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Supervisors fund school division 75%, clear way for WCPS employee bonuses

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted unanimously on Tuesday, June 28 to approve the fiscal year 2021-2022 budget category transfer request that will allow employees of Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) to receive a one-time bonus for their extra efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic over the last school year.

Warren County Education Association President of Secondary Education Amy Flora (left) addresses the County Board of Supervisors during its June 28 meeting as Warren County School Board members Antoinette Funk and Kristen Pence (right, second row) and WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and WCPS Finance Director Robert Ballentine (right, third row) listen to comments.

“I am thankful to say we are moving forward with well-deserved bonuses for our teachers and staff,” Warren County School Board Chair Kristen Pence told the Royal Examiner today. “We truly appreciate all of the ways they went above and beyond for our kids and each other during the 2021-22 school year.”

WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger also said he’s “pleased that the Board of Supervisors has allowed for the transfer of funds so that the bonus to all employees can be made.”


The School Board at its May 18 work session unanimously voted to give all full-time employees (as of May 31) a one-time net bonus of $1,500 and all part-time employees a one-time net bonus of $750 to acknowledge their hard work and efforts during the pandemic-impacted 2021-2022 school year. The money to pay for the bonuses will come from the board’s fiscal year (FY) 2021-2022 budget using unspent funds left over from unfilled positions, mid-year turnover, new employees entering on a lower pay scale, etc.

The School Board is categorically funded so had to request that the BOS allow the transfer of funds between categories to allow payment of the bonuses to all employees — including administrators, teachers, instructional assistants, nurses, bus drivers, and others.

But when the School Board took its request to the Supervisors at the June 7 BOS meeting, the request to transfer the funds was tabled and the School Board was asked to return to the June 14 BOS work session, where the request again got delayed.

The item was on the BOS June 28 agenda as an Unfinished Business item and several speakers had bones to pick with the supervisors about it.

Public comments

Three teachers from Warren County High School and two members of the Warren County School Board on Tuesday urged the BOS to ensure school division staff receive proposed bonuses already approved by the School Board, and to fully fund the division as requested by the School Board.

During the first public comment portion of the BOS meeting, teachers earnestly requested that the BOS grant the School Board’s proposed bonuses for WCPS staff who continued working during the COVID-19 pandemic, stepping in to fill teaching vacancies and to maintain an effective and successful learning environment for students.

“I am nothing short of appalled by the actions of this board with respect to the teacher bonus currently on the table,” said Warren County Education Association President of Secondary Education Amy Flora, who is a math teacher at Warren County High School and a local resident.

“First, let’s stop calling it a bonus,” Flora told the BOS. “In reality, it is payment for uncompensated work with funds that are already available. The money in question is not a bonus. We earned it.”

Flora also said it was wrong for the BOS to try and tie the bonuses to their contracts for next year. “And should you deny this motion, do you think that word will not spread? Do you believe educators are not already watching and talking? Do you think your actions thus far have in any way bolstered the reputation of Warren County to any prospective or any current school employee?” she asked the Supervisors.

Due to the lack of adequate support both nationally and in Warren County, Flora said WCPS will continue to lose teachers “at an alarming rate.” She urged the BOS to support the teachers, staff, and superintendent of WCPS.

“Should you choose not to,” Flora added, “then you do not need to question why there are over 70 vacancies yet to be filled. In fact, you need not question why there are over 70 vacancies to begin with.”

Flora also said that if Warren County does not quickly and dramatically change the way it deals with the education system and begin making it a true priority, then she has “no doubt that a crippling staffing crisis will be inevitable.”

Two of her colleagues at Warren County High School and three other WCPS elementary school teachers echoed those sentiments, with one of them pointing out that Warren County is already known as “a teacher training ground for other districts.”

During Tuesday night’s BOS meeting, the Supervisors finally relented, though they still raised some of their own fiscal concerns, and essentially realized the bonuses were “all-or-nothing” — as Supervisor Vicky Cook called them — that depended on their approval.

Board Chair Cheryl Cullers and Supervisors Cook, Jay Butler, Walt Mabe, and Delores Oates were present, and all voted to allow the transfer of funds as requested by the School Board after a somewhat circuitous route to a motion being referenced into the meeting record.

“You now have your bonuses,” Cullers told the audience following the 5-0 vote and everyone clapped and cheered.

WCPS budget

Warren County School Board Chair Pence, who is also a resident and mom of a rising 1st grader in WCPS, raised concerns with the Supervisors about a last-minute agenda addition by the BOS at around 3 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss the proposed fiscal year 2022-2023 budget for WCPS, as well as changes the BOS included as potential motions: either a $750,000 cut or a $3.5 million cut to the school division’s proposed budget.

Concerned about the current 70 unfilled teaching positions facing WCPS for the upcoming school year, as well as the division’s inability to retain teachers, Pence stressed that the School Board and WCPS Central Office staff worked diligently on creating a budget to wisely use funds.

Cutting $750,000 from the WCPS budget “would be very difficult for us; $3.5 million would be catastrophic,” Pence told the BOS, noting that likely more WCPS staff would be lost, as would any potential salary raises or scale adjustments for bus drivers and maintenance workers.

“I urge you to please reconsider these last-minute changes,” said Pence. “I was not aware [of the agenda changes], and I would have loved to talk to each of you prior to this evening’s meeting. It was quite a shock to see that.”

Julie Besecker (above), a fifth-grade teacher at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School who spoke during the second public comment period on Tuesday, told the BOS that “adding in budget cuts at the last minute I feel is very sneaky. Are you trying to create more vacancies in our schools?”

And the BOS “having to even consider bonuses for our teachers is a joke,” Besecker added. “It should be a no-brainer.”

Pence pointed out that WCPS will not be able to carry out its plans without full funding from the County, which makes up a significant amount of the overall WCPS budget. And she said the BOS already said WCPS would be level-funded, “so we’re not asking for additional funds from Warren County… we’re just asking you to accept the budget that we have adopted as our School Board.”

Antoinette Funk, also a Warren County School Board member and an educator who has lived locally for 25 years, agreed with Pence that the BOS should better support WCPS and the public education system. “Education is a powerful part of our community, and we have to support it”, said Funk. “We need to remain a community that continues to evolve.”

In the end, the BOS decided to go with another option offered by the County Administrator to categorically fund the school division’s proposed operating budget for the upcoming school year at 75 percent; to fully fund the WCPS capital improvements plan; and accepted the County’s budget as presented, according to Supervisor Oates’ motion.

Supervisor Cook, prior to the decision, stated that she did not want to borrow money to pay for the capital improvements requested by WCPS. “It’s not fiscally responsible,” Cook said, adding that the County is currently in debt for over $100 million. “And it’s because we keep borrowing… with most of it going to school capital improvements,” though Cook didn’t know the actual ratio.
Oates concurred, saying that “these bonuses” and capital improvements for WCPS “are not sustainable.”

“We can’t keep doing this,” said Oates, adding that the BOS will sit down with the supervisors-school board liaison committee “and try to work through this.”

In emails to the Royal Examiner on Wednesday, both Pence and Ballenger reacted to the BOS decision, adding that they remain hopeful for improved communication between their boards.

“I was shocked by the two options for the budget proposal. I was not contacted about the two proposals and there were no questions regarding how this would adversely affect the school division,” Ballenger wrote. “I’m glad we now have the opportunity to talk about this budget in more detail and discuss how this will impact the school system so that a sound decision can be made concerning the division’s FY-2023 budget.”

Wrote Pence: “While I cannot deny the surprise and disappointment I felt regarding the FY-23 budget discussion and action, I look forward to the conversations that lie ahead between the School Board and Board of Supervisors budget subcommittee.

“As I previously mentioned, the School Board’s proposed FY-23 budget offers amazing opportunities for WCPS and my hope is that by working together with the BOS it will gain full support,” Pence wrote.

The first round of Public Comments addressing the school budget issue begins at the 6:30 mark of the below-linked video; with a second-round following public hearings starting at the 2:29:35 mark. Supervisor and Public School staff discussion leading to the above-cited motion and vote on bonus funding continues between the 2:53:35 and 3:52:35 mark where a vote of approval of the $125,000 transfer is called. School Superintendent Chris Ballenger addresses capital improvement funding at the 2:50:50 mark, with a vote of approval coming at the 2:52:00 video mark.

Click here to watch the BOS June 28 meeting.

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County Planning Commission: No letup in Short-Term Tourist Rental Permit Requests

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The Warren County Planning Commission held a work session prior to their regular meeting on August 10.  The work session focused on the ongoing work on the County Comprehensive Plan.  The Planning Department staff provided a variety of demographic data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources, which will be updated and included in the plan.  Unfortunately, 2020 Census Data, which was scheduled to be released in April 2022, has now been delayed until November, and at the same time, decisions about growth and direction must be made.  When asked if the final Comprehensive Plan would be able to incorporate the new Census data, Planning Director Matt Wendling said, “The data in the plan will be the most up-to-date we can get.”

The work session included an extensive discussion of the wage range and population makeup statistics that did not yet include an age breakdown, which, as Vice Chairman Hugh Henry pointed out, is vitally important when planning land use.  Senior housing needs are significantly different than working families, and understanding trends will help the County and potential developers find the right mix of homes and employment opportunities.  Planning Director Wendling acknowledged that a good part of the analysis of available data is data mining, which is time and labor-intensive.  Commissioner Kersjes suggested that the planning staff investigate enlisting help from local colleges as a useful project, perhaps as an internship.  Given that current projections indicate Warren County will near 50,000 population by 2040, housing, infrastructure, and employment opportunities will have to grow along with it.

County Planning Commission, still a member short, hopes for a new member to be approved by supervisors, facing a continued onslaught of Conditional Use Permits and work on the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

 

Still with four members since June, when former Shenandoah District Commissioner Joe Longo resigned, the commission convened its regular monthly meeting following the work session.  They heard from Planning Director Wendling that a proposed new member is pending approval by the Board of Supervisors. That would bring the commission back up to full strength.


The Commission held six public hearings for Conditional Use Permits (CUPs).  All six were applications for short-term tourist rentals.  They included:

Michelle Moriarty – A request for a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 96 Cappy Road. The property is zoned Residential One (R-1), located in the Happy Creek Magisterial District. With no public objection, the commission unanimously voted to recommend approval.

Kendra Hansen, Kathryn Stuart, Simon Sarver & Michael Cherubin – A request for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental on R-1 zoned property located at 97 River Overlook Road in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.  During the public hearing, one neighbor, Claire Fay, objected to the presence on the property of several fire pits, and expressed concern about the fire danger if guests were to carelessly use them.  Applicant Simon Sarver responded that they had already removed all but one of the fire pits, and the remaining one was a moveable metal one.  The commission members discussed the challenge of enforcing what is already prohibited (open fires) in the supplemental regulations for short-term rentals.  Eventually, Vice-Chairman Henry asked the applicant if it was possible to lock up the moveable fire pit when guests would be present, and the applicant agreed that it could be locked in a storage building.  With no further objections, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.

