The Morgan Ford bridge crossing the Shenandoah River north of town was closed again over the pre-holiday weekend due to high water over the roadway approaches.
A visit by a Royal Examiner reporter on the Happy Creek Road side of the bridge Sunday revealed bulldozers working to repair washed out roadway while high waters covered parts of the new, two-way span, opened earlier this year as a counter to regular flooding.
The bridge has been closed to traffic several times since last spring due to the heavy rainfalls of the past 12 months, though it was allegedly built to replace the 80-year-old flood-prone, single-lane span – known as the “low water bridge” – and resist the heaviest of storms.
Workers at the bridge on Sunday cautiously forecast a re-opening by Sunday evening. “Cautiously” because one of them remarked that even as few as “five rain spots on my windshield” during the rest of the day would mean another overnight closure as a safety precaution.
The bulldozer work being completed over the weekend was described as only a temporary fix. Further flooding would most certainly wash away the asphalt chunks that were being pushed into the washed out roadway, workers said.
This reporter saw only a single orange high water” sign on Happy Creek Road Sunday, giving no indication that the bridge was actually closed. Numerous vehicles, including his own, were turned around at the closed gate in just a few minutes of observation.
Elks Lodge caps school year with ‘Americanism’ awards
Sadi Comstock of Skyline Middle School and Andrew Cabrera of E.Wilson Morrison Elementary each won first place prizes in Front Royal Elks Lodge’s essay contests at their respective schools during the final days of the school year. The question students were asked to respond to in their essays was: “What does it mean to love your country?” For their efforts, the pair received $100 cash prizes.
Second and third place awardees at E. Wilson Morrison elementary were Penelope Dublin and Lucy Phillips. Otto Hire got an honorable mention. At Skyline Middle School Mackenzie McIntyre and Katie Smith scored second and third places, with an honorable mention going to Lucy Campos-Escobar. All received lesser cash awards
Exalted Ruler Jim Sheppard made the awards at ceremonies attended by parents and teachers. In addition to cash, Skyline students also received corsages.
FY-23 Budget, ACA accreditation costs, and 18 to 21-year-old hirings dominate RSW Jail Authority Meeting discussion
Following some joking about a shifting of responsibilities with the election of officers for the coming year, Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler’s comment held the day – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is my nomination,” he said. And with that said, the existing officers of the RSW Jail Authority Board of Directors were renominated and unanimously re-elected. Those are Garrey Curry (Rappahannock County Administrator) chair, Evan Vass (Shenandoah County Administrator) vice-chair, and Ed Daley (Warren County Administrator) secretary-treasurer, with some juggling of those positions at the Finance and Personnel Committee level.
Two topics dominated the Committee and Authority Board discussions of Thursday, May 26. Those were personnel issues related to a sparsity of applications to fill uniformed guard positions among the facility-wide 48 vacancies currently listed, and an ongoing cost/benefits analysis on the advisability of entering into an accreditation contract with the independent ACA (American Correctional Association).
That latter topic was somewhat linked to an update on the proposed facility Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget. Moving forward on a budget of $16,345,491, with a 5% COLA (Cost Of Living Act) written in for employees, as opposed to a 10% COLA option that would add $369,360 to the total budget, was suggested and approved since the Jail Authority Board, like municipalities around the commonwealth, is still working without final state budget numbers. Those numbers have been promised as of June 1, Ed Daley observed of signals from Richmond. The only change from the budget presented in April was a $28,000 increase in the annual VACO Insurance coverage, staff pointed out.
Staffing options for under 21-year-olds
On the staffing issue Jail Superintendent, Russ Gilkison brought forward a proposal to consider the hiring of 18 to 21-year-olds to unarmed positions to assist fully certified deputies in the conduct of their duties. A variety of regulations would apply to these younger employees, including that they be paired with experienced employees when working in inmate housing areas to avoid one-on-one interaction with prisoners.
Responding to a question, Gilkison said that civilian openings were being filled pretty quickly; however, that was not the case with uniformed deputy-guard positions. Pointing to applicants for guard positions, the jail superintendent noted there had been a number of under-21 applicants excited by the opportunity to become uniformed law enforcement officers. As to the hiring of 18 to 21-year-olds, he told the Jail Authority Board of Directors, “I wouldn’t want to arm them. They wouldn’t be in positions where they’d be out and do transports. We wouldn’t use them anywhere where they were by themselves and dealing with inmates.
“We’re just trying to be creative to get people in the doorway, get them interested in the career,” he told the authority board. And he noted it was a strategy being employed at other regional jails to deal with the same lag in applicants to fill vacant guard positions.
