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Take our books, audit us now – Please! POSF officials urge supervisors

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Seven members of the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF), including three newer ones, made their case that they are not crooks, thieves or otherwise scheming and conniving people out to self-enrich or fleece the residents of the sprawling Sanitary District during a lengthy work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening, October 27th.

The two-hour-and-forty-minute explanation and defense of their management and advisory role to the supervisors came in response to a recent escalation in criticism of their role. That escalation has primarily come from Nancy Winn and her husband, Dale Orlowske, most recently at the October 20th supervisors’ meeting.

Perhaps surprisingly, none of the four primary critics cited, though not by name, by those involved in the POSF’s work, or any other Farms residents were present for Tuesday’s explanation of the POSF side of the story. That was particularly surprising to this reporter whose paper received an inquiry from Winn following her public presentation targeting POSF and the supervisor’s oversight at last week’s board meeting, requesting information on the meetings whereabouts, time, and format for public participation.

Pictured here at Oct. 20 BOS meeting, Nancy Winn may have been thinking ‘I’m not buying a word of it’ as to POSF explanations. While absent Tuesday, the specter of her questioning of POSF officials, even if anonymously referenced, was prevalent throughout. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams


In response to her query wondering if it was a “secretive meeting” which would not allow Farms “taxpayers to be present”, following a quick call to the County Administration Office to acquire the requested information, this reporter/editor informed her by email of the time, whereabouts and formatting of the meeting, including Board Chairman Mabe’s prerogative to grant observing members of the public input to the meeting.

POSF Co-Chairman Ralph Rinaldi introduced the voluntary property owners association representatives present to the supervisors, excluding the absent Tony Carter, and outlined the areas each would be addressing. Those representatives were in the order of speaking: Joe Longo (History of the Farms including a video presentation of that history), Bruce Boyle (Financial Overview), Jonathan Oaks (Misconceptions, Main Points, Current Allegations), Sara Saber (Excessive Spending due to multiple FOIA requests), Patrick Skelley (BOS involvement, guidance and communications, and Sanitary District size and population variables). POSF Office Manager Lisa Blansett was also present to respond to inquiries on documentation, at least one of which she provided for copying to the supervisors during the work session. Rinaldi and others responded to questions as they arose during and after their presentations.

Noting the complicated nature of the POSF relationship to Sanitary District management and finances – it was pointed out there were multiple accounts some containing public county funds and others POSF-raised money, each spent on different things they said – the group complemented the board’s three new members for their tackling of the issues brought to them.

While masked, POSF officials Ralph Rinaldi, foreground, and Bruce Boyle assured the supervisors it was NOT a hold-up, nor has it been, with the management of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District funds

“It is confusing, it took me a few years to figure it out … and you’ve only been here 10 months,” Rinaldi told the board’s new majority of Chairman Walt Mabe, Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, and North River representative Delores Oates.

Addressing the POSF and Sanitary District finances, Boyle, who noted he was a newer member of the board like Oaks and Saber, said he had been pleased to find out that the financial organization made it difficult for anyone to misappropriate money.

“I don’t want to be confrontational and I don’t want to challenge you, but if you believe the money is not being spent where it’s supposed to be spent, we would as a board wholeheartedly like you to appoint someone to investigate NOW – and not over a course of a couple of years. We have nothing to hide,” Boyle told the supervisors, adding, “The Sanitary District money is money we’ve agreed to tax ourselves to improve our community with your oversight. And we have been doing that.”

Boyle was pointed in his request the supervisors act now, rather than later to resolve any questions about POSF management of the district’s finances – ‘We have nothing to hide’ he assured the supervisors.

Speaking to past County oversight of Sanitary District operations, Boyle noted that when he became involved, “All my questions were answered by Bob Childress at my first meeting before I had a chance to speak … This is one of the best-run counties in Virginia,” he asserted. Childress is the recently retired Deputy County Administrator and Sanitary District manager.

Perhaps ironically, part of the Farms Historical video presentation as part of Joe Longo’s opening overview contained interview excerpts with former County Administrator Doug Stanley, who appointed Childress to oversee the Farms Sanitary District among others, operations. After over 20 years in his position, Stanley reached an involuntary termination agreement with the County under the impetus of the board’s new majority elected in November 2019 under a wave of public and social media criticism of “business as usual” due to the EDA financial scandal. Childress retired shortly after Stanley’s departure and long-time County Emergency Services Director Richard Mabie, also interviewed in the video, soon announced his pending retirement in coming months when he reaches retirement age.

Uh oh, he’s back – former County Administrator Doug Stanley was part of a video presentation giving a historical perspective of the ‘Farms’ from its inception as a remote neighborhood populated in part by sometimes legally questionable characters, to its 1996 move to a County-managed Sanitary District opening more of its area up to residential development following road improvements, something not all residents are happy about it was admitted.

So, as a new board majority orients itself to its job the County is losing a huge amount of staff institutional knowledge of operations on a variety of fronts, including Sanitary Districts.

Cullers, who with Oates and Mabe has been at the point of seeking answers to questions raised by POSF/Sanitary District management critics, noted that the supervisors were obligated to answer questions from all segments of county citizens. She suggested POSF officials sit down with those critics to reach a mutually beneficial line of communication to reach a satisfactory end for all involved.

“But you’re expecting a rational response and we’re not getting that,” Boyle replied of past POSF efforts to respond to certain critics. “Okay, we are potentially explaining what’s going on correctly and legally and trying to inform you all as well. But I think, politely, I don’t think that I’m going to be able to get through to them because I don’t think they want to hear any of the answers that are correct. So, at that point we just thought, we’re hoping you all would mitigate that for us.”

Jonathan Oaks at the podium told the board he recently joined POSF after hearing social media accusations about the board’s operations and had been pleased not to find those allegations to be true.

At another point, following Rinaldi’s comments on negative perceptions being raised by critics on social media over specific matters POSF officials insisted they have tried to respond to, to little impact with those critics, Boyle rose to add a further observation.

“Here’s some of what we deal with on a fictitious (level) – ‘We’d like to see your credit card statement.’ Well, we don’t have any credit cards to give you any statements. Okay, then what goes on social media is ‘They refuse to give us credit card statements’ which is a true statement which can imply that you’re hiding money. But if you have no credit cards, you cannot provide a credit card statement.”

Of the POSF impression of a belligerent unwillingness to communicate in good faith to reach answers being sought by their critics, Boyle said, “Be careful, because what you’re hearing … that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Sometimes where there’s smoke there is fire. And also sometimes people blow smoke at you … We invite you to go through our finances with a fine-tooth comb.”

Mabe responded that he had been the one to comment at a previous meeting that “Where there’s smoke, there’s potential fire” adding however that from his perspective an inquiry offers the POSF the opportunity “to prove there’s not (fire) – that’s what we’re asking here … There is no witch hunt here – there is an opportunity for questions we have to be answered in a logical manner that we understand so we can, in turn, get some of the people that are the ‘witch hunters’ off of your back and our back.

“If there’s a problem, we’ll probably be able to solve it and we’ll fix it, we’ll move forward; we’ll do the best that we can. But perception is 95% of the room. So, it works both ways,” Mabe told POSF officials of the move toward the board’s inquiry into the Sanitary District operations.

And on the perception front, several POSF officials pointed to a social media co-opting of online domain names similar to the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms title, making it increasingly difficult to search and find the actual POSF site. One said they believed it to be a “malicious” effort to co-opt online hits and information dissemination from the POSF.

The POSF seven were the only Shenandoah Farms residents or members of the public present for Tuesday’s work session.

Shortly after those observations, Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi told those present she had created a direct link to the POSF site <shenandoahfarms.org> from the County website as a means to help solve that access confusion.

POSF Co-Chair Ralph Rinaldi hands some requested documentation provided by POSF Office Manager Lisa Blansett to board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi for distribution to the supervisors.

See these discussions, questions, and explanations along with a historical look at the “Farms”, including its founding; somewhat suspicious past behaviors of a potentially criminal nature; road inaccessibility and emergency service and law enforcement access issues with what now stands as one of Virginia’s largest Sanitary Districts at 5,000 residents, 2,804 lots, 1,783 of those developed, and 42-plus miles of roads, in this Royal Examiner video:

 

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County Planning Commission, up to full strength, endorses second new storage facility

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The Warren County Planning Commission, finally up to full strength with the addition of its newest commission member, Kaylee Richardson of the South River District, met Wednesday night for its regular monthly meeting.

The County Planning Commission is fully manned again, ready to tackle a busy year in Warren County. Royal Examiner Photos by Stephen Sill

Although the agenda was extensive with three conditional use permits, 10 requests for authorization to advertise, and one site plan for approval, the meeting proceeded without any controversy.  No citizens made any presentations to the committee during non-agenda Public Comments, so Chairman Robert Myers launched into the public hearings portion of the meeting.

Three conditional use permits were requested for 9700 Court, LLC, regarding a commercially zoned site on the west side of Winchester Road, north of the Crooked Run Shopping Center, to build an enclosed storage facility, and an adjoining storage yard for cars, boats, and RVs.  The property is in the North River Magisterial District.  The commissioners had been given an extensive briefing at a previous meeting, so Planning Director Joe Petty provided a quick overview of the project, which will incorporate a 3-story climate-controlled building totaling 63,000 square feet, and to the rear of the property, an outside storage yard.  A second building of two stories, with the same ground footprint may be added later if business justifies it.


The third CUP request was necessitated by the Warren County Code requiring additional permitting if the size of the facility is projected to be over 50,000 s.f.  There were no public comments on the project for any of the three permit requests.  Commissioner Kersjes asked if the facility would be capable of storing antique or classic cars in the storage units.  The permit documents indicate that project representative did not address that question directly but did indicate that some ground floor units were designed for drive-up access with contractors in mind, so the issue could be addressed with the architects.  The planning director did say that the requirements of the permit for the outside storage area would include a provision that all vehicles be tagged and inspected to be stored there.  With no further discussion, the commission voted unanimously in all three cases to recommend approval of the Conditional Use Permits to the County Board of Supervisors.

The commission agreed to advertise public hearings for 10 Conditional Use Permits for its July meeting, which means that meeting will likely be a long one.  There were three applications for Conditional Use Permits for short-term tourist rentals.  John Suh is seeking a permit for his agriculturally zoned property at 515 Corron Drive in the Fork District, Neal Sutliff is seeking the same for his residentially zoned property at 1720 Khyber Pass Rd on the Happy Creek District, and Melissa Halko is requesting a permit for her property at 261 Sunset Village Rd in the Junewood development.  The commission approved all three for authorization to advertise public hearings.

Along with the rise in short term tourist rentals, review activities in the planning department of private use camping permits has led to a spike in applications for that use on lots used for recreational purposes.  Chad and Charleen Backstrom, Shawn and Christine Tsanganelias, and James Humphries have all applied for private-use camping CUPs for their properties on Burma Road in the North River District.  In addition, Randall Lewis and Monica Stover have requested a private-use camping permit for their property on Farms Riverview Road in the Shenandoah District.  All these properties are zoned R-1, and the Commission unanimously agreed to advertise for public hearings on the requests.

Mountaintop The Church at Skyline has applied for a CUP for a private school on their property at 7655 Stonewall Jackson Highway in the South River District.  The school would operate from August to May, Monday through Friday, and would accommodate 30 or fewer students.  It would not expand or change the existing use of the church.  The church was constructed in 1992, and that use was permitted by right prior to the adoption of the current ordinance.  The commission unanimously voted to approve the authorization to advertise the public hearing.

Ken Colton has requested a conditional use permit for the storage of cars, boats, and recreational vehicles on his industrial zoned property on Winners Court in the North River District.  The commission voted unanimously to approve advertising for that public hearing.

In an action of interest to residents of the Waterlick area, Kimberly Countryman has requested a CUP for a Country General Store at 4536 Strasburg Road in the North River District.  According to the applicant, it will serve as a country style neighborhood grocery, food carryout, with country gift items, homemade food and vintage items.  The hope is to reopen the store as it was operated prior to 2008.  The commission unanimously approved the authorization to advertise a public hearing on the proposal.

Five Nine Design group has submitted a plan for the commission review of a public utility storage structure at 5985 John Marshall Highway, and will be used to support an underground fiber optic network.  The structure will not include antennas, towers, or dishes on the site and will be surrounded by a fence and accessed only by service personnel.  It will sit between Interstate 66 and John Marshall Highway.  The commission voted unanimously to affirm that the structure was substantially in accord with the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

Planning Director Joe Petty reminded the commissioners that work on the County Comp Plan is scheduled to begin in earnest in July, and while it will be a major task, some work has already been completed.

‘What did I let myself in for?’ Newly appointed Planning Commissioner Kaylee Richardson concentrates on absorbing a lot of new information at her first regular meeting.

The members of the commission welcomed their newest colleague, Kaylee Richardson, who replaces Crystal Beall in the South River District.  Commissioner Richardson lives on a 32-acre farm in Bentonville, and grew up in Warren County.  She says she is looking forward to what she recognizes as a “lot of work” in helping the County exercise good stewardship over the resources we sometimes take for granted.

