FRONT ROYAL — Mental health calls for service from the Front Royal Police Department (FRPD) remain on track this year to surpass those made in 2017 and 2018, according to Police Chief Kahle Magalis.
Chief Magalis, at the request of Front Royal Town Councilman Jacob Meza, provided members with data and information on the impacts that mental health calls for service are having on the community from a law enforcement perspective, outlining what the department currently faces, how it responds, and what’s needed going forward.
Statewide, the Virginia hospital census has seen a 294-percent increase in temporary detention order (TDO) admissions. Here, the Northwestern Community Services Board must complete an evaluation before a magistrate issues a TDO.
Once issued, the TDO directs a law enforcement officer to take a person into custody and transport him or her to a specified facility for further treatment for a suspected mental illness, Magalis said, noting that all TDOs for persons located in Front Royal are forwarded to the FRPD for service.
A TDO requires that the person remain in custody until a court holds a civil proceeding — usually held within 72 hours — to determine if involuntary admission to a facility is needed, unless the medical facility director determines that further treatment isn’t necessary.
At the same time, state hospital beds are scarce. Facilities under the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) average a 96-percent capacity rate, a figure that at times has risen to 100 percent capacity, said Magalis.
“Clearly this is not a sustainable trajectory,” Magalis told Front Royal Town Council members during their September 16 regular meeting and work session.
While DBHDS is experiencing increasing pressures, Magalis said that the overall number of statewide TDOs has held steady at roughly 25,500 per year.
Likewise, in the counties of Warren, Frederick, Clarke, and Page, Magalis provided 2016-2019 data showing what he called “fairly consistent” numbers for evaluations, TDOs, and emergency custody orders (ECOs).
ECOs are similar to TDOs in that a magistrate may issue one for an adult or juvenile based on evidence that the person suffers from a mental illness. ECOs also are forwarded to the FRPD for service if the person lives locally and a police officer may take the person into custody and transport the person to a specified location for evaluation to determine if mental health treatment is needed. An ECO allows eight hours for an employee or designee of the Northwestern Community Services Board to complete an evaluation and locate a treatment facility if it’s needed.
What’s different is that when an ECO is issued, a family member or friend also may be authorized to serve as an “alternative transportation provider” under certain circumstances, Magalis said.
In Front Royal, specifically, overall mental health calls for service to the FRPD encompass three categories of mental health issues: suicide/suicidal; ECO/TDO; and ‘other,’ which includes overdoses.
The total of 196 mental health calls for service to FRPD have been made thus far through August, a total that Magalis said is on track to match and possibly surpass the total of 256 calls in 2018 and the 228 calls in 2017.
In a breakdown of the FRPD mental health calls for service, the combined ECO and TDO total was 79 in 2017; 98 in 2018; and now stands at 60 for this year through August.
Meanwhile, the total number of suicide/suicidal mental health calls for service increased from 89 in 2017 to 104 in 2018, while so far this year there have been 70 suicide/suicidal calls to the FRPD.
In the ‘other’ category, the total number of mental health calls for service dropped from 60 in 2017 to 54 in 2018. This year, though, the total is already at 66.
One of the ways the FRPD works to answer mental health calls for service is via the grant-funded Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center (CITAC), which is a secure facility staffed by CIT-trained law enforcement officers and licensed by the Virginia DBHDS as an evaluation center for individuals who require evaluation for involuntary hospitalization.
People under an ECO get transported to the CITAC, located on the Winchester Medical Center campus, by an on-duty officer and custody is transferred to the CITAC, where clients are monitored prior to, during, and while awaiting TDO and transport.
“A lot of times these officers who spend time with these folks are able to de-escalate some of them” from being in a situation where they may have needed a TDO and to be transported to a facility, said Magalis, who added that half of the FRPD’s sworn staff is CITAC trained, along with about a quarter of the communications staff.
Councilwoman Letasha Thompson said she was glad to hear that the number of trained CITAC officers has risen.
“I’m working on trying to up that,” Magalis responded, adding, “I’d like to see the whole agency trained. But the CITAC trainings are hard to come by these days.”