Warren County Sheriff Butler expressed some concern and opposition to the idea. He cited the difficulty of placing young people with a minimum of life experience behind them in the rather complex position of dealing with convicted criminals often versed in reading people to gain an advantage.
“I understand your concerns. I would not want them working independently,” Gilkison told Butler.
A great deal of discussion followed concerning methods of evaluating potential employee candidates for strengths and weaknesses regardless of age. Suggestions were broached, including phasing younger applicants in initially as civilian, front-of-house employees, while training for guard assisting duties and evaluating them for eventual certification as law enforcement officers as they reached the age of 21.
Eventually, Gilkison asked for the board’s direction on a path forward. Chairman Curry observed it was the board’s responsibility to give the superintendent a direction forward to deal with the ongoing staffing shortage by either allowing the phasing in of younger applicants as had been described or to give him tools to increase the applicant pool in other ways. After some aborted motions to facilitate Gilkison’s suggested plan, it was observed by Shenandoah County Sheriff Tim Carter that existing codes allowed the hiring of people at 18, so without a direct veto from the board, the superintendent could move forward as suggested.
After reading the applicable code, Warren County Sheriff Butler concurred with Sheriff Carter that since existing codes allowed the superintendent to move forward as he had proposed, he be allowed to do so with the precautions in place as described. Warren Supervisor Delores Oates observed that regardless of age, the best path forward was to hire the best available candidates. She also noted that Warren County Public Schools was planning to implement a “Criminal Justice” program in the coming school year that might contribute to a more qualified 18-to-21 candidate pool in coming years.
“The code allows it, so I think it’s moot if we just repeat what it says,” Oates added of the necessity of a motion on allowing Gilkison to move forward on staffing issues, including the hiring of qualified under-21 applicants. So, without direct action a consensus was reached, though with some ongoing concerns still expressed by Sheriff Butler, to allow Gilkison to move forward on hiring younger applicants who were judged qualified to be phased in under the described precautionary methods while working toward eventual law enforcement certification as deputy-guards as they reached the age of 21.
As noted above, cost versus benefit remained the main point of discussion in evaluating a move toward seeking official American Correctional Association (ACA) accreditation. Statistics noting local and regional correctional facilities with ACA accreditation were presented as they were at the April meeting, along with some cost projections and comparisons with state-mandated Department Of Corrections (DOC) accreditation.
Superintendent Gilkison reiterated the numbers as presented in April: of 23 regional jails including RSW, only 2 are ACA accredited; and of 36 local jails, 7 are ACA accredited for a total of 9 accredited of 59 jails in the commonwealth.
To implement and maintain ACA status an estimated “Annual Fee” of $13,500 was estimated by staff. And that does not include increased staffing required or other annual audit and related expenditures, a staff agenda summary pointed out.
Of additional staffing, Gilkison said that while he hadn’t finished calculating the total number that would be required, his initial exploration indicated 6 new medical staff positions, as well as a fire safety and certification position. That total of 8 it appeared would be compounded by the necessity of maintaining some, if not all new positions, during all shifts.
Sheriff Butler observed that he believed increased accreditation standards were the future of law enforcement, and staying ahead of the curve was advisable. During the subsequent conversation he observed that while exploring ACA standards, which differ from the state-mandated DOC standards, the facility can learn of potential increased standards and implement them “as appropriate” without actually seeking ACA accreditation oversight and its expense.
For that seemed to be the over-arching concern of the board – “Do we want to invest that amount of money,” Authority Board Vice-Chair Evan Vaas asked of a self-initiated effort to achieve and maintain ACA certification, as noted above, certification that is not mandated by the state.
It was also noted that some physical plant issues on the layout of RSW would hinder the jail achieving some of the ACA standards without additional expense. If any of those existing limitations slid into the “Mandatory ACA Standards” that would further hinder the facility in achieving the accreditation it would be paying to seek. Board member Oates also observed that they had just approved a budget that did not include the minimum additional ACA staffing requirement of six new medical staff positions.
But with Gilkison estimating he was 75% of the way through crunching all the numbers with valuable help from staff, the board consensus was for him to complete the evaluation process.
And with a quick acknowledgment of the earlier Finance and Personnel Committee meeting convened at 1:30 PM and no other “Outstanding Issues” on the table, the RSW Regional Jail Authority Board of Directors meeting was adjourned at 3:10 pm. The next scheduled meeting of the Authority Board is set for July 28 at 2 pm, with the F&P Committee meeting to precede that.