The Commission adjourned at 8:15 p.m.

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Library outdoor amphitheater proposal, bridge naming initiative and drug court proposal highlight County Board work session

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After a half-hour full frontal assault by “divisions” of the Sons of Liberty seeking County support of a resolution in support of changing the names of the two northside entranceway bridges over the forks of the Shenandoah River into Front Royal for Revolutionary War figures of note, the Warren County Board of Supervisors faced a sometimes dizzying array of financial briefings on COVID-19 relief funding and State Compensation Board-funded salary increases.

Above, led by Larry Johnson, far left, The Sons of Liberty reconnoiter the WC Govt. Ctr. turf prior to engaging the supervisors for support of a bridge naming initiative. Below, Dale Corey, or is that Daniel Boone? – Lends his support. The initiative would name the North Fork Bridge ‘Gen. George Washington and Gen. Daniel Morgan Memorial Bridge and the South Fork, Major General Dr. Joseph Warren Memorial Bridge. WAIT, that’s 3 names and 4 titles for 2 bridges – will that work? Maybe it can be hashed out at the Friday, 9 a.m. flag lowering at the WCGC memorializing the war death of Gen.-Dr. Warren, for whom the county is named. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Less mind numbing at the Tuesday, June 8th work session were a report on a plan to create an outdoor entertainment amphitheater on the grounds between Samuels Public Library and Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and plans to expand the Warren County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office into portions of the old county jail next door to the rear of the courthouse. Well, that latter topic did get somewhat dizzying when it was explained that the proposed CA’s Office expansion was viewed as a three-year stopgap measure as a longer-term solution reuniting all the office’s attorneys within the same space was explained by County Project Manager Jeff Hayes.

That’s more cluttered than this reporter’s office space, tho a bit neater. Yes, the WC Commonwealth Attorney’s Office is cluttered. But the County has a multi-phased plan to deal with it, including digitization of some records as allowed.


On the less cluttered side of those reports, Samuels Library Executive Director Michelle Ross and Friends of Samuels Public Library President Melody Hotek presented a power point on the library amphitheater project. The location would be on a sloping hill on the west side of the property with the pavilion-stage area at the bottom. The amphitheater was presented, not just as a library program and neighboring elementary school asset, but one that could be utilized for a variety of programs throughout the community.

Library Director Michelle Ross, foreground, flanked by Friends of Samuels Library President Melody Hotek, present the amphitheater plan. Below, proposed site of Samuels Library Amphitheater on west side of library toward Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, which would be a co-beneficiary of the finished project.

A total cost estimate of $50,000 to $60,000 was presented, with a first estimate on the pavilion structure coming in at $18,519. Ross and Hotek said that about $20,000 has been raised in support of the proposal, with some of that coming from the Estate of Hotek’s late husband Jeff, and engineering work committed by her brother-in-law Dan Hotek.

Supporting documentation in the project summary noted: “COVID-19 has made the value of fresh air very apparent. Even before the pandemic, outdoor spaces on library grounds were trending. Now, although the vaccine rollout is well underway, it will likely be fall at the earliest before most libraries resume indoor programming. What was a nice-to-have luxury has become the only game in town … Even after all the lockdowns are over, outdoor spaces will remain useful for more than preparing for the next pandemic, allowing patrons to enjoy the natural environment wile having access to library amenities.”

Above and below, the Northern Fauquier Community Park was presented as a model for the desired amphitheater, with a few trees interspersed for some shading.

As with all presentations at Tuesday’s work session, no action was taken by the board regarding possible support, including funding assistance since binding votes can only be taken at meetings.

Near the meeting’s end, Broadband Committee member Vicky Cook updated the board on goals and work in achieving those goals of providing near, if not total, high-speed wireless coverage countywide.

Discussion and support documentation indicated that of the 16,606 housing units identified in Warren County during 2019 Census gathering, supporting a population of 40,164 countywide, 90.4% had computers and 83.3% had Internet subscriptions. The goal is to raise that broadband coverage to 95% to 99%-plus. The importance of universal coverage, even in remote areas, was cited as crucial to educational, commercial and economic progress.

As the “Project Description” noted: “Warren County Broadband Extension Project will provide universal access to high-speed, reliable, and secure internet connectivity to all Warren County residents, including but not limited to, unserved and underserved residents, school and businesses. The broadband extension project will increase economic prospects and educational opportunities to all the residents and businesses in the county.”

