Front Royal Mayor Hollis L. Tharpe, 67, appeared in Warren County Circuit Court to face charges on Monday (April 15) upon being indicted by a Warren County grand jury on one misdemeanor count of solicitation of sexual conduct (18.2-346).
According to Virginia State Police spokesperson Corrine Geller, the charge stems from an investigation initiated in October 2018 by the Virginia State Police at the direction of the Office of Attorney General Mark R. Herring. The incident remains under investigation. Tharpe was released by a magistrate on his own recognizance.
Monday morning Tharpe placed himself on voluntary and temporary administrative leave from his mayoral duties for the Town while he deals with legal issues. He will not receive pay while on voluntary leave.
Court documents filed online Friday, April 12, 2019, indicated that Hollis Tharpe was poised to be indicted for “solicitation of prostitution” by a Warren County grand jury Monday afternoon (April 15).
The date of the alleged offense – case number CR19-000-290-00 – is May 31, 2018, and involves a visit to a local massage parlor.
Asked about the charge Saturday evening, April 13, Tharpe said, “It’s embarrassing – but it’s a baseless charge.”
Tharpe declined further comment pending conversations with an attorney. However, he said at the time he did not foresee the charge impacting his service as mayor of Front Royal in the immediate future – “I am an elected official,” he pointed out.
When queried about a criminal investigation aimed his way revealed when Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden recused himself on August 30, 2018, from involvement in any potential prosecution of the Front Royal mayor, Tharpe expressed confusion.
“I can’t find anything out – no one has called; no one has threatened to take me to court. If someone would pick up the phone and call me, I could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – but I guess the system doesn’t work that way,” Tharpe lamented of the informational vacuum he was operating in.
The mayor asserts the charge is “baseless” and is a case of “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Marc Abrams was appointed by the court to replace Madden on the prosecutorial side were charges filed from the investigation into Front Royal’s mayor.
Vice Mayor William Sealock will preside over council meetings in the mayor’s absence.
Wait, where am I? A radical change of Town tone and focus 2 weeks later
Following Town Attorney Doug Napier’s reading of the Roberts Rules of Order conditions on public and member conduct in critiquing proposed municipal business and actions, the August 10th Public Comments period and consequent staff and board reports went surprisingly smoothly. Gone was the staff report political posturing of July 27th and mayoral-council infighting over that posturing. In fact, one member, Thompson, would later apologize for her role in the previous meeting’s back and forth.
But even more surprising was council Virginia Beer Museum “family values” critic Jacob Meza’s expression of common ground with Beer Museum proprietor and local attorney David Downes’ remarks to council. Of course, those remarks did not involve events at the Beer Museum, but rather Downes plea that the Town partner with him as a local criminal defense attorney, as well as with Town and County law enforcement and the judicial system in creating a more proactive safety net for opioid drug addiction in this community.
“We are dying in this town – I’m not referring to COVID where we’ve lost seven members of the community; I’m referring to at least 13 drug overdose deaths in Warren County this year alone,” Downes began, pointing to a total of 68 overdose calls reported to the regional joint drug task force, “20 in April alone,” he added, citing 25 defendants and over half a local court docket devoted to “drug-related charges”.
Downes bemoaned that fact that unlike the governmental COVID-19 pandemic reaction of emergency response planning, direction and precautionary guidelines at the state and local levels, no such commitment has been made in this community to an epidemic that has claimed twice the number of lives as the 2019 strain of Coronavirus for which millions of dollars of federal, state-administered aid is being made available.
Noting the current public focus on “marches, protests, petitions, referendums” Downes continued, “So, I must ask, do drug addict’s lives matter?
“I am here asking for your help before another 13 families” he hesitated, choking back emotion momentarily before continuing, “lose a loved one.”
Pointing to the closest drug detox center he said was in Galax, 250 miles away, Downes urged a commitment to bring such professionally administered treatment options to our community. Pretending the issue can’t or won’t ever reach you or your family or friend circles is no longer an option, Downes told council.
And some 20 minutes later, the meeting microphone went to Councilman Meza’s member’s report.