Summer Reading Club returns to Samuels Public Library
Dive into an Ocean of Possibilities at Samuels Public Library! Summer Reading Club for all ages returns June 6 – August 13. Get your feet wet and read books to win prizes! Visit the Library throughout the summer for an assortment of events featuring magic, pirates, water discoveries, and even a petting zoo!
“For the last two years, Summer Reading Club has been low-key due to COVID-19, but we are excited to bring back an action-packed calendar of events for 2022,” says Michal Ashby, Youth Services Supervisor.
Kick off the summer-long celebration with an unbelievable performance by world class magician Peter Wood on June 6 at 6 pm, stop by Eastham Park to enjoy the new StoryWalk book Nobody Likes a Goblin with the author Ben Hatke on June 11 at 11am, splash into a S.T.E.A.M. adventure from TaleWise to help out lost pirates on June 24 at 11am, laugh your socks off during an interactive musical comedy performance from Mr. Jon & Friends on July 14 at 2 pm, get up close with cute animals in our petting zoo on July 30 at 2 pm, and enjoy a fantastic performance from Rainbow Puppets on August 10 at 2pm.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg for children’s and family programs at the Library this summer. In partnership with Warren County Parks & Recreation, the Library will host Warren Reads – littles will be able to enjoy Story Time with specials guests from the community. The partnership will also collaborate to host Toddler Trails, a program that introduces children to the area’s many wonderful local parks.
Adults and teens can also join in on the fun! Teens are invited to chat all about books, movies, art and more at Discuss This, June 18 and July 2 at 2pm. They can also flex their gaming skills during Press Play on July 9 at 11 am and August 20 at 2 pm. Adults can learn all about tree identification from horticulture expert Mary Olien on June 11 at 10 am. Local herbalist Caden Speziale will lead a virtual class on adaptogenic herbs June 9 at 6:30 pm. Conservationist Hershel Finch will share all the best fishing spots and demo fly fishing techniques on June 25 at 10 am. Crafty grown-ups can participate in the Tiny Art Workshop on June 18 at 2 pm or the Sea Glass Mason Jar Craft Class on July 16 at 2 pm. Adults can also escape the heat with interactive movie afternoons on June 11, July 9, and August 13 at 2 pm.
“Many people don’t realize that the Library hosts more than Story Time. We have exciting events for every age. There is literally something for everyone at Samuels Public Library,” explains Erin Rooney, Adult Reference Supervisor.
This summer, you can do more than just read at Samuels Public Library. You can also sing, dance, play, learn, and laugh! To register for Summer Reading Club visit www.samuelslibrary.net or call 540-635-3153.
About Samuels Public Library
Samuels Public Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. A 501(c)(3) organization, the library annually serves 200,000 visitors, checks out nearly 400,000 books, electronic and digital services, and provides essential computer access, wireless service and public meeting spaces for the community. To learn more, visit www.samuelslibrary.net or call (540) 635-3153.
Front Royal/Warren County Ministerial Association presents Baccalaureate Service-Warren County High School-Skyline High School
On May 26, 2022, the Front Royal/Warren County Ministerial Association presented Baccalaureate Service for Warren County High School and Skyline High School.
The program started with a prelude by Sue Rinker, the pianist from First Baptist Church, followed by the Skyline Choir singing their Alma Mater. The WCHS Choir sang the Alma Mater via an audio recording.
Christy McMillin-Goodwin, President of the Ministerial Association, gave the welcoming remarks, followed by the singing of the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”
Savannah Mitchell (WCHS) and Lexie Reinhardt (SHS) gave Prayers from each class. The SHS Choir sang “Benedictus,” followed by Senior student messages from each class. Kiersten Stives presented the message from WCHS and Lexie Reinhardt from SHS.
Margaret Plosch from Warren County High School played a piano solo.
Rachel Plemmons, Pastor, Front Royal United Methodist Church, gave the message to the graduating classes. Dr. Jim Bunce, Pastor of Marlow Heights Baptist Church, and Captain Ann Hawk from the Salvation Army presented Cords to the graduates.
Rachel Plemmons and Ingrid Chenoweth, Pastor Good Shepherd Luthern Church, presented the candle lighting ceremony, followed by prayers and blessings for the graduates by Sam Noble, Director, Young Life.
Valerie Hayes, Rector, Calvary Episcopal Church, provided the Benediction. Sue Rinker provided the recessional.
Shenandoah University to host Veterans Community Engagement Forum
Shenandoah University will host a Veterans Community Engagement Forum on Thursday, June 2, at 1 p.m. in Halpin-Harrison Hall.