Another helpful effort, said the police chief, would be a Warren County designation under the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) grant program, which provides assistance to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States.
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plays an active role in HIDTA-designated counties, which are located in 49 states, as well as in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.
“It’s bad that we’re in the situation that we’re in that we have this sort of thing to deal with,” Magalis said, “but it’s good that we are trying to get that designation because it would open up some resources to us that previously weren’t available to us.”
Councilman Meza, who requested the report from Magalis, thanked the police chief and said that overall, the information highlights “the increasing problem of resources” in Front Royal.
Watch the presentation from Chief Magalis in the exclusibe Royal Examiner video:
Liaison Committee ponders drug abuse committee logistics, solid waste disposal costs, and ongoing projects
Town and County officials reviewed a number of projects at the Front Royal-Warren County Liaison Committee meeting of Thursday, October 22nd. Those included early stages of formation of a joint municipality and law enforcement committee to work more proactively to stem the tide of drug, particularly heroin and opioid abuse in the county; adjustment of Town payments to the County on its solid-waste disposal to reflect current costs to the County; the status of implementation of Building Inspection software to facilitate online applications and payments; recent Development Review Committee discussion of Town and County projects; and two County projects ongoing inside the town limits.
Adjusting the name of the currently referenced “Drug Task Force Committee” to more accurately portray its joint civilian-law enforcement mission of education, prevention and rehabilitation of aspects of the community, particularly young people and other vulnerable groups, targeted by drug dealers was suggested. “Joint Substance Abuse Committee” was cited as a leading candidate for that renaming.
The committee by whatever name will meet at 8:30 a.m. this coming Thursday, October 29th at the Warren County Government Center in a room determined to be large enough to hold all involved parties.
The bulk of the Liaison Committee agenda packet – 16 of 20 pages – referenced background on the solid-waste agreement between the two municipalities dating to 2009. At issue is that the Town’s current $50.72 per-ton payment on the Commercial tipping fee on its commercial waste does not cover current costs incurred by the County under the old, agreed-upon 73.5% the Town pays on its waste.
Asked by Councilwoman Lori Cockrell what the bottom line of the dizzying array of numbers, various fees and percentages presented was, it was determined the Town needed to increase it’s per-ton payment by $1.28 per ton to $52 per ton. Cockrell then asked what the yearly tonnage of Town commercial waste handled by the County was.
The answer, 518 tons per year, meant that a year’s underpayment at the current rate equated to a County loss of $663.04 annually. It wasn’t clear if the rate adjustment would include compensating the County for any past losses, though as Cockrell observed, the annual total didn’t equate too much of the Town’s annual budget.
A County staff suggestion was that moving forward, the rates and any necessary adjustments be reviewed and made annually.
Among ongoing projects recently discussed by the Development Review Committee were a request for “60 apartments on East Main Street”, a proposed gas station-convenience store at the old Joe’s Steakhouse location on the town’s Southside at South Royal and Criser Road intersection; and the November 1st reopening of the thermal shelters offered to the community’s homeless through the cold weather at the County’s Health and Human Services complex on 15th Street in the old middle school building.
Cockrell, representing the Town with Mayor Tewalt and Gary Gillespie, pointed out that an inquiry had been made about the potential of adding locker space where homeless could keep their possessions during the day.
Interim County Administrator Ed Daley also observed that it was believed the 18 to 24 maximum thermal shelter accommodation at the site might not be enough for the anticipated number of homeless needing winter accommodations in the coming years. The possibility of establishing an alternate site that could both accommodate increasing numbers and provide lockable space for their possessions might be necessary long-term was discussed without a pinning down of a potential location.
See these discussions and others in this exclusive Royal Examiner Liaison Committee meeting video:
Baugh Drive warehouse rental lease approved; EDA looks toward a ‘Strategically’ consistent future
The EDA Board of Directors met for their regular monthly board meeting, Friday, October 23. Following a one-and-a-half-hour Closed Meeting the Board approved the following motions:
- Approved a 3-month lease agreement with Dollar Tree Distribution Inc. for parking lot space at 426 Baugh Dr. at $2,100/month;
- Approved a $90,000 settlement agreement with the heirs of Daniel McEathron;
- Approved giving board Secretary Greg Harold authority to review and award a contract for mold remediation of the Avtex Building, as Executive Director Doug Parsons is away on personal leave/vacation.
