At a Monday night, June 1st work session the Front Royal Town Council wrestled with the legal and financial dynamics of a number of matters, several related to COVID-19 federal and local relief packages, as well as a Chamber of Commerce request that the Town partner with the County in keeping the Chamber financially solvent through the end of the calendar year. That request for $5,000 per month from both the Town and County ($10,000 total) beginning “immediately” is also COVID-19 pandemic-related, as the Chamber noted cancellation of its biggest annual fundraiser, the Wine & Crafts Festival among others, as well as a drop in membership renewals believed related to pandemic restrictions on business operations.
Also, on a busy agenda, the council discussed having its own Economic Development Authority created and a board and staff in place by the July 1 start or close to it, of Fiscal Year 2021. That should answer any county board questions about the status of the Town’s request to become the first Virginia municipality to be authorized to be part of two EDA’s simultaneously, as it was noted the governor had finally signed the request approved earlier by the General Assembly, into law.
The belligerent town elected official stance toward the re-tooled and recovering from financial scandal EDA noted by the Warren County Board of Supervisors on May 4 (see related story: ‘Cancer’ gone from EDA, will Town belligerence follow suit in November?) was on full display Monday night, beginning just over an hour into the work session.
“The Front Royal-Warren County EDA brand is hugely damaged right now – beyond repair. They’ll have a really hard time going forward attracting businesses to our area,” Councilman Gary Gillespie said in support of the rapid movement to creation of the Town’s own, unilateral EDA.
Gillespie said he has championed the distancing of the Town from the EDA, if not it’s total withdrawal apparently hoping for some property to fall the Town’s way along with virtually all the money the EDA is seeking to recover from alleged co-conspirators with former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.
“The EDA mostly works for the County – and it’s been that way for the last 15 years or better,” Gillespie asserted despite the Town’s current civil legal claim of over $20 million in allegedly lost Town assets from the EDA financial scandal centered on the past four to five years of Town business with the EDA. The EDA’s civil action against multiple defendants stands at $21.3 million in allegedly misdirected assets.
“We need this for the Town of Front Royal for economic development; and more so now with this COVID-19, just for redevelopment. Nobody knows where the chips are going to fall after all this is said and done,” Gillespie said of the chaotic pandemic economy. “And this (new) EDA would go a long way in helping us. You know, I’ve been told by several people, you know, that if the Town wants a say-so in the EDA that we need to pony up. And it makes it really difficult to do that now, because the EDA possibly owes the Town of Front Royal $20-million dollars, you know. So, we need to bring this in house to bring economic development to our town in a major way and in a hurry.”
Jacob Meza concurred with Gillespie’s assessment, saying “the pros far outweigh the cons” in the Town going solo on economic development in the future.
COVID-19 relief impasse
Monday’s work session began with council complaining about a County proposal brought to them by Mayor Gene Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock concerning the distribution of COVID-19 federal grant funds distributed through the state government to counties and cities based on population sizes.
The staff summary noted the Town anticipated a mandated distribution of between $1 million and $1.5 million – approximately $1.3 million was settled on in estimating the Town’s approximate 14,000 (around 38%) of the County’s total population of 40,000 – of the total of $3.5 million the County would receive in CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Security) funding.
Mayor Tewalt explained the County wanted Town agreement on the distribution of approximately $1.7 million for a jointly administered relief program targeting all county businesses, in and outside the town limits.
“They want to take the $3.5 million and use half of it for economic recovery and then take the population and split it whatever that ratio would be with the other $1.7 million, and then they propose that (unintelligible) we want to utilize that amount of money, whether you pay the water bill, the electric bill, whatever. But they just want to know if we’d be agreeable tonight to just split the money and use half of it for recovery and half of it to do the other as far as the government’s concerned. So, we can pay whatever we have to pay, and they can pay what they want to pay,” Mayor Tewalt told the council.
However, a lack of detail or a county official to explain such detail and the lack of a 50/50 split of the funding allowing the Town to manage its half without County involvement seemed to annoy several council members.
“They’re going to get the big chunk of it, and we’re going to get the crumbs,” Gillespie complained.
The mayor reiterated the population-based nature of the general distribution to try and re-explain why it would not be a straight 50/50 split.
Meza noted the Town had a local relief plan in place and suggested the County just hand the Town its share and let town officials work unilaterally to distribute their portion as they saw fit. However, when Interim Town Manager Tederick referenced page 18 of the agenda packet summary of how the CARES money could be utilized, it appeared a big chunk of the Town’s local relief plan – to allow businesses or citizens to pay back town taxes and utility bills – ran afoul of the CARES program guidelines.
Those limitations noted that “Fund payments may not be used for government revenue replacement, including the provision of assistance to meet tax obligations.”
As for utility bill payments, there was a mixed message.
“Fund payments may not be used for government revenue replacement, including the replacement of unpaid utility fees,” the second graph on page 18 of the agenda item summary began, adding however that, “Fund payments may be used for subsidy payments to electricity account holders to the extent that the subsidy payments are deemed by the recipient to be necessary expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency … For example, if determined to be a necessary expenditure, a government could provide grants to individuals facing economic hardship to allow them to pay their utility fees and thereby continue to receive essential services.
In the end, council agreed to table a decision pending further elaboration and documentation of the County proposal.
Weekend downtown street closure thru fall
Prior to adjourning to what ended up being a five-minute closed session “to discuss or consider a bond repayment resolution regarding recent large scale construction the Town has been involved in,” council instructed Interim Town Manager Tederick to make the necessary moves to implement the continued closing of portions of East Main and Chester Streets from 4:30 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Monday to vehicular traffic to continue the walking mall COVID-19 business reopening initiative likely through the fall.
As part of that initiative, the council agreed to close Town Hall’s drive-thru Finance Department window on Saturdays.
There was no post-closed session announcement, so which “large scale construction” bond repayment was discussed remains a mystery.
Listen to council’s far-ranging work session discussion in this Royal Examiner recording:
Downtown dwelling conversions dominate Town Planning agenda
The Front Royal Planning Commission met on July 21st for its regular monthly meeting. With a relatively brief agenda of only two items, the commission was able to quickly get down to business. Prior to wrestling with yet another staff draft of Town Council-proposed changes to downtown zoning regulations, the commission first considered a Special Use Permit (SUP) request from Philip Vaught for a bed and breakfast operation at his property “Bon Air” at 174 Luray Avenue. The property is zoned Residential multifamily (R-3). Interim Planning Director Chris Brock detailed the application and the planning staff’s recommendation for the commission.
The applicant is proposing a permit for a traditional Bed & Breakfast, in which the owner occupies the property and manages the operation, as opposed to an Air B&B, in which the property is normally not owner-occupied and may be managed by a third party. Although no members of the public had any comment, once the public hearing was closed, several commissioners had some questions for the applicant.
Vice-Chairman Connie Marshner asked the applicant to clarify the parking situation for the B&B on the plot map, and Commissioner Darryl Merchant verified that the Town ordinances did not preclude permitting a traditional Bed & Breakfast. He also identified a disparity between the applicant’s request, which was for a 5-bedroom plan, while the Planning Department’s staff recommendation was for a maximum of three bedrooms because the lot size is less than 1.5 acres.
Interim Director Brock confirmed that their recommendation was based on the Bed & Breakfast ordinance. The Commission then voted on a recommendation to approve the permit with a maximum of 3 bedrooms and not making the applicant reapply with a revised proposal. The vote was unanimous, and the permit application will now go to the Town Council for the action on the commission’s recommendation. Asked after the meeting for his reaction to the downsized approval, Mr. Vaught was philosophical. “I’m glad for the approval, and we can always go back and revisit it.”
About those downtown zoning changes
The Chairman then turned to the Zoning Ordinance change that was requested by a resolution of the Town Council in February that directed the planning department to prepare an ordinance amendment for a public hearing and a Planning Commission recommendation for approval by the Town Council.
In this meeting, the commissioners were presented with a third revised version of the ordinance text change. Previous versions extended to 8 pages, whereas this one is less than three. Based on questions raised at a June 30th commission work session, it includes clarifying language that defines “conversion” as a “physical, structural, or design change or transformation of a building and/or structure from one state or condition to another, especially to effect a change in use. A conversion of a structure shall not be considered new construction, nor include new construction,” the draft clarifies.
As in previous versions, the amendments also include a limit on the total number of residential dwelling units to eight total, existing and new. However, as discussed in-depth at that June 30 work session the 8-unit limitation will NOT, thanks to a new provision suggested by the council in the proposed ordinance, apply to properties fronting East Main Street from Royal Avenue to Commerce Avenue along Happy Creek; Chester Street from East Main Street to East 2nd Street, and East Jackson Street from South Royal Avenue to Church Street.
The added language also includes a prohibition of residential uses on the first floor of buildings in those specific areas. During the June 30th discussion, the commissioners had noted that traditionally in the Historic Downtown Business District, residential apartments have existed in spaces above commercial businesses. Earlier last month, the commission became aware of a rezoning proposal for a 60-unit residential structure at the old Murphy Building property at the intersection of East Main and Church Streets, from applicant Bill Barnett.
Also based on concerns expressed on June 30, the proposed ordinance to be forwarded to Town Council will define the minimum dwelling unit size at 300-square feet.
Commissioner Merchant commended the planning staff for their hard work in putting together the revised ordinance and expressed hope that it much more clearly expressed the Town’s policy about development in the downtown business district.
Town Manager Steven Hicks announced that a new Planning Director has been selected and will start work on August 3rd. In the same period, a new Director of Human Resources and an Assistant Town Manager will be joining the town staff. Chairman Jones recommended an early meeting with the new planning director to discuss the draft ordinance proposal before a joint council-commission public hearing on the ordinance proposal, scheduled for August 23, is held.
It is interesting to consider what effect this ordinance, if approved by the Town Council, will have on development in the downtown district.
