The Town of Front Royal is closely monitoring the winter weather forecast for mixed precipitation, high winds, and low temperatures and the potential impacts on our community. Be assured that the Town has emergency response plans in place and is prepared to act quickly in the event of Power Outages and other possible issues.
- If you experience a loss of power: report it online HERE or call the Non-Emergency Police line at (540)635-2111.
- To report all other utility or town-related issues: call the Non-Emergency Police line at (540)635-2111.
- We also recommend staying up to date on widespread power outages and other utility-related issues by signing up HERE to receive text or email alerts directly.
SNOW REMOVAL – During snow events, the Town’s priority is to provide emergency vehicle access; therefore, arterial roads (Royal Ave, Commerce Ave, South St, and Shenandoah Ave) will be cleared first. To clear the roads effectively and efficiently, we ask citizens to please assist the Town by:
- Parking off the street if possible.
- Refraining from driving. Removing snow/ice from sidewalks adjacent to your property. Town Code (142 – 4.1) allows property owners 24 hours after the ice has formed or snow has ceased to fall.
- Waiting until after plows have cleared your street to complete your driveway and mailbox shoveling. Trucks cannot pick up plows for every driveway or mailbox, and it is possible your driveway or mailbox could unintentionally get blocked back in with snow.
- Refraining from pushing snow in the street. This will create slick areas in the road when the snow begins to melt and re-freeze. Snow events can be frustrating for you and your family, and the Town makes every effort to clear the streets as quickly and efficiently as possible. As with any situation, if you have an emergency, please call 9-1-1.
Safe, warm & happy holidays to all!
Town of Front Royal
McDonald Defense Counsel Renews Motions, Including for a New Trial, as Feb. 12 Sentencing Date Looms
Federal officials in Harrisonburg have verified that defense counsel for former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald has filed renewed motions seeking a new trial for their client, as well as the overturning of several of the 34 guilty verdicts a federal jury of six men and six women in Harrisonburg delivered on November 1. Verdicts being sought to be overturned include several counts of bank fraud and one of aggravated identity theft. The latter of those charges involves the use of ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran’s name in promoting one of the real estate transactions McDonald was convicted of using to misdirect money to her personal benefit or that of others under the guise of conducting FR-WC EDA related business. Attempts to reach defense counsel about their filing were unsuccessful as of publication.
The defense has submitted its motions, similar to ones denied by Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon at trial, as the sentencing of McDonald, set for 10 a.m., Monday, February 12, 2024, looms over their client, who remains free on bond. The defense motions reiterate points made by federal Public Defenders Office attorneys Andrea Harris and Abigail Thibeault at trial and in closing arguments delivered October 31. The three defense witnesses called on that final day of the trial appeared to be presented in an attempt to discredit some of the 67 witnesses called by the prosecution in the trial that began on August 21 and ended on November 30, following several delays of a week to several weeks due to a need to suspend or reschedule the trial because of medically verified illnesses or issues of involved parties, on several occasions defendant McDonald.
The new motions, like those rejected at trial, focus on the defense’s central contention that McDonald and the FR-WC EDA had entered into a secret agreement behind closed doors to pay McDonald $5 million or more in exchange for her not filing a sexual harassment or assault lawsuit against local government officials over actions she alleges during her tenure as FR-EDA executive director. The lone signature on a defense exhibit submitted in support of this scenario belonged to former FR-WC EDA Board Chair Patty Wines, who was by then several years deceased. The prosecution asserted the signature was a forgery. Other EDA officials called by the prosecution, including board member Ron Llewellyn, also unhappily called as one of the defense witnesses on October 31, denied any knowledge of the existence of such a document. It was noted during trial testimony that such a document could not have been approved without a full vote of the EDA Board of Directors.
The defense motion for a new trial centers on the asserted exclusion of evidence related to the alleged sexual harassment secret agreement. Arguments about the exclusion of a transcript of grand jury testimony given by someone with alleged knowledge of the secret agreement or the absence of that person being called as a witness at trial appear to be at the center of the mistrial/new trial motion. There is also an objection to a related jury instruction given by Judge Dillon, noting that the prosecution didn’t have to produce every piece of evidence or potential witness related to the case at trial.
According to the federal 10th Western District of Virginia website, thus far a hearing date on the new defense motions has not been set for the Harrisonburg federal courtroom.
McDonald was accused of diverting as much as $ 6.5 million of EDA assets to her direct personal benefit out of an estimated $26 million alleged to have been moved under false pretenses during a four-year period (2014-2018) of her executive leadership of the FR-WC EDA. Part of that larger total, a $10-million loan with additional developmental expenses estimated at as much as $2 million, was approved in support of Tran’s ITFederal company’s development plan earmarked for 30 acres of the 148-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park property in Front Royal at the former Avtex federal Superfund site. EDA officials and civil cases attorneys assert that a $10-million loan and subsequent addition of developmental expenses were achieved under false pretenses as to Tran’s ability to achieve his submitted developmental plan. However, at the time some of these McDonald-involved real estate transactions were occurring, between 2016 and 2018, information was being circulated that Tran was planning to invest in other business opportunities at other locations in the county. Tran has said such investments were discussed but never finalized and never signed on to by him.
Samuels Public Library Rewards Young People’s Talent with Holiday Writing Contest
On Thursday, December 7, at 6 p.m. at Samuels Public Library in Front Royal, the library held its annual Holiday Writing Contest, rewarding young people’s talent at every grade level with first, second, and third place for each level, assigned by teachers and other volunteers from the community who served as judges.
A packed room revealed how important this event is to the community. Each child seemed to have his or her own support group present, as in many cases, cheers erupted from a specific part of the room when the announcement was made for the winner of a particular slot. All the winners, individually, walked bravely to the front of the room, where they stood with children’s librarian Michal Ashby, who recognized them, and sometimes read their contributions aloud in the case that they did not want to read it themselves. At the end of each child’s reading, Ashby distributed a prize and encouraged the audience to give applause once again as the winner returned to his or her seat.
The contributions demonstrated insight and maturity, due in part, perhaps, to the books the young people have been reading. The attendance of family and friends implies that the young people are not reading in isolation. Certain reoccurring themes were present in the stories these children told: the importance of family and friendship; the importance of leadership, often exercised by a child; the importance of home as a warm center that offers shelter from the beautiful but sometimes overwhelming elements; and the power inherent to receiving a gift. The stories were not unacquainted with conflict and war; but in each case that this darkness was acknowledged, the main character rises above that evil to bring the magic of Christmas to his or her community. Each story or poem was a testimony to the partnership between the library and parents, dedicated to nurturing the imaginations of tomorrow’s leaders. Looking at the structure, which is Samuels, this reporter was reminded of the words of Audrey Hepburn in the classic film War and Peace: “You’re like this house. You show your wounds, but you’re still standing.” Indeed, Samuels is still standing.
The holiday writing contest is one of Ashby’s favorite parts of the year. She looks forward to it, even during what has been a difficult year. “I’ve been doing it for eighteen years,” Ashby explained, “And it’s, in my opinion, one of the most heartwarming events we have throughout the entire year because the kids get so invested in their work, and they’re so proud of what they’ve done. And then the parents and the grandparents and the siblings, they’re rooting them on. So, it’s a time that I see their self-esteem raised. A lot of them share the most beautiful, heartwarming messages and if you actually listen to their stories and their poems, they really know the essence of what Christmas and Hannukah and all the winter holidays are about.”
Going on to speak about that evening specifically, Ashby said, “I was so touched by some of the poems and the stories.” Ashby hears in these award-winning pieces the indomitable spirit that overcomes differences and brings people together. “What touched me so much this year were the messages of peace and unity, and I think that’s what we need in this society.” She added, “It’s a wonderful way to bring in the winter holidays in the most positive way because you’re getting together two hundred people from the town, and it’s this community, and they’re all proud and joyous for their children, or their siblings, or their grandchildren, and to feel that positive energy is just exquisite.”
The evening ended with refreshments and winners posing for pictures in front of Samuels’ Christmas tree.
School Board Bids Rinaldi Farewell; Votes to Lengthen Contract for Truancy Prevention Officer
The Warren County School Board on Wednesday, December 6, unanimously voted to extend the contract length for a secondary truancy prevention officer from 10 months to 12 months and said goodbye to one of its own members, who is leaving at the end of the year.
School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins were present during the board’s final meeting of 2023.