CAZA Legacy LLC – A request for a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental for a property at 241 Wildcat Drive.  The property is zoned Residential One (R-1) and located in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.  This application contained a waiver request to reduce the required setback from neighboring properties from 100 feet to 50 feet.  In support of the request, the neighboring property owner had submitted a letter supporting the permit and the requested waiver.  With that support from the impacted neighbor, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.

Erin Kavanagh addresses the Planning Commission to explain his application for a setback waiver for his short-term rental CUP.

 

Matthew Williams & Jay Gilbert – A request for a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 244 Delicious Road on Residential One (R-1) zoned property in the Happy Creek Magisterial District. The commission heard comments from the planning director that all requirements had been met, but an Apple Mountain Lake Subdivision Home Owners Association letter of “no objection” had not been received.  The commission then unanimously voted to recommend approval.

Matthew Williams & Jay Gilbert – Their second request for a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental was at 115 Lonesome Flats Road. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and located in the Fork Magisterial District.  This application had generated a single letter objecting to the use from Jim Croft, who lives on the same road.  His objections fall along familiar themes – short-term rentals are bad for the neighborhood, short-term tenants are not good neighbors, dangers from shooting, noise from parties, or other illegal activities.  The Chairman pointed out that these concerns were why the County added supplemental regulations for short-term tourist rentals to prohibit these and other problematic activities.  He noted that the permit can be revoked if a property owner fails to inform guests and enforce the regulations.  The commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the request.

Thomas L. Pigeon submitted a request for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental at 540 Lakeside Drive.  The property is zoned Residential One (R-1) and located in the Fork Magisterial District.  This application drew two speakers who raised concerns about the on-site septic system.  Barbara Sealock also acknowledged that the supplemental regulations answered some of her questions, but she also remained concerned about whether guests’ pets would be unconstrained in the neighborhood.

Katsiaryna Holder told the commissioners that she owns an adjoining property and is building a house there.  Her concern was the septic system as it was built could have an impact on her home, for which a building permit was just issued.

Property owner Katsiariyna Holder explains her concerns about the approval of a short-term tourist rental next to her home under construction on Lakeside Drive. Commissioners discussed the concerns and eventually decided that the septic system at issue was not a risk to other properties, provided it was properly maintained.

 

The commissioners reviewed the documentation provided with the application that identified the alter native discharge system on the applicant’s property, and it is a state-regulated system that mandates additional maintenance and monitoring.  Properly maintained, it should have no impact on other properties.  The commissioners discussed the permit requirements, including continued compliance with State and local Health department testing and reporting.  Concluding that sufficient safeguards were in place, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.

The Commission’s Consent Agenda consisted of authorizations to advertise public hearings for Conditional Use Permits for five short-term tourist rentals and two private use camping:

  • Gillian Greenfield & Richard Butcher – CUP for a short-term tourist rental at 1164 Riverview Shores Dr. in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.
  • Elizabeth A. Saman – Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 431 Cindys Way in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.
  • Jaden & Tori Walter – A request for a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 80 River Oak Drive in the South River Magisterial District.
  • Vesta Property Management – Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 194 Venus Branch Road in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.
  • Vesta Property Management – Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 86 McCoys Ford Road in the Fork Magisterial District.
  • Stacy L. Lockhart – Conditional Use Permit for Private Use Camping (non-commercial). The property is located at Harris Drive in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.

Jeffrey Steven Taylor – Conditional Use Permit for Private Use Camping (non-commercial) on Howellsville Road in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.

The Commission unanimously approved the Consent Agenda, and the meeting was adjourned at 8:10 p.m.

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Teachers remain uneasy about ongoing delays in approval of FY-2023 Public Schools Budget

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The final in a series of three presentations on departmental Fiscal Year-2022/23 budget requests at Tuesday evening’s Warren County Board of Supervisors work session was the briefest at about six minutes of the 84-minute work session. However, post adjournment discussion among Warren County Public School employees present, but not allowed by Board Chair Cheryl Cullers to offer input during the work session, indicated that it is likely to remain the most scrutinized and debated budget as the county’s elected leaders approach a decision on what appears to be plans to cut the county’s public schools local operational budget request by 25%, or as much as $7.4 million in local funding.

The agenda packet included numbers brought to the board by a county-schools liaison committee recently formed to clarify and hash out public school budget variables. Among a 37-item list of cuts totaling $1.8 million under the header “Potential $6.9m Reductions” were: 1-English Language Teacher; 2-Elementary Art Teachers; 2 Elementary School Counselors; a Director of Communications position; 2-Library Assistants; Senior, Junior, Sophomore, and Freshman Class Sponsor Stipends, among others.

However, a sub-list of six cuts apparently already on the table totaling another $5.7 million included some EYE-OPENERS: Eliminate Extra-curricular Events and Athletics (saving $1,040,782); Do not fill eight vacant teacher positions (saving $596,928); Cost of 5% Salary Increase (saving $2,324,206); Furlough all 200 day + staff three Professional Development Days (saving $727,317), and two others eliminating a December bonus ($864,430) and elimination of “Remaining Supplements” ($160,878).

One graphic indicated a “Final Proposed FY2023 Operating Budget” for public schools of $71,108,401, an increase of $2,960,856 over last year’s budget of $68,147,545. However, as one school employee present later observed to this reporter, the requested “Increase in Local Funding” to achieve that budget was $0 (zero dollars), as State and CARES funding would entirely cover the increase.