Councilman Lloyd asserts Valley Health COVID vaccine mandate is the ‘emergency’
In an email response to Royal Examiner’s July 19 inquiry on what he considers the emergency nature of his ordinance proposal to prevent private-sector employers, among others, from reassigning or terminating employees who refuse the COVID-19 Coronavirus vaccine, Front Royal Town Councilman Scott Lloyd referenced Valley Health’s July 19 announcement of a vaccine mandate for all its employees and health care workers. Valley Health’s public relations department has been contacted for a response to Lloyd’s assertions and claim that he has been contacted by a significant number of their employees, including medical professionals, about concerns about being mandated to receive the vaccine. We will publish their response when received.
Lloyd also compared being mandated to receive the vaccine outside traditional, non-emergency drug approval standards to past abusive governmental medical practices, including “Tuskegee experiments” and “forced involuntary sterilization of the ‘unfit’.
“The emergency: The code defines emergency measure as ‘an ordinance or resolution to provide for immediate preservation of the public peace, property, health or safety’,” Lloyd began, adding, “In Tuskegee experiments and programs of forced involuntary sterilization of the ‘unfit,’ (even, or perhaps especially, here in Virginia), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convened Commission to study the conditions under which testing might occur on human subjects,” Lloyd wrote, referencing a resultant “Belmont Report”.*
In addition to worrying over the speed with which COVID vaccines have been approved for “emergency” mass distribution without traditional approval processes, Lloyd’s references to testing, Tuskegee and forced sterilizations are telling in his perception of urgency in bringing his self-termed “Medical Freedom” or “Anti-Coercion” ordinance against mandated Coronavirus vaccinations forward on July 26, rather than August 2. More on that urgency below, but first some historical background on the councilman’s federal sterilization and Tuskegee program references leading to the Belmont Report. The writer apologizes for the length of this article, but believes context and detail are crucial to approaching council’s scheduled July 26 action on Councilman Lloyd’s “Medical Freedom” ordinance proposal. – So, get the popcorn kids.
Learning from the past?
According to an ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) link provided by Lloyd in his email: “One of the less well-known episodes in Virginia history is its practice of forced sterilization begun during the heyday of the eugenics movement in the early 20th century – a Virginia-based movement that sought to protect the ‘purity of the American Race’. Virginia’s legal sterilization program was enacted into law in 1924 – the same year the legislature adopted the Racial Integrity Act that prohibited interracial marriages.
“Virginia’s Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924 became the model for the nation after it survived constitutional review by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell (1927). The high court ruled that the state’s law allowing forced sterilization of ‘any patient afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity, imbecility …’ for the greater welfare of society did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law … Tragically, it is estimated that between 7,200 and 8,300 people were sterilized in Virginia from 1927-1979 because they were deemed by society at the time to be unworthy or unfit to procreate. In most cases, the individuals were ‘patients’ at state mental institutions …”
WOW, but that’s not all.
A little online research revealed that the “Tuskegee Experiment” was a 40-year study (1932-1972) of “syphilis-infected Negro males” overseen by the U.S. Public Health Service and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is considered a U.S. governmental study unethical in nature in that it essentially used its subjects as lab rats, who were lied to about the nature of the study and from whom effective treatment of the disease with penicillin when it was discovered in the mid-1940s to be a cure, was withheld.
The study ended in 1972 after being outed by a report on it by the Associated Press.
Wikipedia observes: “The purpose of this study was to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis. Although the African-American men who participated in the study were told that they were receiving free health care from the federal government of the United States, they were not.”
In 2021, the CDC website traces the study, its timeline, and its consequences:
“The study initially involved 600 Black men – 399 with syphilis, 201 who did not have the disease. Participants’ informed consent was not collected. Researchers told the men they were being treated for ‘bad blood,’ a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance.
“In 1972, an Associated Press story about the study was published. As a result, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs appointed an Ad Hoc Advisory Panel to review the study. The advisory panel concluded that the study was “ethically unjustified”; that is, the “results [were] disproportionately meager compared with known risks to human subjects involved,” the CDC summary continues, adding, “In October 1972, the panel advised stopping the study. A month later, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs announced the end of the study. In March 1973, the panel also advised the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) (now known as the Department of Health and Human Services) to instruct the USPHS to provide all necessary medical care for the survivors of the study. The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program (THBP) was established to provide these services. In 1975, participants’ wives, widows and children were added to the program. In 1995, the program was expanded to include health, as well as medical, benefits. The last study participant died in January 2004. The last widow receiving THBP benefits died in January 2009. Participants’ children (10 at present) continue to receive medical and health benefits.”
In 1973, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the study participants and their families, resulting in a $10 million, out-of-court settlement in 1974.
On May 16, 1997, President Bill Clinton issued a formal Presidential Apology for the study. With a number of aging survivors and their family members present at the White House, President Clinton apologized for their experience of the Tuskegee Experiment:
“The people who ran the study at Tuskegee diminished the stature of man by abandoning the most basic ethical precepts. They forgot their pledge to heal and repair. They had the power to heal the survivors and all the others and they did not. Today, all we can do is apologize.”
Back to the Present
Back in Front Royal, Virginia, in July 2021, Councilman Lloyd believes the above histories have lessons for today. Of the Belmont Report grown out of the Tuskegee Experiment experience, Lloyd wrote Royal Examiner: “The Belmont Report states: ‘An agreement to participate in research constitutes a valid consent only if voluntarily given. This element of informed consent requires conditions free of coercion or undue influence’ …
“What Valley Health is doing clearly fits the definition of ‘coercion’, above,” Lloyd’s email of July 20 states, continuing, “Some people who would not take this vaccine are deciding to take it not because they want it, but because they are afraid of losing their job. Every one of these cases is an emergency, as is the fact that the major health provider in our town is engaged in a systemwide campaign of coercion and undue influence with regard to its employees.
“Like I said, I have heard directly from dozens (two dozen just today) of Valley Health employees who feel they are being put in the impossible situation of having to choose between their livelihood (some of them have been health professionals for decades) and a vaccine they do not want. The widespread distress that this causes in our community is an emergency,” Lloyd asserts. “The people I am talking to will experience real harm without protection, and that economic distress will cause real pain in our community. Some of the people I am talking to are pregnant or have newborn children, some are carrying the insurance for their family, for some, Valley Health is the household’s only source of income. Many, I believe most, of these will be ‘subject to suspension or termination’ before our next regular meeting in August, so emergency action is necessary in July.”
We contacted Lloyd by email for elaboration on his apparent assertion that distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations might qualify as “medical experimentation” as opposed to distribution of adequately, if more speedily tested vaccines for a pandemic credited with taking nearly 4.1-million lives worldwide, over 611,000 nationally, including 61 in Warren County in about 18 months. It is a public health emergency considered to still be in progress, with a Fourth Wave surge being reported in many areas, particularly among unvaccinated populations.
The FDA perspective
Prior to receiving Lloyd’s Tuesday afternoon emailed response to our questions, we went to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) website to see that federal approval agency’s take on the COVID-19 vaccination distribution under a public health “emergency” declaration. The site asserts:
“The FDA has regulatory processes in place to facilitate the development of COVID-19 vaccines that meet the FDA’s rigorous scientific standards,” the FDA states. They elaborate that “The HHS (Health and Human Services) Secretary declared that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of drugs and biological products during the COVID-19 pandemic, pursuant to section 564 of the FD&C Act, effective March 27, 2020.”
Of the necessity of speeding up the testing and distribution process for what is considered by medical professionals around the world to be a public health emergency and worldwide viral pandemic, the FDA site adds: “FDA recognizes the gravity of the current public health emergency and the importance of facilitating availability, as soon as possible, of vaccines to prevent COVID-19 – vaccines that the public will trust and have confidence in receiving.”
Of course, if you believe the same, or same type, of people are running FDA, HHS, CDC or other federal agencies cited in medically obtrusive and immoral activities, some racist in nature, conducted in the early to mid-late 20th century, such assurances may sound hollow.
Of his perspective on the testing and approval status of COVID-19 vaccinations, Lloyd wrote Royal Examiner later Tuesday afternoon:
“I think that formally we remain in the trial phase for all available vaccines so I think the Belmont Report speaks directly to this situation. I think I would describe it as the ‘research’ or ‘trial’ phase; I doubt I would use the term ‘experimentation.’ I would probably describe the mRNA vaccines as ‘experimental,’ as they’ve never been tried in humans and it is not possible to know if there are any long-term effects from using them, which would be the type of potential harm that concerns me the most with that particular category.”
According to the CDC and other medical and news source websites, mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines were among the first authorized for use against COVID-19 in the U.S., including the Moderna and Pfizer, the latter of which this reporter received his second dose of from Valley Health on February 3, fortunately with no side effects from either dose to this point. According to the CDC website, the mRNA vaccines “do not interact with human DNA in any way” and “do not introduce the live COVID virus” into the recipient’s body or cell nucleus. They have been researched for decades in the treatment of various health ailments including rabies, the flu and ZIKA, among other infectious diseases, the CDC notes.
Of the process by which they do work, the CDC writes of mRNA: “To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. NOT (emphasis added) mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.”
It would seem that this process, avoiding some more cellularly intrusive methods of many traditional vaccines and with several decades of infectious disease research behind it, is why mRNA vaccines were among the first to be approved for use under public health “emergency” standards. But is that enough to allay the fears of some vaccine skeptics?
“The attitude of some is that, because of the large number of people who have received it, it is almost like they are not in trials anymore, (I have heard some doctors make this argument),” Lloyd wrote the Examiner, continuing, “I think these sorts of formalities matter, especially when dealing with a new drug.
“That said, I think that the Belmont Report* is a touchstone for matters of informed consent outside of clinical trials and ‘human research’ because it defines what is impermissibly coercive in the context of informed consent. In other words, when the trials end, I do not think that the behavior that falls under ‘coercion’ as defined in the report becomes ‘not-coercion’ because there is no more trial.”
Information or Opinion?
Perhaps the operative word in Lloyd’s analysis is “informed”.
First, one would ask: Is the federal public health apparatus and medical establishment “informed” enough to make an “emergency” judgement the vaccines distributed are safe for general human use?
And on the other side, the question is: Are those fearful of taking those “emergency” authorized vaccines “informed” enough on what methods the vaccines utilize in offering immunity against the COVID-19 Coronavirus, and what testing as been done to assure that the human health risk is minimal, and that, that risk is concentrated on those with specific pre-existing medical conditions?
For in the space between the answer to those two questions would seem to lie the legal justification for either a public or private-sector mandate that employees or members who have contact with other employees, members or customers must be vaccinated; versus as Councilman Lloyd and the constituent base he seeks to represent believe, such a mandate presents an immediate and dangerous health risk to them that municipal governments should legislate against, regardless of previous state or federal legal precedents concerning public health emergencies.
On the topic of “informed consent”, Councilman Lloyd wrote: “I have looked into AMA (American Medical Association) and other definitions of ‘informed consent’ and they mention freedom from coercion without defining ‘coercion’. I think the definition in the Belmont Report rings true and I would be surprised to find a definition anywhere that deviates widely from it.”
As to the question of the “informed” basis for his concerns, based on the health concerns of those he has heard from reluctant to be vaccinated, Lloyd claims a largely informed constituency:
“You asked about the validity of the medical objections, which I think I can answer quickly: I have not been looking very closely at the research at all. I see things mentioned here and there and some of them seem concerning, but my interest is not whether it is right. If a person does not want a vaccine because he thinks there are aliens in it; I would think he is wrong and I would also defend his right to decline the vaccine. I will say, though, that these are medical professionals: nurses, nurse practitioners, and doctors who are contacting me. I am not a medical professional; I would say they are in a better position to evaluate the various medical claims, and their perspectives are highly sophisticated, backed up with real stories of what is occurring ‘on the ground’ as they say.”
So, remaining and fundamental questions facing town council July 26, appear to be: Are Lloyd and those he is hearing from operating from documentable facts concerning alleged medical dangers from receiving COVID-19 vaccines okayed for circulation by the FDA of 2020-21, or are their fears a result of susceptibility to alarmist conspiracy theories in wide circulation in an “alternate fact” social media universe?
As noted, Lloyd asserts many who have contacted him are medical professionals and Valley Health employees in a position to know “what’s going on, on the ground” regarding COVID vaccinations, or at least they claim to be. Perhaps some will show up July 26, to identify themselves, their credentials, and state the basis for their concerns about being vaccinated – perhaps.
Otherwise, Lloyd’s colleagues on the Front Royal Town Council will be asked to accept on faith that there is a pending employment emergency based on a legitimate and grounded-in-fact medical concern about the safety of the available COVID-19 vaccinations that somehow Valley Health and other involved agencies have failed to identify, or perhaps can’t be trusted to tell us the truth about if you accept a corrupt federal and medical agency lineage dating to 1924 to 1972. And if jumping that hurdle, council will then face a vote on a perhaps legally unsupportable ordinance proposal based on an assertion made by an anonymous group of alleged medical professionals, and their council sponsor who admits he has “not been looking very closely at the research at all”.
Lloyd did include in his communications with Royal Examiner that he will support public comments on his ordinance initiative during the general Public Concerns portion of council’s July 26 meeting. That sounds like an invitation to his concerned constituents to stand up and be heard, along with those who disagree that the Town has reason or jurisdiction to swim into murky factual and legal waters.
(*Writer’s note: The lengthy Belmont Report developed over 4 years in the wake of the public revelation of Tuskegee Experiment can be found online, one link leading to summaries and the full report is: The Belmont Report | HHS.gov)
Front Royal names Assistant Town Manager
Kathleen Leidich has been selected as Front Royal’s Assistant Town Manager. Ms. Leidich will lead strategic operations for Planning and Building Inspection, and the infrastructure divisions of Public Works, Water Management, Construction Management, Capital Projects, Solid Waste, and Energy Services.
“Throughout the competitive recruitment process for Assistant Town Manager, Ms. Leidich demonstrated strong leadership, professionalism, and dedication to community service,” said Steven Hicks, Front Royal Town Manager. “Her 25 years of experience in local government and being a former Town Manager are essential in continuing to build and sustain a high performing team that will forward Front Royal’s commitment to providing quality service to citizens, business, and visitors.”
Ms. Leidich’s priorities will include overseeing the development of the newly created Building Codes and Environmental Division, a “one-stop” department providing services that help citizens and businesses easily navigate and complete governmental procedures and processes. She will lead the team in developing a new Comprehensive Plan and the Capital Improvement Program to maximize opportunities for quality development and economic and tourism growth.
“I look forward to becoming a member of the progressive Front Royal management team,” said Leidich. “My executive leadership responsibilities in local government have given me the hands-on experience needed to help advance Town services that improve quality of life and create an inviting environment for all.”
Leidich previously served as Town Manager in Occoquan, Virginia, Assistant to the Town Manager in Leesburg, Assistant Director of Transportation Planning and Operations in Loudoun County, Transit Projects Manager for the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and Planning Director in Marysville, Ohio.
“We are glad Ms. Leidich is joining the Front Royal team,” said Mayor Chris Holloway. “Her extensive knowledge and experience in local government will enable her to work well with the Town Manager and departments in supporting the goals of Council, the community, and regional partners.
Ms. Leidich earned master’s degrees in City and Regional Planning and Public Administration at Ohio State University. She graduated from Whittenberg University with a B.A. degree in political science and psychology.
She is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), a graduate of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Senior Executive Institute (SEI), and the ICMA Mid-Career Managers Institute.
Leidich will begin working for Front Royal on Monday, August 2.
(Town of Front Royal Press Release)
No Public Hearing prior to July 26 Council ‘action’ on Lloyd’s COVID Vaccination Code Proposal
On Monday, July 19, town staff verified a change in the originally announced August 2nd date for Front Royal Town Council public consideration of Councilman Scott Lloyd’s initiative to bring a town ordinance proposal forward that would remove private-sector authority to implement consequences, including termination or perceived negative reassignment, for employees declining to receive the COVID-19 Coronavirus vaccination. That matter was a topic of pointed discussion at a July 12 work session as reported in the Royal Examiner story – “Thompson challenges Lloyd’s reasons for moving anti-vaccination choice consequences proposal forward – public hearing, vote slated for August 2”
Having been informed by Lloyd over the weekend of the date change to council’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting of July 26 at the Warren County Government Center, this reporter contacted Council Clerk and Town Manager Administrative Assistant Tina Pressley by email Monday for verification. While Pressley did reply that there was now no Special Meeting scheduled for August 2 and that Lloyd’s vaccination-related ordinance proposal would be on council’s Monday, July 26 agenda for “action”, she added, “There are no public hearings scheduled for this item on the 26th or August 2nd.”
Uh oh, “action” on a proposed town code change with potentially sweeping private-sector and legal ramifications without a public hearing?!? It had originally been thought the necessary time to prepare and publish public notice of a public hearing and vote would require the scheduling of an August 2 special meeting to facilitate Lloyd’s desire for council action on his COVID-19 vaccine-related proposal as soon as possible.
Believing that such legislative action as code changes require public hearings, we decided to follow up with the council clerk by phone. Noting she was still working on the language for the Lloyd initiative’s inclusion in the July 26 agenda packet, Pressley verified the language in her email – Yes, there would be “action” scheduled; but no, there would not be a public hearing.
With that information in tow, we first emailed, then called Lloyd Monday afternoon seeking further explanation on how his ordinance proposal was being brought forward. We then called Town Attorney Doug Napier seeking clarity.
Napier explained that Lloyd was bringing his ordinance proposal to legislate against private-sector implementation of consequences on employees for a refusal to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 Coronavirus as an Emergency Ordinance. If a council majority accepts the proposal as of an emergency nature in town, the necessity of a public hearing is negated, the town attorney explained. As of July 19, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic is credited with over 4.09-million deaths worldwide, nearly 615,000 nationwide, 11,477 statewide, with the deaths of 61 people in Warren County over the past year and a half.
However, from its nature Lloyd’s ordinance proposal is not being presented as a local public health emergency, but rather as a citizen rights emergency to prevent what Lloyd terms employer “coercion” to be vaccinated against the pandemic to maintain one’s job status.
In an irony that would fit a Hollywood drama script, say for the medical show “House”, verification of the changed date and nature of town council consideration of Lloyd’s proposal as an Emergency Ordinance came the same day that regional medical provider Valley Health issued a press release announcing a new policy mandating that all its employees be vaccinated against the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Valley Health Announces New Safety Standard: All Employees and Medical Staff to Receive COVID-19 Vaccine
Attempts to reach Valley Health officials for comment on the implications for their operations in a community from such a municipal ordinance as is now on the table in Front Royal where they just opened a new hospital/office complex were unsuccessful prior to publication. A phone message left for Lloyd inquiring on what he perceives to be the emergency in presenting his ordinance, was also unreturned by publication.
Stay tuned for more on this developing story as it develops over the coming week leading up to council’s meeting next Monday, July 26. Meetings begin at 7 p.m. Where on the meeting agenda Lloyd’s proposal is placed should be known by Thursday, July 22, when the agendas are targeted for release by the Council Clerk’s Office.
With the general “Public Concerns” portion of meetings devoted to non-agenda items, and Lloyd’s proposal under consideration as an emergency ordinance without a public hearing, were council to accept that designation, it would seem the public might have no opportunity to address the matter prior to council action. We called Town Attorney Napier back on that possibility. He said it would be at council and the mayor’s discretion whether to allow public comments at the meeting’s outset to include an agenda item with no public hearing.
Legality of Meza council appointment will be re-argued orally third week of September
A date of September 22, at 10:30 a.m. has been set by Warren County Circuit Court Judge William W. Sharp to again hear oral arguments in support of plaintiff (Paul Aldrich) and defense (Jacob Meza, Town of Front Royal) filings on the court’s decision to re-hear a citizen challenge of Meza’s appointment/election to council on January 4th, four days after the term he did not run for reelection to, expired. Plaintiff counsel David Downes was seeking an August date further in front of the November 2nd Special Election to fill the final year of the council seat term vacated by Chris Holloway when he was elected mayor in November 2020, taking office January 1, 2021.
Meza is not running to continue into that final year of Holloway’s old council seat term. With the filing deadline passed, only Warren County Republican Committee Treasurer Amber Morris and Bruce Rappaport, a conservative independent who lost the Republican Committee endorsement to Morris, have filed to be on the ballot in the November Special Election.
Speaking of “elections”, how the term “elected” in Section 47 of the Front Royal Town Charter upon which the plaintiff case is based, is finally interpreted by the court could cast a larger shadow over the judge’s final ruling on the issue. In a letter to plaintiff attorney Downes and defense counsel Heather Bardot dated July 15, Judge Sharpe addresses his promise to resolve the case prior to the November 2, 2021, Special Election to fill the final year of the old Holloway council seat term.
“I intend to keep my word … the citizens of the Town of Front Royal deserve to have this matter resolved,” the judge wrote of that pre-Election Day resolution of the case promise, continuing, “As I have already noted, though the Complaint in this case challenges the validity of Mr. Meza’s office, if the Plaintiff’s position is right, then it is quite possible that the validity of the claims to office of other current council members and the mayor may also be in question.”
A potential impact on the mayor’s or other council members seats stems from initial May 25th hearing discussion on whether the relevant Section 47 wording could be interpreted as preventing elected town officials from running in General Elections for one year after their previous term had expired.
That Section 47 wording is: “No member of the council of the Town of Front Royal shall be appointed or elected to any office under the jurisdiction of the council while he is a member of the council, or for one year thereafter.” (underscore added)
However as previously observed during the May hearing, with an 84-year precedent in place of council members and mayors running for re-election since the 1937 passage of the Town Charter, the likelihood of such a judicial re-interpretation might seem remote. In fact, Downes noted that the plaintiff is not pursuing such an interpretation of the Charter wording, adding that what he termed “a methodical analysis” of relevant historical documents, which he cited as “the Virginia Constitution of 1776, the Virginia House of Delegates Rules of Procedure from 1912, Robert’s Rules of Order from 1915, the Town Charter of 1937” among others “shows that the framers of the charter were clearly addressing an election by councilmen and not a general election by the public.”
In addition to jurisdictional issues and legal standing of the plaintiff to challenge Meza’s “appointment” or “election” by his four Republican Committee colleagues to council on January 4, it continues to be the context of the words “appointed” and “elected” as it applies to council actions in Charter Section 47 around which the case revolves.
Much of the written arguments filed by the two sides in the wake of Judge Sharp’s decision to re-examine and re-hear those arguments, echo points made during the May 25 hearing. As reported in Royal Examiner’s story on that hearing, “Bardot pointed to the absurdity of the Section 47 wording” if it was interpreted to mean council could “appoint” someone who was already a council member to a council seat. So, she asserted that Charter Sections 6D and 9 applied to filling council seats, rather than Section 47.
In her Demurrer filing for dismissal, Bardot pointed to Section 6D wording on filling council vacancies: “The council may fill any vacancy that occurs within the membership of council for the unexpired term, provided that such vacancy is taken within 45 days of the office becoming vacant,” Section 6D states. No reference to a one-year hiatus per appointments is made here, Bardot noted.
Citing the inclusion of the words “appointed or elected” Judge Sharp’s initially ruled that Section 47 applied only to paid staff appointments, not council member appointments. Sharpe said it seemed clear that the Town Charter’s intent, dating to its 1937 adoption, was not to prevent council members from running for re-election for a year. So, the court sided with Bardot’s stance for the defense that Sections 6 and 9 of the Charter were the applicable sections on council appointments, rather than Section 47.
In the first round of oral arguments, as he likely will again on September 22, Downes countered that it was “dangerous to take one word out of context” in trying to decipher the intent of town fathers 84 year ago. The plaintiff counsel argued that the Section 47 wording referred to two distinct and different actions: 1/ appointment to a town staff position while being a council member, or within a year of having been a council member; and 2/ “election” as in acquiring a council majority consensus for reappointment to a council seat within a year of leaving council voluntarily, like Meza by not seeking reelection, or involuntarily, as in being voted out of office by the public.
Some have contended Meza did not run in 2020 because he may have believed he would have lost after a controversial year in office surrounding his employer Valley Health and his flip-flopping on recusals from discussion and votes in authorizing a $60-million County-Town EDA loan to help finance construction of a new hospital without a Maternity Unit.
Plaintiff Paul Aldrich and his counsel contend Meza’s appointment/election by four of his County Republican Committee colleagues (the vote was 4-1) was the very type of political cronyism Section 47 of the Town Charter was designed to prevent.
And so the two legal sides continue to circle and counter the other’s points of contention on jurisdiction, authority of the plaintiff’s challenge and how long-dead town fathers used the English language 84 years ago.
Stay tuned, as a final decision on these issues has been promised by the court before November 2, 2021, one might guess by the end of September or early October at the latest.
County Planning Commission copes with influx of Conditional Use Permits
The Warren County Planning Commission held its regular meeting on Wednesday, July 14, with a full slate of Conditional Use Permit (CUP) requests. A larger-than-normal audience turned out to be permit applicants and their supporters, rather than a large group of concerned citizens as at previous meetings. When Chairman Robert Myers opened the floor for public presentations on non-agenda items, there were none.
Ten Special Use Permit applications advertised for public hearings since the last regular meeting in June were on the agenda.
John Suh requested a permit for a short-term tourist rental for his Agriculturally zoned property at 515 Corron Drive in the Fork District. Planner Matt Wendling briefed the commission on the request. There is no Homeowners Association for that area, but several nearby property owners had expressed their concerns about the potential for guests to discharge firearms or use all-terrain vehicles, so Commissioner Henry asked if prohibitions of those activities could be made a condition of approval of the permit. Since the applicant was at the hearing, he agreed to make those prohibitions part of the rules for guests, and the commission then voted unanimously to recommend approval of the permit as amended.
Neal Sutliffe was seeking a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental for his property at 1720 Khyber Pass Rd. The property is zoned residential and is in the Happy Creek District. The applicant purchased the property as a derelict cabin and is rebuilding it. There were two letters opposing the permit, but no one attended the hearing. The Chairman pointed out, as he often does, that Bed & Breakfast or short-term tourist rentals are not legally considered a commercial activity, but are rather defined as residential in nature. One of the complaints centered on a debris fire that was close to the property line during the demolition process. The applicant explained that the contractor working on the property at the time had constructed a pit to get rid of the debris, but that it was a one-time occurrence and would not happen again. The commission then voted unanimously to recommend approval for the permit.
Chad and Charlene Backstrom are seeking a CUP for private use camping on their property on Burma Road in the North River District. The properties in that area are all in the Shenandoah River flood zone and so special provisions for flood emergency actions are required. The commission unanimously recommended approval of the permit.
Shawn and Christine Tsanganelias were also seeking a CUP for private use camping for another property in the same area on Burma Road in the North River District. The commission quickly approved the recommendation unanimously.
James Humphrey made it three CUP requests in a row for private use camping for another property in the same area on Burma Road in the North River District. These permit requests are often the result of periodic reviews by the planning department for recreational use lots. Owners may be unaware of the need for a permit. The commission unanimously recommended approval of the request.
The Church at Skyline requested conditional use permitting for a private school at 7655 Stonewall Jackson Highway on Agricultural land in the South River District. The school is located on church property and is unlikely to increase traffic flow to the site, the applicant stated. VDOT has already given its approval, and the County Building Inspection Department is working on its input. There were no opposing speakers, and Pastor Butch Hammond expressed his appreciation to the Planning Department and the Commission for working with the church to allow it to provide this service to the community. The commission recommended approval without objection.
Melissa Halko has requested a CUP for her residentially zoned property at 261 Sunset Village Road in the Fork District. There were no speakers either for or against the request. The commission unanimously recommended approval of the permit.
Ken Colton/KLC & Co, LLC, is requesting a Conditional Use Permit for the storage of cars, boats, and recreational vehicles on their property on Winners Court in the North River District. The property is zoned Industrial, and planning staff recommended the addition of a condition that vehicles stored there should be registered and insured. The commission unanimously recommended approval as presented with that condition.
Kim Countryman’s CUP request was for a country General Store at 4536 Strasburg Road in the North River District. The property was operated as the Waterlick Grocery Store for decades prior to falling into disuse. The owner discovered that prior permits had expired due to the lack of continuous operation, and embarked on an effort to renovate and reopen the business. However, VDOT must approve entrances onto a state highway and determined that the present ones at the site do not meet the safety requirements due to limited visibility. The Planning Department recommended that the commission deny approval for the permit; however, after the applicant made a personal appeal and indicated she was meeting in the next week with the VDOT representative, the commission unanimously voted to table the request for an additional month to allow the applicant to identify options to meet the VDOT requirements.
Randall Lewis and Monica Stover requested a Conditional Use Permit for private use camping on their residentially zoned property on Farms Riverview Road in the Shenandoah District. There were no objections to the request, so the commission unanimously voted to recommend approval for the permit.
Six conditional use permit requests were presented for authorization to advertise, five for short-term tourist rentals, and one for private use camping. It appears that next month’s regular meeting will have a full agenda too.
The Planning Department announced that the long-anticipated Comprehensive Plan review has begun, and Planning Director Joe Petty expressed his appreciation for the commission’s support and work so far. He also announced that the Warren County Capital Improvement Plan (WC CIP) will be the subject of the next Planning Commission work session on August 5. Section 15.2-2239 of the Code of Virginia assigns the responsibility for capital outlay programs to the local planning commissions. The Code states that the local commission may, and at the direction of the governing body shall, prepare for a period not to exceed the ensuing five years a Capital Improvement Plan based on the Comprehensive Plan of the county or municipality. Once the plan is adopted, it is revised annually. Individual project priorities may change throughout the course of the year, and it is quite possible that certain projects may not be funded during the year initially indicated in the CIP.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:30 p.m.