Two additional actions were bookkeeping items introduced in the report of the Finance Chair Jorie Martin. Both motions were unanimously approved: a/ to eliminate the EDA Rent account at Atlantic Union and transfer all monies to the EDA Cash-Operational account. b/ To recode specific payments made by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission as Note Receivable payments, as they were previously recorded and deposited incorrectly to the EDA Rent account at Atlantic Union. These payments will be deposited in the EDA Cash/Operational account.
The remaining portion of the meeting was devoted to Director Jim Wolfe and his review of the results of the Strategic Planning conference held October 9-10. He appreciated all of the conversations and involvement by all of the attendees which led to the development of draft goals for the EDA. He reported that he’ll be assigning specific topics for further research to the other Directors with the goal of having a draft Strategic Plan at the next regular board meeting on December 4.
EDA settles civil claim against McEathron estate for $90,000
Following an hour-and-thirty-five-minute closed session on a variety of topics that opened its monthly meeting of October 23, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors approved a motion agreeing to a settlement with the estate of late Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron.
The settlement amount agreed upon between the EDA and McEathron’s widow and two adult children is $90,000. McEathron was linked to the EDA financial scandal due to his partnership in former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s DaBoyz LLC real estate company. In the EDA’s civil litigation initially filed in March 2019, McDonald is accused, among other things, of unauthorized moving of EDA assets to her own benefit through her real estate companies DaBoyz and MoveOn8. Still Sheriff at the time, McEathron along with McDonald and the two real estate companies, were on the initial list of civil case defendants.
After taking early retirement effective May 1, 2019, just over a month after being named a co-defendant in the EDA civil litigation, the county’s long-time sheriff was found dead on his Bentonville property 28 days later, May 28, from an apparent suicide. Some questions about the death arose after Sheriff’s Office personnel, ostensibly alerted by McEathron to his planned suicide by phone, removed the body from the scene where it was discovered in proximity to an expended firearm before the Virginia State Police, the EDA criminal case investigating agency, was notified of the death.
On Friday, EDA Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, who made the motion to approve, addressed the McEathron Estate settlement prior to the vote.
“Mr. Chairman, I want the community to know that the EDA has negotiated in good faith for this settlement for a long time. This is something that we’ve taken very seriously; this is something that we have called back and forth with, with our attorneys and the estate’s attorneys. While we feel there are certain risks and rewards with these situations, I think the EDA is comfortable at this time that we have done the best that we can for the community and that it’s time to put this matter behind us as the motion is written,” Harold said.
Thank you for that,” Board Chairman Jeff Browne responded. There was no other comment prior to the vote on Harold’s motion, seconded by James Wolfe, which then passed by a 4-0 margin of the members remaining after the closed session, the above three and Tom Pattison. Jorie Martin and Melissa Gordon were present for the 8 a.m. convening of the meeting into closed session but had left to other commitments prior to the closed session’s 9:45 a.m. conclusion.
The motion on approval of the settlement read into the record by EDA Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson states in part, “Whereas the Front Royal-Warren County EDA has certain claims against Daniel McEathron; Whereas the EDA and McEathron’s heirs desire to resolve any claims that may exist between them; Now therefore be it resolved the chairman and the secretary of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA Board are authorized to enter into an agreement … (with those heirs) for the purposes set forth in this resolution which agreement shall provide for the payment of $90,000 dollars to the EDA …”
The motion adds that if any FOIA request are received by the EDA related to the settlement, McEathron’s widow or her attorneys will receive notice of those requests having been made.
As initially reported by former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw, McEathron and McDonald’s first transaction in DaBoyz dated to October 2016 and the pair purchased a total of $2.8 million of real estate between then and 2019. The LLC was involved in a number of transactions cited in the EDA civil litigation filed to recover allegedly misdirected assets, including a mysterious one in which a property was bought and sold back to the owner a month later at a loss of $600,000.
