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Town closed session personnel discussion motions may violate FOIA law on ‘subject’ disclosure



Executive Director of the Virginia Freedom of Information (FOIA) Council Alan Gernhardt says his agency is of the opinion that the closed session motions related to personnel issues made by the Front Royal Town Council on January 27 and February 3, are legally challengeable by State FOIA statutes for full disclosure of the exempted purposes allowing that discussion to occur behind doors closed to the public. Those motions were read into the public record by Lori Cockrell and Jacob Meza, respectively, and apparently reflect language long used by the town council.

A check of Royal Examiner video of the January 27 and February 3 closed session motions verified that the personnel portions were read as printed on the agenda cover sheets: “I move that Council convene and go into Closed Meeting for the following purposes: … (other topics regarding pending legal or real estate transactions specified) “Discussion and consideration of assignment, appointment, promotion, performance, demotion, salaries, disciplining, or resignation of specific public officers, appointees, or employees of any public body, pursuant to Section 2.2-3711. A. 1. of the Code of Virginia.”

At issue for the FOIA Council is the vagueness of the reference to “employees of any public body”.

There was a FOIA and Ethics seminar at the Va. Inland Port on Dec. 9. It was attended by new members of the WC Board of Supervisors and EDA Board and staff, but no Town Council or staff. – Well, the EDA hosted it … Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

What attracted Royal Examiner’s attention to this wording was a closed session motion regarding personnel matters made by the Warren County Board of Supervisors on February 4. Following language identical to the Town motion regarding “the assignment, appointment, promotion, performance, demotion, salaries, and resignation of a specific public officer of the public body;” was added, “I further move that the discussion be limited to the Community Policy Management Team.”

The absence of that qualifying portion in the Town motions led us to call Director Gernhardt of the Virginia FOIA Council in Richmond. He explained that such motions have three essential requirements by FOIA law: to identify a subject; a purpose; and the State Code exemption allowing the public body discussion to take place outside the public purview, behind closed doors.

Gernhardt referenced State Code Section 2.2 – 3712 in support of a the FOIA Council contention that such a vague designation as “employees of any public body” does not do enough to satisfy identification of the “subject” of that personnel discussion.

While acknowledging that FOIA law allows excessive detail on specific personnel situations to be excluded to protect personnel interests and privacy, he referenced past Attorney General (AG) Opinions and case law to support the FOIA Council opinion that an excessively vague description of the personnel “subject” as worded in the Town of Front Royal motions do not comply with FOIA requirements to justify adjourning to closed session for the cited personnel discussion.

To litigate or not to litigate, that seems to be the question quite often lately.

The FOIA Council is an instructional and advisory body on FOIA law and parameters for state municipal and economic development officials, as well as a resource for the media and other citizens.

Its perspective on “subject” disclosure is explained on their website, regarding previous inquiries on similar situations in other jurisdictions.

“As previously opined by this office, a motion to convene a closed meeting must contain all three elements (subject, purpose, and citation) in order to comply with FOIA; a motion that lacks any of these elements is insufficient under the law. We have previously observed that there is often confusion in differentiating between the subject and the purpose of a closed meeting. Conceptually, it may be helpful to think of the subject as what the meeting is about, while the purpose is why the meeting is to be held.

“This office has previously opined that when identifying the subject of a closed meeting, the subject need not be so specific as to defeat the reason for going into closed session, but should at least provide the public with general information as to object of the discussion,” the FOIA Council states.

Look at it this way: acceptable “subject” disclosure could be the “Illegal Ancient Aliens Department”; acceptable purpose would be “the assignment, appointment, promotion, performance, demotion, salaries, and resignation” thereof; while acceptable withholding of information would be “allegations of alien slave trade trafficking within the Illegal Ancient Aliens Department”.

However, Town Attorney Doug Napier said many attorneys working employment or municipal law have a differing opinion on exactly where Virginia law, case histories and past AG’s opinions come down on the issue.

Town Attorney Doug Napier says FOIA law is a multi-dimensional minefield of potential litigation if you get it wrong.

“If a motion is worded in such a way as to give a person’s identity away, I’d say you not do it … It is a gray area of law and a balancing act – you want the public to know as much as possible, but if a personal identity is involved you must be careful, it’s tough,” Napier admitted, adding that were a departmental identity included that was a one-person department, naming the department would essentially identify the person. Then if that person was terminated the following day, the public perception would be that person “must have done something wrong”.

