If you are looking for political drama – and why not in the current age of American and Front Royal politics? – the greatest drama from Monday’s 6 p.m. Special Town Council Meeting at Town Hall may have been whether Scott Lloyd would vote WITH Letasha Thompson in rejecting passage of an Ordinance mirroring the terms – without direct legal implications – of Lloyd’s rejected Ordinance proposal of the previous week. That ordinance would have legislatively forbid employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates within the town limits.
And while Lloyd found the wherewithal to cast such a vote with his council polar opposite, albeit for different reasons than Thompson’s negative vote, the ordinance passed by a 3-2 margin on the tie-breaking vote of Mayor Chris Holloway. That tie-breaking vote was a foregone conclusion as it reached the mayor at 2-2, Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell, and Gary Gillespie voting approval, since the “Legislative Request” for consideration of the Resolution was brought forward by the mayor according to the August 2nd agenda packet.
How the vote might have gone – the guess here is 3-2 defeated not giving the mayor the tiebreaker – had the fifth remaining councilman, Joseph McFadden been present, may have been indicated by his pre-meeting Facebook post calling the Resolution initiative “Political Theater”. McFadden had been the only council member to have switched to a supporting vote of Lloyd’s anti-vaccine-mandate ordinance proposal a week earlier. This week, McFadden explained that he was committed to a previously scheduled training exercise Monday evening, and would not be able to attend the late-the-previous week called Special Meeting of August 2nd.
What does the passage of the wordily titled “Resolution of the Town Council of the Town of Front Royal, Virginia, Encouraging All Businesses Located in the Town Corporate Limits from Requiring COVID-19 Vaccines as a Condition of Employment” mean?
Legally nothing, as Thompson pointed out in arguing against its passage, but perhaps politically something – as in easing public anger at those who voted against Lloyd’s ordinance initiative the previous week – Cockrell, Gillespie, and Thompson, with the mayor having made his opposition clear in comments prior to the vote.
But if it was “Political Theater” as McFadden contended, it was the “Second Act” of this particular political drama, according to Thompson and her colleagues who opposed Lloyd’s ordinance proposal coming to a vote in the first place. Why? – Because in the opinion of Town Attorney Doug Napier, according to the Virginia State Constitution and decades, if not a century, of legal precedent, municipal governments have no legal authority in Virginia to enact such legislation as Lloyd brought forward.
But in prefacing his opposition to the Resolution as worded, Lloyd reiterated that he believes he has found legal precedent in the 1937 Town Charter under “Policing Powers” to authorize the municipal authority to legally forbid employment policies regarding public health matters, including vaccination mandates.
“In the form, this is written, it is asking me to express the opposite legal position of the one I articulated on Monday,” Lloyd said of his July 26th meeting defense of his ordinance proposal made in front of a full Warren County Government Center meeting room of around 150 people. Six citizens were present to observe council’s August 2 Special Meeting.
And while it appears a majority of his colleagues are siding with the Town legal staff on the issue, Mayor Holloway did note that part of the Resolution initiative is to seek a second legal opinion, well third if you count policy attorney Lloyd’s, on the matter. The page-and-a-half Resolution’s final paragraph addresses the sought-after legal ruling on applicable state law:
“BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that if a Court of Competent Jurisdiction finally adjudicates that localities do have the authority and jurisdiction to enact and regulate businesses and entities from mandating its employees and applicants for employees receive COVID-19 vaccinations (That is not a typo, that is the way it reads), that the proposed Ordinance (Lloyd’s failed one) shall be reconsidered.”
But pending such a state court, likely Virginia State Supreme Court, ruling, Thompson said she feared as with the previous week’s ordinance proposal, passage would give employees of Valley Health and other businesses in town opposed to being vaccinated, a false sense of security that they are somehow legally protected against termination, which she asserted neither a town ordinance nor resolution passage would accomplish at this point in a challenge of state legal authority on the matter.
See the approximately 12-minute discussion, prior to adjournment to a closed meeting for “Personnel” matters, in the Town video. Also, Monday prior to the meeting, council and the mayor bid an affectionate farewell to IT and Public Information Director Todd Jones, who is leaving for the IT job across town with Warren County.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Barred Owl
This is the difference a bath (or three) can make!
One of Loudoun County’s amazing Humane Law Enforcement Officers truly went above and beyond to rescue this Barred Owl after it was found down in a wastewater management facility.
The owl was found covered in thick, slimy waste material. With soaked feathers, flight and thermoregulation (maintaining body temperature) was difficult to impossible for this bird. It is shocking that it was able to get out of the tank and onto land!
Upon arrival to BRWC, the owl was given fluids and warmed so that we could safely sedate for the first bath. Once bathed, we could see the burns on many areas of the skin from the waste material.
After three baths and lots of care, the patient was moved to an outdoor enclosure. The team still monitored the owl closely as its burns healed and it worked to recondition its feathers.
After five days in care, we are happy to report that this patient had a successful recovery and has been released!
We are lucky to have so many amazing animal control officers in our area who help rescue wildlife everyday – special thanks to Officer Bremy of Loudoun County Animal Services for this amazing rescue!
Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.
Medical Examiner: Ralph Ennis died of ‘natural causes’
On Monday, August 15, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas released the cause and manner of death for Ralph Ennis, 77, who died on April 15, 13 days after a traffic stop by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office during which he was injured and then hospitalized.
In an email response, Arkuie Williams, Northern District Administrator of Virginia’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told Royal Examiner that: “The cause of death is complications of Alzheimer disease, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and hypternsive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The manner of death is natural.”
Royal Examiner responded with the following questions to Williams:
“Does that rule out that his head trauma injuries suffered 13 days earlier had no impact on the below stated causes, most particularly cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and hypternsive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease?
“Is there any possible debate that the brain bleed and shock-trauma of April 2, could have aggravated his pre-existing conditions and these combined natural causes of death? – Thank you for any clarification.”
Williams responded, stating, “Our office is unable to provide any additional information to the public. We are restricted to only providing the cause and manner of death for our death investigations.”
Several weeks prior to the traffic stop, Ennis had been the subject of a Silver Alert on March 11, 2022, following an endangered, missing person report issued by Pennsylvania State Police on behalf of Ennis’ wife, Linda. Deputies located Ennis in downtown Front Royal at his longtime friends Ralph and Sue Waller’s East Main Street pawn shop. The Wallers offered to let Ennis stay there until his son Ian could travel to Front Royal from his Staunton home and take his father home.
Mr. Ennis died on April 15 under the care of Blue Ridge Hospice in Winchester, where he had been transferred several days earlier by the affiliated Winchester Medical Center.
“All we know is he was in good health and he never got out of the hospital after that happened – and that’s a FACT,” Ralph Waller said of the Medical Examiner’s finding Ennis died of natural causes less than two weeks after his injuries incurred during the traffic stop.
Contacted, Ennis’ son Ian said he had received the medical examiner’s report but declined further comment at this time. Ralph Ennis’ wife Linda also stated that she had received the report today but had no further comment.
On April 2, 2022, Ennis was stopped by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) for traveling eight miles over the speed limit and driving erratically on Winchester Road southbound toward Front Royal, the Sheriff’s Office stated in a previous media release.
The pursuit continued for about 3.75 miles, with Ennis eventually pulling into the 7-11 convenience store at 251 Crooked Run Plaza, where he parked his truck. By this time, the Sheriff’s Office release stated, “additional WCSO deputies and a Front Royal Police Officer were on scene, or just arriving as the high-risk traffic stop was underway.”
Video footage from the bodycam of a Front Royal Police Officer, who was called to assist with the traffic stop, shows the 77-year-old Ennis moving slowly toward deputies with his keys held out. A first deputy grabs Ennis and roughly pulls his hands behind his back cuffing him and slamming his head into his truck cab. A second Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputy then charges the scene, tackling both Ennis and the first deputy, taking both to the ground with the elderly Ennis on the bottom, apparently striking his head hard on the paved parking lot.
WCSO Major Jeffrey Driskill previously stated that Ennis was taken to Warren Memorial Hospital where Emergency Department physicians suspected “signs of an internal head hemorrhage” after which Ennis was transported to Winchester Medical Center. Driskill previously stated that Mr. Ennis was “exhibiting signs of cognitive issues consistent with dementia or Alzheimer’s.”
Former Northern District Administrator Jennifer Smith, of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, first told Royal Examiner in a May email, “This case is pending. Currently, cases are taking roughly 12 -16 weeks to complete, as with all cases the OCME goal is to complete them within 90-days.” Each subsequent inquiry regarding the status of the autopsy and lab tests yielded the same information.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has been tight-lipped regarding an internal investigation into the traffic stop. Sheriff Mark Butler previously told Royal Examiner that a “board of inquiry” comprised of WCSO senior officers and a member of an outside law enforcement agency had been formed, but no information has been released about who is on that panel.
After the traffic stop, one of the two involved deputies was reassigned to administrative duties; another was placed on administrative leave with pay. When asked if one or both of the deputies had left the employ of the WCSO, Butler declined to comment.
Contacted Monday by Royal Examiner, following the Medical Examiner’s release of information in the Ennis case, Sheriff Mark Butler stated, “My heart and prayers go out to all families involved in a trying time for all. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work and hold itself in a professional matter at all times. “
When asked about the employment status of the deputies involved in the traffic stop, Butler stated that he could not discuss personnel matters.
Virginia State Police Investigator Adam Galton was assigned to investigate the circumstances related to the incident and subsequent death of Ennis. Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell referred the case to a special prosecutor; consequently the Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is overseeing the VSP investigation and will decide whether to charge the deputies once the investigation is complete.
Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office Chief of Staff Anthony Kostelecky previously told Royal Examiner that he had no comment regarding the investigation or when it might conclude.
Tree Stewards announce a welcoming addition to the Royal Shenandoah Greenway
If you drove along South Street in Front Royal last Friday or Saturday, you may have noticed a lot of activity along the section of the Royal Shenandoah Greenway that crosses Royal Plaza. On Friday, the crew from the Department of Public Works was busy digging holes in preparation for a major tree planting. On Saturday, August 13th, members of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee, the Front Royal Warren County Tree Stewards, the Front Royal Warren County Anti-Litter Council, and citizen volunteers came together to plant 18 Crepe Myrtles (Natchez variety) and 4 native SweetSpire shrubs along the greenway.
This idea to create a “boulevard” of trees sprang from a meeting in March, with groups sharing their missions and hopes for planting more ‘greenery’ along the Greenway. For this project, an allée of Crepe Myrtles was anticipated to be a win-win, creating a better experience for greenway users as well as beautifying both the Plaza and South Street that are so well-traveled by locals and visitors.
The project was made possible through funding from the Beautification of Front Royal Committee and with kind permission from the management of Royal Plaza. Jim Osborn, the Town’s Arborist, guided the project from tree selection to planting day, and the Public Works crew will follow up with watering needs to assure these new trees get off to a good start. The Department of Public Works also added an additional street light for safety along the path prior to planting. Our thanks to the DPW crew; Eric Ebling, Bill Simmons, John McDonald, Allen Pack and J’son McConnell.
Plans are underway for more collaborative projects of this type around Front Royal. We invite you to drive by South Street and take a look at this welcoming addition to our lovely town!
A view from a bench on Main Street: Sue Laurence, White Picket Fence
On Saturday morning, our publisher Mike McCool joined White Picket Fence proprietor Sue Laurence on a bench in front of White Picket Fence, on the 400 block of Main Street in Front Royal, and discussed all the events going on in Front Royal this fall, from Octoberfest, Festival of Leaves and Zombie Walk to name a few – all happening in Front Royal.
The big news is the 50th Annual Festival of Leaves happening on October 14-15, 2022 in downtown Front Royal. The Festival of Leaves has been reorganized and is now under the direction of the Front Royal Independent Business Alliance (FRIBA).
On October 14, 2022, the Town of Front Royal will kick off the festival with a “block party” at the Town Commons, providing music and fun for all ages. More information is available at FestivalofLeaves.org. There is still room for vendors, and applications are available on the Festival website.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for August 15 – 19, 2022
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
Mile marker 0 to 15, eastbound and westbound – Right shoulder closures for utility work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).
Mile marker 8 to 7, westbound – Right lane closures for utility work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Right shoulder closures for utility work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).
Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Shoulder closures for utility work in the area of Route 664 (Whipporwill Road), 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. through Friday.
No lane closures were reported.
Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
West Virginia roadwork may produce Interstate 81 Northbound delays in Virginia
Roadwork on northbound Interstate 81 in West Virginia at the Virginia state line will potentially cause traffic delays in Virginia.
Motorists should be alert for delays on I-81 northbound in Frederick County, VA., during two periods of pavement repair work in West Virginia. The first period is for preparation work, and the second is for pavement work.
The first work period is 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Wednesday, August 17. Significant traffic delays are not anticipated during this time.
The second work period begins on August 17 around 6 p.m., extending into Thursday, August 18, possibly into the midday hours. Significant traffic delays may occur throughout this period.
In Virginia, traffic accessing I-81 northbound at Exit 323 off of Route 669 (Rest Church Road) will be stopped at the end of the on-ramp before entering I-81. This will accommodate anticipated slow or stopped traffic on I-81 at this location.
The Virginia Department of Transportation will monitor traffic back-ups. If back-ups become significant and sustained, the following alternate routes will be recommended.
- Interstate 66 or Route 7 to Route 340 northbound through Warren and Clarke counties
- I-81 exit 310 to Route 37 (Winchester bypass) to Route 522 northbound in Frederick County.
Variable message boards along the northbound I-81 and westbound I-66 corridors will alert drivers of traffic delays and alternate routes as needed.
Additional roadwork on northbound I-81 in West Virginia is anticipated to occur in the coming weeks, with potential traffic delays into Virginia.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at http://www.511Virginia.org.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at https://my.vdot.virginia.gov/. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Staunton District Twitter feed is at @VaDOTStaunton. VDOT can be followed on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube. RSS feeds are also available for statewide information. The VDOT Web page is located at http://www.VirginiaDOT.org.
The VDOT Staunton District serves Frederick, Shenandoah, Clarke, Warren, Page, Rockingham, Augusta, Highland, Rockbridge, Alleghany, and Bath counties.