FRONT ROYAL – Christendom College alumni John Connolly, Class of 2008, has blasted his alma mater, the school president and board of directors regarding past failures and current direction in response to recent revelations about issues surrounding reports by female students of sexual assaults and date rapes by male students at the conservative Catholic college.
Connolly took the opportunity of “Requests and Inquiries of Council Members” during the February 12 meeting of the Front Royal Town Council to express “disappointment in the organization” of Christendom College, located on Front Royal’s east side. That disappointment was directed at, not only the revelation of past administrative inaction surrounding sexual assault and rape reports dating back as far as 1999, but at the intention of then and still Christendom President Timothy O’Donnell to remain in that position; as well as the apparent willingness of the Christendom Board of Directors to allow him to do so.
As first reported in the Northern Virginia Daily and then other local media outlets including Royal Examiner, in early-and-mid January Catholic blogger Simcha Fisher published a two-part account of the stories of two former Christendom female students, one named and one not, about their experiences of sexual assault or rape by male student boyfriends. But most troubling for many, including John Connolly, was the description of what appeared to be an uneven and ineffectual handling of the women’s reports of these crimes to the school administration. See related story here
In an initial response, O’Donnell alleged “misleading information and serious inaccuracies” in the Simcha Fisher blog posts, but then went on to apologize to past victims of such incidents within the Christendom student body. In a subsequent response Christendom Executive Vice-President Kenneth Ferguson promised the school would do better in the future and offered to meet with student victims, past and present. Ferguson even thanked Simcha Fisher and her husband Damien for shedding light on the problem.
“We have failed some of our students,” O’Donnell admitted in the second response.
For John Connolly that was not enough.
“I attended the school from 2004 to 2008 and have been involved in the school in some capacity or another for 14 years. It is the lack of response and support for victims that is a heinous scandal and open sore for years that remains. It is not lightly that I must express my disappointment with the gross lack of responsibility and accountability in the college that has been uncovered through the many heart-rending accounts by victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape at the school,” Connolly said in opening his remarks.
The Christendom Advocacy & Support Coalition formed in support of student victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape by fellow students confirms 18 known cases between 1999 and 2016, but adds it believes there to be more. On Monday night, Connolly agreed with that assessment, saying following the meeting he believed there are more victims coming forward in light of the recent publicity.
Pointing to 1999 as a point at which Christendom’s administration became aware of the early reports of such criminal incidents involving students, Connolly noted that the school did not develop even “a rudimentary policy to handle sexual assault cases until 2013. The lack of institutional response is stunning, especially for an organization that has long prided itself on having a sacred bond between students, their families and the college,” Connolly continued in reading from a prepared statement.
He said as he watched the situation evolve over the past three to four weeks he had “truly hoped the leadership of the college would hold the administration accountable for its failures.” However, Connolly said subsequent comments in the media attributed to the chairman of the school’s board of directors “indicate otherwise” as far asking for Christendom President Timothy O’Donnell’s resignation.
“I firmly believe that this permanently erodes any vestige of trustworthiness for the college and will likely destroy the college’s viability as a place of faithful Catholic higher education in the future,” Connolly said in a scathing appraisal of his alma mater.
“If he truly loves the college, he must step down,” Connolly said of the school president. He added that failing a voluntary resignation, “the Christendom Board of Directors must save the college by making that decision for him.
For the rest of our local community, I invite you to join me and everybody who has been concerned to see this issue in lifting our thoughts and hearts in prayer for the victims and for the college to find the guidance to act with justice,” he concluded of Christendom College’s path forward.
However, one person of influence in the Christendom community does not agree with Connolly’s assessment of the questions raised by the Fishers’ blog “Are Students Safe in Christendom’s bubble?” Anne W. Carroll, widow of Christendom founder Warren H. Carroll, sent a letter of support of O’Donnell’s continued leadership of Christendom to alumni on February 8, four days before Connolly made his public call for O’Donnell’s resignation or ouster by the school’s board of directors.