Napier noted that he had voluntarily “conflicted” out of advising the town council on the recent budget-related personnel terminations, noting, “I wanted to be taken out of the loop, I work with some of these people every day.” He said council contracted an attorney he did not name who “specializes in employment law – so I would assume these things were done by the book.”

That may depend on whose book was being read.

Contacted about the closed session motions, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick said he believed they had always been worded that way, certainly since he came on board as interim mayor in late May 2019 following the resignation of Hollis Tharpe.

“No one is trying to do anything inappropriate – we’re trying to do things by the book,” he said, observing that the Town’s FOIA personnel discussion motion wording originated with Town Attorney Napier and predated recent, controversial personnel developments tied to his FY 2021 Town Budget proposal.

‘We’re trying to do things by the book,’ Interim Town Manager Tederick says – the remaining question is whose book?

However as observed by Napier above, what the Virginia FOIA Advisory Council sees as “by the book” and how some municipal attorneys or their bosses may “read the book” are often at odds.
From the FOIA Council’s perspective “employees of any public body” does not meet the FOIA requirement for specificity as to the “subject” of a closed meeting. Mr. Napier and other municipal attorneys may disagree or chose to err on the side of caution to avoid possible employee litigation for revealing confidential personnel records.

However, as FOIA Council Executive Director Gernhardt told us, litigation sometimes comes from the other side – the public complaining that required FOIA information to justify going behind closed doors is being withheld by elected officials and their staff.

But if the departmental staff or staffs discussed in closed session January 27 and February 3 are unknown, what is known are the staff repercussions in proximity to those dates.

Two days after the January 27 closed session personnel discussion, Interim Town Manager Tederick has publicly disclosed a series of conversations informing Planning Director Jeremy Camp, Community Development Director Felicia Hart, Town Engineer Robert Brown, Council Clerk Jennifer Berry and Planning Department staffer Matt Farace that their services were no longer needed and their terminations were imminent, if not immediate.

Prior to the February 3 closed session, Tederick presented an FY 2021 Budget to council recommending no staff salaries for the Tourism Department in the coming fiscal year that begins July 1.

If Mr. Tederick’s public statements on the reasons for the recommended terminations and future staffing cuts being tied solely to budgetary concerns and a desire to reduce Town operational expenses is taken at face value, it is hard to see Napier’s caution on violating personnel privacy statutes as coming into play on either date in question. Unless of course those decisions had already been made and the personnel matter of the 27th did not relate to those looming terminations.

And were that true, it leads us to the same FOIA compliance question on whatever date those terminations were discussed in closed session, assuming they were. – It is hard to know when they were discussed since the Town closed session motions do not specify the personnel subject to be discussed, which is at the heart of the issue.

Town Council in open work session mode on Jan. 27, prior to adjourning to closed session to discuss personnel, among other things. Council Clerk Jennifer Berry on the job at back left, was not invited to stay for that discussion.

So, if intentionally or unintentionally, motions to discuss recommended staff terminations behind closed doors were made concealing FOIA-required information whenever those discussions occurred, where does that leave the Town, those employees, as well as town citizens angered by the action and perceived backwards process behind it?

The short answer is that would be up to a judge were a legal challenge of the adjournment to closed session regarding personnel matters on either of the above or any other dates, to be upheld by the courts.

“The public body must still identify the subject in order to make a proper motion to convene a closed meeting. Determining whether any particular motion meets the statutory requirements depends on the facts of each situation and requires a case-by-case analysis,” the FOIA Council notes in its website discussion of previous cases.

We asked Gernhardt about possible consequences of citizen litigation challenging the closed session discussion of the budget-related terminations or any matter found to have been adjourned to without proper FOIA disclosure.

Conceivably, Gernhardt told us the judge could rule the closed meeting or portions of it did not occur and any consequent votes taken are declared void.
Situations have occurred where the judge ordered depositions on the closed meeting’s content from participants and then made those depositions a public record of the illegally convened closed session.

Should plaintiffs prevail, judges have ordered the municipality to pay the plaintiff’s legal expenses. And in some cases, judges have imposed civil penalties of $2,000 to $5,000, ordering the municipality to pay those amounts into the State Literary Fund.

So, it appears the payoff would largely be one of principal and directing future content of Town closed session motions; possibly making the content of a closed meeting ruled illegally convened a matter of public record, as would be any vote or council consensus voiced behind closed doors on such things as terminations.

