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Meza explanation of pro-Crooked Run 2 stance resurrects corridor issues

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Jacob Meza during April work session as council colleague Letasha Thompson listens. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

In addition to explaining why he doesn’t believe a majority of town citizens will tolerate an ongoing hike to either utility fees or taxes – even an 85-cent one – in support of any town service or public utility they may desire, Jacob Meza took time to respond to public criticism directed his way at the Monday, July 8, Front Royal Town Council meeting. That criticism came from Paul Gabbert, the one public speaker to address issues other than recycling during his remarks.

As reported in our related story on the continuation of recycling, after expressing support of opening speaker Adele Medved’s pro-recycling comments, Gabbert addressed the status of a trio of issues: the Afton Inn, the Crooked Run 2 development company request for Town water-sewer service for primarily residential development outside the town limits, and accountability for a past lack of due diligence regarding EDA business conducted inside the town limits.

China’s off the hook – Town will maintain single-stream recycling

It was the out-of-town water-sewer utility request, long a municipally contentious issue, that drew pointed criticism Meza’s way.

“The water in the Shenandoah is not yours to sell, sir, it belongs to everyone. I feel sorry for you if that’s how you look at the Shenandoah River,” Gabbert said of earlier work session Meza comments he interpreted as pro-Crooked Run 2 rezoning and town central utility access again being extended beyond the town limits into county land.

“At a work session several weeks ago, everyone except you, Mr. Meza, was against sending water out there. Your argument for sending water was, ‘Aren’t we in the business of selling water?’ which I assume means you are in favor of the rezoning” (of the Crooked Run 2 property from Commercial to Residential mixed use).

How do you look at the Shenandoah River? A state-winning view of the river near Cullers Outlook in Warren County was used for national tourism promotion for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Actually the rezoning is county business since the property at issue is on county land, just west of the Target-based Crooked Run Shopping Center, north of I-66. However were the Town to deny the utility request, it has been a foregone conclusion by most that the rezoning would become a moot point without Town central water-sewer service.

“Look at the future. When those jurisdictions up river from us … build residential, what’s going to happen to us?” Gabbert asked of changing municipal central water demands along one of the region’s great recreational assets.

“Is it going to be a trickle by the time it gets to the Potomac,” Gabbert wondered of the Shenandoah’s future.

I don’t know if I’d drink out of it anyway – Former Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelbe examines Shenandoah River cattle manure-fed algae bloom in 2017. OH WAIT, that’s what those tens of millions of dollars in water and wastewater plant upgrades are all about, right? Photo Courtesy Shenandoah Riverkeeper

Drawing on past meeting public comments Gabbert told Meza and his colleagues that he perceives an overwhelming citizen consensus opposed to authorizing the out-of-town extension of Town water-sewer beyond existing parameters, particularly as it might facilitate private-sector financial gain by way of out-of-town residential development.

“What you need to remember is the citizens of Front Royal and the county don’t want this rezoned; they do not want water to be sent to everything that’s going on in this county,” Gabbert said, adding an admonition to those on the council dais not to “play” the role of public servant, while operating on privately-held agendas.

“You hold your seats to do and to listen to what the citizens want, not what you as an individual wants,” Gabbert said as Vice-Mayor Sealock queried if he was concluding his remarks about a half minute after his time limit bell had gone off. That led Gabbert to hurry onto to his final topic, a request council members add a broader public apology to the one several of them had offered former colleague Bébhinn Egger on March 25, following her appearance to urge them to learn from past mistakes regarding an absence of due diligence in considering EDA requests for financial assistance, project rezonings and code exemptions.

Some 10 minutes later during council reports, Meza offered to sit down with Gabbert at some point to discuss in detail his constituent’s concerns.

Why not out of town?

“But I do want to go on the record that I am for different affordable housing options that were proposed in the Crooked Run project from apartments, town homes and senior living,” the councilman began, observing there was also a planned local commercial aspect to serve the neighborhood.

Meza said he had seen such development successfully done “IN the west end of Richmond” – an apparent indication that it was not done across municipal boundaries, as is being requested here.

“In order to make that happen you have to send water out and that’s what brings up the term ‘selling water’. It is actually what we do as a town for the commercial businesses out there; even the homes at Blue Ridge Shadows, we charge them for the water and it generates revenue for the infrastructure, and continues the expansion and building of our plants,” Meza said of the North Corridor’s industrial development on County land. It is development dependent on the extension of Town water-sewer service beyond the Town’s boundaries.

“So, I didn’t mean it as selling water as if we’re trying to make a profit on our community or on residents for providing our services (which is good, since that would be illegal by state law). But we’re charging for the water that we’re providing and in turn we develop the infrastructure that will provide water out there,” Meza said of what IS legal for municipal utilities. What is legal is charging fees that cover the cost of creation, maintenance and expansion of municipal utilities. Traditionally such municipal utility maintenance or expansion is accomplished within the jurisdiction’s boundaries, or to land that would first be annexed into those boundaries.

However, post the 1998-99 Route 340/522 Corridor Agreement that facilitated such utility extension beyond town limits without annexation such tradition has become blurred for many in this community, particularly those operating outside the town limits.

That Town-County corridor agreement approved as a first of its kind in Virginia by a three-judge panel will also probably be the last of its kind in the wake of the Town of Front Royal’s experience of it. That experience includes years of lost commercial tax base revenue from both corridor businesses that successfully sued to remove PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) fees attached to Town water-sewer bills, and the loss of “mom and pop” business revenue in town due to the mega chain competition created outside town limits. But that is another story for another day.

“So, I do like the further development idea,” Meza reiterated of his pro-Crooked Run 2 perspective. He noted work session discussion of State-permitted water capacities versus existing usage and other variables impacting the Town’s ability to access the Shenandoah River for increased central water distribution.

An aerial view of Crooked Run 1’s Target-based commercial center – Crooked Run 2’s now planned residentially-based development lies to the west, at upper right of photo. Royal Examiner File Photo Courtesy CassAviation

“I do think your point is well taken but we do have to be very conscientious about that, very thoughtful about the rezoning that would allow – I am concerned that we have over a thousand residential households zoned in the Town of Front Royal proper that have been that way for a very, very long time, decades, and we haven’t seen the development of any of those houses.

“And I would like to see some development around the Town of Front Royal. It would be wonderful if it was within the town limits and wasn’t out at Crooked Run but that’s not happening. And I would like to see that done sooner rather than later, so that we do have some different, alternate housing options,” Meza concluded.

The FRLP variable

The unrealized development within town limits Meza was referring to is the Front Royal Limited Partnership (FRLP) land on two parcels: the 604 acres zoned to accommodate 818 homes north of Happy Creek Road and a nearby 150 acres zoned for either 150 or 300 homes dependent upon the type of residential units placed there.

The FRLP saga dates back well over a decade, perhaps as far back as 2004. It includes a two-year process that brought the 604 acres into the town limits on November 1, 2014, in a “friendly annexation” between the Town and County that would facilitate in-town utility rates as opposed to the double rate supposed to be charged for out of town utility service extension. And that saga appears to include years of a seemingly unresolved hashing out of variables including economic development loans, per-unit and transportation infrastructure proffers between the three involved parties, the Town, County and FRLP. Coverage at the time of the annexation indicated proffers on the table totaling nearly $30 million from the developer.

The annexed FRLP 604 acres earmarked for development of over 818 residential units lies on the cleared pasture land in upper right portion of photo off Mary’s Shady Lane, the winding dirt road to far, upper right. Perhaps ironically, the FRLP parcel is adjacent to Truc ‘Curt’ Tran’s acquired Millennium Lotus/‘FR Farms’ property in the partially-cleared, partially-wooded area at center and lower-center of photo.

Long-time FRLP real estate consultant Bill Barnett was an interested observer at the unscheduled July 8 council meeting discussion of Meza’s perception of why the Town should facilitate residential development on county land, while planned in-town development flounders at an apparent economic impasse.

An attempt to reach FRLP principal David Vazzana regarding the status of his projects and causes of the referenced decade-plus of delays was unsuccessful prior to publication.

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Correction: maker of Cockrell nomination as vice mayor

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Front Royal Clerk of Town Council and Executive Assistant to the Town Manager Tina Pressley has informed us that her initial citing of Scott Lloyd as making the nomination of Lori Athey Cockrell as vice mayor on January 11 was incorrect. Rather, it was Councilman Gary Gillespie who made the nomination, which was as initially reported, seconded by Jacob Meza.

This reporter had inquired of the nomination, having found it additionally difficult to identify motion makers and seconds when viewing meetings by virtual, remote broadcast. Pressley noted it wasn’t much easier in the council meeting room.

Perhaps a suggestion to all our municipal officials that in the future the makers of motions and seconds identify themselves and/or be identified by name by the mayor prior to calling for votes on those motions.

Vice mayor appointment raises more partisan issues; mayor accuses EDA of ‘intentional’ delay of Afton Inn sale during January 11 meeting

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Warren County Planning Commission begins new year

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The Warren County Planning Commission began the 2021 calendar year with the election of officers. So, the first order of business was County Planning and Zoning Director Taryn Logan’s call for nominations for Chairman and Vice-Chairman.  2020 Chairman Robert Myers was nominated for chairman, and Hugh Henry was not unexpectedly nominated for another term as Vice Chairman.  Both nominations were unopposed, and the commission’s vote was unanimous.

Upon accepting the gavel for another term, Chairman Myers offered the agenda for approval and opened the floor for public presentations.  There were none.

The published public hearing for a conditional use permit for Parallel Virginia for a Pharmaceutical business in the Stephens Industrial Park in the commission’s agenda had been postponed at the applicant’s request, so the commission moved on to consider four requests for authorization to advertise for conditional use permit applications

Justin and Felicia Katzovitz have requested a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 1253 Liberty Hall Rd in the South River Magisterial district.  Planner Matt Wendling provided a briefing to the commissioners regarding the request and recommended the commission authorize the advertisement for a public hearing.  The commission unanimously approved.

Planner Matt Wendling provided a briefing to the commissioners regarding the request and recommended the commission authorize the advertisement for a public hearing. File photo.

John and Sheila Kirkpatrick have requested a conditional use permit for a guesthouse on their property on Red Hille Way in the South River Magisterial District.  They will be building their residence on that property and intend to have a one-bedroom cabin placed there, so they can live onsite during the construction.  The guesthouse would subsequently be used for visiting family and friends and not for commercial use.  Planner Wendling provided an overview of the request and the commission unanimously authorized the advertisement for a public hearing.

Carl and Jennifer Ey are applying for conditional use permits for short-term tourist rentals for two adjoining properties they own at 1406 and 1408 Panhandle Road in the South River Magisterial district.  Zoning Administrator Joe Petty provided a summary of the requests.  The property owners are experienced with short-term tourist rentals for more than 15 years in Page County.  The Eys have already submitted a property management plan.  The commission voted unanimously to authorize the advertisement for a public hearing.

During the commission matters portion of the agenda, Commissioner Scott Kersjes raised a concern about the portion of Route 522 between Reliance Road and Fairground Road, a 2.5-mile section of highway.  Commissioner Kersjes indicated that southbound traffic, especially tractor-trailers, tend to be unprepared to stop at the traffic signals at Reliance Road, evidence being skid marks all the way into the intersection from trailer tires.  Trucks use 522 south as a way of avoiding the Interstate 81 weigh station if they are overweight, contributing to a significant safety hazard.  The combination of lack of visibility for the intersection, too high a speed, and inadequate braking on a downhill slope could well result in a tragic accident.  The commissioner observed that a speed limit reduction to 45 MPH for that stretch of highway would reduce the risk.

Planning Director Logan responded that the County had requested VDOT perform a speed study, which would be needed to support a speed limit reduction.  She offered to send the Board of supervisors a letter asking for guidance.

Commissioner Longo asked if the next Planning Commission would be a joint meeting with the Board of Supervisors.  Planning Director Logan responded that if the Supervisors authorize, the March meeting would be doubled up.

Chairman Myers indicated that the traffic for Chipotle and 5 Guys, both of which are now open, was sometimes extending out to Country Club Road, creating some obstruction for access to the rest of Riverton Commons.  It is something to keep an eye on. Planning Director Logan observed that the traffic may even out with time.

Commissioner Crystal Beall had an issue raised by a citizen regarding new signage going up at public boat ramps including that at Gooney Creek.  Signs indicate that a permit is required for all watercraft for access to public waterways, including for canoes, kayaks, and even inner tubes.  The State Department of Wildlife Resources, as of Jan 1, 2021, requires a person age 17 or older to possess a valid Virginia hunting, trapping, or fishing permit, a Restore the Wild membership, an access permit, or a current boat registration to use an access facility.  The small warning signs regarding this requirement are the first indication that many citizens are seeing about this new policy that the legislature has created to help fund the Department’s activities.  There is a FAQ list at https://dwr.virginia.gov/boating/access-faq/ regarding the new rules.

