available to EDA’s.”
Despite the decision to move toward a separate EDA, the Town release adds that it will not refuse to work with the County and its now also unilaterally run EDA. Evidence of that was illustrated in council’s unanimous approval of the sale, with the County and EDA, of a 1.4-acre parcel of the jointly owned McKay Springs property for the development of a Hardees in the county’s north corridor.
“By no means should the Town’s initiative to focus on the Town’s re-development be construed as an unwillingness to work with the County. We just believe from a business perspective; formalizing FREDA is the only way the Town can focus on re-development with real results,” the release states.
The release also did not rule out reuniting with the County in the oversight of and work with the existing EDA at a future point when its myriad legal, financial, and operational issues are resolved.