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Staff morale, permanent administrative leadership and health insurance options lead County work session discussion

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On Tuesday morning, December 1, the Warren County Board of Supervisors met in a work session to discuss several pending policy and budgetary items. Those items included:

1 – six “Action Items” determined from the board’s recent weekend “Strategic Planning Session”;

2 – Lord Fairfax Community College’s proposal on the use of COVID-19 related funds for Workforce Solutions Scholarships targeting people negatively impacted financially by the Coronavirus pandemic and its limitations placed on business operations from state and local social distancing and other safety precautions;

3 – a new health insurance option proposal designed to safeguard county employees due to the ongoing Valley Health-Anthem Blue Shield/Blue Cross health insurance provider negotiating impasse;

4 – and a presentation by the United Way of Front Royal/Warren County on its programs and partnerships within the community in providing volunteer service and health care, among other options to community members in need.

FR/WC United Way Board President Shane Goodwin, at the podium and live broadcast wall screen, and Executive Director Steven Schetrom make their case for continued municipal support of United Way community assistance programs and partnerships. Their PowerPoint was well-received. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

Beginning with that final United Way presentation, the full board present seemed to concur that United Way helps orchestrate a valuable community service and deserves continuing municipal support for its endeavors. A PowerPoint on recent activities was presented by United Way Executive Director Steven Schetrom and Board of Directors President Shane Goodwin. And Schetrom reminded the supervisors that all the funding United Way receives is spent locally within the community.

County Board Chairman Walt Mabe cited an existing need for shower facilities at the County’s cold-weather Thermal Shelter for the homeless at the 15th Street Health and Human Services complex, as a potential immediate project for United Way to tackle.

Lord Fairfax’s Carlene Hurdle presented an overview of the college’s Workforce Solutions program and the initiative to funnel some partnered scholarship municipal funding into programs designed to equip students with skills to acquire jobs there is a higher immediate demand for.

Carlene Hurdle virtually explains Coronavirus pandemic change of direction in LFCC’s Workforce Solutions scholarship plans.

Interim County Administrator Ed Daley seemed to speak for the board when he said the County’s intention would be to see the scholarships were directed toward students who had been economically “displaced” by consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic, not just people looking for a more lucrative career change. Hurdle responded that the County could dictate how the money it invested – $30,000 was cited – since it was its money earmarked into the scholarship fund.

“It sounds like a real opportunity for those in need,” Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox observed. Daley explained that while the County contribution had originated in CARES Act related funding, having been transferred into the County’s General Fund it was now administered as a county General Fund budgetary item, which would remove the necessity to have the money spent by the end of the calendar year.

Daley also noted that, as with its cooperative arrangement with LFCC on the tractor-trailer driving school off Kendrick Lane, the Warren County Economic Development Authority would work with the County and LFCC to promote the scholarship program.

And speaking of the interim county administrator, in the lead-off topic on the “Strategic Advance Action Items” concerning future “Critical Issues, Goals, and Strategies” a debate arose over a suggested time frame for the hiring of a permanent replacement for Daley and departed County Administrator Doug Stanley. The suggested timeframe was a permanent county administrator in place by the spring of 2022.

Despite acknowledging the excellent contributions Daley has made since assuming the interim administrator’s role, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter questioned the wisdom of that long delay – over a year and a half – in putting a permanent hire into the county’s top administrative position. North River Supervisor Delores Oates countered that the additional time gave existing departmental staff the necessary time to fill key positions either open or coming open in order to create a more stable staffing environment for the new administrator to step into.

Socially distanced into the spectators’ front row by PowerPoint presentations that bumped him from the former and occasional press table, Tony Carter questioned the board majority plan to not name a permanent county administrator until spring of 2022, nearly two years after Doug Stanley’s ouster.

Carter argued that the new permanent replacement would be better positioned to help create a stable staffing environment they had been instrumental in creating. Carter also noted that Daley’s interim contract called for him to only be paid for 28 hours a week’s work, pointing out it was not unusual for a municipal manager to work a 40-hour-plus week.

Daley seemed to speak for the post-Strategic Planning board majority in pointing out it was felt bringing the new administrator in mid-stream of the staff and departmental stabilization effort was not the best option. He pointed to necessary upgrades in county IT (Information Technology) as an example. Earlier, Deputy Emergency Management Director Rick Farrall cited the need for “modernization across the board” of the County’s Information Technology, including the hiring of an IT Director “ASAP”.

Above, Deputy Emergency Services Manager Rick Farrall tells the board there is a need for ‘modernization across the board’ of the County IT department, including filling an empty director’s position. Interim County Administrator Ed Daley, below, appears paper bound as he explains board majority rationale for making needed staff replacements and soft and hardware upgrades prior to re-advertising for a permanent county administrator.