“I’d like to thank Mr. Downes for bringing up the drug epidemic. You know I’ve been on the planning commission and town council now for almost five-and-a-half years, and it’s something that I’ve heard discussion about but have yet to see any major initiatives taken, undertaken (stick with the first one in this context, Jake) in this community between both governing bodies and our law enforcement and community members. And I think there is a real opportunity for such committees to exist – 250 miles away is a long way, in addition to the drug epidemic and finding the resources available for those individuals.
“Behavioral health is another issue that our community faces and it faces the same statistical challenge of being about 200, 250 miles away for major centers of help. These are very important things that cripple citizens of our community,” the Valley Health administrative professional observed. “And I would be happy to have those discussions, with Mr. Downes and our law enforcement leaders on how we can work together and figure out a way to establish resources. Because it is an epidemic and it’s something that’s going to be tearing apart this town slowly but surely if we don’t get a handle on it.”
Okay, I am in “The Twilight Zone” right?
Setting an example
Talk about “Front Royal Unites”!! – Common cause between David Downes and Jacob Meza to a common good for this community? – Slap me hard (figuratively, not literally), and not with the butt of that gun council appears poised to resolve publicly that you are now going to be told you can openly carry into any Town office, meeting or public property festivals or events (see coming related story on Monday’s work session 2nd Amendment Resolution discussion).
Maybe there actually is the hope of compromises to positive community-wide ends in Front Royal and Warren County. If Jacob Meza and David Downes can substantively cooperate toward a common good – don’t drop the ball, guys – why can’t the rest of us on other issues of import to us all?
Watch this unexpected meeting of the minds on a crucial issue to this community – perhaps even more crucial than bikini-clad girls washing motorcycles behind the Virginia Beer Museum’s 6-foot Biergarten privacy fence and about nine parking spaces therein – in this Royal Examiner video of the business conducted at Monday’s meeting.
In addition to approval of a non-exclusive, 5-year contract on pole use for a fiber optics telecommunications system with LUMOS NETWORKS, Inc.; approval of a dedication agreement with First Bank on 594-feet of dedicated space to accommodate a “slip lane” at West 17th Street related to the Sheetz property access; and approval of a COVID-19 preparedness plan, that business included two other public comments speakers, Kelly Walker and Ina Kolesnik, raising the issue of whether the weekend walking mall idea has outlived its usefulness for the majority of Historic Downtown Front Royal businesses;
also Front Royal Unites’ Samuel Porter’s update on his relationship to the Black Lives Matter movement and a seeming response to Downes’ earlier “focus on marches, protests, petitions, referendums” comment; and a familiar final speaker, Tom Sayre, promising to bring some “levity” I’m still waiting for the punch line to, to “what’s going on in our country and community”, including FOIA inquiries on local Town-County “back-channel” meetings on the Town-EDA dispute over the FRPD headquarters debt service payments.
Setting an example – David Downes and Jacob Meza
Front Royal Town Council Meeting – August 10, 2020
Mayor takes aim at restoring order and discipline to council meetings
The cover sheet for Monday evening’s (Aug. 10) Front Royal Town Council meeting contains an addition in BOLD text under item number 5, “Petitions and/or Correspondence from the Public”.
Referencing Robert’s Rules of Order by which many municipalities including the Town, conduct meetings, is printed: “Public speakers and Council Members must use the same civility, decorum, orderly behavior, relevancy of comments to subject at hand, and appropriate language in addressing Town Council as they would in addressing a Judge in a Court of Law. No profanity, vulgar, or sexist language, or irrelevant commentary, is allowed.”
It is followed by a notation that “Further Details found page 2 of this agenda.” Page two in its entirety elaborates with 6 bullet points on the guidelines referenced on the agenda cover sheet.
Those points include acknowledgment of the mayor as presiding officer of council meetings, with authority to enforce the rules of behavior on both the public and council members; further noting that council members must address the mayor before speaking and confine their subsequent remarks “to the question before the body” avoiding “all personal or indecorous language.”
Bullet point 4 begins, “There can be no personal attacks,” adding that, “A speaker can condemn the nature or likely consequences of a proposed measure in strong terms, but under no circumstances can he attack or question the personalities or the motives of another member. The measure, but not the man, is the subject of debate.”