The event will bring together veterans and private, public, and non-governmental organizations that support them at the local, state, and national levels to discuss and foster a better understanding of the issues affecting veterans and their families.
The forum aims to re-engage veterans and the regional Community Veterans Engagement Boards (CVEBs) that focus on strategic actions that optimize support, care, and services for veterans. Additionally, the forum will shed light on the many services available to veterans and will provide an opportunity to problem-solve some of the issues plaguing the veteran community.
It’s exciting to again be partnering with the Northern Shenandoah Valley CVEB and the host of community partners in our region to identify and support the needs of veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. Shenandoah University is committed to being a school of choice for veterans and the leader in promoting and providing world-class education, services, and support to military-affiliated learners in our region,” said Cameron McCoy, Ph.D., Shenandoah University provost.
A military-affiliated panel, consisting of an active-duty service member, a veteran, a spouse of a veteran, and a Shenandoah student who is the child of a veteran, will identify veterans’ needs and will focus on understanding some of the current challenges facing members of the military community throughout the region.
Michael Diaz, chair of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Community Veterans Engagement Board, will share information about what has been done to address veterans’ needs. CVEBs, which operate under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, works to create collaborative networks on the local level and use community resources to address issues identified by the local community.
The forum will also include a presentation on Bunker Labs, which helps veterans and military spouses start and grow successful businesses, and a roundtable discussion among veteran-supporting organizations that will provide an opportunity to learn about current services available in the area and to promote partnership and collaboration across organizations.
Dr. McCoy, a military veteran, will share information about the Veterans, Military, and Families Center (VMFC) and the planned Hub for Innovators, Veterans, and Entrepreneurs (HIVE) during the forum. Attendees will get a chance to review the HIVE’s progress following the event.
In creating the HIVE, Shenandoah has identified an opportunity to further support the community by restoring the former National Guard Armory located on campus, and the initiative is designed to support economic growth and development in the community and region, while also providing an anchor for veteran care, services, and resources.
Update: April Petty awaits Judge’s decision on motion to dismiss EDA civil case seeking return of $125,000 received from Jennifer McDonald during 2016 home sale process
(Author’s note: As of Saturday morning, May 28, at 11:15 a.m. this story has been updated with additional detail on the $125,000 check transferred from an EDA account by Jennifer McDonald to Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC during April Petty’s 2016 home sale process.)
Judge Bruce D. Albertson took dueling arguments on a defense motion to issue a summary judgment dismissing all civil claims regarding the FR-WC EDA’s action against defendant April Petty under advisement Tuesday afternoon, May 24. Cullen Seltzer represented the plaintiff EDA, now trading as the Warren County EDA in the wake of the Town of Front Royal pulling out of involvement as it litigates against the half-century-old joint Town-County EDA over disputed losses tied to the FR-WC EDA financial scandal. Petty was represented by defense counsel William Shmidheiser III.
Petty’s case, among a number of others alleged as beneficiaries and co-conspirators of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald are scheduled for civil court trials beginning in early July. Following taking the Petty motion under advisement the court dealt with jury selection issues with attorneys for a number of civil case defendants patched in by phone. Those included counsel for Truc “Curt” Tran and ITFederal, Donnie Poe and Earthlink Energy, Ms. Hassenplug, and Samuel North. With input from Circuit Court Clerk Angie Moore, it was decided a rather complex process involving a fairly large jury pool with begin Wednesday and Thursday June 29th and 30th.
The Petty dismissal motion filing dated April 21 targets all five aspects of the EDA’s civil case against Petty, scheduled for jury trial on July 5 and 6. All the civil liability aspects of the plaintiff EDA’s case against Petty revolve around receipt of a $125,000 EDA check from Jennifer McDonald that was applied to payment on a mortgage loan at Ocwen Loan Servicing on Petty’s home, during Petty’s 2016 effort to sell that home. That money is cited as part of the estimated $21 million in EDA assets that McDonald is alleged to have misdirected to unauthorized personal use and benefit of herself and others.
The five aspects of the plaintiff’s case against Petty are “Unjust Enrichment”, the receipt of benefit by one party from another without a reciprocal benefit to the other party (in this case the EDA); “Conversion” (unauthorized possession); application of the “ultra vires” standard of acting beyond one’s legal authority; “Conspiracy” in knowingly acting in concert with Jennifer McDonald in the receipt of misdirected EDA assets; and “Fraud” related to the “Conspiracy” allegation that Petty knew that $125,000 McDonald applied to her mortgage loan was money the EDA asserts was stolen.