“Our new finance director is here, and he can start moving with IT to do something about our software. And then the new IT and hardware programming, both of those overall – that is a year-and-a-half process … So, the way this is set now, we can start that. And we will fill the deputy county administrator’s position so that you have someone coming up,” Daley said of the advantage of having the permanent administrator in place either before or after the stabilization and upgrading process of county government.

“I believe the direction that we need to go in is to give our county some stability,” Chairman Mabe observed, adding, “and to give them the stability that they need … we need a lot of things before we ever look for a new county administrator … I agree the potential is there for that county administrator to not necessarily like everybody we’ve selected and got into the positions. But with a stable organization, we are more apt to get a better county administrator.”

“I agree,” Oates chimed in.

Mabe also addressed staff morale, seemingly in disrepair after the rapid one-two loss of the county and deputy county administrators this summer. Deputy County Administrator Bob Childress announced his retirement shortly after Stanley’s forced July departure.

After a perhaps rocky start, Board Chairman Walt Mabe wants county staff to know the new board majority, considers them a valued part of the county government ‘team’.

“Our staff that’s looking into this, all of us, there’s going to be a lot of … for lack of a better word, camaraderie. We’re going to understand there’s fear. We’re going to give them the opportunity to know that we like the staff that’s working for us; and we’re working as a team,” Mabe said of the board effort to heal any wounds that may have been opened in the last year.

“And they are much more important,” Daley added nodding to Board Deputy Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi and other staff present, “to your stability than whoever sits here (in the administrator’s seat).

“That’s correct,” Mabe concurred.

Another Strategic Agenda item was a reduction of legal fees. Oates pointed to $2.8 million spent to date on the EDA civil litigations, against Jennifer McDonald and co-defendants and by the Town of Front Royal against the EDA. That latter case related to another Strategic Agenda item, “improved public trust and relationships with the Town of Front Royal and partnering agencies in order to make the best decisions for our community”. Maybe the newly hired permanent town manager can help out on that front.

The other item was a presentation by Human Resources Director Jodi Saffelle, Daley, and Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan concerning another option for the county to deal with impacts of the Valley Health – Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance coverage negotiation impasse on county staff. Saffelle credited Daley with what she called an “out of the box” alternative to coverage in introducing it to the board.

“If it’s a bad idea, it’s my idea,” Daley observed to some laughter at Saffelle’s passing credit to him.

Senior Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan tells the board that even if Valley Health and Anthem overcome their contractual dispute impasse, depending on eventual rates the County may have found a viable health care coverage alternative.

More seriously, the option which Jordan noted the County might stick with even in the event of a late settlement between Valley Health and Anthem. – “If they come to terms we still may go with the new provider depending on the rates,” Jordan observed of the potential of a late settlement in the high-stakes health provider/health insurance poker game – was cited as protecting employees who might have to go to a Valley Health hospital in the event of an emergency medical situation during any lapsed insurance coverage period.

See the discussion of these health insurance variables and the other matters of concern to the county’s future operations and involvement with outside agencies in this Royal Examiner video:

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Town-County Liaison Committee ponders increased trust, cooperation as EDA situation explained to council reps

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Neither Mayor Chris Holloway nor Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell were available to attend and chair the Thursday, January 21st Liaison Committee meeting at Town Hall, Town Manager Steven Hicks noted at the meeting’s outset. The mayor and county board chair are constant committee members, with a second representative rotated on an alphabetical basis – which was later discussed for possible change.

So, Letasha Thompson and Chris Lloyd represented the Town, with Hicks taking the lead voice on the Town side, with Warren County Board Chair Cheryl Cullers leading the County contingent of herself, former chairman Walt Mabe and Interim County Administrator Ed Daley.

With it being his and Lloyd’s first Liaison Committee experience, Hicks suggested everyone introduce themselves around the table soon after the 6 p.m. start. Introductions in hand the committee traversed an agenda addressing areas of mutual County-Town interest, as well as the Liaison Committee’s rules and mission. Included in that agenda were County projects occurring within the town limits – at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and the County’s Health and Human Services Complex at the old 15th Street middle school site; and upgrades to the County’s Building Inspection software designed to make it more user friendly.

The virtual view of Thursday’s Town-County Liaison Committee meeting. From the nearside head of table to the left, Cheryl Cullers back, Walt Mabe, Ed Daley, Steve Hicks at far end head of table, Letasha Thompson and Chris Lloyd. Royal Examiner Virtual Meeting Photo by Roger Bianchini

Five of the agenda’s seven topics were Town forwarded. They included proposed amendments to the Liaison Committee’s mission statement and process (no forwarding attribution); how County short-term rental ordinances related to the collection of lodging taxes and whether those ordinances could be amended to ease approval of “Air B&B” style short-term rentals within the town limits (McFadden); potential consolidation of permitting and tax payments that require visits to both Town Hall and the Warren County Government Center (Lloyd); and establishment of PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) fees for non-profit status Valley Health’s new hospital in town (Thompson).

A fifth topic may have been the most significant long-term for both municipalities – developing a joint vision to the mutual benefit of county citizens on both sides of the town-county boundary line. “Beginning the conversation between the entities is a start to not only to help heal the community but ensure that the citizens are a priority now and into the future,” the agenda topic summary initiative attributed to Vice-Mayor Cockrell stated.

Thompson raised the potential of creation of a “visioning” steering committee with occasional full joint body meetings to try and keep the two municipal bodies on the same page and heading in the same direction. “I think that would be very beneficial and starting the healing process that we very much need,” Thompson said.

“I agree, … but I kind of feel like I would like to keep it casual, where it’s more like we’re breaking bread together and not sitting around a table like we are necessarily now, but more of just a coming together, break bread and then share ideas of what our combined effort is and the fact that we do need, in order to heal the community, we have to heal together,” County Board Chair Cullers added.

Mabe suggested initial monthly meetings on this joint visioning effort, “Then at some time in the future when things are working better than they were, or have, or are, we go to two months and then further down the road, every three months,” he envisioned.

Perhaps that first joint visioning session should be scheduled quickly as the Afton Inn sale for redevelopment is still being held up by Town challenges of the EDA’s right to make that sale and recover a portion of its expenses in maintaining and marketing the property over the past five-plus years.

In fact, the status of the half-century-plus old joint County-Town Economic Development Authority (EDA) was broached early in the meeting when budgets and available municipal dollars were being discussed.

EDA 101: you can’t just close your eyes and make it go away

“The County has this drain I’m going to call it, called the EDA lawsuits,” Daley, who did a stint as Chairman of the re-tooled, post-financial scandal EDA Board of Directors prior to taking over the county administrator’s seat following Doug Stanley’s ouster, began. “And I think until we are not putting money in there, I think we’re going to focus on that before we start any capital projects because that drains any money that would potentially be for … capitol (projects).” As has been widely reported, one of the EDA’s two lawsuits is the Town’s against it, claiming over $20-million-dollars in misdirected Town assets, a great percentage of the total claim in the EDA’s lawsuit against its former executive director Jennifer McDonald and a large number of co-defendants involving the alleged misdirection or fraudulent use of EDA, County and Town assets.

At this point Thompson joined the conversation, asking, “While we’re here and you’ve kind of brought the EDA situation into it, at what point do we stop throwing money at the EDA? They’ve requested about a million dollars and things like that, and take the money that is being dumped there, it seems to me – I’m outside looking in, you know – and put that towards something like our schools and where the kids need it or get drug court started. At what point do we draw a line in the sand and say, we just want this to stop and we want to start anew and afresh and spend our money elsewhere?”

The town council under the guidance of its past interim town manager, withdrew from its initial effort to help re-focus the EDA, into hostile litigation and plans to start a second, unilateral EDA, while technically still legally part of the joint Town-County EDA.

“The EDA must remain in existence until all of the industrial development bonds are paid. So, if we were going to decide to discontinue the EDA, then Valley Health is the number one right now (EDA facilitated loan for new hospital), but the other industrial companies out here would have to pay of their bonds before the court would permit it,” Daley explained. Thompson thanked him for the explanation, noting it helped her understand the EDA situation’s “nuances”, something that apparently has been lacking on the Town side with its decision to separate and litigate, rather than negotiate as former Mayor Eugene Tewalt had unsuccessfully urged council to do.

“It leaves the County kind of sitting in a corner there,” Daley continued of the Town’s withdrawal from the rehabilitation effort that has seen some promising recent recruitments and pending recruitments of new business to the community. Daley added that if the County, which is financially supporting the EDA at this point, didn’t pursue recovery of lost assets through real estate seizures and other court procedures “Then the County’s got to pay off the whole, entire bill.”

See these discussion and all the agenda topics covered in the Town website’s video of the Front Royal-Warren County Liaison Committee meeting.

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Mayor Chris Holloway rejects ‘Trump Avenue’ rename

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At the Tuesday, January 19th Town Council work session, Councilman Scott Lloyd, during the open discussion period, suggested renaming an unidentified street in Front Royal as Donald Trump Avenue.

Front Royal Mayor, Chris Holloway stated, The renaming of a street for President Donald Trump was not on the Town Council’s work session agenda.

It was brought up by Councilman Lloyd during the open discussion period. Councilman Lloyd is open to share his views; however, the majority of Council, especially me, do not support naming a street after President Trump. Nor do we consider bringing it up in the future. Town Code allows two Council members to add any item for a work session discussion topic. In this case, Councilmen McFadden and Lloyd have added this agenda item for the February 1st work session. While it may be on the upcoming work session, I, as well as my colleagues, will not support or vote for the renaming of a street for President Trump.

Mayor Chris Holloway. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Mayor Holloway said, “All the leaders in our community are working day and night to move our community forward and overcome our challenging past. Front Royal is a wonderful place and will continue to be a place for people to live, work, visit, and play. As the newly elected Mayor, I am 100% committed to showing the world how wonderful our people, our wonderful our people, our businesses and are community are in these trying times. I’m proud to call Front Royal my home.”

(Press Release by Town of Front Royal, 4:56 p.m., Friday, Jan. 22)

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Resized Town Planning Commission considers Rezoning Requests and Site Plans, one near Happy Creek

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A 4-member Planning Commission met Wednesday, January 20th at the Warren County Government Center (WCGC). Joseph McFadden has resigned as a result of his election to the town council. The members quickly disposed of the minutes of the November 18 meeting before Chairman Douglas Jones asked if there were any citizen comments. The question to a virtually empty chamber yielded only silence.

In the public hearing portion of the meeting, Chairman Jones introduced a rezoning request by Aaron Hike and Douglas Ichiugi, operating as Rockledge Development Company LLC, to rezone a 2-acre parcel at the north end of Jefferson Avenue, and adjoining the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The request is to change the zoning from R-1 (single family residential) to R-3 (multiple family residential), allowing the construction of duplex homes to accommodate two single-family units. The applicant stated in a letter to the Planning Department that their intent is to build “attractive modestly priced duplex homes that promote home ownership, particularly for workforce citizens that support our community and town.”  The tract is bordered by an undeveloped portion of Hillcrest Drive and another R-3 zoned parcel to the east.

No one had signed up to address the commission regarding this request, so the public hearing was closed.

After the briefing, Commissioner Darryl Merchant had some questions. He first asked if there was already a site plan for the tract. Planning and Community Development Director Timothy Wilson responded that there was not yet a detailed site plan, as the property zoning request would have to be settled before the applicant could invest in the more detailed site planning and development tasks. Merchant then asked why the applicant was asking for R-3 rather than R-2 (multiple family residential – duplex) zoning, since R-2 zoning allows for duplex housing.  Planning Director Wilson responded that the applicant was requesting the R-3 category due to there being no adjoining or nearby R-2 tracts. The applicant is also including a proffer in their request to limit any residential construction on the tract to single-family or duplex units.

Commissioner Merchant pointed out that the planning director can waive some requirements such as phase 1 and 2 environmental site assessments and traffic impact assessments and asked if that was the case here. Planning Director Wilson indicated it was.

Finally, Commissioner Merchant pointed out that this tract is steeply sloped and will present significant challenges for development, including sanitary sewer, water, and access, since that portion of Hillcrest Drive is not developed.  “There’s a reason this tract has remained undeveloped for decades,” Merchant observed.

The applicant responded that they were aware of the challenges.

Once all the questions had been asked and answered, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezoning request.

The second Public Hearing item was a Major Site Plan Request from RealtyLink of Birmingham Alabama for redevelopment of a site at 440 South Street to create a retail auto parts store at the location currently holding a vacant drive-through branch bank. The 1.07-acre tract is zoned C-1 (Community Business District). The current building would be demolished to make way for a new 7,225-square foot building. The plan as presented to the commission included detailed site drawings, and according to the package, RealtyLink’s preliminary site plan was amended to respond to Town Staff review questions. Again, there were no public hearing participants.

Happy Creek drainage concerns

Commissioner William Gordon asked if this site plan was specific to the use as a parts store, or if other uses could be made if this development could not go forward.  Planning Director Wilson responded that any other use would require an updated plan to be submitted and processed.

Several comments were made regarding proximity to the floodway surrounding nearby Happy Creek, currently under scrutiny for a controversial Town flood control and stormwater drainage plan. Staff said the submitted plan addresses erosion control, site drainage, and flood control measures, together with soil analysis results. The Planning Department summary indicates that the plan is complete, and the proposed use is permitted as a by-right use in the C-1 district.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the final site plan.

Under Old Business, Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett referred the Commission to a question raised during the November 18 Commission meeting regarding the life of a special use permit.  He provided a response based on a reading of Town Code 175-136 that indicates that “Special Use Permits are not transferable”, which could be interpreted that those permits run with a landowner, not with the land. He reiterated the general theory that permits do run with the land, and apply as long as the use continues, whoever the landowner may be.

The language of the ordinance may have been “inartful” but the principle is that any new landowner ought not to have to reapply for a permit for the same use. Commissioner Gordon asked if the process should be to ask the Town to initiate a text amendment to clarify the language. Planning Director Wilson indicated that the Commission itself can initiate such a request. Chairman Jones recommended that topic as a subject for the next commission work session.

Planning Director Tim Wilson and Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett explain Special Use Permit language to the commission. Royal Examiner Photo by Stephen Sill

Under New Business, Planning Director Wilson indicated that the Town Comprehensive plan needed a rewrite. It was completed in 1997 and amended in 2004.  Such a rewrite is a major effort and may require funding and a 12–18-month process.  Conceivably it could be funded over two fiscal years. It also needs significant public input, not just a single Public hearing. Efforts so far have been stymied by COVID-19 restrictions on public meetings. The planning staff will also need Census Data from the 2020 census to inform the process. Commissioner Merchant recommended discussion of the Comprehensive Plan rewrite at the next work session.

The second item of new business concerned an amendment to the Town Code, Chapter 28, that was finalized by the Town Council at their meeting on January 11.  The changes Council approved include the reduction of planning commission membership from 7 to 5, the terms of office set at 4 years with staggered terms so no more than 2 of the 5 members terms shall expire in any year; the requirement that at least half the members appointed shall be owners of real property; and amending the rules for removal of members for malfeasance by the town council for three absences in a row, or 4 absences over the course of a year. The new language of the Town Code also requires each member of the Commission to become a certified planning commissioner as a condition of appointment.

Finally, during Commission member reports, Commissioner Gordon asked if it was possible to nominate a member for the vacant Vice Chairman seat. Chairman Jones indicated it would be better to wait for the regular election of officers at the February meeting.  He did remind the planning director that there is still a vacant commission seat, which the Town Council will need to fill.

The Meeting was adjourned at 7:48 p.m.

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Dozens urge Supervisors to adopt COVID restrictions ‘sanctuary’ resolution

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Several dozen mask-less speakers this week urged the Warren County Board of Supervisors to consider a proposed resolution that would declare the county a “Constitutional Sanctuary County” against COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic social distancing restrictions implemented at the state level.

The speakers, angered by executive orders Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has issued to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic, voiced concerns that their rights under federal and state laws are being infringed upon by the governor’s actions.

In all, there were approximately 49 people who signed up to speak during the public comment period of the board’s Tuesday, January 19 meeting, and 32 people actually spoke – some about the resolution, some about a different topics, and some who were not signed up. Emily Ciarrocchi, Deputy Clerk of the Board, also read aloud several emails in support of the proposed “sanctuary” resolution.

For instance, some said they wanted to ensure the security of small businesses by reinforcing the freedoms that have already been allotted to Virginians under the State Constitution.

Others, like 20-year county resident Tom McFadden Jr., seek freedom for Warren County that would allow it “to be a sanctuary from the reign of terror that Gov. Northam has imposed upon the citizens of Virginia.”

“The stand against tyranny has to start at the local level,” wrote another in an email read by Board Clerk Ciarrocchi.

In December 2019, the county supervisors approved a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” citizen-propelled resolution against gun control laws proposed by the Democratic General Assembly majority. The Front Royal Town Council soon followed suit.

However, not all county citizens agreed with the initiative. One county resident urged the supervisors against adopting what he called an “absurd” resolution, writing that, “In the USA and in our Commonwealth, we cannot have individual counties take it upon ourselves to break away from the state and declare that lawful emergency health orders by our governor are to be ignored, overridden and unenforced.”

The Warren County resident went on to write in his email that he hoped members of the Board of Supervisors didn’t contract the coronavirus “from the selfish patriots who ignore and denigrate temporary social distancing in our County.”

There were 22 speakers who each read a paragraph of the resolution, which states that the governor of Virginia “is currently attempting to prohibit the gathering of more than 10 citizens at a single time (even in their own homes) and is attempting to do so through Executive Order rather than the legislative process.”

Among several provisions, the resolution also states that the governor has:

  1. Placed “undue strain on local businesses, while arbitrarily, illogically, and unequally restricting some businesses more than others;”
  2. Restricted free commerce and instituted excessive fines for businesses unable or unwilling to act as law enforcement for his “unlegislated orders upon customers;”
  3. Restricted the liberty of citizens by imposing lockdowns and curfews; and
  4. Alluded to possibly enacting more orders.

All of the governor’s orders are “clearly in violation” of both the Virginia Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights, according to the proposed resolution.

Based on that perspective, the resolution states that the Warren County Board of Supervisors “wishes to express its deep commitment to the freedoms enumerated in the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions, and the U.S. and Virginia Bill of Rights; including the rights of all citizens of Warren County to peaceably assemble and to engage in commerce for the financial support of themselves and their families.”

The resolution also calls on the supervisors to express opposition to any order or law that would unconstitutionally restrict the rights of Warren County residents, and to express the board’s intent “to stand as a Sanctuary County for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution; and to oppose … any efforts to unconstitutionally restrict such rights, and to use all such legal means at its disposal to protect the rights of the residents of Warren County.

“The means within the power of the Warren County Supervisors includes the power to initiate legal action, the power to petition for redress of grievances, the power to appropriate funding for the law enforcement of Warren County, and the power to direct the employees of Warren County to not enforce any unconstitutional law or purported order,” according to the proposed resolution.

Additionally, the resolution states that the Board of Supervisors would request that its sheriff “refrain from assisting any state law enforcement officer, state health agent or federal agent attempting to enforce unconstitutional order of the Governor,” and that County employees “may not assist in or promote the enforcement … of any executive order or regulations that might limit the free exercise of religion, peaceable assembly, commerce, or the movement of people.”

Following the reading of the resolution, numerous residents spoke in support of its adoption by the supervisors.

“We come before you today to respectfully ask for your help,” said Melanie Salins, who presented the proposed resolution to the board. “This last year has hurt citizens of Warren County. We have many businesses struggling to stay afloat. We are scared about what is to come.”

Salins said that resolution supporters want board members to “reassert” their dedication to upholding the Constitution “and our rights protected by it.”

Jane Elliott of Front Royal, Va., said the resolution is about asking that the supervisors simply follow the Constitution. She called social distancing “socialist distancing” and said America has essentially become the “land of the imprisoned and the home of the chickens” for following them.

Board Chairwoman Cheryl Cullers several times called for order during the public comments when citizens failed to follow protocols by clapping and yelling support for fellow speakers and when the crowd started singing the Star-Spangled Banner in the hallway outside the board meeting room. Their actions continued nonetheless throughout the comment period.

The local speakers also voiced disdain for the board’s one-in-and-one-out rule instituted to maintain low numbers required for meetings. The rule allowed one person to come in to speak as another one left the podium.

Another Front Royal resident, Christina Baker, said the governor’s mandates and the current political climate make her as terrified as she was when her husband was deployed to Afghanistan, and she said that the executive orders heap more duties upon an already stretched-thin law enforcement system.

“They don’t need more to do,” Baker said. “This initiative is important. Perhaps it’s not perfect. I’m not really sure this draft is perfect. It should be perfected to give all of our community and citizens the sense that they are self-governed after all. If it’s not perfect, can you please help make it perfect?” The speakers hope to gain more confidence in the Board of Supervisors, added Baker, who said they also plan to take the proposal to state legislators.

Rob Adanitsch of Front Royal told the supervisors that Gov. Northam’s restrictions “affect some of us more than others,” and he thinks that residents have “lost our individual freedom to choose for ourselves” while businesses have been forced to comply with mandates. “And that’s not right,” he said, asking them to support the proposed resolution.

Colleen Peters, who said she owns a small business in Front Royal, thinks it’s a shame that everyone is suffering. “Stop punishing healthy people,” she said. “If you’re afraid, stay home.”

That sentiment resonated with County resident Celia McGovern, a mother of three children under the age of five. “We don’t do the mask thing; I’m not sick and my children definitely don’t wear one,” she told the board. “I’m tired of getting harassed over the mask thing. People who are not sick should not be the ones that have to go through all these extra steps to go out in public.”

“Being a germophobe used to be a mental illness and now it’s a virtue,” said Alison Propps of Front Royal.

Public comments went on for almost an hour and a half before the board took a short recess and then reconvened for regular business.

Listen to all the citizens who spoke during the Tuesday night Board of Supervisors’ meeting online at: warrencountyva.new.swagit.com/videos

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Supervisors seek alternatives to abandoning coyote bounty program, pass county-wide dog ordinance

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors during its January 19 meeting unanimously approved a county-wide ordinance that prohibits any dog from running-at-large and deferred action on whether to continue the County’s coyote bounty program.

Board Chairwoman Cheryl Cullers, Vice Chairman Archie Fox, and board members Delores Oates, Walter Mabe, and Tony Carter were present for the actions during a four-hour meeting Tuesday night that followed a one-hour closed session.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to amend Warren County Code Section 66-28, 66-29, and 66-31 to include Running in a Pack, as well as an amendment to Warren County Code Section 66-32 to make the change applicable to the entire county, “not just specific residential areas,” said Senior Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan.

“Such a change will greatly improve the animal control officers’ ability to enforce the County’s running- at-large ordinances and help to address the issue throughout the County,” Jordan told the board members.

Warren County Code Section 66-28 makes it unlawful for any dogs to run at large at any time in areas of the County as designated by ordinance, except when they’re in the immediate control of an owner or custodian. A dog is deemed to “run at large” while roaming, running, or self-hunting off the property of its owner or custodian and is not under its owner’s or custodian’s immediate control. Section 66-29 of the County Code outlines the violations and penalties applied to this offense, while Section 66-32 enumerates the specific areas and subdivisions where restrictions have been applied since 1984.

During the 2019 session of the Virginia Legislature, Virginia Code Section 3.2-6538, which grants localities to prohibit dogs from running at large, was amended to include a prohibition on dogs running at large in a pack. Violations for any person who permits his or her dog(s) to run at large in a pack will be subject to a Class 4 Misdemeanor and a fine up to $100. That amendment spurred Warren County to amend its code so that it aligns with the Virginia Code changes, said Jordan.

Warren County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Sgt. Laura Gomez said the ordinance change will protect property owners and dogs.

“I recently had an incident out in the County where a gentleman moved to this area and thought we did have a running-at-large ordinance — because he didn’t read the code section exactly,” Gomez said. “He can’t walk his dog on the main road because of traffic, so he goes up a side road where there’s a dog that’s lived there for years without any problems. But that dog comes out being protective and goes after the dog this man is walking. I had no way to enforce the people to keep their dog on their property and I had no way to protect the man who was walking a dog on a rural road. He’s now taken the matter into his own hands and said that if this dog comes out again, he’s threatened to kill it.

“I have no medium ground,” Gomez explained. “Also, if there’s a dog attack, it either has to be severe, and we’ve got a dangerous dog or severe with restrictions, or I have no way to help people in the community.”

Sgt Gomez address the Board of Supervisors

Sgt. Gomez said the proposed ordinance amendments need to be applied county-wide because “as it is right now, it’s only specific to about 30 subdivisions, and as more people come to the community and there’s more development, we would have to remember every subdivision” where the ordinance did not apply.

No one spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting regarding this matter. The amendments were previously discussed at the Board of Supervisor’s November 10, 2020 Work Session and the updated ordinance is now in effect as of the board’s vote last night.

Coyote bounties

In other business, despite Animal Control’s request the Supervisors failed to adopt the Ordinance to Repeal Warren County Code Section 66-34, “Bounties for Coyotes,” and to further analyze alternative measures on how to reduce the coyote problem in Warren County.

Board member Mabe made the motion “not to adopt & to look into alternatives” and board member Fox seconded it. The denial came despite hearing from Michael Fies, a wildlife biologist and the Furbearer Project leader at Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources, on the reasons coyote bounty programs are being abandoned across the Commonwealth and nation as counterproductive. Fies told the supervisors that Warren County “would have to kill in excess of 60 percent of the total coyote population every year to have a long-term, sustainable impact” on reducing their numbers across the County.

He added Fies that there is “a universal lack of support for bounty programs” among USDA Wildlife Services staff, wildlife protection experts, furbearer biologists, and wildlife professionals from across the nation who all agree that such programs do not work in controlling coyote populations.

“There is no evidence that bounty programs have temporarily or permanently reduced coyote populations,” he said, noting that coyotes are prolific reproducers, so bounties are ineffective because not enough of the animals get killed to substantially impact the overall population.

And while Warren County’s current $3,000 cap allows for up to 60 coyotes to be killed annually, Fies said that is still less than the 60-percent threshold needed to control their numbers.

“Research has shown that coyote populations must be reduced by more than 60 percent or their numbers will recover within a single year. Coyotes can rapidly compensate for losses by increasing the number of females that breed, producing larger litters, and increasing pup survival,” Fies added.

Fies also said in correspondence with the County that since coyote bounties are ineffective, Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources has consistently recommended against these programs in favor of targeted control efforts around farms with a history of coyote damage. Such an approach, he said, also has been used successfully by USDA Wildlife Services to reduce livestock losses in other portions of the state.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors in May 2000 adopted Section 66-34 of the Warren County Code, which awards a $50 bounty to any person who kills a coyote according to certain criteria set forth in the ordinance. Currently, the ordinance limits the total amount of bounties awarded within a given fiscal year to $3,000 minimum, or a total of 60 bounties per year.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has requested that the Board of Supervisors repeal Section 66-34 of the Warren County Code, “Bounties for Coyotes,” due to the increasing cost to the County and to the “little to no impact said bounties have had on the coyote population.”

The proposed ordinance to repeal that section of the code was previously discussed at the supervisors’ November 10, 2020, Work Session, and now will be taken up again for further review at a forthcoming supervisors’ work session or meeting.

Sgt. Gomez said that during her 13 years on the job, only two farmers have contacted her about possible coyote attacks on their properties, and she told the board members that her office has no way to track the number of coyotes that get killed without a bounty payout.

Local resident Amos Mitchell, who said he has two farms, disagreed with the proposed ordinance to repeal the coyote bounties. “You aren’t going to kill all the coyotes; we been doing it for years,” Mitchell said. “The bounty should continue. It’s a good incentive, and it’s not that expensive.”

Watch other action by the Board of Supervisors during its Tuesday meeting here.

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Local Government

Former Trump Administration councilman seeks town street re-naming

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A wide-ranging, hour-plus work session discussion took an unexpected turn Tuesday evening as the Front Royal Town Council reached the “Open Discussion” portion of its agenda at about 8:10 p.m. In addition to a monthly revenue/expenditure update from Finance Director B. J. Wilson and a half-hour plus Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) briefing by Town Attorney Doug Napier, the first 70 minutes saw council consider some potentially profound procedural and code changes.

Unmentioned during Napier’s FOIA briefing to council was the fact that Matt Tederick is now listed on the Town website as the Town’s FOIA Officer. – That’s strange, I thought he’d been re-upped as Town Manager Hicks’ ‘Transition Team’. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini & TV image news agencies as identified

Those included changes in meeting procedures, most pointedly starting Public Concerns at 6:30 p.m. in order to separate them from the regular council meeting beginning at 7 p.m.; reducing the number of regular meetings and work sessions to once a month; and altering Town Codes to give council case-by-case authority to approve apartment developments in the Historic Downtown Business District, as opposed to being constrained by coded guidelines. Maybe there is substance to that rumored 60-unit apartment building earmarked for the old Murphy Building site now housing the Dynamic Life Coffee Shop on the first floor.

With non-agenda items then on the table, newly elected, first-term Councilman Scott Lloyd had several ideas, including a final one for a town street name change. Here’s a hint – Lloyd comes to municipal service after a hugely controversial stint as the Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services Director of Refugee Resettlement during the migrant child-parent separation policy.

Scott Lloyd, left in a file photo, couldn’t seem to leave his federal government roots behind in his first month as an elected town municipal official. Fellow first-termer Joseph McFadden, right, focused on how to access council records so as not be blindsided on future votes as he was on the Meza appointment issue.

“And the third is to consider changing one of the streets in town to Donald J. Trump Avenue in honor of the president,” Lloyd offered. And while the January 19th discussion immediately turned to the process for altering town codes, specifically reducing the number of readings to make an ordinance change from two to one, it soon turned back to Donald J. Trump Avenue on the final full day of Trump’s presidency.

Perhaps surprisingly, Lloyd saw some resistance generated from fellow Republicans starting with Gary Gillespie. Noting his concerns weren’t political – “I think he was great, don’t get me wrong, but I think we’re opening a can of worms,” Gillespie offered. Several potential repercussions were voiced by council, including forcing potential long-time residents to change their addresses and raising the possibility of other long-time prominent locals and political figures wanting street names changed for them.

“I agree with Gary,” council’s one non-Republican Committee member, Letasha Thompson offered.

“I agree,” it appeared Mayor Holloway chimed in, in the Town’s one long-camera shot virtually broadcast Town Hall work session during which no media or public was allowed in the Town Hall meeting room due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns.

While no media or citizens were allowed in the Town Hall meeting room due to Coronavirus pandemic surge concerns, only one mask and little social distancing were evident at the council table. Any press or citizen live spectators were relegated to a Town Hall-way viewing of the meeting.

After some additional discussion during which Jacob Meza pointed to the City of Winchester’s recent bout of road name changes related to past political road naming accommodations of known segregationists, Lloyd countered.

He pointed out that Trump won Warren County by 67% of the vote in the 2020 election, “Which if it was Congress would be enough to change the Constitution, it’s a supermajority,” Lloyd offered as justification for his former federal employer’s name emblazoning a Town of Front Royal street.

Lloyd, who was unable under court order to reunite nearly 600 of several thousand migrant children with their parents because his department had lost track of the parents, then went THERE. “There” being the online conspiracy theory that the only way the man who won the presidency 4 years earlier despite a nearly 3-million popular vote deficit and never hit a 50% approval rating during his presidency, could only have lost the 2020 election, this time by about 7 million votes, by widespread voter fraud, as opposed to a growing majority of Americans viewing his presidency as a failed one that pandered for the support of evangelical, white supremacist and neo-fascist extremists.

Apparent leaders of the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol pause to pray in Congressional chambers as the members who had been there to certify the election result was driven into hiding in fear for their lives. While not all present in D.C. in support of the incumbent president were part of the violent occupying force, what one might ask, does it all have to do with municipal politics 70 miles to the west?

Policy Attorney Lloyd theorized that despite over 60 or so courts nationally, including the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling against the voter fraud challenges on behalf of the president, the issue was never decided factually. “What people can’t argue is that they weren’t ever adjudicated on a factual basis, they were on a procedural basis,” Lloyd offered, failing to continue that the “procedural” basis was a lack of factual support of the theory of widespread voter fraud presented to the court after court across the nation.

“And that’s been denied to those people who have legitimate concerns,” Lloyd appeared to continue on the theme of procedures versus facts, adding, “And then moving from that to the question of did I attend a rally or did I attend a riot? And so the people, people I know, people who went there and just had a great time, left before they even realized, are now being targeted and actually harassed by other people in this community, being labeled as bigots and rioters and everything else,” said Lloyd claiming victimization of the local pro-Trump crowd in Washington, D.C. and/or at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

If you think I am making this odd turn in the January 19 Front Royal Town Council municipal meeting up, I suggest you watch the linked Town video, also on the Town website. As noted above, it begins around 1-hour-and-9-minutes in and continues to just past the 1:21-minute mark.

But as odd a turn as this municipal meeting took there, the agenda business, as noted above, tackled some potentially impactful topics and is worth a listen during those discussions as well. The Open Discussion that continued beyond the street renaming detour, included late meeting discussion of the potential of offering town residents town work on private-property infrastructure repairs during its state-mandated I&I (Inflow and Infiltration) upgrades, particularly targeting older homes whose sewer and water lines may need upgrading.

The potential of offering payment plans, adding perhaps $100 to monthly utility bills Mayor Holloway suggested, with liens until the work was paid off being attached to those homes, might be of particular interest to town citizens owning such old homes, several council members theorized.

Watch the Town Council Work Session here.

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