A number of McDonald and her two LLC’s existing properties were frozen by the court early in the civil case process. However, civil claims against McDonald assets have been complicated by her recent filing of bankruptcy, which put her assets under control of the Harrisonburg-based bankruptcy court.
The EDA civil litigation has grown to 24 human and business entity co-defendants, with total claims, actual and punitive, of about $25 million dollars. And as previously reported, the Harrisonburg Special Prosecutor’s Office has turned the criminal investigation into the EDA financial scandal over to the U.S. Western District of Virginia federal prosecutor’s office.
A non-agenda topic dominates the supervisors’ attention – is it too late for compromise on Confederate statue?
What appeared to be a fairly routine agenda of the Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, October 20th ended up being anything but. The first sign that something might be up was a nearly full Warren County Government Center parking lot with perhaps 15 people talking and scattered about outside 15 minutes prior to the open meeting’s scheduled 7 p.m. start.
While there were six public hearings scheduled, none appeared to be of a contentious or controversial nature that might draw such a crowd. And a six o’clock closed session to discuss committee, board, and EDA personnel matters; personal property assessments; and even the Front Royal Golf Club management contract, wouldn’t likely be pulling such numbers in.
“Just waiting for the meeting to start,” was the response to a “what’s going on” query by this reporter. And about three minutes after that meeting start as the 60-minute opening public comments portion of the meeting began, it quickly became apparent what the crowd was there for – the courthouse grounds Confederate soldier statue debate.
To the caucus room front side of the meeting room, a four-person contingent was seated with Front Royal Unites principal Samuel Porter, who was a day or so off a social media spat with Front Royal Unites co-founding member and original organization president Stevi Hubbard’s 13-year-old daughter over her and her mother’s separation from the group.
Scattered throughout the public seating were some of those who had been outside, including at least one centrally located, colorful MAGA hat-sporting member, some familiar faces from recent Warren County Militia events including organizer Sam Haun, as well as two past public commenters in favor of leaving the statue in place, Richard Hoover and Gary Kushner.
Sixty-two minutes and 22 public speakers later, 17 of whom addressed the statue issue with a 13-4 split in favor of it remaining where it is, the meeting agenda moved past public comments to those six public hearing matters, before finishing up with board and staff reports, and approval of past meeting minutes, accounts, appropriations and fund transfers.
But it was the increasingly divisive expression of conflicting attitudes on the necessity or lack thereof for the removal of a memorial to the county’s citizens who went to war on the side of the Confederacy, some to die, all likely to be changed in some way forever, that put an imprint on the supervisors’ evening of October 20, 2020.
For that conversation, sometimes reasoned, sometimes not; occasionally reaching toward communication and compromise, at other times expressing deafness to any opinion other than one’s own; and at times even ominously threatening as to unrealized “consequences” of demanding what certainly that evening was the minority opinion for removal, was a reflection of where we are as, not only a county but as a nation divided as Election Day 2020 approaches.
Perhaps the most reasoned thing said on the statue topic was by fifth speaker Richard Hoover’s suggestion that the statue remain with other war memorials on the courthouse grounds, but that a statue to the county’s black citizens who were enslaved be added to memorialize their sacrifice next to the county’s memorials to those who sacrificed by going to war on the right or wrong side of history.
But as Hoover reached his point of reasoned compromise following an exploration of the nuances of local and national history, the strictly enforced three-minute time limit bell went off, cutting his reasoned compromise idea off as it was leaving his mouth.
Another speaker who appeared to be with the leave the Confederate soldier statue where it is contingent, Craig Anderson, failed to mention the statue at the podium, targeting what he called the “COVID mask thing” as a political hoax or “political fear thing” orchestrated, apparently by Democrats. Anderson asserted that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has “told us” that rather than the 220,000-plus deaths now attributed to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., the actual number was only 10,000 fatalities that the virus has been responsible for nationally.
But the statue wasn’t the only topic of controversy addressed during public comments. Perhaps the most aggressively personal comments delivered the supervisors’ way came from Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District management critic Nancy Winn. Winn railed at the supervisors by first names for a lack of attention to her submissions and expenditure on a lawyer to assemble evidence of what she feels were misappropriations of Sanitary District funds by the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF).