The thin political line
That’s drawing a very fine line, I thought, because often isn’t the motive of “the man”, the source of the measure at hand, as one might argue was the case in Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick turning his July 27th report on town business into a personal attack on Royal Examiner publisher and mayoral candidate Mike McCool? It was a report that essentially turned the manager’s report and council meeting into a perhaps subtle Chris Holloway mayoral campaign rally. And it was a “rally” that a council majority of fellow Tederick and Holloway County Republican Committee members, save Vice-Mayor Sealock, and even the one (Thompson) who isn’t, seemed perfectly happy to join, in attacking Mayor Tewalt’s efforts to stymie the political tone Tederick’s report and the meeting had taken on.
However, bullet point 6 does elaborate, “Governmental bodies may enforce policies against personal attacks … so long as they do not use the personal attack policy as a pretext to squelch a particular substantive viewpoint.”
Elsewhere, bullet point 6 adds that “Federal court decisions have established” that to ensure the efficient conduct of governmental business and “to maximize citizen participation in the discussion” that “public policy” in this regard “override the speaker’s First Amendment rights of free speech.”
Well, this will be a fun one to see the enforcement-of debate in the likely not too distant future.
I found myself wondering at the impetus for this precautionary note on public and council behavior. Was it made in anticipation of a McCool reply to what had been said about him by Tederick on July 27, and how council had jumped on board with, as previously reported in the above-referenced story, that unfounded personal attack?
Or perhaps was the mayor trying to head off a “Part 2” of any further in-house politicization of coming meetings?
I called Mayor Eugene Tewalt over the weekend to shed some light on the addition of the Roberts Rules of Order guidelines on public and council member behavior to Monday’s agenda.
“After the ruckus at the last meeting I asked Matt and the town attorney to put something together for me to read before the public comments,” the mayor explained.
I noticed the referenced Roberts Rules focus on public and council member behavior, but doesn’t reference staff, I told the mayor. So, would you as the meeting’s presiding officer, make the judgment call on staff behavior in this regard, I asked Mayor Tewalt.
The mayor replied that that was his belief, but he would check with Town Attorney Doug Napier for further elaboration on the staff adhering to the same behavioral standards as applied to the public and council members.
Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode of “As the Council Turns” in the coming Royal Examiner video and report on Monday’s meeting, as well as work session discussion of the 2nd Amendment Resolution before council seeking a commitment the Town will not follow the State General Assembly in limiting the carrying of firearms into governmental buildings, spaces, office and meeting rooms.
How’d graduation go? Decreasing COVID deaths? And removal petition expense draw supervisors attention
Board comments and questions revolving around a variety of financial issues were heard at the August 4th Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting, as was one apology concerning a previous complaint about pandemic-altered high school graduation plans.
“When I’m wrong I’ll admit I was wrong – and I was wrong on graduation,” North River Supervisor Delores Oates said during her member’s report after attending the Skyline High School graduation the morning of Saturday, August 1st, one day after Warren County High’s somewhat wetter one.
Oates said the football stadium parking lot-centered event utilizing the new Hawk tunnel and allowing family members to accompany their graduates for photographs was a rousing success and would likely lead to some permanent changes in the future, post-pandemic graduations – changes she called in some ways an improvement over traditional graduation ceremonies.
“I have a senior. And I was disappointed that we were going to do drive-in graduation. I had no idea, however, of what they had planned to accommodate our family so that we could get up-close and personal graduation with our senior,” Oates began, adding, “In fact, it was better than conventional graduation. And I have to take my hat off to everybody involved with the planning and execution of the graduation.”
She then observed, “The irony of COVID is that through social distancing, we were able to get closer to our graduate. And, so I agree with Ms. Cullers that graduation likely will change because parents enjoy close-up and personal graduation. So, I would like to thank the school system for what they did to make it a memorable day.”
GO Public School Administrators – let’s give them a run through that Hawk tunnel too.
Have they risen?
Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter then began with a question revolving around another COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) impact on the community, an apparent statistical anomaly indicating a reduction in the reported number of COVID-19 deaths in Warren County.
