On September 25, 2019, the Town of Front Royal held its quarterly Business Forum at Town Hall. As a change, this time the meeting was at 8 o’clock in the morning. This early morning schedule will be continued at the next meeting on December 11, 2019.
Watch the forum in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Supervisors deny EDA request for dismissed charges legal fees – for now
On Tuesday, January 21, the Warren County Board of Supervisors denied the current EDA Board of Director’s request that four past and three current members be compensated for their legal fees related to three misdemeanor criminal indictments brought by the Special Grand Jury empaneled to explore potential criminality tied to the EDA financial scandal and consequent civil litigation.
The charges for unintentional misfeasance and nonfeasance in the conduct of their public offices were brought against the entire previous board of supervisors, County Administrator Doug Stanley and former County and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten, as well as the seven past and current EDA board members. After the charges were dismissed against all defendants as not crimes by statute or even English Common Law upon which Virginia law is based, the previous County board voted to reimburse its members and staff’s legal expenses, with only ousted Shenandoah District Supervisor Tom Sayre dissenting.
North River Supervisor Delores Oates, who made the motion not to approve the request, qualified it with the disclaimer “not at this time with the information we have at this time”. Oates said she did not feel comfortable committing county taxpayer funds to the EDA legal expenses without more information.
Oates, along with Board Chairman Walter Mabe and Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, the latter who seconded the motion not to approve the legal restitution for now, have been frequent attendees at EDA Board of Directors meeting in recent months. All have expressed a desire to work with the existing board to try and right the EDA’s financial ship from past mistakes or allegedly criminal activities orchestrated by former EDA executive director, Jennifer McDonald. McDonald currently faces 34 felony criminal indictments by the EDA Special Grand Jury related to the EDA financial investigative audit and civil litigation.
“It would be ludicrous for us to turn our backs on our EDA,” Board Chairman Mabe recently stated, in stark contrast to the Front Royal Town Council’s increasingly hostile and litigious stance against the Town-County EDA. Discussion of the Town and County roles in support, or a lack thereof, of the current EDA should make for interesting agenda item discussion at Thursday’s scheduled Town-County Liaison Meeting.
Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter argued for the reimbursement, at least partially, noting that the EDA board had agreed to pay the requested total of $36,827.17 back when it was financially able – “though that might not be for a while,” Carter observed.
Carter suggested perhaps capping the EDA board compensation at $4,000 per member since questions have been raised about the disparity in some legal fees, compared to others. Former EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher’s legal bill was $10,000, twice that of the next highest amount of $5,000 submitted by long-time former EDA Board Treasurer William “Billy” Biggs. Other EDA legal fee totals ranged from $4809.17 (Patteson) to $3,000 (Drummond).
Carter suggested postponing a vote, rather than denying the request due to the timeframe around reintroducing failed motions – one year. However, Acting County Attorney Jason Ham verified that a supervisor voting with the majority denying a motion, or in this case approving a motion to deny the request, could reintroduce the defeated initiative at any time.
Consequently, Carter voted with Oates, Cullers and Mabe to deny the request, leaving only Archie Fox voting against the denial.
Watch the discussion on this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Due diligence rather than mistrust of staff led to split vote on County bills
That a change of perspective has come to the Warren County Board of Supervisors was reflected in the second meeting with the three-person board majority seated with the new year in the fiscal, among other saddles, on Tuesday, January 21st.
After a lengthy discussion of what would normally be considered routine business – approval of payment of accounts due, the board narrowly agreed to pay its bills on schedule when Board Chairman and new Shenandoah District Supervisor Walter Mabe voted with the two carryover supervisors, Archie Fox and Tony Carter, to approve those payments.
However, his fellow newly-elected supervisors, Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers and Delores Oates voted against keeping the County current on its bills without more time to verify that they were all legitimate expenses.
After Cullers said she had red-lined a number of items for explanation by staff, Carter suggested she forward those questions to administrative staff prior to meetings to avoid such a last-minute reluctance to pay monthly, or in this case two months, of bills coming due. Cullers responded that there had been two holidays creating a 4-day weekend after she picked the agenda packet up late Thursday afternoon, minimizing the time staff was in office to respond to questions.
County Administrator Doug Stanley said he, the finance director or department heads from whom the billing documents are generated, could generally answer any questions board members might have on accounts payable.
The trio of newly elected supervisors all campaigned on reform of business as usual platforms in reaction to public outrage over the $21.3 million Economic Development Authority (EDA) scandal and alleged embezzlements. And with a number of public, not to mention not-quite-private, comments offered Tuesday night illustrating suspicions that some County administrative staff, as well as past County and EDA board members may have been negligent, if not worse in allowing the EDA financial scandal to develop over several years, we wondered if distrust of staff led to Cullers and Oates votes against approving the accounts payable agenda item Tuesday.