Petty’s attorney pointed out that when an earlier grand jury was handing out blanket criminal indictments against alleged McDonald co-conspirators including two full EDA oversight boards, April Petty was not one of those indicted by the grand jury. Pointing to what he believes is a lack of evidence against his client having any knowledge of the alleged embezzlement conspiracy, Shmidheiser asserted to the court that “all the charges” related to the plaintiff’s “conspiracy theory” involving her should be dismissed. Essentially that is the final four of the five above EDA claims against Petty.
“All they had, have today is the check,” Shmidheiser told the court of the $125,000 check drawn on an EDA account appearing to be co-signed by McDonald and then EDA Board of Directors Chair Patricia Wines made to Ocwen (misspelled as Owen) Loan Servicing LLC that was applied to Petty’s home sale price.
At this point Judge Albertson asked defense counsel if McDonald had, in fact, transferred that money to April Petty. “Yes, but April Petty did not know that it was embezzled money,” her attorney said walking a legal tight rope between knowledge and consequence.
“You’re asking me to skip over the trial part of this case,” Judge Albertson told Shmidheiser. “Yes, I am,” defense counsel replied moving toward his argument against the “Unjust Enrichment” aspect of the case against Petty.
Noting his client’s belief McDonald was acting in her role as a real estate agent with Century 21 Real Estate in helping Petty accomplish the sale of her home, Shmidheiser asserted that his client was not by legal definition “unjustly enriched”. He elaborated that in exchange for the $125,000 check Petty believed was fronted to her mortgage loan to help facilitate her home sale, “plus another $210,000 Petty received at Closing on her home, she Deeded her house, which was listed for $330,000, to purchasers Mr. and Mrs. Leary,” Shmidheiser explained.
“She didn’t get money for nothing, she got money for her house,” the defense attorney later elaborated to this reporter on his courtroom arguments. During those arguments in support of his motion for a dismissal of the civil case against his client, Shmidheiser revealed how he prioritized his case for dismissal. And it appeared he felt the optimum legal path forward if a trial was required would be in dispelling the notion that April Petty was a conscious co-conspirator of Jennifer McDonald’s in her alleged embezzlement schemes.
“We’ll live with all but ‘Unjust Enrichment’,” Shmidheiser told the court of the prospect of a two-day trial in early July. “I’m confident we will win at trial,” Shmidheiser added of having to present the defense case to a jury on the conspiracy aspect of the EDA’s civil claims against his client.
Defense counsel also cited an established three-year statute of limitation standard he said the plaintiff had not met in charging his client for liability for funds she received in March 2016. The case of Belcher vs. Kirkwood was cited by Shmidheiser in support of the three-year statute of limitations having expired by the time his client was charged civilly. To not apply the three-year Statute of Limitations precedent would be tantamount to the court altering existing state legal precedent, which the defense attorney theorized would lead to a higher court reversal of denial of his motion for dismissal on the Unjust Enrichment aspect.
In countering Shmidheiser’s arguments, EDA attorney Cullen Seltzer disputed defense assertions surrounding the applicability of the Belcher vs. Kirkwood case in an alleged financial fraud not discovered at the time it was occurring in 2016 when Ms. Petty is believed by the plaintiff to have been involved. He also argued that the defense points being made in support of a motion for dismissal were more appropriate for a jury to hear for a finding of guilt or innocence.
For dismissal to be granted the defense must show that “no facts are in dispute” Seltzer told the court. And from the plaintiff’s perspective that is not the case. Seltzer noted that Petty admits the $125,000 check went to pay on her mortgage loan during her sale process.
“She was very anxious to sell,” Seltzer told the court of Petty’s motivation to accept money he said she had expressed “suspicion” about when offered. Of his client’s initial “suspicions” about the money offered from an EDA account referenced by the EDA attorney during arguments, Shmidheiser noted that Petty had been assured by, not only McDonald, but others that it was “business as usual” on the economic development/real estate transaction front.
Of Petty’s close friend Robin Richardson, who was said to have brought McDonald to Petty during her attempt to sell her house, plaintiff counsel told the court of a second transfer of funds. Seltzer asserted that when Petty put “almost $42,000 in her pocket from her home sale, she had given Ms. Richardson $10,000. Is there evidence that was money previously owed by Petty to Richardson or was it comparable to a “finder’s fee” for bringing McDonald into the picture to help facilitate the home sale with the $125,000 loan payment on Petty’s behalf, Seltzer asked the court.
And now both plaintiff and defendant are awaiting the court’s ruling on all aspects of the defense motion for summary judgment on dismissal of the case against April Petty.