“One of the questions I’ve seen – why have the numbers kind of gone down? I think at one point there were 8 deaths, then it was 7 and now it’s 6,” Carter noted of a decrease in fatality numbers.
And while Carter directed his question at Deputy County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall, present for a number of COVID-19 related agenda item reports, Board Chairman and
County Pandemic Emergency Response Team Chair Walt Mabe stepped in.
“I can do that,” Mabe said of shedding light on the reverse trend in fatalities. “When we have a death that’s actually reported, that death is reported in Warren County. After a period of time, we come to find out that, that person that died is really from Shenandoah County or from Page County or wherever. And when that’s found out, we adjust the numbers – ours goes down, theirs go up.
And it could work the opposite way,” Mabe explained of the nation’s nearly 160,000 pandemic deaths being tabulated by the home community, not the place where the pandemic victim died.
Queried by Mabe, Farrall concurred with this explanation.
We are still seated – at what cost?
Carter then segued into another item of personal and political interest to him, the June 23rd court order of dismissal of all portions of the grassroots citizen county board Removal Petition spearheaded by Bonnie Gabbert and others against the supervisors seated through 2019. Carter and Fork District incumbent Archie Fox, whose seats were not up for re-election in 2019, are the only two targeted supervisors over the EDA financial scandal still seated after the 2019 election.
Two of the targeted supervisors, former Chairman Dan Murray and South River’s Linda Glavis did not run for reelection in 2019, and a third, Shenandoah District’s Tom Sayre was defeated by new Chairman Walt Mabe.
During his member report Tuesday morning, Carter queried Interim County Attorney Jason Ham on the case status and total costs to the County and its taxpayers of defending board members against that recall petition. That cost was $48,500, Ham replied.
And as he explained in a June 24th letter informing the current and past board members of the court action of the previous day, Ham noted that the portion of the suit against the no-longer seated members had been “dismissed with prejudice” meaning it could not be re-filed. And while the “Order of non-suit” and “Dismissal without Prejudice” against Carter and Fox would allow it to be re-filed in six months, Ham wrote that from the conversation with Harrisonburg Special Prosecutor Michael Parker, “I don’t think that is very likely.”
Carter noted that such a removal petition based around what is thus far considered unintentional lapses of oversight allowing alleged criminal behavior of others has rarely if ever been upheld in Virginia. The courts have indicated a preference to let such non-criminal legislative matters be resolved by impacted citizens at the ballot box, rather in another governmental branch’s courtroom.
Somewhat playfully perhaps, Carter wondered if a bill for the County Recall Petition legal defense expenses could be added up to be divided among the citizens who signed it seeking a judicial removal of local legislators for non-criminal behavior.
“And I assume there’s not a way … that the people who signed the petition, to send them a bill for 50 dollars each?” Carter asked.
Ham’s answer appeared to be that such a plan was not currently under consideration by him or his co-counsel on the matter.
“Anyway, I just thought I’d pass that information on,” Carter said in concluding that little legal-budgetary foray and notice of ALL those targeted by the Recall Petition’s survival of it.
View the Board of Supervisor meeting of August 4, 2020, in this related story.
Rockland area residents seek shooting ban for their neighborhood
Other than the Confederate soldier statue debate, the other primary topic during the opening public comments portion of Tuesday morning, August 4th, Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting was a proposed ban on recreational shooting in the Clearback subdivision off Rockland Road near the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club. The matter had been scheduled for a work session following the meeting and a closed session.
However, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter suggested adding advertisement for a public hearing on the matter to the meeting’s Consent Agenda to speed up movement on the issue. His motion to add the matter to the meeting agenda was unanimously approved. Consequently, four people urged the supervisors to approve the recreational shooting prohibition for their neighborhood. They, along with others they presented supporting signatures of, called what they are experiencing, not only a public nuisance but also a reckless and potentially dangerous one.
Speaking on the matter were James Harper, Jean Isner, Robert Aylor, and Bruce Benzie. While not present due to family health concerns, our contributing writer Malcolm Barr Sr. sent an email in support of the requested ban to the board through Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi.