During the brief staff and board discussion, Board Chair and South River Supervisor Cheryl Cullers tried to assure those public school employees present that teaching positions and salaries were not under threat by the proposed cuts. Glancing at the agenda packet and noting the presence of such staffing and salary cuts, Cullers, a former public schools nurse, stated: “Teachers salaries were never a consideration for us. We value the teachers in this community, just as much as we value the fire admin people who were here,” Cullers said referencing Fire & Rescue Chief James Bonzano and staffer Jane Meadows, present earlier asking the board to approve additions of $2,600 to $7,250 to base pay for various levels of staff EMT Certifications.

With staff present in support seated in the back of the meeting room, Fire & Rescue Chief James Bonzano and Jane Meadows explained the department’s request to add EMT base salary bonuses for various response staff EMT certifications. As a going-on-10-year cardiac arrest survivor shocked back to life by F&R Company 1 EMTs (thanks for the assist, Paula), this photographer/reporter says give them what they want – it may pay off for you and yours some day if that first crew is out on call, that more staff is certified in life-saving techniques.

Cullers continued to point out that the supervisors had more control over county departmental budgets like Fire & Rescue or the EDA, the latter also present Tuesday, August 9 (seeking the board to authorize compensation to EDA board members for the monthly meetings they conduct in furtherance of community economic development), than the supervisors do over the Public Schools budget. Cullers compared the supervisors’ ability to approve or deny specific staff-related financing items as were brought to them by Fire & Rescue and the EDA that evening, versus the County funding of public schools where a total budget is presented for approval as the new fiscal year approaches. After that supervisors approval of the total budget, internal adjustments to that budget can be pursued by the Warren County Public School Board and administrative staff. Cullers and her board have appeared especially skeptical of proposed school system transfers of previous fiscal year reserves between departmental or operational uses.

“That’s why we have looked at things, tried to categorize them, so that if we give money that’s supposed to go for a particular pay scale, it has to stay there and be used for that pay scale and not be pulled and put somewhere else. We’re trying to protect your salaries, not take away from it,” Cullers told the public school system contingent present.

Board of Supervisors Chair Cheryl Cullers, right, attempted to assure public school system employees present that teacher salaries and jobs were not at risk in cuts suggested to the proposed $71.1 million Public School budget despite evidence to the contrary in the agenda packet on the matter. Delores Oates, above left, also explained the board’s consideration of Capital Improvement Project debt and debt service in its review of the school’s operational budget proposal. Below, school system employees discuss what they heard versus what they saw in the agenda packet following the board’s convening to closed session.

However, with the new liaison group’s agenda summary pages before them, Cullers verbal assurances were received with some skepticism following the 7:24 p.m. adjournment of the 6 p.m. work session. One employee who raised their hand to ask permission to react to Cullers verbal assurances versus what was on paper in front of them, was not allowed by Chairman Cullers to speak. This reporter’s lengthy experience with municipal work sessions has been that unscheduled public input has generally been allowed within stated parameters at the chairman’s discretion. In fact, work sessions have often been seen by local municipal boards as a means to allow more direct give and take between the public and their elected officials than meeting rules generally allow. However, the current board of supervisors chair has been consistent in not allowing people not on the agenda to offer input at work sessions.

North River Supervisor and County-Schools Liaison Committee member Delores Oates also noted that the supervisors were taking into consideration coming and past public schools Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) and related debt and debt service, as they consider the Public School System’s FY-2022/23 Operational Budget. But rather than ease school employees minds, that mingling of CIP debt service as a factor in approaching and justifying reductions in the school system’s operational budget request seemed to add to the post-work session employee anxiety. Were future operational budgets going to be limited by past or current board decisions to build new or renovate aging school facilities, some wondered as they headed for the WCGC parking lot.
Supervisor Oates noted that the new BOS-WCPS liaison group would meet again this Thursday, August 11 for further discussion of the FY-23 public schools budget proposal. According to county administrative staff no date has yet been set for a vote of approval of the FY-2022/23 public school budget. One school staffer leaving the government center Tuesday evening asserted that Warren County was the only public school system in Virginia without an approved budget nearly six weeks into the fiscal year. – “We are a laughing stock,” they observed of the county’s ongoing unresolved public school budget.

See the full work session discussion of its four agenda items, including a recommendation on abandonment for now of Old Oak Lane Phases 4 and 5 projects by the newly appointed Shenandoah Farms Advisory Committee’s Chairman Bruce Boyle, in the Aug. 9 County Work Session video. That Farms Advisory Committee recommendation in favor of more cost-effective projects servicing more residents vehicular trips appears to go against the board and sanitary district staff’s plan to continue with the Old Oak Lane projects despite huge cost increases and the minimal number of residences, eight, directly impacted.

Shenandoah Farms Advisory Committee Chairman Bruce Boyle makes his committee’s case against proceeding at this time with the Old Oak Ln. Phase 4 and 5 projects amid skyrocketing costs Sanitary District residents would appear to be responsible for covering.

Following the work session, the supervisors adjourned to closed session to discuss personnel matters related to the newly appointed five-member Farms Advisory Committee. It was a closed-door discussion of which the Farms Advisory Committee chairman appeared to have no previous notice or knowledge.

 

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After 20-month tenure Steven Hicks ousted as Front Royal Town Manager

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Following an hour and 40 minutes behind closed doors to open a 6:30 p.m. work session Monday evening, August 8, an unknown portion of that time spent discussing the performance of both Town Manager Steven Hicks and Interim Town Attorney James Cornwell Jr., in a dramatic roll call vote the Front Royal Town Council, with Mayor Chris Holloway casting the tie-breaking vote, by a 4-3 margin terminated the contract of Town Manager Steven Hicks. Following Holloway’s vote, Hicks rose quickly from his seat at the far end of the meeting room table facing the mayor and simultaneously, Councilman Joseph McFadden stood up and stated, “I resign.”

At that point, Hicks, accompanied by Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis, went to clean out his office at the far end of the Town Hall second floor, leaving by a back stairway without comment to media. Leaving the meeting room with Hicks was Councilman Joseph McFadden, who had voted with Letasha Thompson and Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell to retain Hicks in his town manager’s position.

“This is a kangaroo court,” McFadden said as he tossed down what appeared to be council credentials, turning over other materials to IT Director Grant Autry on his way into the hallway behind Hicks and the police chief.

Part of the aforementioned drama came after the first two votes were cast on Gary Gillispie’s motion, seconded by remotely connected Amber Morris, to terminate Hicks’ contract. With Cockrell and Gillispie having cast the first two votes, the roll call reached recently appointed member Zachary Jackson at 1-1. Leaning back in his chair, his head looking upward, Jackson paused for 30 seconds before quietly voting “yes”. It may have been that from the closed meeting discussion the newest council member may have known his would be the decisive vote in either sending or not sending a 3-3 tie to the mayor.

Front Royal Virginia


That the mayor would vote for termination seemed to be indicated by McFadden’s brief statement to Royal Examiner reporter Roger Bianchini on his way out of town hall. After repeating that what had transpired had been “a kangaroo court,” McFadden suggested the media “investigate some on council and the mayor.”

In a somewhat anti-climatic subsequent vote, council voted 5-1, Cockrell dissenting, to terminate the services of Interim Town Attorney Cornwell of White Stone, Virginia. That would appear to leave Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett now in charge of the town’s legal department.

Hicks’ termination as town manager also leaves the unilaterally created Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) without a director, one of the additional management hats Hicks had been given by town council to wear during his tenure.

Council appointed Assistant Town Manager Kathleen Leidich to take on operational oversight of the Town Administrative Office on a temporary basis.

Upon hiring Hicks to what was his second town manager’s job, Front Royal officials had heaped praise upon him for his experience, declaring him “the perfect selection.” Former Interim Mayor and Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick stated, “To date, I have had a very limited time getting to know Steven, but this much I have already observed, he appears to be the perfect selection for our Town. Well done Town Council.” Tederick wasn’t alone in his praise of Hicks.

Then Mayor-elect Chris Holloway commented, “Hicks was selected because of his impressive leadership in operations, bringing business in communities, developing fiscally conservative budgets, managing enterprise departments, and delivering complex infrastructure projects on time and on budget.”

Then Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock said, “Finding the right candidate took longer than we expected. The Council knew what they wanted in a manager and was patient to find the right Town Manager for our community. I believe our efforts have paid off by having the best candidate possible. I’m excited to see what Steven will bring to our Town government, businesses, and community.”
Hicks began his tenure as Town Manager on Dec. 7, 2020, in the wake of some organizational, departmental, and departmental directors flux during Tederick’s tenures as Interim Mayor and Town Manager.

When a council debate arose some time into Hicks’ tenure about the expense of continued use of a consultant “executive search” firm in the hunt for a new town attorney to replace the suddenly resigned Doug Napier, Councilwoman Letasha Thompson asserted that expense would be money well spent, noting, “They got us, Steven.”

But what passes for experience and credentials in some people’s eyes may not be so elsewhere. Royal Examiner discovered that in his first town manager’s job in Selma, North Carolina, after which he came here, Hicks left under a cloud of controversy after less than a year on the job. According to a published report in the Johnston County Report, a Selma-area newspaper, Hicks agreed to resign after just nine months on the job.

The July 30, 2020, issue of the newspaper stated that the council had scheduled a special called meeting for 5:30 p.m. that evening to discuss personnel matters. However, the meeting was canceled after a deal in which Hicks apparently agreed to resign under specific conditions was reached earlier that day.

The Johnston County Report story said, “Sources say the deal will require Mr. Hicks to resign on August 3rd. In return, he will receive his full salary for the next six months, including contributions to his retirement and health benefits. Vacation and sick leave will stop on August 3rd, but he will receive all accumulated time. He will also be allowed to seek employment elsewhere before the six months severance ends.”

The Town of Front Royal press release announcing Hicks as the town manager stated, “Hicks has over 25 years of state and local government experience. He was previously the Town Manager of Selma, N.C., that provided a full range of services, including Solid Waste, Water, Sewer, and Electric, as well as Police and Fire. During Hicks tenure, he was able to develop a transparent operational budget and manage the Town’s enterprise funds delivering positive operating revenue. As part of the budget process, Hicks was able to establish Selma’s first-ever 5-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) with major emphasis in addressing groundwater and stormwater (I&I) that enters into the Town’s sewer system for treatment. Hicks also partnered with Eastfield Crossing Developers and Duke Energy to amend the 400-acre mixed-used development and incentive agreement to increase the Town’s tax base and create 3,100 jobs.”

According to Selma’s public records, the solid waste was contracted out to a company called GLF when Hicks was town manager though he did oversee the water, sewer, and electric departments cited on his resume.

A Selma source stated that the budget Hicks developed, in fact, required “a bit of hands-on work” by that town council after its initial presentation. The source stated that the “positive operating revenue” cited in that Front Royal press release existed prior to Hicks’ tenure as town manager. Selma public records support that fact as well.

Selma’s public records also indicate that the Eastfield Agreement was amended and significantly changed in 2021.

Prior to the Selma stint, Hicks served as director of the Durham, N.C. City’s General Services Department from October 2015 to July 2019.

More will be forthcoming on this story as additional information and comment from involved parties becomes available. Following the two action item votes, council went directly into its scheduled work session agenda, largely reviewing Special Use Permit applications for advertisement for public hearing, allowing no time for a Q&A with members on the reasoning for their votes.

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Town Planning Commission moves to officially join Council at Aug. 16 special work session to allow group feedback on contractor Summit Design’s Comp Plan update

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After getting new electronic tablets from IT Director Grant Autry as part of a municipal move away from paper material expenses, and approving four items for advertisement for public hearings, a three-person quorum of the Front Royal Planning Commission got an August 3rd briefing from Planning Director Lauren Kopishke on the status of the Comprehensive Plan update currently underway. Present for that briefing were Chairman Darryl Merchant, Vice-Chair William Gordon, and Commissioner Connie Marshner. It was explained that former Chairman Douglas Jones, who is retiring at the end of the month, had a scheduling conflict and that Josh Ingram was dealing with a family medical emergency.

‘I do what and it goes where?’ – As IT Director Grant Autry, standing right, observes, the commissioners present attempt to figure out their new tablets to conduct official town business on.

Pointing for commission feedback on the Comp Plan draft by the end of the month and both commission and council public hearings on approval of a revised Comp Plan by October, Kopishke suggested that commission members attend an August 16 Special Work Session called by the Town Council that includes a presentation on the status of the Comp Plan update from consultant Summit Design and Engineering.

So that commissioners can participate in the work session Q&A with Summit and council it was suggested that the planning commission join council in the call for the Special Work Session, making it a joint session the planners can legally participate in as a group, as opposed to one designated representative.


“You all need to be there,” Kopishke told the commissioners of the 6 p.m. special work session on Tuesday, August 16. “We want to be more involved than last year,” Gordon told his colleagues of what was described as minimal, if any involvement of the planning commission in the launch of the Comp Plan review and update process last year.

After review of the consultant’s draft packet, Planning Director Kopishke observed, “So far – knock on wood – there is nothing controversial in it.” She pointed to a summary page near the outset of the draft Comp Plan citing four major “Big Themes” based on public feedback:

  1. Preserve Downtown and Create more of what we Love (though exactly what that collective “we” loves was not immediately apparent);
  2. Improve Town Aesthetics;
  3. Enhance Safe Mobility and Choice;
  4. Increase Access to the River.

Those four themes were supported by 10 specific “goals and objectives” which were:

  1. Small town character;
  2. Transportation;
  3. Economic Sustainability;
  4. Environmental Sustainability;
  5. High Quality Development;
  6. Housing sustainability;
  7. Tourism;
  8. Public Health & Safety;
  9. Reliable Utilities and Services;
  10. Responsive and Accountable Governance.

Well, okay then.

After reviewing the draft Comp Plan update, Commission Chairman Merchant wondered if a town-wide projected future land use map would be included. Vice-Chairman Gordon offered, “I like the ideas, not the execution” of portions of the graphic presentations in the draft packet.

“And from this we start the ordinance process,” Merchant observed.

“That’s why it’s important we wrap this up by October, November at the latest,” Planning Director Kopishke observed. And on that note the 6 p.m. work session was adjourned at 6:46 p.m.

Prior to that adjournment and the Comp Plan conversation, as noted above the commission authorized four matters to go to public hearing on August 17. First up was Poe’s River’s Edge LLC and Eagle Sky Industrial Park LLC’s request for a Special Exception on the zoning-recommended width of a private street to service the River’s Edge LLC parcels listed at 508 Kendrick Lane and originally proposed for camp site development. The applicant cited a precedent in the town government’s granting of a similar special exception as justification for its application. While not stated, it would appear the referenced previous exception was to Mayor Holloway for his subdivision private road in town.

After some discussion, Merchant noted the circular pattern of the narrower 20-foot width as opposed to the zoning-recommended 36-foot width street through its service area. “I have no problem with it. We’ll see what the public thinks at the public hearing on the 17th.”

Staff, including Planning Director Kopishke, back to camera, Asst. Town Attorney Sonnett to Kopishke’s left, and Deputy Zoning Administrator John Ware, listen as commissioners discuss Phillip Vaught’s SUP application for a short-term tourist rental on Luray Ave. Vaught is the lone remaining applicant pictured in background

The other three applications were for Special Use Permits (SUPs) for short-term tourist rentals at 107 Highfield Lane in an R-1 zone (by William and Melissa Gordon); at 12 Chester Street in a C-2 Zone (Lea Justice); and 124 Luray Avenue in an R-3 zone (Phillip Vaught/Vaught Real Estate LLC). Vice-Chairman Gordon recused himself from discussion of his and his wife’s SUP request.

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Local Government

Supervisors reject tourism friendly Route 211 Bike Route designation, tables decision on Sheriff’s Office replacement of four vehicles

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In addition to a number of sometimes eye-opening monthly reports, including from the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office, the County Department of Social Services, and VDOT, at its first monthly meeting of August, Tuesday morning August 2nd, the Warren County Board of Supervisors tackled some “Unfinished Business” and several items removed from a lengthy Consent Agenda for additional scrutiny prior to adjourning to an expanded Closed Session.

As for that Unfinished Business, despite receiving fairly strong assurances from County Attorney Jason Ham that it would be protected from litigation from accident victims on the local portion of a proposed regional US Bike Route 211, the board by a 4-0 vote, Happy Creek Supervisor Jay Butler absent, denied approval of a Resolution of Support for the bike tourism-friendly initiative. Warren joined southern-most involved county Augusta, as the only two of nine involved municipalities rejecting the designation. According to the staff agenda summary, approving it have been Shenandoah and Rockingham Counties, the City of Waynesboro, and Towns of Strasburg, Woodstock, New Market, and Grottoes.