“Speaking as the person who intimately knew Dr. Carroll’s mind and heart, I know his support for Dr. O’Donnell never wavered and never would waver. It would not waiver now,” Christendom’s founder’s widow wrote. Mrs. Carroll credited O’Donnell with continuing her husband’s vision for the school and urged an outpouring of alumni support for the Christendom president.
“Dr. O’Donnell’s profound Catholic faith, his sincere love for his students, his commitment to Christendom’s goal of restoring all things in Christ, and his brilliant leadership has made Christendom what it is today. I can only hope and pray that he is able to lead Christendom for many, many more years because that is exactly what Dr. Carroll would want … Christendom College is a premier educational institution. But far more than that, it is a living Christendom – a place where Christ is King, it would not be so without Dr. O’Donnell. Therefore Timothy O’Donnell deserves the undying gratitude of all of us who love the college,” Mrs. Carroll concluded.
We now know that at least one alumni not directly impacted by sexual assault in the Christendom community, along with many who were, do not agree with Mrs. Carroll’s assessment.
As the debate continues, one is left to wonder whether in Mrs. Carroll’s opinion as her husband’s vision for Christendom College was expanded into the 21st Century, would Christ have directed more time and effort into protecting those most vulnerable and victimized among his flock than some believe Timothy O’Donnell did over the past 19 years?
Winchester Police on point of carjacking suspect arrest in Front Royal
On April 2, 2020, at approximately 7:15 a.m., the Winchester Police Department (WPD), assisted by other law enforcement agencies, executed a search warrant at 218 East 6th Street in Front Royal, VA following an ongoing investigation into a carjacking in the City of Winchester. As a result of the investigation and search warrant, Diontre Tyrese Bell, 20 years old, of the above address in Front Royal, was arrested and charged with carjacking, robbery, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
On March 28, 2020, at approximately 12:30 a.m., WPD was alerted to a motor vehicle theft that had just occurred in the 100 blocks of East Pall Mall Street. Upon investigation into the incident, detectives learned that the male victim was standing outside his 1990 Dodge Caravan when he was approached by a group of males. One of the males, later identified as Diontre Bell, grabbed the backpack the victim was wearing and took items including a firearm and keys to the van. Threatening statements were made during the encounter. No injuries were sustained during the incident. The van was later recovered on March 30th, parked and unoccupied, along the roadway in the 1300 block of South Braddock Street.
During the execution of the search warrant, two cell phones were seized and DNA was collected. Bell is being held at the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Detention Center without bond. The Winchester Police Department would like to publicly thank the Front Royal Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force for their assistance in the investigation.
Coronavirus update: Deaths soar, supplies remain short, convention rescheduled
WASHINGTON — The federal government offered increased financial aid to communities Thursday (April 2) as states continued pleading for more medical equipment to address the novel coronavirus in preparation for the pandemic’s peak.
Over 234,460 cases and almost 5,650 deaths were confirmed across the country as of Thursday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering data dashboard. Health experts and the administration warned that the worst is yet to come.
Democratic National Convention pushed back
The Democratic National Convention, originally scheduled to start July 13 in Milwaukee, will be postponed a month due to the pandemic.
“In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention,” Joe Solmonese, the convention committee’s CEO, said in a statement Thursday.
The convention is now set to run for four days starting on Aug. 17.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s leading the delegate count for the Democratic presidential nomination, was vocal about his uncertainty surrounding the convention before the schedule change as the coronavirus continued to exponentially affect Americans.
“I doubt whether the Democratic convention is going to be able to be held in mid-July,” Biden told Jimmy Fallon during an appearance on the “The Tonight Show” Wednesday night. “I think it’s going to have to move into August.”
The Republican presidential nominating convention is expected to start as planned on Aug. 24 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Fifteen states and Puerto Rico have delayed their primaries because of the coronavirus as of Wednesday, while upcoming votes in states including Alaska and Wyoming are expected to be conducted completely by mail.
White House announces counter-narcotics mission amid growing coronavirus crisis
President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States was launching an operation to curb the presence of illegal narcotics in the country as the pandemic persisted.
“We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives,” the president said during the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing.