A final agenda item – further discussion of eliminating the board’s 9 a.m. first monthly meeting in favor of an evening or late afternoon start – was withdrawn at its maker, North River Supervisor Delores Oates, request. Oates explained she had received feedback on complications such a move could create for people with younger children hoping to attend meetings in having to arrange childcare situations apparently not at issue earlier in the day.

Prior to adjournment near 8:30 p.m., Oates offered a brief update on the Warren County-Front Royal Drug Prevention Committee’s work. She noted a committee meeting with Judges William Sharp and Darryl Funk on creation of a Drug and/or Family Drug Court in the county. Oates pointed to the success of such directed courts elsewhere in Virginia in helping stabilize with intervention and recovery efforts, family situations, particularly with children involved.

Oates also acknowledged a coming joint effort with the public school system on educating parents and students alike on the dangers of counterfeit prescription medications peddled on the streets that are often laced with highly dangerous chemical combinations or unidentified prescription agents like Fentanyl, the latter ID’ed in a rising tide of illicit drug use overdose deaths.

See all these discussion in the linked County video, including County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall’s summary of the “Executive Summary” of the six-section, 97-pages of reference material, federal regulations and guidelines related to the “Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds”. County Administrator Ed Daley only had two pages of material on the State and Comp Board funded, County related salary increases – but it was two pages with 84 numbers on them.

Above, Rick Farrall did an excellent job of summarizing 97 pages of government guidelines and regulations on a new round of COVID-19 relief funding in 9 minutes. Below, might Farrall be reacting to Vice-Chairman Fox’s post-meeting request for a 25-word-or-less synopsis of what he’d heard over that nine minutes? – ‘Sure, Archie: We apply for the money; meet the guidelines; get the money; distribute it to eligible recipients; and ride away on our white horses.’ Count ‘em, kids – 25 on the money!!! (Just kidding tho, the photographer was too far away to hear what was really being said.)

In response to a question from Oates on time limits for distribution of coming pandemic relief funds, Farrall said it would NOT be the end of the coming calendar year as with the last round, but rather through the end of calendar year 2026. That information no doubt brought a collective sigh of relief from those involved in the trenches of that application and distribution process.

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Sheriff Butler responds to Town attack on his and department’s handling of sewage dumping investigation

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While saying that he had not yet seen it, given an overview of the May 24th Town of Front Royal power point response to his May 11 summary of his department’s investigation into County suspicions of illegal sewage dumping by Town trash truck crews at the County’s Bentonville Solid Waste Transfer Station, Sheriff Mark Butler gave us a response to Town allegations of personal or departmental wrongdoing in that investigation.

One of the photos taken by Sheriff’s Office investigators of attempted Town dumping at Bentonville Transfer Station on April 20.

Royal Examiner received the sheriff’s response on May 25. However, we held it to include with other responses we might receive from County supervisors also named in the Town legal department-presented power point. But at the end of the subsequent week the involved county supervisors and staff have chosen not to respond to the public escalation of the Sludge War of words initiated by town officials on April 26; responded to by the sheriff at the May 11 County Board of Supervisors meeting; and revisited at council’s May 24 meeting – see LINKED stories below.

This is Sheriff Butler’s emailed response of May 25th in its entirety:


Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler said if complainant/suspect roles had been reversed in sludge investigation, it would have been handled in exactly the same manner in an attempt to find the truth of the situation. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

“The Warren County Sheriff’s Office did its job. After the incident was investigated, we found what we presented at the Board of Supervisors countywide meeting. The Sheriff’s Office serves the entire county and will continue to do so each day. The Sheriff’s Office serves all residents of Warren County to include the Town of Front Royal.

“The Sheriff does not work for the Board of Supervisors nor the Town Council. The Sheriff’s Office works for all residents of Warren County and if the roles had been different, the case would have been run in the same manner.

“As for the authority of the Sheriff, that comes from the Code of Virginia and the Constitution. Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s Office makes decisions daily that may or may not please everyone. The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for investigating all fraud, waste, and abuse at the county level. Our job is to find the facts of the complaint – which was done and will continue to be done without bias.” (From the Office of Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler.)

Linked stories:

‘Sting’ or ‘Investigation’? – Guess it depends on what kind of ‘Crime-TV’ you’ve been watching lately. Below, in introducing the May 24 Town response to the sheriff summary of his investigation, Town Manager Hicks noted that response, from which above photo was taken, was initiated by Mayor Holloway, pictured reading a prepared statement following the presentation.

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Moving on: Warren County assistant superintendent, School Board member

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The Warren County School Board learned during its Wednesday, June 2 meeting that Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Assistant Superintendent Melody Sheppard is leaving to become superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools in Woodstock, Va., and Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower has decided to make her current board term her last.

“It has been my pleasure to serve this staff and the students and parents in the community of Warren County for the last 23 years,” Sheppard told School Board members. “I’m going to miss my time here.”

Sheppard — who is working on her doctoral degree in educational leadership through the University of Virginia, with anticipated completion in June 2022 — has experience as a school administrator, a technology director, the director of career and technical education and principal at the Blue Ridge Technical Center, and for the last eight years as assistant superintendent for administration, in which she has facilitated the renovation of two elementary schools, a non-traditional school, and the building of a new middle school.

During her tenure as assistant superintendent, Sheppard also served capably as interim superintendent for nine months when she replaced a scandal-ridden former leader allegedly embroiled in the Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority financial fiasco and led the school division toward finding a replacement — all while also managing WCPS’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


“Congratulations to Mrs. Sheppard on her new endeavor,” WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger said, acknowledging that the Shenandoah County School Board approved Sheppard’s appointment at a special called meeting on May 27. Her job there begins on July 1 with the effective retirement of current Shenandoah County Superintendent Mark Johnston.

Sheppard’s new job announcement appeared bittersweet for some of the School Board members.

“You’re always so well-prepared and keep us straight… and just tell us how it is,” Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr., told Sheppard during the meeting. “You will be sorely missed, you really will. I hope they [Shenandoah County] know how lucky they are.

“The lady can beat up a vendor on price like you’ve never seen and never raise her voice,” Williams joked. “I hope you’ve shown some of us how to do that.”

“Great gain for them, great loss for us,” Bower said about Sheppard moving on. “I’ve enjoyed working with you. You’re fantastic,” she told Sheppard from the dais.

Board member James Wells said Sheppard “has done a magnificent job” for WCPS. “She will be greatly missed but Shenandoah County will be all the better for her,” he said.

Board Vice Chairwoman Bower, who represents the Fork District, also announced that she will not seek a fourth term to serve on the School Board. The Front Royal, Va., resident’s current term is set to expire on December 31. Prior to her current board position, Bower served six years as chairwoman of the Warren County School Board.

“I’ve had three great terms for 12 years. It’s time for some new blood,” she said.

Watch the full Warren County School Board meeting here.

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While impacts remain unknown, council forwards changes to ‘Special Events’ Code Chapter

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At Monday evening’s Special Meeting of June 1, two members of the public involved in annual downtown events, William Huck (Family Fun Day) and Malcolm Barr Sr. (Memorial Day and Dogs of War salute) addressed the Front Royal Town Council at a public hearing on proposed changes to the Town’s Special Events ordinance. Both wondered what potential impacts sweeping proposed changes to the relevant Town Code Chapter 72 might have on acquiring future permitting to continue their events as they have been previously held.

Barr pointed out the Memorial Day service, which the Town has co-sponsored for several years, was held on the County Courthouse grounds the past two years, including the previous day, due to Novel Coronavirus-pandemic social distancing restrictions. However, both that and Huck’s annual Family Fun Day are traditionally held at the Village Commons area bordered by the Town Gazebo, Visitors Center and new Pavilion at the intersection of East Main and Chester Streets and Laura Virginia Hale Drive in the heart of the Historic Downtown Business District.

Council considers what impacts the tightening of its Special Events Code Chapter might result in. A clear verbal explanation was elusive Monday evening. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

As far as an answer to both Huck and Barr’s question – “What’s going on?” as it applies to their events, the verbal answer was somewhat vague. However, a first read through of the two pages of the newly adopted Chapter 72 Ordinance compared to the four pages (in much smaller print) of deleted text indicates much less code detail than previously, with key elements including “Permit Exceptions” and “Permit Revocation/Suspension” kept virtually identical to the comparable deleted sections.


One new section titled “Violations Of This Chapter” appears to contain new language on punitive actions that can be taken by “the Town Manager or a designated employee charged with enforcement of the Code Chapter. That language is:

“Any person who shall violate any provision of this Chapter shall be suspended from having any future events for one year from the time of the event or as the Town Manager or designee deems appropriate based on the violation.” Appeals of such punitive decisions “must be made to the Town Council within thirty days of the decision.”

The new Chapter 72’s opening paragraph acknowledges the changes made as a result of a Town Council directive of May 10, 2021, to staff “to move forward on amending Town Code Chapter 72 Special Events to allow for and reflect new Policy and Procedures to be approved”.

New Chapter 72 Section 1 “Purpose Of Chapter” reads: “The purpose of this chapter is to accommodate competing demands for the public use of Town streets, and public property that are requested to be used for a special event. Policy and Procedures regulating these areas of demand is necessary to maintain public peace, safety, acceptable conditions of traffic flow and prevention of any illegal or unlawful activity.”

After a brief discussion of points raised during which it was noted that most of what was on the table was removal of the old code’s language, on a motion by Joe McFadden, seconded by Letasha Thompson, council approved the new Special Events Chapter 72 Ordinance on a 5-0 vote, Councilman Meza absent.

So, stay tuned – Exactly how these changes impact existing and future event permitting remains to be seen. In the wake of an apparent reversal of last year’s decision to close East Main Street on Spring thru Fall weekends as an economic and tourism incentive that appeared to be very popular with both locals and tourists, as well as all but a small minority of downtown business owners, council has seemed more reluctant to close downtown streets in conjunction with permitted events with the notable exception of the two high school’s outdoor Senior Prom event of May 22 in the Commons area, which also saw the parking lot vacated to facilitate the event.

A third speaker at Tuesday’s Special Events Code Chapter Public Hearing was Edwin Wright of the Manor Line Market. Wright thanked council for considering the needs of downtown businesses in amending their codes.

Mayor’s business request

Also approved by a 5-0 vote following a public hearing at which no one spoke and Mayor Chris Holloway handed his presiding gavel over to Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell to recuse himself from participation, was a requested vacating of six lots “facing Scott Street” on an “undeveloped (165.5-foot by 40-foot) portion of Carter Street between Breeden Lane and Steele Avenue”.  The mayor’s recusal was because the requested vacating of the property by the Town was by Holloway Construction LLC, the mayor’s residential construction company. A late amendment to the item was the raising of the number of involved lots from five to six.

Prior to the vote several council members commented that Mayor Holloway had not received any preferential treatment on the matter.

“I just want to state that this is something that we think is an amenable decision that is fair and equitable. So, if anyone has any questions about that, we definitely, this is not anything strange. It is very normal business,” Councilman McFadden said to open council discussion.

“I just wanted to say something along those same lines. When we were discussing this, Chris was not present and he got the same treatment as everybody else in town,” Councilwoman Thompson asserted.

“And I’m going to add to that. That all the different departments were contacted – public works and electrical and also the Viewing Committee,” Vice-Mayor Cockrell said of an appointed Town committee of business people, adding, “And all of which said that it would pose no harm to the adjacent property owners. The property owners were given notice about this tonight and could have come in and spoke if they so chose.”

Other business

Also approved without dissent Tuesday night were Resolutions adding Good Friday to the list of municipal holidays and Funeral and Volunteer leave to the list of things town employees can seek time off for. The holiday motion was by Gary Gillespie, seconded by Thompson; the leave matter on a motion by Scott Lloyd, seconded by McFadden.

A Budget Amendment and Bid Approval for work on Happy Creek Sanitary Sewer Replacement were also approved by 5-0 votes, as well as a bid on North Royal Avenue Waterline Upgrades. Councilman Gillespie pointed to those approvals as a sign of council’s commitment to infrastructure improvements.

Town Manager Steven Hicks explains the dynamics of a Town Building Inspections and Environmental Division Department would entail, including his appointment as Town Building Code Official, as Letasha Thompson and Joseph McFadden listen.

Town Manager Steven Hicks also introduced a Resolution on creation of a Town Building Code and Environmental Division. The motion-seconding team of McFadden-Thompson sent that Resolution toward a 5-0 approval. Discussion indicated that Hicks would be appointed the Town’s building code official. It was noted that revenues from fees should see the department “pay for itself” and that all revenue created by the department would remain there and could not be transferred to cover other departmental budgetary needs.

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Local Government

Agency reports, fighting the Spotted Lanternfly, reason for rising tax assessments highlight County meeting

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On Tuesday morning, June 1, the Warren County Board of Supervisors navigated a lengthy agenda led off by a variety of reports from various agencies, including an update on the Spotted Lanternfly infestation and mandated precautions to try and prevent its spread beyond county borders, as well as its eradication from this transportation hub community. The message on the intrusive and destructive insect infestation: “ID, report, scrape, smash it” before it does that to aspects of our agricultural and commercial transportation systems.

PowerPoint graphics show the spreading area of Spotted Lanternfly infestation that has spread out of Pennsylvania into five surrounding states since 2014. Below, the lanternfly’s life cycle with a calendar of its monthly development through those stages; and below that, a declaration of war on the destructive bug. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

 


A final Annual Report on People Inc.’s activities on behalf of some economically marginalized sectors of our community from Director Robert Goldsmith, who told the supervisors he would be retiring after 44 years with the organization at the end of this calendar year, was warmly received. VDOT and new Rappahannock Electric Cooperative CEO John Hewa also updated the board on their respective activities in the community and/or business models.

And good news from EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons – the long-awaited 2018 and 2019 audits are now in draft form, nearing final approval as the new EDA team and the supervisors examine the money trail during the final two years under the executive directorship of Jennifer McDonald. Both criminal and civil litigation have emerged from that era, the former in a holding pattern in federal hands at this point and the civil in which McDonald is named as the key player in allegedly misdirected or embezzled assets is fluctuating between $26 million and $62 million.


Executive Director Doug Parsons, on the job for two years, delivered a positive EDA update, including approaching finalization of the 2018 and ’19 audits; and removal of the $345,600 annual debt service on the Baugh Dr. warehouse in the coming year as SYSCO has moved in.

And Parsons updated the board on, as previously reported, the SYSCO rental of the sprawling Baugh Drive warehouse for a year – “and are moving in as we speak” Parsons told the supervisors.

The EDA will still be able to market the facility for sale during the leasing period, Parsons noted. The SYSCO rental will relieve the county’s taxpayers of the entire $345,600 of annual debt service of the Baugh Drive warehouse acquired during the previous board of directors and McDonald’s executive directorship of the EDA – “I think that’s a great thing for the taxpayers to give us all a little bit of relief on the building,” Parsons told the supervisors.

And speaking of taxes, County Commissioner of Revenue Sherry Sours and Treasurer Jamie Spiker addressed tax payment deadline extensions to June 21st and hikes in real estate and property assessments from what was called “a perfect storm” of economic factors raising property values prior to this tax billing period.

County Emergency Services Coordinator in charge of COVID-19 pandemic mandates and rules, as well as CARES Act federal relief financial distribution matters, Rick Farrall led the board through a summary of the dizzying finances of CARES Act distribution to both the County and Town through the County.

Fire & Rescue Lieutenant Rick Farrall has been earning his money over the past year, heading the County’s response and record-keeping related to the Novel Coronavirus pandemic and CARES Act financial relief acquisition and distribution.

Farrall also summarized the altered or unaltered consequences of Governor Northam’s Executive Order 79 easing social distancing and masking restrictions on vaccinated Virginians. As noted in the Royal Examiner’s recent summary of Farrall’s May 26 Situation Report (SETREP), it is still recommended that non-vaccinated people mask, maintain 6-foot social distancing, and engage in regular preventive handwashing for their own safety. Farrall was thanked by the board for his work in overseeing the monumental task of keeping up with the evolving legal, logistical and financial aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic response over the last year-plus.

During board reports near the meeting’s end, North River Supervisor Delores Oates continued to lobby her colleagues to eliminate the 9 a.m. morning meetings in favor of a second 7 p.m. evening meeting. Oates sighted her own work schedule, as well as that of other citizens, making it difficult to attend morning meetings. County Administrator Ed Daley noted that Frederick and Shenandoah Counties have previously moved from monthly morning meetings to around 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. starting times, as opposed to a second 7 p.m. starting time inconvenient for some staff members and those agency people like VDOT and others listed above, traveling distances to deliver monthly, quarterly or annual reports.

Delores Oates continues to lobby her colleagues for the elimination of the board’s 9 a.m. morning meetings in favor of a second evening session. Below left, County Administrator Ed Daley – yes, following a recent closed session the interim is gone from his title – noted that two adjacent counties went from morning to late afternoon meetings to accommodate outside agency officials and staff participation in those first monthly meetings.

Following a brief closed session, two appointments were announced: Kent Houchins to the Community Policy and Management Team and Cyril Cook to the Airport Commission. The board then adjourned to a 25-minute work session that followed the meeting, during which Farrall delivered his governor’s Executive Order 79 report.

See any of these reports in their entirety, and other business, board, and staff reports in the County video here.

 

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