As the bell and Chairman Mabe noted her three minutes at the podium were expired, she continued to complain on what she sees as inaction by the board, again calling the chairman out by his first name as she returned to her front-row seat.
“Don’t tell me to shut up,” she said loudly, apparently directed her husband Dale Orlowske’s way before he approached the podium to support his wife’s assertions that Sanitary District money was spent in places it should not have been under POSF management.
POSF official Ralph Rinaldi later rose to tell the board that he and the POSF were prepared to present their side of the story at a date of the supervisors choosing. Board Chairman Mabe informed Rinaldi that he had been sent information that day on a date for the POSF presentation in response to Winn and Orlowske’s allegations.
If POSF critic Winn is there, that should be MUST SEE Royal Examiner TV.
This writer could continue to quote from the above-described exchanges but will just suggest you “get the popcorn” or a preferred snack and settle in for the hour-and-three-minute show as it transpired in this Royal Examiner video.
Then there is the rest of the meeting – erosion and sediment control ordinance updates to align with state law changes; Conditional Use Permit applications for flower-arranging classes at an Ag District farm (vote postponed to Nov. 4); a short-term tourist rental application; and two zoning modification requests by Frank Barnett Jr. and the Warren County Fair Association/Frank Brugh; and establishment of a small 14-lot Sanitary District at the Shannon Woods subdivision (public hearing recessed to Nov. 4) – but what an anti-climax, unless one of those applications was yours.
Council approves budget transfer on FRPD construction; remaining CARES Act distribution plan
In other business at its October 19 meeting, by a 5-0 vote, Meza absent, the Front Royal Town Council approved a Fiscal Year-2021 Budget Amendment allowing an “Interfund Budget Transfer” of $8,483,001.15 to facilitate payment on the United Bank loan on the construction of the new Town Police Headquarters. During the public hearing on the budget amendment, Paul Gabbert rose to tell council it was a transfer long overdue.
Gabbert also questioned council’s congratulatory “back slapping” on alleged savings of “millions of dollars” noting that with an unknown interest rate in 10 years when an estimated $4.78-million-dollar balance will have to be refinanced, exactly how much money will be saved or lost remains a long-term unknown. Gabbert also told town officials they should calculate contracted attorney’s fees related to the Town’s litigation against the EDA against those publicly bragged about savings.
“There are no back pats from the public,” Gabbert asserted of council’s choices of litigation with the recovering from financial scandal EDA and the two-year impasse over assuming financing on its police headquarters construction project.
Also, by a 5-0 vote, council approved “Option 1” of two options on the distribution of a remaining $309,058 in Phase 1 CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities) Act relief funds. The Town’s share of that first $3.5 million received by the County from the federal-enabled, state-distributed money was $1,276,558.
One apparent difference between the two options was a small percentage change in the “Additional Payout” category from 31.4% in Option 1, to 30% in Option 2 that appeared to reduce the “Estimated Chamber of Commerce Administration Fee” from $18,808 in Option 2 to $5,000 in Option 1. Contacted on those numbers, Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson said Option 1 would result in a lesser payment to the Chamber for its administrative work on the CARES distribution. He noted that the Chamber had offered to do the work at no charge, but that council felt some compensation was in order, choosing the $5,000 compensation on the Phase 1 work.
Consideration of a transfer of Contingency funds was removed from the agenda on a motion by Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock. Sealock indicated some questions about involved resources remained to be clarified. And council agreed to table consideration of the transfer pending more information.
Also, during the Interim Town Manager’s Report, FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis came forward for a promotion ceremony of Officer Zachary King to sergeant in the patrol division. His wife Jess, two children River and Tyler, and mother Dot were present for the brief ceremony during which Jess successfully pinned her husband’s new rank on his chest.
One local businessperson, Holly Leach, thanked the Town for its efforts on behalf of downtown businesses in the opening public comments period.
During his report, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick presented social media statistics, views, and “likes” from the past weekend’s Fall leaf season during which a promotional effort by the contracted Tourism marketing company Strategic Solutions by Trish brought what Tederick called “influencers” or people with social media posting sites and followers related to travel and tourism, to Town.
However, there were no numbers presented that indicated a direct correlation between revenue generation and the social media “influencers” posts, responses, and “likes” compared to past Fall season Tourism numbers. Though such statistics may only be known over time, when and if “likes” translate into visits, not only to our national and state parks but downtown and other tourism-related businesses as well.
And those results in hard business revenue numbers will have to be judged against past tourist season revenues for a final judgment on the “influencer’s” influence on tourism destinations.
Watch these discussions, ceremonies, and public comments in this Royal Examiner video:
Town Council urges Valley Health and Anthem to resolve cost impasse
In a final agenda item before adjourning to closed session Monday night, October 19, the Front Royal Town Council passed a Resolution urging regional medical provider Valley Health and insurance giant Anthem/Blue Cross Blue Shield to continue to negotiate to a mutually acceptable resolution on the existing impasse on costs associated with renewing their contract which expires at the end of the 2020 calendar year, December 31st.
The resolution on a motion by Lori Cockrell, seconded by Letasha Thompson, was approved by a 5-0 vote, with Valley Health employee Jake Meza who likely would have recused himself from voting, absent. There was no council comment prior to the vote, as there is an apparent community-wide consensus the two private sector health care entities need to resolve their new contract cost dispute.
As first reported by Royal Examiner contributing writer Malcolm Barr Sr. on September 28, (“Major health insurance carrier may quit Valley Health; health care costs may rise for many in 2021”) were the Anthem/Valley Health contract allowed to lapse it would impact as many as 70% of Valley Health patients, including government retirees and employees. The Front Royal Town Council resolution estimates an impact on “about 40,000 people in the Valley Health regional health care monopoly region” including those utilizing Warren Memorial Hospital in town.
Perhaps unhappily now for local governments, Valley Health is currently building a new Warren Memorial Hospital (WMH) enabled by a Town and County-approved $60-million-dollar loan through the County-Town Economic Development Authority covering a significant portion of the new facility off Leach Run Parkway’s estimated cost. The new hospital was already controversial due to the planned elimination of some services, most prominently a maternity/birthing unit.
Perhaps ironically, Meza’s reversal of previous recusals on the matter due to his employment status with Valley Health, enabled June 11, 2018, 3-1 vote (John Connolly dissenting) adding the Town’s approval of the EDA hospital financing to the County’s. With two councilmen, Morrison and Gillespie absent had Meza continued his previous recusals council would not have had a necessary voting quorum to proceed on the matter, at least at that June 11, 2018 meeting (“Birth Local’s last stand nets one ‘no’ vote on finalizing hospital financing”).
But back to the present, Monday’s resolution notes that many people carry Anthem as their medical insurance provider through their employers, locally including public school and local government employees.
The resolution also points to the ongoing threat from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic which it observes, “continues to threaten the livelihood and well-being of the Front Royal and indeed, the greater Warren County community … and would only be exasperated by the dissolution of the currently-existing Valley Health and Anthem partnership to provide quality, affordable, and in-network healthcare services to the residents and citizens of the Front Royal and Warren County community of many thousands of people.”
The resolution makes several references to Valley Health’s “de facto monopoly on many vital life-saving and critical health care provisions” in the region and cites “a moral, if not legal, fiduciary responsibility” to continue to provide its services “to residents within this geographic region” and place those Anthem-covered service costs “above the profits and pecuniary interests of Valley Health”.
The County is also considering its options should the impasse not be resolved as reported in our story “County considers options as Valley Health and Anthem insurance split” – and the supervisors have expressed a distinct preference for a resolution of the Anthem-Valley Health dispute to changes to its employee insurance packages estimated to see costs at least double.
So, will public pressure and municipal resolutions have a positive impact on what may be a high-stakes poker game between the Northern Shenandoah Valley regional health care provider and the national health care insurance giant?
Stay tuned – it’s only our health and sometimes lives on the line versus corporate and executive compensation bottom lines.
See the motion, vote, and other business and public comments to council that will be summarized in a related story, in this Royal Examiner video of Monday’s 29-minute open meeting: