Monday’s regular meeting of the Front Royal Town Council got off to an unexpected start when Valley Health employee Jacob Meza emotionally read a prepared statement resigning his seat, effective immediately, into the meeting record. Meza then exited stage right of the Warren County Government Center main meeting room to an affectionate farewell from his colleagues and rousing applause from a full house this reporter estimated at 150 people, there, for the most part, to comment on Councilman Scott Lloyd’s Emergency civil rights ordinance proposal to prevent Valley Health, and other private-sector employers within the town limits, from mandating employees to receive the COVID-19 Coronavirus vaccination at threat of termination.
Things turned ugly at the open meeting’s adjournment approaching 11 p.m. when a number of citizens verbally and loudly expressed their displeasure with the 3-2 vote of denial, Lloyd and Joe McFadden, the latter by remote hookup, dissenting.
Scattered boos and a loud “Evil Triumphs” was heard, along with “We won’t forget this” among other negative comments aimed at the council majority of Letasha Thompson, Gary Gillespie and
Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell. That majority had prefaced their votes with explanations that legal research by the Town Attorney’s Office had indicated the Town has no legal authority to make such a legislative mandate in response to private-sector vaccine mandates, particularly in a Dillon Rule state like Virginia, where municipal authority cannot exceed what is authorized to it by the state government.
And as Town Attorney Doug Napier had explained during the work session discussion, the state is authorized legally by code and/or its Constitution to mandate vaccines during a public health crisis. That legally hamstrings municipal governments from attempting to counter public health emergency vaccine mandates.
After the two-phased public comments on the Lloyd proposal lasting 3-hours-and-2 minutes – broken into two sections to facilitate council taking care of other business including two public hearings – Mayor Chris Holloway called for a motion. After an extended silence and a second call for a motion, Lloyd made the motion to approve his ordinance proposal. It was seconded by McFadden, whose father Tom was the second of 49 speakers in favor of the ordinance proposal.
Gillespie observed that he felt the Lloyd initiative countered the conservative Republican principle of limited government he, and other Republican conservatives espouse.
Speaking first following Lloyd’s motion to approve his emergency ordinance proposal, reading from a prepared statement Thompson told the audience that, not only did council not have the legal authority to pass such legislation, but that passing it would not protect the Valley Health employees who spoke in favor of Lloyd’s proposal, including doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners, from termination by their employer. While stating she personally believed in choice on medical decisions, as her vote with council in not mandating town employees to be vaccinated indicated, she observed that “Freedom goes in both directions”. She elaborated that in Virginia as a “Right to Work” state limiting union influence, employees anywhere can be fired for virtually any reason an employer might cite.
Thompson said that with the facts before them, she did not believe voting to approve the ordinance “to make everyone in the room happy” was “the right thing to do.”
In fact, Thompson cited Lloyd’s insistence in bringing his legislative initiative to a vote despite the lack of legal grounds for it as “political theater” geared toward the councilman’s personal agenda, which she had confronted him about at the July 12 work session perhaps being beyond the boundaries of the Town of Front Royal. As has been previously reported, Lloyd has past national political exposure, serving as the Trump Administration’s Director of Refugee Resettlement during a particularly controversial period at the southern border when refugee/immigrant children were being incarcerated separately from their parents or guardians who had entered the country illegally as administration policies delayed legal entry at prescribed border crossings for weeks.
Lloyd has noted he did not create the child-separation policy and was simply in the administrative position to implement it. He has also publicly noted he is far from a “zero-tolerance” stance on immigration.
A minority of two
However, one of the two people speaking against Lloyd’s anti-vaccine-mandate ordinance, Stevie Hubbard, ended her comments by loudly saying that whatever Lloyd did to protect personal liberties as a councilman, “Won’t make up for what you did to those kids at the border.”
When Hubbard cited COVID-19 case-fatality statistics found at the Virginia Health Department website to counter some of the pro-ordinance statistics presented by the anti-vaccine mandate majority, a number of people laughed derisively at her source.
Many of the pro-ordinance speakers reflected skepticism of, not only government information on the Coronavirus pandemic, but media coverage of it, as well as any legal roadblocks to the approval of Lloyd’s effort to counter the Valley Health COVID-19 vaccine mandate or others.
In addition to Hubbard, speaking against Lloyd’s proposal was Gene Kilby, whose family was at the center of fighting the local “massive resistance” effort to prevent the racial integration of Warren County Public Schools in the late 1950s, early ‘60s. In fact, Kilby observed, “This community has a history of going against the grain. It’s almost reminiscent of back in the day with the massive resistance problem.
“The State mandated that the schools be integrated. But because of groups like this (the county) built massive resistance, which was totally illegal,” he reminded council of the eventual legal outcome, adding that while he agreed people “should have their choice” that a final legislative decision must be grounded “in the rule of law – and you must act in the best interest of the general public,” Kilby concluded to a smattering of applause.
A majority of 49
John Lundberg opened the public comments on the Lloyd ordinance first citing an oft-revisited assertion that available COVID-19 vaccines were “experimental drugs” not yet approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) due to the public health emergency pace at which the vaccines were made available to the public.
Some speakers claimed there were more traditional options “safer than Ibuprofen” available as an alternative to the vaccines. Others said that masking and social distancing were more effective barriers against COVID-19 contagion than the vaccine has proven to be.
A number of speakers raised religious belief as grounds not to accept a vaccine mandate. Others were critical of the religious exemption form Valley Health uses to determine if employees qualify for such exemption. “What’s next,” another asked, “are they going to go after our churches and tell us we can’t worship God?!?”
Manuel Vincente called the approaching vote on Lloyd’s proposal “a choice between liberty and fascism”. As for legal precedents against passage, Vincente said the U.S. Supreme Court had “decided in favor of genocide over and over again” in legalizing abortion.
One speaker called COVID-19 “the Communist Chinese Virus”, while Matt Morrazzo referred to it as “the Wuhan-Fauci virus”. Gene McGirk later playfully criticized that reference “for giving Wuhan top billing”.
Morrazzo also wondered if the next step beyond vaccine mandates wouldn’t be “vaccine passports” you will need to go anywhere or do anything – “The infantry will be coming for all our rights,” he worried if the Coronavirus mandate trend continued.
Recently appointed Warren County School Board member Melanie Salins cited a COVID-19 vaccine packaging warning not to take it if allergic to any of its ingredients, observing that the vaccine package insert did not list the ingredients – “You can’t give informed consent if you’re not informed,” Salins said to applause. She compared Valley Health’s vaccine mandate to a legal definition of “assault” as “physical contact that happens without your explicit and voluntary consent”, drawing more applause. She concluded by asserting that the vaccine mandate violated “the Nuremberg Code” on medical ethics established after World War II in reaction to Nazi medical experiments conducted on imprisoned Germans or conquered populations.
Many Valley Health employees became emotional pondering the choice they were being given to accept the vaccine or face termination. Many wondered how frontline workers such as themselves had gone from being “heroes” for their efforts against the pandemic to targets for termination for their belief the vaccines are dangerous, not adequately tested, immorally developed, or in violation of their religious beliefs.
In arguing for his proposal, policy attorney Lloyd echoed some public comments in support of the emergency ordinance proposal, saying just because something had been ruled illegal in the courts, didn’t make it right or unchallengeable. While admitting the Town did not yet know whether its Virginia Municipal League municipal liability insurance would cover such a legal challenge of state authority on the matter, he offered to represent the Town in any subsequent legal challenge of his ordinance, if passed Monday night, and VML insurance paid attorneys ended up not being available to the Town.
Following the roll call vote and 3-2 defeat of Lloyd’s ordinance proposal by the now-five member council, as the angry and disappointed crowd disbursed, one man yelled at Councilwoman Letasha Thompson, who yelled back “watch your mouth” telling him not to “disrespect” her from the floor of Government Center meeting room. That only led to an escalating exchange leading to the man’s escort from the building by the Front Royal Police. Involved officers said the man was not arrested as he was compliant and settled down after their arrival.
See all the action, explanations, opinions, concerns on this important matter to the community, along with other business including the tabling of action on changes to the Town’s Special Events Code to further work session discussion, in the linked Town video.
Two downtown businessmen, Royal Cinemas Rick Novak and C&C Frozen Treats William Huck addressed the draft Special Events code, urging council to take more care in formulating a final draft regarding issues raised about a rating-approval matrix system seemingly geared toward larger, tourism and revenue-generating events at the perceived expense of smaller, community events.
Skyline High School announces band teacher Daniel Holland 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year
Skyline High School is proud to announce that our fabulous band teacher, Mr. Daniel Holland is our 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year!
Danny has taught at Skyline High School for the last 5 1/2 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in Instrumental Music PreK-12 from James Madison University and his master’s degree from Bowling Green State University.
At SHS, Danny teaches guitar I and II, concert band, dual enrolled music artistry, and marching band. Marching and concert band require extensive time commitments both in school and after hours. Additionally, Danny teaches a jazz band group that rehearses before the official school day begins.
Through his expert instruction, he provides students with opportunities to connect through music, enhance positive school culture, and engage our greater community in school spirit and camaraderie.
The Skyline Marching Hawks perform shows each year at our football games, parades, and various competitions, where they have earned many accolades! Danny not only produces marching shows with excellent sound and great visual appeal, but they also convey important messages to the students and the spectators.
The 2022 competition show was entitled: “Try, Try Again,” and according to Danny, focused on the “idea and philosophy that success in anything, whether it be band, sports, academics, and so many other skills, can only truly manifest from learning to cope and grow from the mistakes and missteps we inevitably make.” This show was a gift to our school and our greater community.
Outside of school, Danny is an active member of the Virginia Music Educators Association, most recently presenting at their 2022 annual VMEA conference in November 2022. Additionally, Danny performs as a professional musician as the acting principal oboist of the Waynesboro Symphony.
Danny was nominated for this honor by his peers, colleagues, and students. Here are some of their beautiful words:
- “The immense amount of time and effort Danny puts into making the SHS band program the best it can go above and beyond. The support and safe space he provides to students are invaluable.”
- “I’m amazed by Danny’s dedication. He was not only present for interviews for my position but was present before the start of school working with the band. The marching band is present for so many events/games, and it seems like he rarely does not stay past normal hours. He is also helping with the cross-county musical. He has been very kind and helpful with my many questions. His students seem to find his room safe, and he has created a great work ethic with his students.”
- “Mr. Holland is an amazing teacher who wants the best for his students. He makes playing music fun and very enjoyable. I wouldn’t have been able to become the musician I am today without Mr. Holland.”
- “He is the best teacher I have ever had. He’s very supportive of his students and other faculty. He is the reason our marching band is great.”
- “Mr. Holland is so supportive and loves what he does. He will do anything to make sure you succeed in anything you do, and when he sets his mind to something, he will do everything he can to make it happen.
- “Mr. Holland is an amazing teacher in general, and he is very helpful and kind. I have struggled to pick up new skills, and he broke it down for me, so I got it quickly.”
The accolades of his colleagues and students are absolutely true!
Danny’s impact on his students, fellow WCPS fine arts teachers, and SHS colleagues is felt in so many ways! Danny models grit and perseverance through difficult situations daily, creating genuine and supportive relationships with his students through his love of music.
For these and many other reasons, Danny Holland is the Skyline High School 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year!
Town Talk: A conversation with Shane Goodwin, Danelle Sperling, Robert Hupman – Reaching Out Now, Christmas Meal at Skyline HS
In this Town Talk, our publisher Mike McCool speaks with Shane Goodwin, Danelle Sperling, and Robert Hupman about the Linda Kroll Community Meal Program.
On December 15, 2022, at 4:30 pm, Reaching Out Now and its partners will host a Christmas meal for families with children in our local school system at Skyline High School School.
This event will feature a traditional Christmas menu with turkey, ham, shepherd’s pie, vegetable medley, rolls, and dessert, all prepared by Chef Devin and the Blue Ridge Technical Center’s Culinary Arts program students.
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. Let us know if you have an idea or topic or want to hear from someone in our community. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com.
Thanksgiving officially second busiest Thanksgiving travel period in the history of the Transurban Express Lanes
Transurban, the operator of the 495, 395, and 95 Express Lanes, announced that the 72-hour travel window from the Tuesday before Thanksgiving Day itself was the second busiest Thanksgiving travel period in the history of the express lanes.
More than 155,000 customers took the Express Lanes, with nearly 1 in 4 traveling for free at least once with an E-ZPass Flex set to HOV mode.
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the 10th Anniversary of the Express Lanes opening in November. In commemoration, Transurban released the annual ‘state of the lanes’ polling research that provides insights on how customers continue to value the expanded travel choices of the Lanes as well as a report detailing the significant impact the 495, 95, and 395 Express Lanes have had in transforming the region.
The primary research from a sample of 1,490 Washington D.C. area drivers found:
- 76% overall customer satisfaction
- 3 in 4 GWA drivers have used the Express Lanes, up from 62% in 2021
- Nearly 7 in 10 drivers (69%) see a regional benefit from the Express Lanes
- Drivers are more likely to say they have carpooled for free vs. paid a toll to travel the Express Lanes at least once a month in the last 6 months – 54% vs. 47%
Over the last decade, the 495, 95, and 395 Express Lanes have saved nearly 10 million Greater Washington Area (GWA) customers more than 33 million hours of time in one of the fastest-growing regions in the U.S. The Lanes have saved time for those living nearby and supported growth in the local community. The Lanes have bolstered the local economy by creating an estimated 53,000 jobs and $8 billion in economic activity, including the growth of existing businesses and the attraction of some of the world’s largest employers, including Amazon, Boeing, Raytheon, and Capitol One.
“More than 10 years ago, we started a journey alongside Virginia leaders to introduce a new way to travel, putting technology to work to unlock congestion and tangibly improve the quality of life of travelers in this region,” said Pierce Coffee, President Transurban North America. “Now we celebrate this partnership that gives more people more time back in their day through choice and convenience.”
About Transurban North America
Transurban is one of the world’s largest toll-road operators and developers, working to get people where they want to go as quickly and safely as possible. By embracing collaboration with the government, our public-private partnerships deliver transformative infrastructure solutions across five markets. In the fiscal year 2020, our global customers saved 376,000 hours on average each workday across 2.0 million trips on our roads with faster, more predictable travel options. With a leading market share of transportation P3 investment in North America, we are pioneering travel solutions like dynamically tolled Express Lanes and are partnering with the government to think about the policies, technology, and infrastructure that will get you home today and ten years from now. Learn more about Transurban North America at: Transurban.com | Expresslanes.com | A25.com
School Board approves virtual instruction contract, other housekeeping items
The Warren County School Board, at its Wednesday, Dec. 7 meeting, approved the expenditure of $72,600 for the spring semester of online instruction provided by Virtual Virginia.
Virtual Virginia is the online instructional service provider for Warren County students enrolled in the virtual education option.
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Heather Bragg told school board members that a total of 65 students—10 at the elementary level—have enrolled for the spring semester, and the provider must be paid in advance of the January 2023 spring semester’s start.
Ms. Bragg told the board that the elementary school fee was a set price for each pupil for the core curriculum, while secondary school pupil fees are calculated at $300 per credit, which allows the students to get their core classes as well as electives.
Board member Ralph Rinaldi asked Bragg to elaborate on why students might enroll in the virtual learning program rather than attend school in person. The Covid pandemic introduced students to virtual learning, and some continue out of anxiety about returning to the traditional classroom setting, she said. Bragg added that some students just do better in the virtual learning environment.
Students enrolled in the virtual learning option are provided computer access, as well as a school counselor and a local mentor who supervises the students.
Antoinette D. Funk motioned to pay for the spring semester, which was seconded by Melanie C. Salins, followed by a unanimous vote.
Other action items from the meeting include:
- A vote to increase the hourly rate for selective positions, beginning Jan. 1, 2023. Employees currently making less than $12 per hour will begin earning the federal minimum wage of $12 next month.
- Purchase approval for network battery backup equipment for Skyline Middle School at $51,270.
- Second reading of the proposed 2023-2024 school year calendar. The board will approve a final calendar at the first January 2023 school board meeting. The calendar would have students return to school on Aug. 9, 2023, and end the school year on May 23, 2024. It includes banked hours that would cover inclement weather cancellations and 13 professional days for teachers.
- Voted to approve the policy on sexually explicit material, which brings Warren County Public Schools into compliance with a Virginia law passed this year that requires districts to notify parents. (This will be covered in a separate Royal Examiner story.)
- Voted to accept the 2023 General Assembly legislative priorities.
- Voted to award a contract in the amount of $47,880 to Document Solution, Inc. For the lease of copiers at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School.
- Set the 2023 organizational meeting of the Warren County School Board for Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. in the Board Room of the Warren County Government Center.
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day – Flags to be flown half-staff
This December 7, we remember the world-changing event known as Pearl Harbor Day, or as President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his December 8, 1941 speech declaring war on Japan, “a date which will live in infamy.”
Early on Wednesday morning, December 7, 2022, many will gather at Pearl Harbor National Memorial for the 81st Commemoration. The early start marks the moment to the minute 81 years ago when Japanese warplanes descended on Oahu, killing 2,403 service members and civilians, injuring thousands more, and dealing a near-fatal blow to the Navy’s fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Most young Americans who died that day, along with those who served in uniform during World War II or on the home front war effort, are collectively known as the Greatest Generation. Their sacrifices reflect the theme of this year’s Commemoration: Everlasting Legacy.
The focus is the importance of remembering Pearl Harbor and how the Greatest Generation saved us from tyranny and brought us peace through reconciliation.
Governor’s Order for the Commonwealth of Virginia
In accordance with the authority vested in me as Governor, I hereby order that the flags of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Virginia to be flown at half-staff at all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds in the Commonwealth in solemn respect and memory for the nearly 4,000 American service men and women killed or wounded in the early morning of December 7, 1941, at the United States Navy Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
I hereby order that the flag shall be lowered at sunrise on Wednesday, December 7, 2022, and remain at half-staff until sunset.
Ordered on this, the 6th day of December 2022.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: American Goldfinch
These two American Goldfinches hit the same window at the same time and ended up here at the Center for care.
Though both are currently having breathing difficulty, and the male has significant head trauma with bleeding from the left ear, neither sustained any fractures. They are recovering together while they receive supplemental oxygen and pain medications.
Do you know what to do if a bird hits your window?
Though it was once standard to contain a window strike bird and let it rest for a few hours before attempting release, research has now shown that this is inadequate. Many of the issues we see with window strikes manifest 24+ hours after the strike, long after the bird can fly off.
If you see a bird hit a window, contain it right away and call the closest permitted rehabilitator. Do not release it! In the meantime, take steps to break up the reflections on your windows with tape, paint, or decals spaced no more than 2” apart. Prevention is better than treatment!
A new record!
Yesterday we surpassed last year’s intake number with this window strike pair. We are hopeful that they will soon be released together to enjoy the rest of their wild lives!
If you are looking for an easy way to help native wildlife become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.