South River District County Supervisor Cheryl Cullers attended the commission meeting and Chairman Myers asked if she could shed some light on the situation.  She explained what she knew of the requirement and that she has been seeking more information from the Department of Wildlife Resources on this topic.  Look for more information soon.

Planning Director Logan said that the Planning Department is working on its annual report and that new home permits numbered 191 in 2020, which is up 50 from 2019.  At 1%, this rate of increase is below the county’s 3% annual maximum for residential growth.

Planning Director Logan said that the Planning Department is working on its annual report and that new home permits numbered 191 in 2020, which is up 50 from 2019. File Photo.

Planner Wendling indicated that the planning office has sent out letters to flood plain affected landowners to refamiliarize them with floodplain responsibilities and rules, along with supplemental information about enforcement of permit conditions.

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Vice mayor appointment raises more partisan issues; mayor accuses EDA of ‘intentional’ delay of Afton Inn sale during January 11 meeting

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Other than fend off angry public feedback on the appointment of Jacob Meza at their January 11 regular meeting, there were action items and other business for the Front Royal Town Council to address. One of those, the appointment of a vice-mayor reflected some of the same council dynamics displayed during the Meza comment and responses.

That dynamic was that if you’re not part of the political inner circle of the supposedly by Town Charter ‘non-partisan’ council majority, you are not likely to be favorably considered for elevation to positions of higher authority, as with vice mayor.

Above, Republican ‘policy attorney’ Scott Lloyd nominated Lori Athey Cockrell, below, to the vice-mayor’s seat, leading to discussion of council ‘tradition’ on such appointments. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Straight out of national Republican political affairs and controversy into local, Scott Lloyd quickly nominated fellow county Republican Committee member Lori Athey Cockrell as vice mayor, seconded by Meza.

Letasha Thompson’s effort to nominate herself as the most senior remaining council person, as she noted was explained to her previously is a council ‘tradition’ for elevation to the vice-mayor’s seat, failed when Town Attorney Doug Napier told Mayor Chris Holloway that Cockrell’s initial nomination should be voted on prior to any other nominations. Cockrell’s appointment as vice mayor was then approved 4-2, with Joseph McFadden joining Thompson in casting dissenting votes.

As it is only a tradition, not a rule, Letasha Thompson’s effort to be appointed vice mayor as council’s most senior remaining member failed along party lines, minus Joseph McFadden’s dissenting vote to Cockrell’s nomination.

The report of Mayor Chris Holloway was of particular interest as he accused the still legally Town-County Economic Development Authority (EDA) of having “intentionally delayed” the sale of the Afton Inn, which he continued to observe should either be re-developed or torn down soon.

Despite the fact the EDA has been trying to finalize the sale of the Afton Inn property to redevelopment group 2 East Main LLC for several months to allow further stabilization work and redevelopment to commence and has been blocked by the Town’s questionable claim of ownership that were it true, would still not net the Town any revenue from the sale, no one on council challenged the mayor’s description of the impasse. – Maybe it’s just that new member “knowledge gap” referenced by Councilman Meza, who had nothing to say on the matter either.

‘Alternate facts’ don’t just seem to be an issue at the national Republican level, as despite evidence to the contrary Mayor Holloway reported it is the EDA that has ‘intentionally delayed’ the sale for redevelopment of the Afton Inn.

No EDA business was on the agenda, so there were no EDA staff or board members present to voice the EDA’s side of the story.

In another major agenda action item, council unanimously approved reducing the Town Planning Commission membership from seven to five. Cockrell asked for McFadden’s opinion, being the most recent planning commissioner elected to council. McFadden explained the commission has had a difficult time having full membership available for planning commission meetings. He added that the current commission membership “fully supported” the number reduction, leading to the unanimous vote of approval.

A one-item Consent Agenda was also approved unanimously. That item was approval of a $36,227 “sole source” contract with Applied Digital Solutions for an upgrade to the Front Royal Police Department’s call and radio recording equipment. The current equipment was installed in 2014. In the agenda summary Town IT Director Todd Jones explained the old equipment was on the verge of failing and was incompatible with new technologies linking all the department’s recording equipment.

With the contract coming in below the estimated $40,000 cost to upgrade, the contract was called a favorable one. There will be an annual maintenance cost of $3,400, staff noted.