The meeting was Rinaldi’s last as a School Board member as his term expires at the end of the year, and he decided against running for re-election.
“It’s been a great four years,” Pence told him. “I don’t think either of us could have known when we sat in our training in December of 2019 exactly what the four years were going to look like.”
Pence acknowledged Rinaldi’s passion for WCPS, the students, and the teachers. She also highlighted his work on the board’s Facilities Committee and his input on the renovation project at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School.
“We’re all very appreciative of all of the work and dedication that you’ve done here,” said Pence, who presented him with a wall clock made by students at the Blue Ridge Technical Center and a brick of dedication from the LFK project.
Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Christopher Ballenger thanked Rinaldi for his efforts.
“I want to say thank you for your leadership,” the superintendent told Rinaldi. “I appreciate the wisdom you’ve been able to share and your dedication to students and to the schools of Warren County.”
Rinaldi told his colleagues he appreciated being part of a “good team.”
“It’s great to work with people who are on the same page,” he said. “And this board has been on the same page.”
While he admitted the board has faced some “rough spots,” Rinaldi said the School Board has achieved many goals and it’s been his pleasure to serve on it.
“Dr. Pence and I came on, and then COVID hit, and then we had to hire a superintendent,” he said. “I mean, we were really kind of slammed. So, I appreciate her leadership more than you know.”
Tom McFadden, Jr., elected to replace Rinaldi as the School Board member representing the Shenandoah District, spoke during the community participation portion of Wednesday’s meeting to introduce himself to the community and thank residents for their votes.
McFadden (above), the vice president of enrollment at Christendom College since 2014, has lived in Warren County for 23 years with his wife and 11 children. He noted that prior to his election in November, “there was a lot of chatter on social media about me — continues to this day — and what agenda I may hope to bring to the schools here in Warren County.”
McFadden said that while people didn’t ask him what his agenda was, they assumed certain things about him “due to my affiliation with the Catholic Church.”
“The fact that my children are homeschooled and I did not have any children enrolled in the school system, they wondered what agenda I might be trying to impose,” McFadden said. “I’m here to tell you that my only agenda is to provide a quality education opportunity for every student to achieve their highest academic learning potential, develop positive core values, reflective of our community, and enter higher education or the workforce, their choice, being well-prepared.”
The incoming board member said he also wants to help further the mission of WCPS by enhancing the community’s support of sports, increasing active parental involvement, and providing “clear, concise, and frequent communication.”
During the last few weeks, McFadden said he has met with WCPS principals and learned what they think the School Board can do to assist them with policies or what topics the board should be focused on.
“I’ve told each of them the same thing: my only agenda is to help them,” McFadden said. “I look forward to our working relationship over the next four years.”
The School Board also took several actions during its meeting, including unanimously approving the Secondary Truancy Prevention Officer position from a 10-months to a 12-month contract effective January 1, 2024, and scheduling its 2024 organizational meeting on Wednesday, January 3, 2024, at 5:30 p.m., in the Board Room of the Warren County Government Center.
To watch the December 6 School Board meeting in its entirety, go to: https://wcps.new.swagit.com/videos/283684#
County Board Hears From Outside Agency and Departments on Funding Needs in Coming Fiscal Year
At a work session convened at 6 p.m. Tuesday evening, December 5, in the main meeting room of the Warren County Government Center (WCGC) the county Board of Supervisors got reports from outside agencies and several departments on operations and projected operational costs in the coming fiscal year. One scheduled report on Solid Waste costs and a review of the County’s Tipping fees was canceled due to the reported illness of Public Works Director Mike Berry.
The work session kicked off in its first minutes with a presentation and financial update from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Virginia, based out of Laurel Ridge Community College, followed about 16 minutes later by developer D.R. Horton’s request for a release and reduction in “Blue Ridge Shadows Subdivision Bonds for Roads and Stormwater Management”.
SBDC representative Christine Kriz presented a PowerPoint on the government grant and local matching funded center’s operational parameters across its six jurisdictional areas of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties and the City of Winchester.
Questioned about the service level here and justification of the request for $15,000 in the coming Fiscal Year-2024/25, up from $2500 in the current cycle, Kriz responded that the increase would bring Warren County into line with what SBDC’s other service municipalities contribute to SBDC operations for their levels of financial returns. “I promise, I didn’t just pull (the number) out,” she said responding to Chairman Vicky Cook’s question. “Oh no, I’m sure you didn’t,” Cook responded.
A chart included in Kriz’s presentation showed Warren County with 100 small business clients served by SBDC last year, with $1.078-million dollars in loans achieved for those clients, and sales increases of $180,000 by those clients resulting from those SBDC efforts.
As illustrated in below graphic, those numbers put Warren County in the lower sector of SBDC regional returns, above only Clarke County. However, the chart doesn’t indicate what those higher-ranked county’s contribute annually to achieve those higher numbers; and one might note that the requested $15,000 is one-twelfth of that $180,000 sales increase mark here from the last budget cycle.
Kriz responded to other questions, including from South River District Supervisor Cheryl Cullers on services available on the “Agr-business” and tourism fronts. In the end it appeared the sitting board, minus absent Delores Oates, accepted the reasoning behind the SBDC’s funding increase request.
Bond amounts vs. work left
Kriz was followed to the podium by County Planning Director Matt Wendling, who summarized the D.R. Horton request for a reduction in its outstanding Blue Ridge Shadows Subdivision bonds for “Roads and Stormwater Management”. Wendling explained that portions of the bonds dating back to 2007 for specific phases of the subdivision developmental project had been achieved, at least to some degree, and that the developer was asking that the bond amounts continuing to be withheld be reduced to reflect what is actually left to be done.
Horton representative David Giovannacci (even Bianchini had to verify that spelling with the speaker) joined Wendling at the podium. Beginning with Supervisor Cullers, the board sought verification of exactly what has been completed in regard to roads and stormwater management and what remained to be done in order to assure the County wasn’t left holding the bag of financial responsibility for remaining work.
“My team has been working diligently with VDOT to get each bond’s release. And I think it could take some time for grass to grow,” Giovannacci said of one of Supervisor Cullers’ concerns. “I don’t see that it’s required to keep over $2-million dollars essentially in bonds to look after these things. That’s why we’re asking,” he explained of the release amount requests versus developmental aspects remaining to be covered.
The amount of money involved was illustrated in these passages from the meeting agenda packet: “A subdivision bond for this phase (5) of the development was posted by D.R. Horton to the County on December 8, 2006 for $3,238,631 and was reduced to $611,967 effective March 21, 2007. They are requesting a reduction to bond #929413863 to $112,000 for the remaining VDOT and stormwater management improvements.
“They are requesting a full release of Phase 1 bond and a new bond issued in the amount of $50,000 for the portion of John Hopkins Drive (S), Sand Bunker Ct., First Eagle Ct. and Fairway Ct. additional streets from Phase 1 have been accepted into the State system and this amount would allow for completion of final items on their checklist. The final plat for Blue Ridge Shadows subdivision (phase 1) was approved by the Planning Commission on October 17, 2005. A subdivision bond #964006768 for this phase of the development was posted by D.R. Horton to the County on August 9, 2005 for $6,088,513 and reduced to $1,843,818 effective March 21, 2007. They are requesting release of this bond and a new bond be issued for $50,000 for the remaining VDOT and stormwater management improvements.
While Wendling was able to summarize some input from VDOT on the various involved phases, it seemed the precise detail and written verification from involved state agencies was not immediately available. However, Wendling reported that he had a meeting with VDOT officials scheduled for the following day and would seek to get the necessary verification in writing prior to the board’s next meeting on December 12.
Completing the Agenda
Other presentations included a Review of County Fire & Rescue Department services, a review of the County’s Handbook on Personnel Policies and Procedures; discussion of the Northern Shenandoah Hazard Mitigation Plan and its adoption; a review of revisions to the County Parks & Recreation Department Code of Conduct Policy; and a projected Carryover Package by County Finance Director Alisa Scott.
Fire Chief James Bonzano acknowledged a general tendency by both the public and their elected representatives to resist raising taxes. However, he noted that reluctance was often tied to vagaries surrounding the reasons for tax hikes. He suggested that when approaching a need to hike taxes for services the public depends on and supports, among those Fire & Rescue emergency services, if that connection to specific services is including in presenting a tax hike to the public, much of that general opposition will evaporate. Point well taken, chief.
The County video of all these work session presentations and subsequent Q&A’s will be linked to this story when it becomes available.
Principals Confirm Pending Sale of 53.8-Acre Portion of Expanded SVGC to Local Private School
Officials of both the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club (SVGC) and Dominion Ridge Academy confirmed the pending sale of a 53.87-acre portion of the former Bowling Green Country Club acquired recently by SVGC, to the Christian-based, non-denominational pre-K through 12th-grade school founded in 2006. The school has been seeking to expand its physical plant for about a decade and now plans to do so on the acquired property, which includes a 15,000 to 16,000 square-foot clubhouse.
SVGC owner Richard Runyon described the portion of his club planned for sale as the front 9 of the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club’s Rockland Farm Course, which was the old South Course at Bowling Green.
According to its website Dominion Ridge is a Christian-based, non-denominational pre-K through 12th-grade school founded in 2006, graduating its first class in 2012 as its enrollment grew to about 100. Its current enrollment was cited at 180 by Dominion Ridge Board member and Acting Chairman Michael Graham.
Contacted about the pending sale both Graham and Runyon said they would like to defer further comment on the sale process and potential impacts on their operations until that process has been finalized. Royal Examiner agreed to accommodate those wishes.
Discussion of Poultry Policy in Urban Agriculture Becomes Impassioned at Town Council Work Session
On Monday, December 4, at 7 p.m. in the Front Royal Town Hall at 102 East Main Street, the Front Royal Town Council met for a work session in which they spent a considerable amount of time discussing a proposed ordinance amendment to Town Codes related to poultry policy for Urban Agriculture uses. The discussion had been postponed from council’s regular meeting on September 25. The item was again postponed after an impassioned discussion in which Councilwoman Amber Morris expressed a strong opinion against certain included conditions.
The proposed amendment to Town Code respecting chickens allows for an increase in ownership from six chickens to ten chickens by any residential dweller in possession of a permit, but it may capsize when it comes to a vote because of the regulations that are attached to it. It is these regulations that Morris strongly opposes. They would keep all chickens in coops with a floor space of four square feet for each chicken “and or” – in the language of the amendment – a run space allowing for eight square feet per chicken. “No poultry shall be permitted to run at large,” the amendment reads. Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Lauren Kopishke explained that this “codification” would not be unprecedented, as it reflects the standards by which the Town has operated in the past; it would simply give “teeth” to those prerequisites for owning chickens in residential areas which the Town has historically applied as it inspects, and grants permits. But allowing the chickens to range free in a fenced in area is a priority for both Councilwoman Morris and Councilman Josh Ingram.
Among the many inputs Virginia Cooperative Extension Services Agent Corey Childs gave to council, he claimed that in his experience, six chickens are on the high end for a residential permit. And in a scenario where chickens are ranging free in a fenced area, he remarked that clipping their wings would be a deterrent, but it would not absolutely prevent them from flying over the barrier. While he did not precisely say that free range is out of the question he raised some concerns, emphasizing the importance of cleanliness and advised council to stay on the safe side.
For Morris, this issue is freighted with gravity as she promised one of her predecessors that she would pursue the goal of making urban space friendlier to agriculture. Unlike other council members, including recently installed Glenn Wood, who questioned whether a discussion on chickens surpassing half an hour is a legitimate use of council’s time, Morris considers it time well spent and believes there are many constituents who care deeply about this issue. The reality is that not all permit holders are completely in line with Planning and Zoning expectations, and Morris feels the codification of those expectations would be unfair to them. Non-compliance to the conditions under which the permit was given is a misdemeanor, but Kopishke explained in a private conversation after the public portion of the meeting that in such cases, the Planning and Zoning Department is content to simply revoke the permit without bringing a criminal charge.
After Mayor Lori Cockrell gathered a consensus that further discussion and informed guidance were needed, the item was postponed to a future work session. Having heard from Director of Finance B.J. Wilson, prior to the Urban Agriculture discussion, about a bid from Snyder Environmental Services, Inc., for the 2023 Sewer Rehabilitation Project, a bid which council expects to vote in favor of at the December 11 regular meeting, council quickly addressed several additional agenda items, and then went into closed meeting at 8:40 p.m. to receive legal counsel pertaining to HEPTAD litigation.