County Attorney Jason Ham, right at staff table, told the board they have “the highest level of immunity” from litigation from ‘Sovereign Immunity’ state codes dating to English Common Law protections of monarchs.

Safety for bikers from motor-vehicle traffic remained a primary concern for the board. Former Planning Director and current County Director of Economic Development Joe Petty gave the supervisors an update on the status, potential local or state signage, and VDOT involvement including large yellow “Share the Road” signs for the project. Petty’s input included his having taken his bike and ridden the involved county portion of the route.


With VDOT signage a variable, if not endorsement based on safety concerns, Petty pointed out an oddly counterproductive VDOT-based variable. With narrow or a lack of road shoulders for bike lanes a safety concern, Petty noted he encountered a portion of the road with “generous shoulders” where VDOT had installed “rumble strips” which while waking up a sleeping and drifting motorist, also forces wide-awake bicycle riders out of the “generous shoulders” into traffic lanes, unless they want to dismount for a walk along the side of the travel lanes.

Wearing one of his staffing hats, Joe Petty described an unexpected safety encounter he had biking the county portion of the proposed US Bike Route 211.

As to dangers inherent in endorsing physically active tourism initiatives, Petty also noted the community’s promotion of itself as the “Canoe Capital of Virginia” with all the dangers inherent in water sports. But despite the lack of litigation over any past canoeing mishaps and what the county attorney termed “the highest level of immunity” offered to the board by “Sovereign Immunity” codes dating back to English Common Law protections for British monarchs, liable or not, the board’s concerns about the safety of Route 2011 touring bikers held the day, if somewhat hesitantly. A long pause followed Fork District Supervisor Vicky Cook’s motion to deny the Resolution of Support. Finally, Board Chair Cheryl Cullers broke the silence with an “I’ll second it” leading to the 4-0 vote of denial.

About those Chevy Tahoes

On the County’s own motor vehicle front, one of four items pulled from the 14-item Consent Agenda for discussion was the Sheriff’s Office request for approval of two co-operative contracts entered into with the Virginia Sheriff’s Association (VSA) and Fairfax County facilitating the purchase and “upfitting” of four 2022 Chevrolet Tahoes. Board Chair Cullers led the questioning of the contracts totaling $223,742: $159,124 to RK Chevrolet for the four vehicles; $44,618 for the purchase of additional equipment and lights to bring them to law enforcement standards; and an estimated $20,000 to complete “upfitting” of the vehicles.

With Sheriff Mark Butler not present, Deputy Finance Director Alisa Scott whose department would handle the contracted purchases, presented the proposal to the board. Despite the nature of the cooperative contract arrangement through VSA, Chairperson Cullers wondered at the absence of a cost comparison analysis, particularly with Ford Explorers, which she asserted got better mileage than Tahoes.

Board Chair Cullers wondered at the absence of a direct cost comparison to Ford Explorers despite the agenda description of a State Public Procurement Act competitive solicitation of goods and services. Deputy Finance Director Alisa Scott, below, fielded questions on the process in the absence of Sheriff Mark Butler.

The agenda packet staff summary notes: “Section 2.2-4604 of the Virginia Public Procurement Act authorizes the County to cooperatively contract through a solicitation issued by VSA and the County of Fairfax on behalf of other public entities. VSA and the Commonwealth competitively solicit goods and services which the County can procure directly from the awarded vendor” adding of these two competitively solicited contracts: “Contract 2205-0917 was awarded to RK Chevrolet, Inc and Contract E194-89772 was awarded to Dana Safety Supply, Inc.”

But with a lack of a direct cost comparison to Ford Explorers on the table, the three supervisors present sided with their chairman in tabling a decision pending further explanation from Sheriff Butler on why the supervisors should trust the Virginia Sheriffs Association, the Commonwealth, and Fairfax County to get them the best deal available on new vehicles, apparently available for immediate delivery and outfitting to law enforcement standards.

So, on Delores Oates (North River District) motion, seconded by Vicky Cook (Fork District), the board voted 4-0 to table the matter until a September meeting for additional information.

Also pulled from the Consent Agenda were two items related to transfers of Warren County Public School (WCPS) funds related to Operating Expenses from one fiscal year to the next. After extensive discussion and explanations from WCPS Finance Director Rob Ballentine, all submitted transfers were approved. A commitment to improved communications between the schools and county administrative finance departments as budget-year variables arise was promised by both sides.

You want to transfer what to where and why? The board grilled Public Schools Finance Director Rob Ballentine, at podium, on cross fiscal-year operational transfers. Both sides agreed improved communications as the fiscal year progresses will clear up a lot of questions at the fiscal year crossover.

A fourth Consent Agenda item, authorization for Public Hearing of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) by Cole and Danielle Haase for a Commercial Outdoor Recreational Operation, was also pulled to delay that public hearing to September 27 to facilitate the schedule of the applicants.

See these discussions, the outside agency reports, board and staff reports, and a revised motion into a four-topic Closed Session in the County video. Following reconvening and adjournment of the open meeting, the board convened to a work session review of FOIA standards and a report on planned renovations to the 15th Street Health and Human Services Complex to facilitate the move of the Warren County Senior Center into expanded space there.

Watch the August 2nd meeting here.