And speaking of the police department, near the meeting’s outset Chief Kahle Magalis was present to present the department’s officer and civilian employee of the year recipients to council.

FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis lauds the role of civilian Employee of the Year Hillary Wilfong in keeping him and his administrative staff on track. Officer of the Year Brian Whited missed the presentation of employee of year awards due to earlier high-speed chase and accident-strewn conclusion of that chase inside the town limits, the scene of which he remained at as Monday’s meeting progressed.

However, only one, Civilian Employee of the Year Hillary Wilfong, was present to receive the honor. Chief Magalis explained that Officer of the Year Sgt. Brian Whited was still on site of a major traffic incident that occurred earlier in the day.

That incident was the accident-strewn conclusion of the high-speed chase that went from the Riverton Area onto I-66 eastbound and back down John Marshall Highway to Leach Run Parkway and ending on Sixth Street near Manassas Avenue with about seven total cars involved in the accident that ended the pursuit of a juvenile driver arrested at the scene.

See all of these meeting actions unfold, including approval of next week’s Town-County Liaison Committee agenda and the report of Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission Director Brandon Davis, as well as Mayor Holloway’s report referenced above.

Watch the Town Council video recording here.

New year, same public disconnect from their elected town officials

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EDA in Focus

County Supervisors review VDOT issues, contracts, coming FY-2022 outside agency requests and public comment rules

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On Tuesday afternoon beginning at 4 p.m. and continuing after a brief adjournment at 6 p.m., the Warren County Board of Supervisors held a work session to discuss, first VDOT issues entering the new year and later early FY 2022 budget items. Those items were requests of partner agencies, including Samuels Public Library, Northwestern Community Services, the Economic Development Authority, and County Health Department.

The EDA discussion included some reference to the ongoing $20-million legal dispute with the Town of Front Royal and how to approach any future work for the Town, should the Town desire it.

As EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne listens to left, EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons told county officials the EDA will work with the Town or without it, as the Town chooses. The supervisors have not absorbed the EDA as a County Department while waiting to see if a new town council and new town manager will bring a new direction to Town attitudes regarding the EDA. Based on unchallenged mayoral comments Monday evening, the answer would appear to be ‘no’.

There was also discussion of meeting rules regarding the length of time devoted to public comments and how that should be addressed in the future, by code or meeting decisions by board members.

Also, on the agenda was a review of the parameters of several renewable contracts tabled for supervisors unaware of those contract dynamics and use and value to the county government.

See the County meeting video here.

Is it live or is it virtual? With a nod to an OLD Memorex cassette tape commercial; and an additional nod to the 1960’s-70’s ‘surreal’ comedy troupe Firesign Theater for the timeless observation about time and space that has been challenged in 2020 – ‘How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?’ the 1969 album cover of which is pictured below just so you didn’t think I was making that one up. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

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New year, same public disconnect from their elected town officials

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Negative public reaction to the appointment and seating of Jacob Meza by his four fellow county Republican Committee council members and council’s response to that reaction dominated the Front Royal Town Council’s first regular meeting of 2021. And while there was other business conducted, including acknowledgement of FRPD employees of the year and election of a vice mayor, that will be covered in another story.

Nine of 13 public speakers, 10 of 14 if you include one read into the record by Councilwoman Letasha Thompson from a citizen not present, took a hard line in criticizing, not only Meza’s change of heart in continuing his service on council after declining to run for re-election in November, but also at the four council members who voted for the appointment. Council’s lone non-Republican Committee member Letasha Thompson, cast the lone dissenting vote against Meza’s appointment, citing a preference for “a new face” to take the appointment.

Front Royal Town Council virtually on Jan. 11 – the year is getting off to a rocky start for the newly aligned council. Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

And while one of those Meza supporting councilmen, Joseph McFadden, has posted on social media that he would not have made Meza’s nomination or voted for it had Town staff informed him of the Charter question concerning its legality, council’s overall reaction was unrepentant for the appointment. And even McFadden stood by his assessment that Meza was the best qualified candidate who applied, while the Town refuses to divulge the identities of those other candidates as protected from FOIA as a personnel matter.

But if McFadden, Scott Lloyd, Gary Gillespie and Lori Athey Cockrell see Meza as a “most qualified” candidate, the majority public perception expressed Monday night appeared to be “qualified at what”? The answer for many, including some who were or identified themselves as fellow Catholics or Christendom College alumni of Meza’s, was as a hypocritical agent of his employer Valley Health and a major player in other council initiatives that ran afoul of public opinion in recent years.