“I compliment and support Mr. James Harper in his efforts to obtain relief from a long-standing irritant that has been thrust upon residents of the Rockland Historic Area of the county for several years – that of irresponsible target shooting on at least two properties on Rockland Road, one of them specifically affecting residents of the Clearback subdivision, the other detrimental to the operators and users of Shenandoah Valley Golf Club. I secured, as a matter of record, the signature of Richard Runyon, owner, and operator of the SVGC who joined most Clearback Subdivision residents in seeking relief from the incessant noise and possible danger that is imposed on us. Almost daily, the sound of rifle fire beginning as early as 10 a.m. can continue up to 90 minutes to 2 hours, then begin again in the late afternoon,” Barr wrote the board.
Harper opened the Public Comments telling the supervisors, “Several weeks ago on a Saturday we all heard automatic gunfire for over 5-1/2 hours. This was non-stop gunfire,” Harper said of one obtrusive example of what has become a regular situation for area residents.
“Years ago this was farmland, now it’s a neighborhood. Is it fair for two houses to disrupt the neighborhood?” Harper asked the board before presenting a list of signatures in support of the shooting ban for the subdivision area, including from former supervisor Ben Weddle, former town councilman Kermit Nichols, and as Barr noted in his email, SVGC principal Richard Runyon. Harper told a story told him by Runyon when Harper first arrived in the area to introduce him to the shooting issue.
“He told me they were hosting a wedding, and they went across the street to ask them to stop shooting while the wedding was going on because it was an outdoor wedding. And they said ‘No’ and kept on shooting. That’s what we’re dealing with,” Harper told the supervisors.
“I ask you to put yourselves in our shoes during this discussion,” Aylor added, “The pop-pop-pop-pop-pop is loud, it’s annoying and it’s disrespectful … Some of us have pets and it’s annoying to them as well.”
Of one neighbor’s nearby pasture land, Benzie said, “Her cattle go absolutely ballistic when they hear that weapons fire. It’s just amazing.”
Of the potential of danger to neighboring properties, Benzie referenced a report he had heard about a “six-year-old child” being wounded under similar shooting circumstances in Middletown over the past weekend.
During his opening remarks, Harper said inquiries to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office indicated there was nothing law enforcement could do until a County code change added the neighborhood to those where such shooting is prohibited as a public nuisance and danger in a residential area.
That puts the ball in the Supervisors’ court just as both the County and Town have been approached about passing resolutions not to join the state government in imposing restrictions on firearms being carried into government offices, properties, and meetings. Maybe the cited Rockland offenders will bring their “automatic” or semi-automatic weapons to the coming public hearing to illustrate why their use shouldn’t be restricted.
The Royal Examiner video of the August 4, 2020 meeting is in two parts:
No middle ground apparent in Confederate statue debate
An unexpected debate over the fate of the Confederate Soldier Monument on the Warren County Courthouse lawn erupted at Tuesday morning’s County Board of Supervisors meeting.
In fact, after an agenda addition was proposed by Tony Carter to add authorization for Interim County Attorney Jason Ham to submit a request to the court that a public referendum on the 109-year-old statue’s fate be added to the November county ballot, nine of 14 speakers at the first public comments period addressed the issue. The split was a tight 5-4 in favor of keeping the statue at its public site, rather than remove it as a lingering sign of racism and the slavery issue at the root of the American Civil War.
Those five speaking for keeping the statue dedicated to the memory of Warren County’s 600 Confederate soldiers, both known and unknown, who fought in the war all argued that the statue was not a glorification of slavery and continued racism in America, but rather a tribute to non-slave-owning soldiers – other than five of those 600 – most likely drafted into service who may have viewed the war from a different perspective than many of those of us in the 21st century might assume.
The four speaking for removal included two principals from Front Royal Unites, Samuel Porter and Stevi Hubbard, as well as Gene Kilby, James Kilby Sr.’s youngest son and one of the county’s first integrated public school students of color, and Episcopal Reverend Valerie Hayes. From their varying perspectives, all four countered that for the county’s black citizens the statue does echo of slavery and racism.