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Local Government

Boyers updates Town Council on infrastructure projects

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Robbie Boyer, Public Works Director, updated Front Royal Town Council at its regular meeting on July 25, 2022.

Here’s the list of the current projects and their status:

  • Curb & Gutter Installation Project – Installing 9,000’ of CG6 curb & gutter and CG9 driveway aprons on ten streets, the project is 50% completed and should be wrapped up by mid-September 2022.
  • West Duck St Drainage Project – GEI started on July 18th, upgrading the existing 18” culvert to 30”, they’ll be finishing up the curb & gutter and backfilling this week and should be done by Thursday, July 28th.
  • North Royal Ave Paving Project – Kick’in Asphalt started on North Royal Ave on July 18th. The milling and paving should be wrapped up with this on Friday, July 29th. Their line painters will be here on Sunday night and Monday night to install the new line markings. Then West 13th Street, George Banks and Belmont Avenue.
  • 610B and 612 West 11th Street Storm Drain Upgrade – The town has installed the new 36” culvert between the two townhouses to the back of the property shy of the EDA fence. We received the signed right-of-entry agreement from the EDA this past Friday, July 22nd.
  • Braxton Road and Manassas Avenue Waterline Upgrade Projects – We had a pre-bid meeting on June 27th at the town hall and had a good turnout of contractors show up. The bid opening is this Thursday at 2:00 pm. The plan is to have it ready for Town Council approval in August.
  • John Marshall Hwy Waterline Upgrade Project – Bid will be posted on Friday, July 29th, with a pre-bid meeting on Thursday, August 11th, and bids will be opened on Tuesday, August 30th.
  • Robinhood Lane Prv Vault – Order on April 26, 2022, and still looking at another ten weeks for delivery due to the traffic bearing hatch.
  • Richmond Rd Prv Vault – Working on the vault drawings and bid documents, plan to bid out in late August 2022.
  • Redundant Water-line Project – The pre-bid meeting was held on July 19th with 12 different contractors. The bid opening will be on August 24, 2022.
  • Custom Storm Drain Lids -We’re in the process of coating the 25 custom storm drain lids for East Main Street. We’re planning to have them all coated by the end of next week.

 

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Thank You to our Local Business Participants:

@AHIER

Aders Insurance Agency, Inc (State Farm)

Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning

Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Beaver Tree Services

Blake and Co. Hair Spa

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Christine Binnix - McEnearney Associates

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Explore Art & Clay

Family Preservation Services

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

House of Hope

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Key Move Properties, LLC

KW Solutions

Legal Services Plans of Northern Shenendoah

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

National Media Services

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

St. Luke Community Clinic

Studio Verde

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Vetbuilder.com

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

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Upcoming Events

Aug
13
Sat
9:30 am Forest Bathing Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Forest Bathing Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Aug 13 @ 9:30 am – 12:00 pm
Forest Bathing Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Picnic Area Join Kim Strader, ANFT Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, for a gentle walk (no more than a mile or two) where we will wander and sit. Through a series of invitations and[...]
11:00 am Monarch Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Monarch Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Aug 13 @ 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Monarch Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Carriage Barn in the Historic Area Habitat loss has caused Monarch butterfly populations to reach dangerously low numbers. Join the Park Naturalist and Virginia Master Naturalists as they set out to collect Monarch caterpillars and[...]
2:00 pm Pregnancy Center’s Community Bab... @ Living Water Christian Church
Pregnancy Center’s Community Bab... @ Living Water Christian Church
Aug 13 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Pregnancy Center's Community Baby Shower @ Living Water Christian Church
The Living Water Christian Church of the Shenandoah Valley is having a “Community Baby Shower” in support of the Pregnancy Center of Front Royal. We are inviting the public to attend and bring wrapped gifts[...]
Aug
17
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Aug 17 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Aug
18
Thu
7:00 pm Appalachian Chamber Music Festiv... @ Barns of Rose Hill
Appalachian Chamber Music Festiv... @ Barns of Rose Hill
Aug 18 @ 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Appalachian Chamber Music Festival - Opening Night @ Barns of Rose Hill
The Appalachian Chamber Music Festival is delighted to be returning to the Barns of Rose Hill on Thursday, August 18, at 7pm, for the opening night concert of our 2022 summer season. The festival celebrates[...]
Aug
19
Fri
6:00 pm Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Aug 19 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
…and be sure to attend our Fourth of July event!
Aug
20
Sat
11:00 am National Honeybee Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
National Honeybee Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Aug 20 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
National Honeybee Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area The bees are buzzing at Sky Meadows State Park! Meet the Beekeepers of Northern Shenandoah as they perform a honey extraction. Learn about beekeeping, honeybees and the art of apiculture. Support beekeeping and[...]
Aug
21
Sun
12:00 pm Meet the Beekeepers @ Sky Meadows State Park
Meet the Beekeepers @ Sky Meadows State Park
Aug 21 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Meet the Beekeepers @ Sky Meadows State Park
Carriage Barn in the Historic Area. What’s that buzzing? Meet with local apiarists of the Beekeepers of Northern Shenandoah (BONS) and discover the art of Apiculture (a.k.a. Beekeeping). This monthly program series examines all aspects[...]
Aug
23
Tue
3:00 pm Valley Chorale Audition Day @ Calvary Episcopal Church
Valley Chorale Audition Day @ Calvary Episcopal Church
Aug 23 @ 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Valley Chorale Audition Day @ Calvary Episcopal Church
If you have choral-singing experience, you’re invited to join The Valley Chorale! Rehearsals this fall culminate in our always-popular Christmas concerts in December. This year, we have a truly fantastic Christmas program planned. Auditions are[...]