At the point of much of that negativity is Meza’s alienating much of his base, particularly in the huge local Catholic community, by his reversal of recusing himself from earlier votes or even work session discussion of approval of a past EDA board-facilitated loan to his employer Valley Health to help finance a maternity ward-less new Warren Memorial Hospital. That reversal came in front of several Valley Health executives as Meza’s vote was required to achieve the necessary majority for the required Town approval.

Birth Local demonstrators were not happy with Valley Health’s decision to build a new hospital in Front Royal without a maternity ward. And they were as, or even more unhappy with Councilman Meza for his sudden lack of a conflict-of-interest recusal for the deciding vote on Town approval of a loan to help facilitate that hospital’s construction costs.

Of that vote, one speaker, Christa Marie Adanitsch, who noted she was a fellow Christendom College graduate, observed, “I noticed that you got a nice, big promotion after your vote that you did not recuse yourself in the big Valley Health vote. And I’m wondering if this is one of those shenanigan deals again where we’re coming up on,” at which point Mayor Chris Holloway intervened to halt the speaker as making a “personal attack” on the councilman, which is forbidden by meeting rules.

Adanitsch regrouped, attempting to make her point in a less direct manner.

“You did not recuse yourself in the deciding vote for the Valley Health deal when you had recused yourself every other single time. Okay, and now we’re coming up on the issue of the PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes fee) for Valley Health. And you were placed in this position, which was an unethical placement. So, I’m just wondering with your track record for gutting the things going on in this town, what you’re doing up here.”

Above, Meza’s fellow Christendom College alumni Christa Adanitsch questioned his objectivity and potential conflict of interest on Valley Health issues, as well as the legality of his appointment. Below, Meza said he would not be run off council by public attacks on his character. But if a majority of council sought his resignation, he would comply. However, only one did.

Adanitsch explained her perception of Meza’s appointment as “unethical” due to a perceived conflict with the Town Charter’s one-year Chapter 6, Section 47 prohibition on the appointment of former council members back to council. And while that interpretation is in dispute by Town Attorney Doug Napier, non-attorney public opinion appears to agree with the conflicting legal opinion that it does apply because there has been no clear explanation why town legal staff believes council is not under its own “jurisdiction” since its appointment and Conflict of Interest investigative power would clearly seem to indicate such “jurisdictional” authority.

And as reported by Royal Examiner yesterday, a legal challenge of Meza’s appointment was filed in Warren County Circuit Court on behalf of one of the other candidates for that council seat Monday morning.

In the wake of Meza’s appointment, the evening’s first speaker Gary Kushner suggested Front Royal’s longstanding nickname of “Helltown” be changed to “Clowntown”. While noting he was not a town resident, Kushner said he chose to address the issue due to “sympathy” for the level of citizen concern about the appointment issue.

“There was much citizen concern about the chaos and divisiveness associated with the last council. And there was hope there’d be relief with a new majority. But alas, the new year just seems to be the continuation of controversies,” Kushner said, citing Meza’s appointment by his inner circle of council allies.

Gary Kushner’s was scathing in his appraisal of the method of Meza’s continuing to serve on the Front Royal Town Council.

Kushner wondered at Meza’s decision not to run for re-election a bare two months earlier, exposing himself to the same level of public scrutiny other candidates did, including at least two, if not more, who applied for the vacant seat Meza now occupies.

“The councilman could have filed an application and run a campaign and been subjected to the same scrutiny as other legitimate candidates. But that didn’t occur. Instead, the prior councilman is again on the council via a slimy back door,” Kushner observed, adding, “I wonder how long ago that plan was hatched, and to what degree the infamous past interim town manager was involved.”

Lyrics to the 1960’s-‘70’s classic rock band The Who’s song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – “New boss, same as the old boss” – popped into at least one observer’s mind as Kushner’s, and subsequent public comments were forthcoming.

Rebuttal

During his member report Meza presented a defense of his appointment, and his colleagues all referenced the issue at some point in their respective reports.

“I did want to say, first and foremost, thank you for the vote of confidence of council. And I was happy to fill the appointment seat and will continue to serve in that capacity as I have in years past,” Meza said in opening his remarks, before continuing to address some of the negative public comments he had heard.