To litigate or not to … Will anyone choose to legally challenge the Town’s interpretation of FOIA law as it applies to identifying the ‘subject’ of closed meeting personnel discussions?

Tourism, the Visitors Center, staff futures and outsourcing – what does the present and future hold?

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Town Planning Commission, Town Council Advance A.S. Rhodes Temporary Classroom Project



In a unique shared session, the Town Planning Commission and the Front Royal Town Council combined forces to quickly approve the temporary siting of modular classrooms at A.S. Rhodes Elementary School on Strasburg Road, as part of the larger renovation project that will soon be underway. There were no public comments regarding the request.

Acting Superintendent Melody Sheppard answers questions from Planning Commission members. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

School officials and project managers answered questions from the Planning Commission and Council members regarding the temporary classrooms. Commissioner Dr. Cee Ann Davis asked if the Project Team had consulted with the County Health Department regarding the modular building. Acting Superintendent Melody Sheppard acknowledged they had not. Once the commission had completed its questioning, the Commission unanimously approved the request, leading to an unusual lateral pass of the request to the Town Council.

Councilman Lori Cockrell informed the Mayor that she would be abstaining from discussions or votes regarding the School request due to her 30-year career in the School Department. Councilman Chris Holloway voiced concern about student traffic between the modular classrooms and restrooms in the school itself. He questioned the WCPS representatives closely about the location of restrooms in relation to the proposed structure. When a council motion for approval was offered By Councilman Letasha Thompson, seconded by Councilman Bill Sealock, Councilman Holloway offered an amendment to the approval motion that would have required School Officials to add the requirement for restrooms within the modular structure itself. His amendment died for a lack of votes before the original motion went on to approval.

Following the approval of the A.S. Rhodes project by both the Planning Commission and the Town Council, Chairman Doug Jones, and Mayor Eugene Tewalt adjourned their respective bodies, and each met separately for work sessions.

The Town Planning Commission Work Session was largely devoted to a preliminary review and discussion of a potential new facility for the House of Hope, a service to homeless men in Front Royal. The commission received a presentation on the mission and objectives of the Program, feedback from the Commission members regarding necessary steps in working with the town to provide an improved facility for its services. Commissioner Daryl Merchant urged the House of Hope representatives to seek a location that was compatible with Town zoning ordinances. Planning Staff was asked to research property and zoning to support the commission in evaluating future requests.

Aaron Hike from Hike Construction addresses the commission regarding a project to build a set of townhouses on a lot currently occupied by a blighted house.

Aaron Hike from Hike Construction then addressed the commission regarding a project to build a set of townhouses on a lot currently occupied by a blighted house. The lot proved to be slightly smaller than would allow the construction, and the company hoped to either to reduce the side setback through a zoning variance or to propose a zoning ordinance amendment to reduce the minimum width of a townhouse from 20 to 18 feet. They had also initiated an action with the Board of Zoning Appeals for the variance in addition to their presenting a proposal to the Planning Commission to amend the zoning ordinance.

Commissioner Merchant clarified that amending the zoning ordinance to accommodate a smaller lot size would conflict with the requirement for each townhouse to provide two parking spaces a minimum of 10 feet in width. The discussion then centered on the need for planning staff to research what an amendment to the zoning ordinance would entail. The commission agreed that language for an ordinance change would be the likely next step for the Commission to consider. Commissioner Davis reminded the attendees of unintended consequences of ordinance changes.

The commission members then discussed various strategies for helping continuing services during a period of reduced staffing at the Town Planning Department. The town is currently recruiting for a Director of Community Development and Planning.

Watch the joint meeting in this first Royal Examiner video and the Planning Commission work session in the second.

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Council majority moves to lock in half-cent real estate tax decrease



Perhaps the most telling moment in the Front Royal Town Council’s multi-faceted Wednesday evening did not occur at a Special Joint Meeting with its Planning Commission called to facilitate permitting to allow the installation of modular classrooms to allow A.S. Rhodes renovation work to proceed on schedule, nor during a dizzying council work session discussion of financial variables that threaten to jeopardize a $700,000 matching State/Federal funded Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) committed to physical redevelopment of downtown business frontages and the Village Commons and Gazebo area.

With Lori Cockrell abstaining due to her career in public education, the full Front Royal Town Council (right) and Planning Commission (left) minus one absence agreed after some debate on safety issues, to permit classroom modules during A.S. Rhodes Elementary School renovations in the coming year.  Photos by Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

While those two discussions dominated much of the council’s attention, it was a third discussion near the work session’s end related to the funding of the coming Fiscal Year 2021 budget that was an eye-opener on the council’s thought process for the coming budget cycle.

Despite ongoing uncertainty among some on council about the plan to privatize and outsource the Town’s Tourism marketing function in the wake of scathing public and impacted business owner criticism of that plan; and the seemingly unavoidable presence of $29 million in physical capital improvements in the coming budget year, a 5-1 council majority committed to advertising a Real Estate Tax Rate of 13 cents per $100 of assessed value in the coming year.

That rate will maintain Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick and the council majority’s desire to implement a half-cent Real Estate Tax rate cut in next year’s budget. Tederick has commented that implementation of a tax cut despite the coming capital improvement needs will be a sign of the Town’s economic strength despite the $15 million in lost assets it has thus far claimed in the Economic Development Authority (EDA) financial scandal.

Only Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock asked that council at least keep the option of maintaining the existing 13.5-cent Real Estate Tax Rate and Town governmental revenue stream where it is. Sealock explained he had serious concerns about the plan to outsource the Town Tourism function and suggested the $64,000-plus of revenue that half-cent of Real Estate Tax would provide could help fund Visitors Center operations in the next budget year.

To left, Mayor Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Sealock found themselves outnumbered 5-2 on keeping a flat real-estate tax revenue option at least available to the council.

As Mayor Gene Tewalt noted in also expressing a desire to keep the flat tax rate option open, once advertised a tax rate can be adjusted down, but not up. Following the work session, Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson told Royal Examiner that one option available should it become apparent that the Town will need to keep its current revenue stream to fund coming fiscal year capital improvements and operations, would be to re-advertise a tax rate higher than the 13-cent one currently poised to be put forward.

However, several council comments seemed to indicate that as an unlikely option.

Newly-appointed Councilwoman Lori Athey Cockrell said she was in favor of “keeping taxes as low as they can (be)” in voicing support for the half-cent real estate tax decrease being committed to this early in the budget process.

Then Jacob Meza pointed a path forward for council should it do an about-face on the Tourism Department – that path cuts to other town governmental functions to allow the half-cent Real Estate Tax reduction to stand.

At center between Letasha Thompson and Chris Holloway, Jacob Meza may have spoken for the council majority when he said, if not tourism then another town department should be earmarked for outsourcing or cuts to its budget to facilitate a half-cent decrease to a real estate tax rate already 3.5 cents below the median level for Virginia towns.

“If the council wants to change something, I’d rather instead of keeping tax rates high or increasing taxes, figure out what other areas of the budget need to go … I want the council to find the areas that we’re willing to do without or willing to change. So again, if Tourism is the hot-topic button right now if that’s the direction the council wants to go, fine. Let’s figure out what other reductions we can have in the budget … because I can support some of the changes that we’ve made whereas the justifications were reducing some of our tax bases, not find other reasons to spend the money and increase it again,” Meza said.

Following Meza’s call to reduce the town governmental function in some, even as-yet-undetermined way, rather than keep tax revenue at existing levels, Mayor Tewalt polled council on its preference on a rate to advertise. And as noted above, only Sealock expressed support of keeping the option of a flat Real Estate Tax open to the council as a means of funding the Visitors Center function.

Beginning with Cockrell’s call to keep tax rates as low as possible in support of the 13-cent rate advertisement, Gary Gillespie, Letasha Thompson, Meza, and Chris Holloway all concurred to advertise the 13-cent rate, cementing in the $64,629 of lost Town revenue in the coming budget year.

Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson, seated blue shirt, and other Town and County staff, citizens and downtown business owners listen to consultant Craig Wilson traverse the complex and expensive bidding ground of Community Development Block Grant programs and processes. Stay tuned as the interim town manager was instructed to keep council posted on developments as a mid-September deadline approaches and a ‘materials only’ option on façade and other improvements are considered to reduce an exorbitant bid price.

The following day we called Town Finance Director Wilson to see where the Town of Front Royal ranks statewide with its municipal real estate tax rate. While he did not have specific rankings, Wilson noted that the Median Real Estate Tax Rate for Virginia towns is 17 cents per $100 of assessed value. So, the Town’s existing 13.5-cent rate was 3.5 cents below the Virginia town median; the proposed cut will take that to 4 cents below the median level.

According to staff numbers included in the work session agenda packet, the revenue produced at the 13.5-cent real estate tax rate in FY 2020 was $1,744,970. The proposed FY 2021, 13-cent rate will provide $1,680,341, or as observed above, a $64,629 reduction.

Council decided to keep the Personal Property Tax rate flat at 64 cents per $100 of assessed value. That rate provided $597,872 of tax revenue to the Town last year.

See the full Town Council-Planning Commission Special Meeting and council work session in linked Royal Examiner videos:

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EDA: Request for qualifications for the provision of an FY18 and FY19 audit



The Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority (“EDA”) is soliciting proposals for Auditor Services (“Services”). Sealed proposals for this work will be accepted until Friday, March 6, 2020, at 12:00 p.m.

Please submit one (1) original and three (3) copies of your proposal in a sealed envelope marked “Auditor Services,” with the Proposer’s name and address marked on the outside of the sealed envelope, no later than 12:00 p.m. EST, Friday March 6, 2020.

Send to:

Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority
P.O. Box 445
Front Royal, VA 22630
ATTN: Gretchen Henderson, Administrative Assistant

Questions regarding this Request for Qualifications (“RFQ”) should be directed to:

Doug Parsons, Executive Director,
Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority

To access the full RFQ, including Scope of Work and Terms and Conditions, please click here. You can also visit the EDA website to learn more.

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Local pro-militia group vows to support, protect



A band of local 2nd Amendment advocates concerned about the Commonwealth’s proposed gun safety laws returned to state their cause during the Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS) February 18 meeting.

“A few weeks ago, I actually delivered a resolution to you all,” said Sam Haun of Front Royal, Va., during the general public comment period of the BOS meeting. “I’m not going to beat a dead horse and ask you to pick it back up, however, there is a group locally that has been operating out of Warren County and we’re trying to maintain 100 percent transparency for everybody.”

In fact, Haun brought that proposed resolution — which seeks “Promoting the Order of Militia Within Warren County” — to BOS members during their January 7 meeting, saying it is a Constitutional right for Warren County citizens to have a militia. The BOS to date has not acted on the resolution.

Sam Haun said on Tuesday night that his group’s intention is to support local law enforcement and first responders in helping residents during any mass casualty events or natural disasters.

“We’ve even gone so far as to meet with the local sheriff’s department, the town police department and we’re making arrangements now with the local fire department and EMS for additional training for all the members,” said Haun.

At the same time, Haun told the supervisors that he wanted to keep them in the loop about what his group is doing as it progresses.

“The way that things are going, we don’t want to pick up a bad name, so every few weeks, once we’ve accomplished something, we’ll come back and let you know exactly what’s going on,” he said. “That way, you feel a little bit better because you know what we’re doing, and it keeps us in the public view.”

Paul Aldrich, a Front Royal resident who said he handles communications for the pro-militia group, also spoke during the general public comment period of the BOS meeting and presented an ordinance for their consideration.

Specifically, the proposed ordinance relates to State Senate Bill 35, which would grant local governments the authority to ban the possession of firearms in public spaces during events that require a permit, like protests. The Virginia Senate in December 2019 passed the bill, 21-19, along with a party-line vote and the measure is under consideration by the Virginia House of Delegates.

After traveling on February 17 to Richmond, Va., to hear debates on the proposed legislation and to speak with district representatives, Aldrich told the supervisors that he was putting forth what he called “a simple proposed ordinance” that would “handle Senate Bill 35.”

Aldrich said the ordinance states: “The County shall not exercise any ordinance pursuant to Virginia 15.2-915 Section E and Section F.”

“That literally eliminates [the] bill even being an issue here” in Warren County, he said.

Board Chairman Walter Mabe, who represents the Shenandoah District, asked that Aldrich provide them with a copy of the proposed ordinance, which Aldrich agreed to email.
“Our goal is to improve the community, bring the community together, and protect it at the same time,” Aldrich said about the pro-militia group.

For example, during recent flooding in Tazewell County, Va., Aldrich said guys from their group were dispatched to bring supplies — including water, blankets and food — to needy residents. A second group went down on February 17 with more supplies to help out, he said.

At that point during the comment period, Chairman Mabe said he had a question.

“The group that you’re trying to get together, I understand that, and I understand you working with the sheriff,” said Mabe. “Are you working with other groups that are within the area that are trying to do exactly what it is that you’re trying to do?”

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, Mabe said he had spoken with another group that said it had never heard of Haun’s and Aldrich’s group. “I believe there has to be an effort put forth so that everybody knows what everybody is doing,” he said.

Aldrich agreed.

Mabe continued: “If I would want a militia — and I don’t like the word militia, everybody knows that, because it denotes a bad connotation — again, I would like to know who’s in charge, who’s funding it, who’s vetting it, and the 2,800 other questions I have about this very thing.”

Mabe also said that if the County were to “put people out there, they’ve got to be safe and we’ve got to protect the people who, honestly, don’t want a militia. If we don’t do that, we’re behind the curve.”

Additionally, according to the BOS chairman, communications must be key.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much you have to be involved with everybody so that you’re not confusing everybody,” he said.

Aldrich agreed and said his group has proposed an April volunteer day to the Town in which “we’re going to bring the volunteer community together,” including law enforcement from both the County and Town, 4-H, Boy Scouts, the fire department, and search and rescue, among others, so that everyone can share what they do and for their pro-militia group to recruit potential participants.

Haun added that he’s contacted other groups and plans to bring them together for a February 28 meeting, though he didn’t provide details. And he said he’s spoken with the sheriff about possibly running background checks locally rather than having to send potential members down to Richmond for them.

“If we bring the community together, we’re better off across the board, in my opinion,” said Aldrich.

“I believe this county is doing better,” Mabe said, “and it’s because of the new board and I believe we’re doing the right things. We have a request from the people who come in front of us to do the right thing, as well.

“The connotation that you’re putting forward is a tough situation and we have to get past that,” he added. “I don’t want to approve anything that I’m going to have to pay for that’s going to scare people.”

“And we wouldn’t ask you to pay for something that’s going to scare people,” Haun responded.

Similar to the pro-militia group’s stated goal, Mabe said he also wants to help the community and he also wants to remain involved. “And I’m happy to talk with you anytime, anytime. Just let me know,” he told them.

Watch the general public comment period of the Warren County Board of Supervisors’ February 18 meeting at the end of the meeting on this Royal Examiner video.

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Public decries golf course proposal; Warren County supervisors listen



Local citizens prevailed in forcing members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS) to postpone action on a proposed golf course management agreement and lease during a public hearing at their February 18 meeting.

Specifically, the BOS postponed action on a proposal submitted by New Direction Golf Management Corp., which would manage and lease the County-owned and -operated Front Royal Golf Club for an annual $100,000 fee over an initial term of 36 months, with payments on the total due monthly, according to Warren County General Services Director Brandy Rosser.

At the end of the three-year term, New Direction also would have the option to extend the agreement and lease for another three-year term, with the annual fee dropping to $70,000 per year.
Many residents, however, denounced the BOS plan as a huge waste of money.

“We already have four other golf courses” in Warren County, said Gary Kushner, a Browntown, Va., resident who spoke during the public hearing on the proposal. “It’s not like we don’t have golfing opportunities in this county.”

Kushner also wasn’t happy about a Warren County plan “to pay somebody to make money off a County property.”

“It just seems crazy to me,” he said. “Normally, when you lease something to somebody you get a return on it. As I understand it, the contractor is going to take the profit out of this. The County’s not going to get anything.”

Kushner suggested that the item not be considered during the Tuesday night meeting and that the BOS conduct further analysis “on whether we want to keep this property at all and save $100,000 and see if the County can get a tax benefit out of it in the future.”

He also suggested that if the BOS does go forward with the proposal, a profit-sharing provision be added to the contract.

Front Royal resident Paul Gabbert agreed with Kushner, adding that the Front Royal Golf Course “will never, ever be a golf course that people from the city would come to play. It will never be a golf course that would take people away from the golf courses that are already here. There is no way. It’s a shame that [the property] has to stay a golf course when it’s not a money-making golf course and it never will be.”

Gabbert also said that while he didn’t know what the BOS could do with the municipal course, he suggested turning it into a large dog park.

Another speaker during the public hearing was Ginger Morrison Winkler of Charlottesville, Va., whose father Lynwood Morrison of Bentonville, Va., built both the local Shenandoah Valley Golf Club and the Bowling Green Country Club. Winkler said that she and her brother, Lynwood L. “Woody” Morrison Jr., continue to own and operate the Bowling Green Country Club.

Ginger Morrison Winkler said, “There are so many holes here in the county attempting to make a go of it and it would be ludicrous for anyone to think that we have not done all of the things” suggested by New Direction to bolster business.

Winkler acknowledged the legal implications associated with the Front Royal Golf Course, the property for which originally was gifted to the County with the stipulation that it remain a golf course. But, she said, “it seems out of control to keep this thing going.”

“I see it as a losing game,” she added.

Lynda McDonough of Linden, Va., also doesn’t think the proposed $100,000 yearly contract with New Direction is a good idea and asked that the BOS table the idea pending further consideration.

“Why can’t we just give it back to the family” who donated it, “and wash our hands of it,” McDonough asked the BOS.

On the other side of the situation was New Direction Golf Management President Mike Byrd, who told the BOS that it has “a wonderful asset in this community and unfortunately, it’s been a little under-utilized.”

In fact, according to data provided last night by Rosser, the Front Royal Golf Club has operated at an average yearly deficit of more than $100,000 from 2014 through 2018.
Nevertheless, Byrd said that New Direction has evaluated the course “very closely and we see that it could fit very nicely in this community, but most importantly, it’s going to be the leader in growing golf in this community.”

While there are plenty of golf holes in Warren County, he said, “what we need are a lot more golfers.”

Byrd thinks that under the leadership of New Direction, that’s exactly the goal that could be accomplished if the company’s submitted proposal is approved.

“We don’t run a golf course, so to speak,” Kenneth Roko said of Warren County. “We don’t have professionals there, we don’t have a big staff, we don’t cater to the golfing community on a regular basis.

Kenneth Roko of Middletown, Va., a member of the County’s Front Royal Golf Club Advisory Committee, said the group has gone through several iterations of what would be the best choice for oversight of the County’s municipal golf course.

“We have part-time staff there and that’s fine and dandy,” he said, “but if we want to make it grow, we really need to have those who do it for a living perform that service.”

Roko said the committee looked at the economic implications of having a management company run the County’s golf course that could reduce expenditures while growing the game for the area.

“New Direction offers a unique approach,” he said. “They use technology, they use social media, and they’re very savvy … they do a good job of attracting people not just from the surrounding area but from” elsewhere, including Northern Virginia.

Roko noted that hiring New Direction also would save the County money when compared to the yearly deficit it’s experienced over the last several years.

Kushner, however, said there’s an option that hasn’t been considered yet: not having a golf course at the 902 Country Club Road location in Front Royal at all.

Interim Warren County Attorney Jason Ham told the BOS that the proposed management and lease agreement between the County and New Direction was tweaked during the last week or so since the January BOS work session when the proposal was first discussed. He said the contract is in an “acceptable position” for action.

After some discussion, North River District Supervisor Delores Oates motioned for the BOS to postpone the item until its March 3 meeting “so that we can delve into it further,” Oates said, adding that she’d also like to better understand the legal implications of the bequeathing of the golf course by reading the will and testament of the donators.

Tony Carter, supervisor representing the Happy Creek District, gave the motion a second with the entire Board of Supervisors, including Oates, Vice Chairwoman Cheryl Cullers, Chairman Walter Mabe and Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox voting unanimously to postpone their review.

In other action on public hearing items, the BOS also postponed action on a requested conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 64 Rocky Lane in Front Royal, which is owned by Brian and Ann M. Conley of Bentonville, Va.

Board Vice Chairwoman Cullers forced the Board’s postponement of action on the Conley’s request explaining that she wanted assurances from a nearby neighbor that he is on board with the property being used as a short-term rental.

While the Warren County Planning Commission received a signed letter from neighbors Elwood and Barbara Wines in August 2019, Supervisor Cullers wants to authenticate that Mr. Wines actually signed and understood the document, which says he and his wife understand that the Conley’s cottage is less than the Warren County-required minimum distance of 100 feet, but that they don’t object to the conditional use permit.

“I don’t want to drag this out,” Cullers said, “but I want to be comfortable with it.”

The golf course management agreement and lease public hearing are in this first Royal Examiner video. The second video is the complete Board of Supervisors meeting of February 18, 2020.

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Local Government

Warren County budget process continues with requests from County Departments and Constitutional Officers: Airport, Sanitary Districts



The Warren County Board of Supervisors held their second budget work session regarding the FY 2020-2021 budget on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. In this meeting, the Board of Supervisors heard from County Departments and Constitutional Offices. All members of the Board of Supervisors were present for this second meeting. County Administrator Doug Stanley and Assistant County Administrator Bob Childress also attended this second meeting.

In part 6, Stanley gave a brief overview before the first request from Northwest Community Services presented their budget request, followed by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.

In part 7, the Building Inspections/Permits, the 26th District Circuit Court and the Commissioner of the Revenue presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

Ralph Rinaldi discusses the budget request from the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District with the Board of Directors. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

In part 8, the Voter Registrar, County Treasurer, and Parks and Recreation presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

In part 9, the Clerk of the Court, Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Virginia Cooperative Extension presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

In part 10, Social Services and Fire and Rescue presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

In part 11, County Administration, General Services and the Planning Department presented their budget requests to the Board of Supervisors.

In part 12 we wrap up the second budget meeting with budget requests from Airport Services and the Sanitary Districts. This part is a long one – nearly two hours. It ends with some comments from Doug Stanley.

Watch the budget process on this exclusive Royal Examiner video.

Front Royal-Warren County Airport

The Front Royal-Warren County Airport (FRR) is nestled in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley on 90 acres where the Shenandoah River curves gracefully by the Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountains. The Airport is located three miles southwest of Front Royal and fifteen miles south of Winchester. The facility is the home to Cass Aviation, the Randolph-Macon Academy Flight Training Program, the Skyline Soaring Glider Club, and Front Royal Aero Services.

The Airport’s location is just outside the Washington ADIZ which makes it attractive for low-stress flying. FRR has a 3,000-foot by 75-foot runway and offers 100LL aviation fuel. The airport has undergone an extensive improvement plan that includes a new terminal and ramp, resurfaced runway, a ten bay T-hanger, and a 16 bay jet pod unit in 2003. In addition, the Airport is part of the regional general aviation system serving the entire Eastern and Middle Atlantic United States and offers less than a one hour flying time to Baltimore, Maryland; Charlotte, North Carolina; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and New York, New York.

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Front Royal
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Upcoming Events

4:30 pm Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 25 @ 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! Tuesday, February 25 – Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! After[...]
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 26 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, February 19 and Thursday, February 20: Come in for some great stories, songs, and a craft about our feathered friends, Birds!  Siblings welcome. Wednesday, February[...]
10:00 am Day of Giving @ Samuels Public Library
Day of Giving @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 27 @ 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
Day of Giving @ Samuels Public Library
In conjunction with “Love Your Library Month,” Samuels Public Library will hold its first “Day of Giving” on Thursday, February 27, 2020. Thanks to an anonymous donor, all donations made in-person at the Library or[...]
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 27 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, February 19 and Thursday, February 20: Come in for some great stories, songs, and a craft about our feathered friends, Birds!  Siblings welcome. Wednesday, February[...]
7:00 pm Love Revival – FREE Monthly Comm... @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Love Revival – FREE Monthly Comm... @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Feb 28 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Love Revival - FREE Monthly Community Dinner @ Love Revival Ministry Center
Free Community Dinner for everyone! Come enjoy a hot meal on the last Friday of every month at Love Revival Ministry Center.
10:00 am Loom Knit a Kitten @ Strokes of Creativity
Loom Knit a Kitten @ Strokes of Creativity
Feb 29 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Loom Knit a Kitten @ Strokes of Creativity
Loom Knit an adorable kitten. In this beginner’s class for teens and adults, you will work on a 24 peg loom to knit a small stuffed toy. *Instruction will be right handed. No prior knitting[...]
11:00 am Kooky Chefs Cook It Up: Soups @ Samuels Public Library
Kooky Chefs Cook It Up: Soups @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 29 @ 11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Kooky Chefs Cook It Up: Soups @ Samuels Public Library
Nothing is more comforting than warm soup on a chilly day! Learn how to make some yummy soup, and do some taste-testing to choose your favorite. For ages 8 and up. Registration begins January 29.
11:00 am Trauma & Resiliency Training for... @ Samuels Public Library
Trauma & Resiliency Training for... @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 29 @ 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Trauma & Resiliency Training for Early Childhood Providers @ Samuels Public Library
Statistics show us that one in four children will experience trauma by the age of four. This trauma could be abuse, hunger, homelessness, witnessing violence, medical trauma, or grief. We know that a child’s greatest[...]
1:00 pm Bingo Fundraiser @ Elks Lodge
Bingo Fundraiser @ Elks Lodge
Feb 29 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Bingo Fundraiser @ Elks Lodge
2:00 pm Speed Dating with Books @ Samuels Public Library
Speed Dating with Books @ Samuels Public Library
Feb 29 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Speed Dating with Books @ Samuels Public Library
Do appearances, of people or books, influence you?  How much time does it take for you to decide that you are/are not interested? What criteria determines interest? Come spend time in a “speed dating” atmosphere,[...]