The U.S. Southern Command will ramp up surveillance and seizures of drug shipments with cooperation from 22 other nations, according to Trump. Additional deployment of the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force would help in “doubling our capabilities in the region,” the president said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters that the initiative is part of the administration’s “whole-of-government approach.”
“At a time when the nation and the Department of Defense are focused on protecting the American people from the spread of the coronavirus, we also remain vigilant to the many other threats our country faces,” Esper said.
The announcement came as the country geared up for its peak in coronavirus cases and states pleaded for additional medical equipment to combat the virus.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said intelligence showed that drug cartels were going to “take advantage of the situation and try to infiltrate additional drugs into our country.”
New FEMA documents show medical supply shortage despite states’ requests
Only a fraction of protective equipment and medical supplies requested by five states and the District of Columbia were delivered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), new agency documents show.
As of Monday, less than 10% of the requested 5.2 million N95 masks, less than 1% of the 194 million requested gloves and none of the 15,000 body bags were sent to FEMA’s third region. Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia comprise this area.
“The new documents…confirm the urgent warnings we have been hearing from our nation’s governors and health care professionals for weeks,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said in a statement Thursday.
Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said a Wednesday briefing with FEMA and Health and Human Services Department officials exposed other equipment shortages. The demand for ventilators “outstrips the capacity” of the national demand, according to FEMA, and the shortage is expected to worsen.
To combat supply shortages, FEMA told lawmakers that medical professionals should be re-using protective equipment despite the increased risk of contracting the coronavirus that comes with this practice.
“Rather than casting doubt on the gravity of this pandemic, the administration should have been working around the clock to prepare and execute plans to obtain desperately needed personal protective equipment and medical supplies,” Maloney said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, called the findings “alarming.”
“We already know that the White House delayed taking action for weeks as the virus spread,” he said in a statement. “Now we are seeing further evidence of mismanagement in this emergency with its failure to answer states’ dire requests for masks, gloves, and other critical supplies needed by health care workers.”
Hoyer added: “It is unconscionable that FEMA would ask our frontline health care workers to re-use personal protective equipment, putting their lives and the health of their families at great risk.”
Maryland, D.C. unemployment insurance claims skyrocket amid a pandemic
Over 83,000 Maryland residents and almost 15,000 District of Columbia residents filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday.
Maryland residents who filed unemployment claims doubled from the previous week, making a total of over 120,000 claims in the past two weeks ending on March 28. In the District, residents filed almost 44,000 claims since mid-March, which is already more than the 27,000 claims that D.C. residents filed during 2019.
Over 6.6 million American residents applied for unemployment benefits last week, a record number that helped make a total of more than 10 million American unemployment claims in the month of March due to COVID-19.
Hoyer said in a statement that the unemployment claims data “demonstrates the urgency with which the federal government must step up rather than down.”
By BRYAN GALLION and HALEIGH WHISTED
Capital News Service
Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force, IRS-CI warn of potential COVID-19 Economic Impact Payment scams
ROANOKE – The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) are warning taxpayers to be alert about possible scams relating to COVID-19 economic impact payments.
United States Attorneys Thomas T. Cullen and G. Zachary Terwilliger, along with Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS-CI Washington DC Field Office, made the announcement today in an effort to prevent taxpayers in need from being victimized by criminals using the recently approved payments as an opportunity to commit a crime.
“During this time of crisis, scammers and thieves prey on those most vulnerable in our community in an attempt to personally benefit by stealing their money and personal identifying information,” Special Agent in Charge Jackson said today. “Please help us protect everyone in your community by telling family, friends and elderly neighbors to be on the lookout for these potential scams.”
“While most act selflessly and responsibly in a crisis like this, there are fraudsters out there who are attempting to scam and exploit good people,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “We are likely to see an uptick in government check scams tied to coronavirus-relief, including advanced-fee schemes promising government relief checks, student loan relief, and adjustments in other government benefits, such as increased social security payments. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
“As we have seen over the past few weeks, the worst among us are finding new ways to exploit a global pandemic and prey upon the vulnerable,” said U.S. Attorney Cullen. “Americans need to be extremely vigilant in protecting their personal, financial, and tax information. Assume all unsolicited phone calls and emails regarding IRS or COVID-19 refunds and are potentially fraudulent. Do not respond and report them to law enforcement.”
In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 economic impact payments will be on their way. For most Americans, this will be a direct deposit into your bank account. For the unbanked individuals who have traditionally received tax refunds via paper check, they will receive their economic impact payment through the mail.
Scammers may try to get you to sign over your check to them or get you to “verify” your filing information in order to steal your money. Your personal information could then be used to file false tax returns in an identity theft scheme. Because of this, everyone receiving a COVID-19 economic impact payment is at risk.
Special Agent in Charge Jackson offers the following information and tips to spot a scam and understand how the COVID-19 related economic impact payments will be issued.
• The IRS will deposit your payment into the direct deposit account you previously provided on your tax return (or, in the alternative, send you a paper check).
• The IRS will NOT call and ask you to verify your payment details. Do NOT give your bank account, debit account, or PayPal account information to anyone – even if someone claims it’s necessary to get your check. It’s a scam.
• If you receive a call, do NOT engage with scammers, even if you want to tell them that you know it’s a scam. Just hang up.
• If you receive texts or emails claiming that you can get your money faster by sending personal identifying information or clicking on links, delete these texts and emails. Do NOT click on any links in those texts or emails.
• Reports are swirling about bogus checks. If you receive a “check” in the mail now, it’s a scam. It will take the Treasury a few more weeks to mail out the COVID-19 economic impact payments. If you receive a “check” for an odd amount (especially one with cents), or a check that requires you to verify the check online or by calling a number, it’s a scam.
• Remember, the federal government will not ask you to pay anything upfront to get a legitimate benefit. No fees. No charges. Anyone who asks for an up-front payment for a promised benefit is a scammer.
The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force:
Western Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Baudinet, USAVAW.COVID19@usdoj.gov or 540-278-1494.
Eastern Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaitlin G. Cooke, Kaitlin.Cooke@usdoj.gov or 804-819-5416.
To report a COVID-19 fraud scheme or suspicious activity, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling the NCDF Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or sending an email to email@example.com.
For more information, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov/coronavirus
FBI at: https://www.ic3.gov or 804-261-1044.
To report fraudulent activity to the Virginia State Police, Virginians can contact the Virginia Fusion Center (VFC) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For continuing information on the COVID-19 virus and the federal response, check https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
School Board delays superintendent search; approves emergency childcare, other expenses
The Warren County School Board on April 1 temporarily suspended the superintendent search process for the school division in compliance with state and federal stay-at-home orders.
The superintendent search firm, Real Synergy LLC, “stands ready to immediately move forward to the interview phase once orders have been lifted,” according to a statement released Wednesday by the School Board.
Once the search resumes, “eight qualified candidates will be reviewed by the Warren County School Board for an interview,” David Martin, president of Real Synergy, told the Royal Examiner today.
Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Interim Superintendent Melody Sheppard will continue in her current role until a new superintendent is hired.
The School Board also conducted its regular April 1 meeting via live stream, unanimously approving several action agenda items. Warren County School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., and School Board members Catherine Bower, James Wells, and Kristen Pence were present during the meeting, while School Board member Ralph Rinaldi participated electronically from a remote location.
The board voted unanimously to approve the following action agenda items:
1. Purchase of K-5 English textbooks totaling $462,094.92. Lisa Rudacille, director of elementary instruction for WCPS, requested the additional appropriation and recommended that WCPS adopt and, contingent upon available funds, purchase the Into Reading series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for kindergarten through fifth grade English to be used starting in the 2020-2021 school year. Rudacille told School Board members that it’s been eight years since K-5 students had new reading textbooks based on the state’s textbook adoption process, which follows a seven-year cycle. This is the year in which school divisions are required to adopt English textbooks, she said. The Into Reading series was suggested for purchase based on review of and feedback from kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers, school literacy coaches, and Instructional Resource Team members, said Rudacille.
2. Purchase of the license and subscription for Unified Talent’s Applicant Tracking, Records, and School Spring Job Board system, which includes training and set up fees in the amount of $26,100. George “Bucky” Smith, WCPS director of personnel, said the electronic system is needed by the WCPS Human Resources Department to better serve WCPS employees and future candidates. The system will provide more updated and efficient services, including those to streamline applicant tracking, onboarding of new employees and record retention.
In addition, the system will provide a new platform with School Spring Job Board for online recruiting. “Our current system consists of excel spreadsheets and manual forms and doesn’t lend itself to an efficient process,” Smith told School Board members, likening the system to Monster or Indeed job sites, just tailored to education. Additionally, employee accounts may be set up to basically build portfolios for each person, complete with tasks, scheduled or required trainings or certifications, and needed documentation, among other items. up each staffer’s portfolio. Funding for the system will come from 2019-2020 staff turnover funds, Smith said. School Board Chairman Williams said he thinks “it’s well worth the money to move to an electronic system.”
3. Emergency Child Care Program costing up to $25,700 per month. As part of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to close all public and private schools, daycares were asked to prioritize services for children of essential personnel, Sheppard explained. While Northam asked all families to keep their children home if possible, he simultaneously called on communities to provide emergency childcare to young and school-aged children of essential personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
Toward that end, WCPS and the Warren County School Age Care program on April 2 started a free emergency childcare program for local essential personnel, who include first-responders, healthcare workers, grocery employees, criminal justice personnel, certain government employees, shelter operators, pharmacy staff, and others who help maintain the health, safety, and welfare of Warren County residents. The free program is only for potty-trained children ages 3 through 12 years, said Sheppard, and will operate Monday through Friday, 5:45 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School. Registration was held on March 30.
Program funds are reimbursable as part of the emergency cost recovery process, according to Sheppard, who added that another site will be opening at Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary. Information will be forthcoming. A school nurse is on duty each day and free breakfast and lunch are offered daily at the program. “Hats off to the way this was put together,” Williams said. School Board Vice Chairwoman Bower called the program a “great asset to our community during these hard times.”
4. Correction to fiscal year (FY) 2020 Warren County appropriation and adjustment to FY 2021 proposed increase in Warren County appropriation. Sheppard told School Board members that during conversations with the Warren County staff, it was learned that the current year County appropriation to WCPS is actually $246,492 less than that in the approved WCPS FY 2020 budget.
“This is the amount of savings the schools realized when grounds keeping responsibilities were transferred from the schools to the County,” she explained. “At the time the FY 2020 budget was approved, it was communicated to the schools by the County that even though this cost savings ($246,492) was being realized by the schools, County funding would not be reduced by this amount.”
The County has since realized that this understanding was not reflected in the official County budget that was adopted in April 2019, according to Sheppard, so County funding will be $246,492 less than the amount upon which the FY 2020 WCPS budget is built. On the plus side, though, Sheppard said that due to staff turnover savings, as well as savings from reduced school operations for the final four months of the school year due to the pandemic emergency, the WCPS budget will be able to handle this revenue adjustment for the current school year. However, the adjustment also affects the upcoming FY 2021 proposed budget.
While the total amount of the requested County appropriation remains the same, the amount of the increase in the County appropriation is $246,492 more than previously calculated, said Sheppard, who noted that the revised increase in the County appropriation is $513,692 or 1.9 percent, compared to the original request that was $267,200 or 1 percent. “So we’re going to eat the $246,492?” Williams asked. “We don’t have a choice,” said WCPS Finance Director Robert Ballentine. “The county is aware of it and brought it to our attention. We were led to believe it was included in this year’s budget, but it wasn’t.”
Additionally, Sheppard discussed with the School Board a proposal to increase the cost of school meals for the 2020-2021 school year.
Per the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 federal law, school divisions participating in the National School Lunch Program are required to ensure that sufficient funds are provided to account for meals served to students not eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Schools charging less than an average of $3.09 for paid lunches must adjust the full-meal price to cover the difference, said Sheppard.
WCPS currently charges elementary students $2.10 for lunch and charges middle and high school students $2.20 for lunch. Based on the food services fund balance and the increased cost of food, Sheppard plans to make a recommendation to increase lunch prices by 10 cents for elementary, middle and high school students, and to increase the breakfast price by 10 cents to $1.35.
“This will be the first time the breakfast price has increased since the 2014-2015 school year,” she added.
Because E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School participates in the Community Eligibility Program, there will continue to be no charge for breakfast or lunch at the school, Sheppard said.
No action was necessary on the item, but Sheppard said she will make a recommendation for approval at the School Board’s Wednesday, April 15 meeting.
This video of the live stream provided by the Warren County School Board.
Congressman Cline announces 2020 Congressional Art Competition
Congressman Ben Cline (VA-06) announced the 2020 Congressional Art Competition today. The Congressional Art Competition is sponsored by the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and is an opportunity to recognize and encourage the artistic talent in the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia.
The Congressional Art Competition is open to all high school students in the District. The winning artwork will be displayed for one year in the U.S. Capitol alongside other pieces from across the country and will also be featured on House.gov’s Congressional Art Competition page.
While schools remain closed due to the coronavirus, the Congressional Art Competition will continue as planned. This competition will allow students to remain engaged and hone their skills.
“All students from Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District are encouraged to participate in this year’s art competition,” Cline said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase artistic ability and for the selected winner to have their art on display for thousands of Capitol visitors throughout the next year. I am pleased that the competition will continue on as planned, and that the event has moved to electronic submissions to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved.”
Artwork must be two-dimensional. Each framed artwork can be no larger than 26 inches high, 26 inches wide, and 4 inches deep. If your artwork is selected as the winning piece, it must arrive in Washington, DC, framed. Even when framed, it must still measure no larger than the above maximum dimensions. No framed piece should weigh more than 15 pounds.
Accepted mediums for the two-dimensional artwork are as follows:
- Paintings: oil, acrylics, watercolor, etc.
- Drawings: colored pencil, pencil, ink, marker, pastels, charcoal (It is recommended that charcoal and pastel drawings be fixed.)
- Collages: must be two-dimensional
- Prints: lithographs, silkscreen, block prints
- Mixed Media: use of more than two mediums such as pencil, ink, watercolor, etc.
- Computer-generated art
Each entry must be original in concept, design, and execution and may not violate U.S. copyright laws. Any entry that has been copied from an existing photo or image (including a painting, graphic, or advertisement) that was created by someone other than the student is a violation of the competition rules and will not be accepted. For more information on copyright laws, we recommend you visit the Scholastic website.
Due to COVID-19, submissions will only be accepted electronically. Students should submit photographs of their entry and the Student Release Form to ArtCompetitionVA06@mail.house.gov.
The Student Release Form can be found here.
Entries are due by May 1, 2020. A winner will be announced May 7. For more information, contact District Director Debbie Garrett at (540) 885-3861 or Staff Assistant Tyler Hook at (202) 225-5431.
Congressman Ben Cline represents the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia. He previously was an attorney in private practice and served both as an assistant prosecutor and Member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Cline and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Botetourt County with their two children.
Safety abounds in the local real estate industry, safety in numbers and in new safe practices
While it’s definitely not “business as usual” for area Realtors, buyers and sellers, the COVID-19 crisis has not halted the local and surrounding real estate market as much as initially feared. To date, new listings are rolling in as are contracts. Showings, though obviously decreased, are still being scheduled and Realtors, offices and clients are embracing extreme precautions to make the process as safe as possible. The BRIGHT MLS (the local real estate multiple listing service which serves as a database for properties from New Jersey to Virginia) is providing daily communication as the industry adapts to new ways of conducting business, “We are relaxing showings requirements for Active and Active Under Contract listings. In-person/onsite showings of properties will not be required during this time. To provide another showing option for clients and their agents currently uncomfortable with in-person exposure, we are also temporarily allowing for the promotion of virtual/online showings within the public notes of a listing.” Typically homes cannot have branded virtual/online tours included in the database and must be available for in-person showings to remain in active status,” according to their online COVID-19 support center,” says a recent Bright MLS communication.
The industry as a whole is impressively stepping up to the plate in all areas to best protect while continuing to serve the public who still has a need to move during the pandemic.
New Safe Office Procedures
Offices are making the latest COVID-19 guidelines available to all agents while following guidelines and taking the threat of this virus seriously. The Keller Williams Solutions Manassas office was shut down recently for five days immediately after a staff member’s granddaughter began showing symptoms of the virus. Her test came back negative, but Lee Beaver, owner of the franchise, put the potential safety of her agents and staff ahead of the bottom line and shared, “The health and safety of all is most important to us. We will get through this critical time standing together. Being extra precautionary is the only way we are going to beat this pandemic.” Industry leaders share her concern and are going above and beyond to protect people who are engaging in real estate transactions through the pandemic.
New Safe Realtor Marketing Procedures
Agents are thankful for existing technology that makes transitioning to a more virtual way of conducting business possible. Heidi Rutz of Next Home Realty Select in Front Royal hosted a “Virtual Brokers Open House” this week and sent an email invitation to agents inviting them to take a 3-D virtual tour of the property (inside and out) and provide feedback through an online questionnaire. She’s having a drawing for a gift card for agents who participate. Agents like Rutz are utilizing creative marketing tactics to help listings stand out online.
New Safe Showing Procedures
Agents are asking buyers questions before showings to help mitigate risk and are advising them to take extreme precautions while following safety mandates. Some brokerages are requiring buyers to fill out a questionnaire about their health that verifies they are feeling well (fever-free with no symptoms of COVID-19) and a statement promising to use safe procedures when touring. Beth Medved Waller says communication and careful coordination is a key to feeling safe, “I have an occupied property that has a showing request from an agent who isn’t comfortable touring with her clients at this time. After lengthy discussions, we have decided that the seller will be turning the lights on, opening the closet doors and leaving the front door unlocked. I’ll arrive and the seller and I will wait outside (at least six feet apart) as the buyers tour. We will be available to answer their questions outdoors after they tour (from a safe distance). The seller will be prepared to wipe down the front door handle after the showing, which should be the only place the buyers will have touched. We feel comfortable with this procedure, especially since their agent has provided us with a copy of their signed buyer health questionnaire”
New Safe Communication Procedures
Jessica Dean of Weichert, Realtors in Front Royal, like many prudent agents, is presenting contracts to her sellers virtually. She’s even already received one offer from buyers who haven’t visited her listing in-person but chose to view online and make an offer sight unseen. Like others, Dean is also engaging in contract negotiations through electronic signing online and phone/Zoom calls. “Of course this is not ideal. Relationships are critical in establishing trust,” she says of this new protocol that unfortunately separates clients and agents physically but requires even closer communication to navigate the new processes of real estate transactions.
There’s Safety in the Numbers
Current market statistics for surrounding counties still look healthy as we move into month two of moving towards a new normal in life and in the pursuit of the American dream. Per Bright MLS research by Beth Medved Waller on 4/1/2020, the health of the area’s real estate market is still strong even amid the COVID-19 crisis.
- Coming soon–6
- Under contract/pending–103
- Closed since 03/13/2020–43
- Temporarily Off Market–14
- Withdrawn since 03/13/2020–9
- Coming soon–12
- Under contract/pending–252
- Closed since 03/13/2020–73
- Temporarily Off Market–25
- Withdrawn since 03/13/2020–11
- Coming soon–4
- Under contract/pending–44
- Closed since 03/13/2020–15
- Temporarily Off Market–9
- Withdrawn since 03/13/2020–15
- Coming soon–1
- Under contract/pending–28
- Closed since 03/13/2020–12
- Temporarily Off Market–9
- Withdrawn since 03/13/2020–3
- Coming soon–6
- Under contract/pending–112
- Closed since 03/13/2020–45
- Temporarily Off Market–15
- Withdrawn since 03/13/2020–6