Speaking for maintaining the statue under some compromise solution that does not glorify slavery or racism included several members of a family tied to Front Royal’s Chester Street Warren Rifles Confederate Museum, including Suzanne Wood Silek, her nephew and museum curator Gary Duane Vaughan, cousin and local attorney David Silek. Others speaking for keeping the statue where it is were Richard Bruce Colton and Richard Hoover.
Several of the speakers on the removal side of the debate who had arrived late after being notified of the agenda item addition, complained of the unannounced late addition they said prevented more speakers from their side from coming to voice their opinions.
However, Carter noted that the board’s hand was forced by the discovery that there was an August 14 deadline on submission to the court of a County petition to add a non-binding referendum on the statue issue to give the supervisors a perspective on the community divide to the November ballot. Carter pointed out the next scheduled board meeting was August 19. Cheryl Cullers made the motion to add the item to the Consent Agenda, Delores Oates seconded the motion which then received the necessary unanimous vote of approval to become a late agenda addition.
While an updated story with more detail is planned, for now watch those speakers listed above present their conflicting viewpoints in what ended up stretching the prescribed 40-minute public comments period to 80 minutes Tuesday morning in this Royal Examiner video:
Council seeks clarification on guns into town offices & meetings request
The march of 2nd Amendment advocates recruiting local municipal governments to become “sanctuaries” against State laws passed by the Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly continues. At the Monday, August 3, Front Royal Town Council work session a new resolution seeking local immunity from a new state law allowing municipalities to join the Commonwealth in banning the carrying of weapons into government buildings, meeting rooms and other properties was brought to council by staff.
The request for passage of the newest 2nd Amendment sanctuary rebellion against the current Democratic-controlled state government’s gun-control legislation was brought to council by Paul Aldridge, who was not present Monday, in mid-July. Both the Town and County approved “2nd Amendment Sanctuary” resolutions brought before them late last year, joining a number of conservative municipalities resolving not to enforce proposed gun control laws before the General Assembly.
As to the newest proposed resolution, it references VA Code Section 15.2-915(E). That newly passed state code states “…a locality may adopt an ordinance that prohibits the possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof…” in government buildings and open spaces or spaces utilized for permitted community events or other municipal or recreational activities.
The code, as with others approved this year regarding background checks and red flag laws, appears to be a Democratic initiative to head off the type of mass shooting violence that has become uncomfortably common in the U.S. in recent decades. However, certain 2nd Amendment “purists”, for lack of a better term, in Virginia and other politically conservative states and regions have taken such gun control legislation as an assault on their 2nd Amendment right to, not only own a firearm but “bear it” in any public context in which they see fit.
Monday night’s discussion indicated some confusion as to what was being asked as it applied, not only to existing town codes regarding citizens being given carte blanche to come armed into Town Hall and any town council or other board or commission meeting or visit to any town official or departmental office. In the end, council asked for more detail on the impacts of approval of the resolution to continue the discussion at a coming work session. But what a discussion it was to get to that “stay tuned for our next exciting episode” on this crucial request pitting some people’s perception of their 2nd Amendment right “to bear Arms” versus other people’s perception of their “inalienable right” of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” without being randomly gunned down by an armed citizen having a bad day.
Town Attorney Doug Napier explained that the above-referenced state code allowed municipalities “including the town” to set their own guidelines on firearms in public places, a power they did not previously have in this Dillon Rule state where no jurisdiction can pass laws that goes beyond what state law has set forth.
“Now localities, including the town, are allowed to allow firearms, they are allowed not to allow firearms. Obviously, this is something that is political and a policy issue, as opposed to a legal issue,” Napier told council, pointing to matters of concern on a decision on the requested resolution.
As the town attorney pointed out in the subsequent discussion, by passing the resolution the town’s elected officials would commit themselves legally to “not exercise any authority granted to it by § 15.2-915(E) of the Code of Virginia to regulate or prohibit the otherwise legal purchase, possession, or transfer of firearms or ammunition.
“If this is passed in its entirety, would you feel comfortable to allow the public to bring firearms into Town Hall? We have ladies in the finance department downstairs dealing with members of the public who have had their utilities cut off. Sometimes people feel a little agitated with that,” Napier observed.
He also noted that while council at meetings and work sessions has a security presence of town police, as illustrated Monday night by an armed FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis – whom later acknowledged he had not yet been consulted on the requested resolution – but that other boards and commissions do not normally have that same armed Town security presence in meetings the town attorney described as occasionally volatile with zoning, building-permitting, and business operations at issue.
“Would you feel comfortable in that situation,” Napier asked council of allowing armed involved citizens making their cases toward a sometimes unhappy town appointed, or elected, board resolution of their request?
As to the potential of barring firearms from public park areas where alcohol consumption might be prohibited, other than special festival events and which it could on occasion have been consumed illegally, the town attorney also pointed to the potentially volatile mix of alcohol and firearms.
Napier then noted that the Town Employee Handbook prohibits employees from being armed on the job, other of course than police officers. How would the requested resolution impact that employee prohibition, Napier asked.
“And then the issue is, do you want employees to carry firearms?” Napier told council, wondering if council would try to allow it for some, but not others – “So, these are some of the issues to consider.”
OK – Everyone but employees?
“Does this resolution affect our employee handbook directly?” Councilman Jacob Meza asked. Napier’s response was “not directly” to which Meza observed, “But we wouldn’t have to address that unless we wanted to consider letting our employees having handguns to defend themselves against crazy people coming in and try to shoot up the place. That doesn’t have a bearing on the resolution,” Meza reasoned.
“Not directly,” the town attorney replied, stumbling to find the proper wording to describe the indirect bearing it might have, which essentially was approving the resolution would contradict the employee handbook’s prohibition on employees, who are also citizens, carrying firearms to work, potentially now as a means of self-defense against armed citizens unhappy with some town action or issue.
“So, everybody but employees could carry firearms,” Napier said of the impact of approving the resolution under current town employee handbook guidelines.
As discussion progressed into the different treatment employees faced from all other citizens and visitors to the town due to the handbook prohibition, Meza said, “I have no desire to change our handbook employee policy for this …” He added he would defer to the interim town manager, if he wanted to do a poll to establish whether the employee handbook needed to be altered as a consequence of approval of the requested resolution.
Councilwoman Lori Cockrell observed that council’s meeting were at the County-owned government center, so council likely did not have the authority to authorize the carrying of weapons, at least into Town meetings at the Warren County Government Center. A similar resolution request is also apparently before the County at this time.
No guns in Town Hall, no tourists?
The resolution presented to the Front Royal Town Council Monday evening actually referenced passage of any local firearms prohibitions into government facilities and properties as having a potential negative affect on tourism.
“… and WHEREAS, certain legislation has been passed in the Virginia General Assembly that allows localities to, by ordinance, ban otherwise lawfully possessed and transported firearms from certain public spaces, causing law-abiding citizens to be exposed to a patchwork of local ordinances as they travel throughout the Commonwealth,
“and WHEREAS, the Front Royal Town Council acknowledges the significant economic contribution made to our community by tourists and visitors and does not wish to discourage travel to Front Royal,
“and WHEREAS, Front Royal wishes to welcome all law-abiding citizens who wish to live in, visit, or otherwise participate in the economy of our community, including those citizens and visitors who choose to legally carry a firearm for personal protection, and …” the resolution continues toward the requested Town “resolution/reservation of its right” to make all citizens and employees at its facilities and recreational properties less exposed to the potential of random or directed gun violence.
See this nearly 15-minute discussion about 15 minutes into the work session, as well as other council business, including updates on the town building mural art project; applications for the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief funding – 25 of 50 business applications for relief approved and $225,000 of $1.2 million in relief funding approved to those 25 qualifying applicants; South Street Capital Improvement plans; and a potential change to town vending-peddling regulations allowing for competition in the ice cream truck sale of frozen treats town-wide in this Royal Examiner video. Currently only former Mayor Hollis Tharpe is “grandfathered” in to sell frozen treats town-wide. C&C Frozen Treats owner William Huck would like to change that existing one-truck monopoly, staff indicated.
Oh, and Mr. Tharpe’s mayoral portrait was back in its place on the 2nd floor Town Hall meeting room wall Monday night.