One comment Meza did not address was Adanitsch’s assertion of his “big promotion” in the wake of his recusal reversal for the decisive vote of approval of Valley Health’s $60 million-plus hospital construction loan.

He began with a timeline related to his seeking the appointment. Referencing one public comment, Meza did note there was a December 2 legal opinion on the Town Charter’s relevant section to council appointments and the year’s delay sought. However, he pointed out that he did not submit his “Letter of Interest” in the appointment until December 18, over two weeks after that opinion was sought.

Meza claims he was acting in good faith to help ‘bridge a knowledge gap’ on council until a November 2021 Special Election to fill Chris Holloway’s vacated seat, not any ulterior motive like help his employer avoid Town assessment of PILOT fees to compensate for the non-taxable status of their new hospital as some public speakers suspected.

Of his interest in the appointment, Meza stated he wrote in his application letter that, “I was offering it as assistance to bridge the gap (till a November 2021 Special Election to fill the seat) for council, some of the knowledge gap that would be on council. But to feel no pressure in appointing me to council and pick the best person as they saw fit.”

And once the Charter issue was re-raised, Meza noted that following his January 4 appointment by council he had delayed his swearing in until earlier in the day Monday, so he could take his seat the evening of January 11.

On January 7, during that interim before he was sworn in, Meza said, “I wrote a comment to council in response to other emails. In an effort to demonstrate that I had, have no ulterior motives, if a majority of council regrets their decision to appoint me for another year, I’d be more than willing to decline the appointment. But I will not decline because of people lashing out false accusations against my character,” Meza said. He noted that a majority had not asked for his resignation, that only one member request had been submitted to him.

See the sometimes-volatile opinions expressed between the public and council over the Meza appointment in the video from the Town website recording of the meeting.

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Complaint against Meza’s council appointment filed in Circuit Court

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Acting on behalf of one of what is believed to be three other candidates than the one appointed to fill the vacated Front Royal Town Council seat of now Mayor Chris Holloway, attorney David Downes filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgement Monday morning, January 11, in Warren County Circuit Court.

The Complaint and accompanying Petition for Injunctive Relief filed by Downes for Paul Lauritz Aldridge lists the Front Royal Town Council and Jacob Louis Meza as defendants, with service to Town Attorney Doug Napier at Town Hall and Meza at a private address. The grounds for the filing echo the points made by Downes in a response to Napier’s Town Press Release opinion Town Charter Section 47 (Chapter 6) did not prevent Meza’s appointment, published last week in the Royal Examiner along with an accompanying story exploring the legal points at issue.

The Warren County Courthouse may be the final arbiter in a decision on the legality of Jacob Meza’s appointment to an elected body he decided not to seek re-election to in November. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

The complaint states, “This Plaintiff seeks to nullify the appointment of Meza, a former town councilman, as town councilman on January 4, 2021, as ultra virus (beyond the authority of) and unconstitutional, stay any and all (activities) in his official capacity as “councilman” by issuing a writ of mandamus to prohibit any appointments to him under the jurisdiction of the Town Council until after January 1, 2022.”

Asked about the legal weight of the Town Charter in the conduct of Town business earlier, Downes had equated it with the U.S. or State Constitutions that set the basis of legal codes at those levels of government.

Contacted by email Monday, Downes said he would pursue a judicial stay on Meza’s seating and participation in council business pending resolution of the case but was not sure such a court ruling could be achieved prior to tonight’s 7 p.m. town council meeting.

That meeting will be held at the Warren County Government Center under public seating and number restrictions due to the Phase 3 jump in COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic cases and fatalities nationwide and in Warren County and the Lord Fairfax Health District. It will be broadcast live on the Town website.

In 2020 he decided the time to end his public service had come; however, 2021 brought a change of heart.

Perhaps if seated tonight Meza will have the opportunity to address what changed in his desire to continue serving on council between his fall decision not to run for re-election and the turn of the new year when time constraint and length of public service issues seem to have evaporated.

Also, on tonight’s council agenda is a move to reduce the number of town planning commission members from seven to five. Joseph McFadden’s election to council created a vacancy and recent work session discussion has indicated difficulty in achieving full participation of a seven-member commission. McFadden told Royal Examiner he had considered trying to serve on both town bodies to help fill the planning commission numbers, but had decided against it as stretching him to thin time-wise.

A full reading of the basis of the Complaint filed against Meza’s appointment is posted in the Royal Examiner OPINION section, other linked stories are listed below:

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