Reached the following day, they said no. In fact, Cullers and Oates both said they were not initially aware a vote against approval that night would delay scheduled payments being made the following day.
“We’re on a learning curve and with the long weekend I did my due diligence going over the payments line by line,” Cullers said, adding, “It’s not that I was suspicious, it was I didn’t understand certain line items. And when I campaigned, I said I wasn’t going to be a bobble-head in approving things if I did not understand them. I don’t want to hold up anybody’s check. I didn’t campaign to be elected to give a negative impression of Warren County. And I don’t want anybody to think I thought anybody on our staff did anything wrong.”
“I didn’t want to rubber stamp something without scrutinizing it. It was not really a distrust. It’s our responsibility to understand where the money is going. We owe it to the taxpayers to make our government more transparent and accountable,” the North River District supervisor said.
Stanley later explained to Royal Examiner that January is the one time each year where the board gets accounts due payable in two months, December when there is only one board meeting due to the holidays, and January. Stanley gave us monthly totals for December and January that were elusive among the 47 and 45 pages of bills, respectively. Those totals were $2,928,773.92 for December and $2,719,279.46 for January.
So, if some of their constituents may be prone to as yet-unsubstantiated theories of public official collusion with a “good, ole boy” network at an as-yet-undiscovered back end of the EDA financial scandal, Oates and Cullers prefer to see their questions and care as simple due diligence in the expenditure of taxpayer money in jobs they are still adjusting to. And it is a first month adjustment period during which they were exposed to their initial Accounts Payable agenda item at a two-month total of over $5.6 million.
Watch the discussion on this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Work session: Town reviews inclement weather policy, new Sheetz project
FRONT ROYAL — Following a closed session to interview town manager candidates, members of the Front Royal Town Council during their January 21 work session reviewed proposed changes to the Town’s inclement weather policy, as well as a new Sheetz Inc. project, signs at the new hospital on Leach Run Parkway, and a water-sewer connection fees waiver request from a local nonprofit.
In an intersection improvements agenda item brought before the Town Council by Front Royal Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp, it was recommended that the Town accept a donation of funds from Sheetz and approve the company’s planned store and gas station project, which will be built on the site of the shuttered Shenandoah Motel.
Sheetz has purchased the motel lot where it will build and this summer open a station with 10 fuel pumps and a roughly 4,900-square-feet store, along with parking, landscaping and an underground stormwater management facility.
A full entrance has been proposed on N. Shenandoah Avenue and W. 17th Street for the Sheetz store and gas station project, which recently received approval from the Front Royal Planning Commission.
However, planning commission members expressed concerns during the site plan review process about general traffic congestion, as well as the narrowness of the intersection on W. 17th Street.
In response, Sheetz has offered to pick up 100 percent of the tab by donating a total of $23,322 to the Town to add a slip-lane that would improve the level of service of the intersection by separating right-turn movement from left-turn movement, said Camp, who also included a draft cash escrow agreement between Sheetz and the Town in the agenda packet.
After Town Councilmen William Sealock and Gary Gillispie noted their own concerns about the project’s start date and the subsequent impact on traffic, Town Mayor Eugene Tewalt told Interim Town Manager Matthew Tederick to place the item on the Town Council’s next consent agenda for action so that the project can get going.
Camp also presented another work session agenda item regarding a Town Code amendment request from Valley Health, which has submitted an application for an ordinance amendment to the Town’s sign regulations, primarily for public safety.
The Town’s planning commission previously reviewed the Valley Health request, held a public hearing, and then approved it.
Specifically, Valley Health’s requested amendment would change existing Town Code regulations to define what a medical center is and modify existing standards.
For example, the maximum sign size requirement would change from a maximum sign size of 60-square-feet to 200-square-feet for wall signs; to 150-square-feet for public ground-mounted signs; and to 75-square-feet for private ground-mounted signs, according to the work session agenda form.
Camp said that such standards are comparable with the standards that Valley Health uses at other new hospital facilities, such as the one in Winchester, Va. And the changes would apply only to medical centers that include medical facilities as part of an integrated development on at least two acres, he said.
Town staff, which does not object to the planning commission’s approval recommendation, on Tuesday recommended that Town Council hold a required public hearing along with a first and second reading for a Town Code amendment.
In another work session agenda item, Tederick discussed changes to the Town’s inclement weather policy for council members to consider.
Tederick said he’s “trying to change the culture” among Town employees, and he said he considers all employees to be “essential employees.”
Thus, the interim mayor provided policy and procedures outlining the responsibilities of essential and non-essential employees — to be referred to as Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees, respectively — during inclement weather.
Tier 1 Employees are those whose job functions require that he/she report to work, regardless of environmental factors, to provide essential services to the public, or provide direct leadership or support, according to Tederick’s outline. These employees would be in a department that typically operates on a 24-hour-a-day rotating schedule or would play a critical role in maintaining the safety and services of the Town.
Tier 2 Employees are those whose job functions are not considered critical for maintaining the safety and services to the Town, and who are not required to report to work during an inclement weather event.
Tederick then described procedures for employees, as well as their pay, when Town offices are open and when there’s a closure or delayed opening.
For example, Tier 1 employees who don’t report to work as scheduled during inclement weather conditions will not be paid, he said, nor granted the use of accumulated leave for time missed from work. Such employees also could be subject to disciplinary action.
It’s also important to note, Tederick said, that employees on vacation, sick, or personal leave, or otherwise not scheduled to work during the affected time period, are not eligible to be paid under this policy.
The other work session agenda item was a request from Habitat for Humanity of Warren County for the Town to waive the water and sewer tap fees totaling $15,068 for a new duplex at the corner of Brown Avenue and Cherrydale Avenue.
“Receiving this waiver will help lower the mortgage payment which will make the home more affordable for the chosen family,” Priest-Cahill wrote in a January 3 request sent to Tederick.
However, instead of issuing the waiver of the tap fees, Tederick recommended to Town Council members that an agreement be made with the property owners to place a lien on the duplex for the water and sewer connection fees.
Tederick cited a similar agreement executed in 2014 between the Town, Habitat for Humanity and a Cannon Street property owner for a waiver of planning permit fees and a waiver for the water and sewer connection fees, according to information Tederick provided to council members on Tuesday night.
Lastly, Front Royal Director of Finance B.J. Wilson presented the fiscal year (FY) 2021 revenue forecast for the Town, summarizing totals from taxes for real estate, personal property, bank stock, sales, lodging, communication, and meals, for instance, as well as expected revenue from water and sewer sales, among others.
Wilson said for FY 2021, the total projected Town revenue is $42,128,597. This would be an increase over both the projected FY 2020 revenue total of $41,586,920 and the actual FY 2019 revenue of $40,814,872, said Wilson.
Councilman Jacob Meza was absent during the January 21 work session, which was attended by Mayor Tewalt; Vice Mayor Sealock; and council members Gillispie, Chris Holloway, Letasha Thompson, and Lori Cockrell.
The Town Council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for January 27 and the council has another work session planned for February 3.
Watch the entire Town Council work session on this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Cockrell sworn in to Town Council among family and friends
It was a family affair as Lori Athey Cockrell was sworn in to fill the unexpired town council term of newly-elected Mayor Eugene Tewalt on Tuesday afternoon, January 21, in Warren County Courthouse Circuit Courtroom B.
Present was a large contingent of family and friends, including brother Clay Athey who preceded her on council prior to his election to the Virginia House of Delegates and subsequent judicial appointments. Sister Kim, also a judge after a career like Clay as an attorney, was stuck in traffic on the way from Richmond.
Administering Cockrell’s oath of office was niece Sarah Jackson, a deputy clerk in the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, as Cockrell’s great niece and Jackson’s daughter Saige, 6, held the Bible upon which the new councilman swore her oath with husband Ricky by her side. During the interview process Cockrell told the media she was poised to retire from her career in county public education and would have the time to devote to the duties of elected office in her hometown. She will face election to hold her appointed seat next November.
The swearing in took place at about 5:15 p.m., giving Cockrell less than two hours to adjust to her role as more than a citizen observer and councilperson-elect at a scheduled 7 p.m. work session.
Mayor Tewalt outlines goals for 2020
Mayor Eugene Tewalt stopped by the Royal Examiner’s studio and outlined his goals for 2020 with our publisher Mike McCool. Watch as they discuss the goals outlined below in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
His goals include:
1 – Closer working relationship with Board of Supervisors
2 – Inflow & Infiltration
3 – Repairs to failing infrastructure
4 – Tourism
5 – Economic development
6 – Beautification
7 – Pedestrian safety
8 – 55+ communities
9 – Police Department
10 – Town Hall meetings
11 – Hiring a new Town Manager
Downtown business, property owners offer Main Street wish list
FRONT ROYAL — Historic Front Royal property and business owners on January 16 submitted their suggestions for what Town officials should consider in drafting policies and procedures for events held in specific public spaces in the historic district near and along Main Street.
Their ideas will help inform the Front Royal Town Council’s establishment of policies and procedures for use of the Village Commons area, parades and Main Street events and road closures, said Interim Town Manager Matthew Tederick, who helped lead the Thursday night meeting held at the Warren County Community Center.
“The Town Council for many years has been struggling to find the right policies and procedures for the utilization of the Village Commons area, various events and parking,” Tederick said during his opening remarks at the forum. “Over the last year, there’s been multiple business meetings and I think it’s culminated in this meeting tonight.”
Hopefully, at the end of the three scheduled meetings — the next two being held at the community center on January 30 and February 13, both at 6 p.m. — Tederick said the suggestions submitted by the property and business owners will become part of a draft he submits to the Town Council to consider as it sets policies and procedures for the historic district.
The area has become a hot spot among an array of business and property owners who remain challenged by road closures, parking lot shutdowns and other event-related consequences that have pitted them against one another over the years.
Tederick said he thinks the current framework “is too loose.”
“I’d like to see a better framework and a framework that would get majority buy in and consensus from the business and property owners in the historic district, but also from the citizens,” he said.
Local author Charles “Chips” Lickson facilitated the meeting, meaning he held court as a so-called forum cop tasked with setting the ground rules, managing the crowd, and keeping the process rolling. Similar formats will be used during the remaining two meetings.
A former practicing lawyer, federal judge’s law clerk, U.S. Army officer, mediator, and adjunct associate professor of political science at Shenandoah University, Lickson told forum attendees that he was hired “to run a tight ship,” which he said basically distinguishes regular meetings from facilitated meetings in that there’s a specific process established for participants to follow.
For instance, historic district property and business owners verbally participated in the Thursday meeting, while historic district residents were invited to submit their comments and contact information to Felicia Hart, the Town’s community development and tourism director.
And Lickson held the audience to the ground rules.
“We are soliciting your ideas with regard to the public spaces in the gazebo area — the historic area — and this includes closures of roads and closures of parking lots,” he said, instructing the property and business owners to not interrupt one another nor attack a speaker for his or her comments.
“This is not the place to make a speech about what your issue is,” said Lickson. “It is a space to make solid suggestions.”
Like Tederick, he called the current Town event process “flexible” and “less cumbersome” compared to some of Front Royal’s neighbors, a few of which charge organizers to hold downtown events to recoup the costs of providing associated town services.
But, Lickson noted, “the truth of the matter is, the Town has got to know what you need.”
Prior to collecting suggestions from the crowd, Tederick said the current process is that an application must be submitted for a special event under a section of chapter 7 of the Town Code, which outlines the related requirements. For example, for a full or partial closing of Main Street, the Town Code says such events may occur two times a month during one calendar year.
Tederick then shared data with forum attendees showing what it cost the Town to provide services during certain events held last year (Graph A); and a comparison of the numbers of events held from 2017 through 2019 in Front Royal’s historic downtown district (Graph B).
For example, he reviewed the total number of Main Street/Chester Street closures during 2017, 2018, and 2019 (top, Graph B) for the number of events held in each year, which totaled 16, 8, and 7, respectively.
“As Town Manager, what’s the right number?” he asked the crowd. “I don’t know what that number is. I’m hoping through this process that we can come up with what the right number is. Should it be 20 (each year)? Should it be five? I’m not here to provide input one way or the other.”
Meeting organizers then distributed index cards for property and business owners to write down one suggestion per card about what they think is needed in public spaces in the historic downtown. The recollected cards then were tacked up so that each attendee could read the idea and vote only one time on each suggestion using a marker to place a dot or mark on the card. If a person didn’t like the idea written on a card, then no mark needed to be made.
Attendees then lined up at each board and began the voting process for each suggestion, which ran the gamut and included those such as:
“Keep downtown events free from Town fees;”
“Eat more ice cream;”
“Limit Full Main Street Closures to One Per Month;”
“Notify Main Street businesses when parking lot will be closed 2 days before event;” and
“Street closures should be less.”
After voting, the forum organizers took down the cards, counted the marks on each, combined similar ideas, and then read the votes for each card having upwards of three votes.
Ultimately, all the suggestions compiled from all of the meetings will be used by Lickson to write a report that he will submit to Tederick, who then will draft recommendations on policies and procedures to submit to the Town Council for possible action.
And the Town Council will be familiar with the process and the suggestions as several of them attended the meeting, including Front Royal Mayor Eugene Tewalt; Vice Mayor Bill Sealock; and Front Royal Town Council members Letasha Thompson and Gary Gillespie.
Some of the process items will be tweaked for the next two meetings, said Lickson, who thought the overall meeting was productive and informative.
Watch the Envisioning Town Commons meeting on this exclusive Royal Examiner video: