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Town ponders blighted structures, Valley Health financial contribution, and more…

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Town Manager Joe Waltz leads another goal setting session. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Front Royal Town Council work session held on September 3rd continued the discussion of goal setting with the following topics: Property Maintenance; Valley Health PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) fees related to its new hospital; as well as reducing the cost of Town Government operations and Public Relations.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt propelled the Property Maintenance issue forward in recent years primarily to target dilapidated buildings being allowed to deteriorate by property owners. Council has been debating code change and enforcement for years, a primary stumbling block being the cost of enforcement.

Work session discussion indicated that the Board of Zoning Appeals has little interest in playing referee in Town disputes with impacted property owners. Councilman Tewalt suggested applying state code standards to town structures and moving forward on that authority.

A council consensus appeared to have staff draft a code policy within the next 90 days.

Valley Health PILOT fees
Also on the work session agenda was implementation of a PILOT fee compensation to the Town for its permitting of Valley Health’s new Warren Memorial Hospital project. After it was brought to their attention by citizens during the hospital zoning and financing discussion, council decided they could move forward with a PILOT fee condition based on the history between the City of Winchester and Valley Health’s flagship Winchester Medical Center.

Council met with Winchester officials in March of 2019 for background on its PILOT arrangement with Valley Health and Winchester Medical Center. An agreement was made in which Valley Health pays the City of Winchester a certain percent of Winchester Medical Center’s profits in PILOT fees.

Council hopes to have a plan in place by January 1, 2020.

Other discussion
Interim Mayor Tederick told council, “I just don’t think we do public relations well at all, it’s fragmented, there’s not a real concerted effort to spread information. I’m not interested in having another department responsible for media relations, but I think we do need another person who can provide good communications with the public.”

Council decided to pursue citing or establishing a staff position as a point of reference for the Town in its relationship with its citizens. It is again hoped to have a plan in place by the turn of the year.

Todd C. Jones, Director of Information Technology explains “phishing” campaigns going around Town.

Another item covered in the work session was an overview of cyber security presented by the Department of Information Technology (IT). IT has been training town staff about malevolent online “phishing” campaigns taking place since 2006 and will continue to move forward on how to identify legitimate emails from fake emails.

It is an ongoing problem that has seen IT staff identify past attempts to access town systems. Staff briefed council on a plan to help mitigate the problem. It will include running members of council and staff through testing involving fake phishing emails to test their ability to differentiate between good and bad emails.

Robert Brown, Town Engineer listens as Vice Mayor Sealock discusses the left turn lane on John Marshall Highway.

Council also discussed the planning needed for a potential left turn lane on John Marshal Highway by Walker Avenue. The plan is to create a thru lane, using the existing eastbound lane as a turn lane to facilitate traffic flow in an often congested area.

Vice-Mayor William Sealock brought the issue forward stating, “At the start of school and the end of school is the problem, when those cars are backed up, you have to go around them – isn’t that illegal without a lane? I want a legal lane to allow cars to legally do what they’re doing.”

The cost estimate based on VDOT projections is $468,000.

Overhead view of proposed turn lane at Walker Ave and John Marshall Highway.

Again cost appeared to be a stumbling block for implementation. Council decided to plan the project in-house in an attempt to cut costs. A time frame for the project and in-house cost estimate are hoped to be on the table within a month.

See these discussions in this Royal Examiner video:

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Tederick contract extended through council’s town manager search

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At its special meeting of June 30th the Front Royal Town Council approved a new contract extending the service of Matt Tederick beyond his previous contract’s end of the fiscal year termination date. The new contract commencing July 1 is on a month to month basis and differs from Tederick’s previous contract in that it is with him as a person, rather than a business entity.

That adjustment led Councilman Jacob Meza to comment prior to the unanimous vote of approval. Meza observed that the previous contract’s structure which did not deduct taxes or include benefits “saved” the Town what he estimated at $50,000. The new contract is at the same monthly rate of $12,500 as Tederick’s previous contract, but notes that the $12,500 “shall be paid net of any applicable withholding or deductions required by Applicable laws and Authorities.”

Without deductions Tederick’s contract equated to $150,000 take-home pay annually. Despite the lost “savings” Meza said he would support the new contractual arrangement.

The new contract observes that Tederick’s tenure will continue “until such time as a new Town Manager is appointed” and the “new Town Manager assumes his/her duties … following a suitable and appropriate transition period for the new Town Manager to familiarize himself/herself with the position …”

Matt Tederick presides as interim mayor during October 2019 meeting. Royal Examiner File Photo

As previously reported, council adjourned to closed session Tuesday evening for a “personnel” matter believed to be the first of two interviews of town manager candidates scheduled this week.

Tederick’s initial interim town manager appointment was approved by a 5-1 vote, Tewalt dissenting, in October 2019, effective November 9, the day after Joe Waltz’s resignation took effect. The October majority council vote to transition Tederick from interim mayor to interim town manager coincided with its vote, also 5-1 Tewalt dissenting, to hire the Damiani & Damiani law firm that shares an Alexandria business address with Tederick, to handle the Town’s civil litigation against the Town-County Economic Development Authority (EDA).

Perhaps ironically, Tuesday’s extension of Tederick’s contract coincided with council’s unanimous approval of a “Reservation of Rights Agreement” concerning its EDA litigation and claim of no liability to compensate the existing EDA for its financing of the Town’s new $9-million police headquarters.

Legal questions surround Town offer of one-time, recoverable FRPD payment

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Legal questions surround Town offer of one-time, recoverable FRPD payment

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Without accepting any responsibility for the nearly $9-million cost of its new police headquarters building, at a hastily called Tuesday evening Special Meeting to accommodate the turn of the fiscal year today, Wednesday, July 1st, the Front Royal Town Council unanimously approved a “Reservation of Rights Agreement” allowing the Town to pay a portion of the first debt service payment of Fiscal Year 2021 on that Town/EDA capital improvement project. The project was completed in October 2018 and the Town has yet to compensate the EDA for any of its costs in financing the project as will be elaborated on below.

Also approved during the eight-minute meeting prior to an adjournment to closed session for personnel matters believed to be the first of two town managers interviews scheduled this week, was an extension past June 30, and alteration to the contract payment terms of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick. That will be covered in a separate Royal Examiner story.

Councilman Jake Meza says the Town saved about $50,000 by hiring Matt Tederick as a contractor, but as of July 1 that arrangement no longer exists. Royal Examiner photos and video by Mark Williams.

As to the Reservation of Rights Agreement with Warren County, the authorized one-time payment of $10,528.95 covers half of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s interest-only payment of approximately $21,102 due at the July 1st start of FY-2021.

Contacted Wednesday morning, EDA Executive Director Doug Parson explained the EDA’s loan to facilitate construction of the Town Police headquarters have thus far been interest-only payments based on a 30-day month. That will change on November 1, when the United Bank loan moves to principal and interest payments. Parsons estimated that would take the monthly payments to about $50,000 from the $21,000 interest-only range.

The United Bank’s interest rate on the loan is 3%. However, the town council has taken the legal stance that it should only have to pay a 30-year, 1.5% interest rate it asserts was verbally promised to it by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. As previously reported by Royal Examiner, that 1.5% rate was tied to the construction project qualifying for a 30-year New Market Tax Credit Program (NMTC) loan with a nine-year waiver of interest payments. However, the NMTC program loans are for municipal capital improvement projects that create new jobs, which the FRPD project did not.

Councilwoman Lori Athey Cockrell took the opportunity of council’s passage of the agreement facilitating a one-time, half monthly payment on the FRPD debt service as an indicator that the council and its staff are working proactively with the Warren County government to resolve outstanding legal and financial issues surrounding the EDA.

Prominent among those Town-County/EDA issues is what EDA officials have called “an undisputed” $8.4 million Town “moral obligation” debt on principal to the EDA on the police headquarters construction project. With interest, the balance on that debt is $8.8 million, EDA Director Parsons told Royal Examiner Wednesday.

EDA Board of Directors Chairman Ed Daley was present to watch Tuesday’s council action unfold. Asked for a reaction prior to having a chance to read the Reservation of Rights Agreement, Daley said, “Anything that moves it forward is positive.”

However, after a closer read, exactly how far forward Tuesday’s council action takes the Town-County-EDA discussion, remains a question.

$440,000 invoice – $10,500 (recoverable) payment

The opening paragraph of the Reservation of Rights Agreement notes that the Town had received a June 2 invoice “ostensibly setting out all costs incurred by the EDA in constructing and financing the construction of the Town of Front Royal Police Department (‘Costs’), including the costs and expenses associated with the loan from United Bank obtained to finance construction (‘Loan’)” and continues to note those costs and loan “are currently the subject of dispute” in the Town’s civil action against the EDA.

It is a civil action in which the Town’s contracted Damiani & Damiani law firm appears to have mirrored much of the language in the EDA’s initial civil litigation against Jennifer McDonald and 14 civil co-defendants and which seeks essentially all ($20 million-plus) of the $21.3 million the EDA alleges was misdirected by its former executive director and her first group of co-defendants. In April the EDA filed a second civil action, adding nine defendants and “not less than” $4.45 million in recoverable assets to its litigation.

But as to that June 2 invoice from the EDA, an invoice implying a request for payment on a debt, according to numbers in that invoice what the EDA presented to the Town was a bill for slightly over $441,300 spent thus far on the $8.8 million FRPD headquarters construction loan balance.

What the County and EDA got in response was the above-cited agreement facilitating a recoverable $10,529 payment that on a closer examination appears to try and legally tie the County and EDA’s hands in future court proceedings.

Legal ties that bind?

That agreement references ongoing “discussions” between the Town and County “which may result in amending the Town’s claims in the Litigation (against the EDA)”.

Contacted Wednesday, County Administrator Doug Stanley said county staff had not been involved in those discussions. Attempts to reach Board of Supervisors Chairman Walt Mabe, Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, and County Attorney Jason Ham for information on the referenced discussions and council proposal were unsuccessful prior to publication.

Reservation of Rights Agreement, Condition 1 states – “The Town denies that it owes any moral or legal obligation to repay the Loan”

So, referencing the “Reservation of Rights Agreement” passed 6-0 by council Monday, it states:

“WHEREAS, to facilitate the discussions, the County has asked the Town to make the disputed July 1, 2020, payment on the Loan and the Town has agreed, subject to the terms and conditions stated herein.” – As noted above, what was agreed to was a payment of $10,528.95, or half of the interest-only payment due for July, under the following conditions:

Condition 1 – “The Town denies that it owes any moral or legal obligation to repay the Loan” followed by Condition 2, noting that its payment is calculated on the unrealized New Market Tax Credit interest rate of 1.5%, rather than the actual 3% bank loan interest rate.

Condition 3 – “The County and the EDA acknowledge that this payment shall not be construed as, considered to be, or argued to be, in any forum, admission for any purpose, including but not limited to of liability of the Town for the Loan or the Costs.

Condition 4 – “The County and the EDA acknowledge that the Town’s payment is for a disputed debt, under a reservation of rights, and the Town reserves the right to continue to deny liability for the Loan or Costs and to recoup this payment should the discussions prove ultimately unsuccessful.

And drum roll, please, Condition 5 – “All parties agree that payment hereunder shall be inadmissible for any purpose except by the Town to recover this payment as damages in the Litigation.”

So, while Councilwoman Cockrell called the agreement a sign of good faith negotiations in the public interest by the Town, adding that news reports the Town is acting other than in good faith concerning the EDA as creating “a false narrative”, is she right?

Perhaps the EDA’s and County’s attorneys would be the best judge of that – hopefully prior to the signing of the “Reservation of Rights Agreement” by County and EDA officials. For at issue appears to be whose rights are being reserved, and in exactly what legal context regarding the Town’s civil litigation against the EDA and any related litigation over the Town’s responsibility to pay for its $9-million police station.

Because according to the document approved unanimously Tuesday night by the Front Royal Town Council, the Town has no “moral or legal” obligation to pay the EDA-undertaken $8.8-million loan that financed the construction of the Front Royal Police headquarters.

Is that something EDA and Warren County officials really want to sign off on in exchange for a one-time, recoverable, half monthly debt service payment?

Let’s see, a total of $20 million or more at stake versus a “recoverable” $10,500 payment – what do you think?

Ed Daley – File Photo.

We asked EDA Board Chairman Daley his opinion on Wednesday after he had a chance to review the Reservation of Rights documents more closely.

“The first the EDA heard of this was last night, which seems odd in that we are asked to sign off on it. But we’ll need to consult with our attorney first,” Daley reasoned.

Of the contention on a lack of Town liability to pay for its police station included in the document, Daley observed, “The EDA was happy to facilitate a project like that. But it was their (the Town’s) contract, their design, we just helped finance it. I think they need to get their financing together and pay for their police station.”

After we read the conditions in the agreement to her over the phone, EDA Attorney Sharon Pandak lauded the opportunity for further communications on Town-EDA/County issues but was skeptical as to a recommendation on the EDA signing off on the Reservation of Rights Agreement as worded.

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Tederick likely to continue with Town

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It looks like the Town of Front Royal’s interim manager may get an extension to his employment contract, which expires today, the final day of the Town’s fiscal year.

Town council members will hold a special meeting at 7 PM tonight at the Warren County Government Center, to consider a contract to extend Tederick’s post.

Matthew Tederick began working as the interim town manager on Nov. 9, 2019, after the council approved a contract by a 5-1 vote with Councilman Eugene Tewalt dissenting.

Tederick has earned a $12,500 monthly salary and a $300 monthly car allowance, while working on a contractual basis.  His contract came under public scrutiny when it was learned that the contract stated Tederick “may transfer and assign this Agreement to Manager’s wholly-owned limited liability company (LLC), which transfer and assignment shall not relieve in any manner the personal duties, obligations and responsibilities of Manager.”

Some citizens have questioned whether Tederick should have been classified as an employee, rather than a contractor.  The state corporation commission’s database lists Tederick as the registered agent of a number of LLCs.

A source close to the negotiation indicated that the new contract could name Tederick as an employee, rather than having him continue as a contractor.  If that happens, at the same rate of pay, taxpayers would pony up even more to offset payroll taxes.

According to the IRS website, employers and employees both contribute to FICA taxes, each paying half. Social Security is 12.4% and Medicare is 2.9% for a total of 15.3% as of 2020.  That means that Tederick would be responsible for contributing 7.65% of his salary; the taxpayers would then be on the hook for the remaining 7.65%.

According to a June 29 Town of Front Royal website posting, there will be a second council meeting this week, on July 2, for “the purpose of consideration or interviews of prospective candidates for employment with the Town.”

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Town to vote on agreement to make FRPD debt service payment

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According to an agenda summary distributed to the media for tonight’s June 30th Special Meeting, the Front Royal Town Council is poised to vote to approve an agreement with the Warren County government and the joint Economic Development Authority to make a scheduled July 1st payment on construction of the new Front Royal Police Department headquarters.

Thus far the now $8.7 million debt to the EDA on principal payments has been publicly referred to, without contradiction from town authorities, as “undisputed” with the dispute over that debt revolving around the amount of interest the Town asserts it is obligated to pay based on verbal promises of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

Perhaps appropriately, this June 22 photo of council is without Mayor Tewalt, who has been a lone Town voice against litigation with the EDA amongst his council colleagues. Tewalt has unsuccessfully sought acceptance of the EDA’s offer of ‘good-faith negotiations’ to determine exactly what the EDA owes the Town in misdirected assets.

It is believed the county supervisors and EDA board have discussed stopping covering what they believe is the Town’s “moral obligation” debt on the town police construction project as of the end of Fiscal Year 2020, which is today, June 30. The specter of which entity, the EDA which has been covering the payments on a contracted agreement on bank financing of the project it oversaw for the Town, or the Town itself, which up to now has had an uncontested and implied “moral obligation” to cover that debt upon completion of and receipt of the FRPD headquarters, will suffer the most credit-wise upon non-payment has likely been a HOT TOPIC of conversation behind closed doors of council, the county supervisors who fund EDA operations, and the EDA board as July 1 approaches.

The June 30 council meeting agenda summary states:

“The County of Warren has asked the Town of Front Royal to make a good faith payment for the disputed July 1, 2020 payment for a loan incurred by the Economic Development Authority (EDA) in constructing and financing the construction of the Town of Front Royal Police Department and the Town has agreed, subject to the terms and conditions stated in the Reservation of Rights Agreement. Council is requested to approve the Reservation of Rights Agreement as presented.”

Whose police headquarters is this – the EDA’s or the Town of Front Royal’s? – Is likely to be an early question if Town civil litigation against the EDA reaches trial.

Contacted, Town Administrative Assistant and Acting Town Clerk Tina Pressley explained a copy of that Reservation of Rights Agreement would not be made public until it and the payment have been approved, if they are, by council. However, by the above wording it appears an agreement in principal between the three involved parties has been reached, rather than to continue a tenuous legal gamble on whose credit reputation will suffer the worst if payments stop being made by anyone on Wednesday.

But on exactly what terms that agreement is poised to be reached will remain a mystery until it is, if it is, reached and that consequent July 1 payment made.

Background

As eventually came to light, the FRPD headquarters capital improvement project did not even qualify for the New Market Tax Credit Program (NMTC) 1.5% rate McDonald purportedly told town officials was secured on the police headquarters construction. A phone call or appropriate question to the program’s administrator, Brian Phipps of People Inc. with whom council met several times would have revealed that fact.

Phipps even advised council during late 2017, early 2018 discussions, including at a January 2018 work session, to take a 30-year 2.65% interest rate guaranteed by a private sector bank because the Town was competing with multiple other municipalities for a limited amount of NMTC funds. It was advice also recommended by then Town Manager Joe Waltz and Finance Director B. J. Wilson.

However, led by Jacob Meza’s stated desire to hold out for the chance at nine years of interest-free payments on a long-term NMTC loan, council ignored the advice of its staff and the program administrator. Consequently, council continues to assert in its subsequent civil litigation claiming $20-million-plus in damages against the EDA that the gap in actual versus verbally “promised” interest payments are part of those damages.

A now pandemic masked Jacob Meza held sway over his colleagues in pre-pandemic times in gambling the new FRPD headquarters would qualify for NMTC funding designed for projects creating jobs, rather than just moving them from one place to another. Below, hard to miss that EDA-overseen in-town redevelopment initiative next door to Town Hall.

Despite the overwhelming amount of EDA projects centered inside the town limits on behalf of the town government, council is also claiming it had no oversight responsibilities regarding EDA activities during McDonald’s decade-long term as EDA executive director during which alleged misdirection of EDA and municipal assets occurred.

Tonight’s vote and the content of that Reservation of Rights Agreement may be an indicator of how long council intends to hold the course on that double-edged legal gamble.

The smart money is on “until after the November election” – depending of course, on the results of that election. Several candidates, most notably Bruce Rappaport and Betty Showers, have aimed pointed criticism the current council’s way regarding their actions toward the existing EDA, and the Town’s planned new unilateral EDA.

As he has on more than one occasion, council candidate Bruce Rappaport, at podium June 22, makes a case against the current council’s actions regarding the EDA – both the existing and envisioned new and totally Town-funded one. But council appears committed to a legal gamble that $20-million in civilly awarded assets from the old EDA would help that new start-up project.

It has been noted by public critics of the County Republican Committee-dominated council and recent austerity moves initiated by Interim Town Manager and long-time County Republican Committee official Matt Tederick, aimed at reducing governmental functions, particularly regarding Tourism, that the Town alone will be responsible, not only for debt service incurred by its new EDA, but operational funding as well. Since an agreement several years ago on double taxing of town citizens, the County took over full operational funding responsibility of the existing joint County-Town EDA.

That new EDA operational funding will include an anticipated six-figure executive director’s salary one Town critic, Linda Allen, recently publicly asked council if it might be considering directing the current interim town manager’s way once his six-figure interim manager’s salary is gone. As captured on Royal Examiner’s video of that June 22nd meeting, Tederick reacted with laughter at that notion.

Properly social distanced, the interim town manager and town attorney during June 22 regular council meeting. Tederick was left laughing at the suggestion he was poised for a third council appointment, though without an ‘interim’ attached to it if council’s new EDA gets off the ground.

Speaking of the interim town manager, the other primary agenda item on tonight’s special meeting of council involves extending Tederick’s interim town manager agreement beyond its current termination date of June 30, until a permanent replacement is named. In that regard, council has also scheduled a work session for Thursday evening to adjourn to closed session for town manager interviews. The field appears to have been narrowed down to a few candidates called in for in-person interviews.

And so the wheels of town government turn as Fiscal Year-2021 approaches tomorrow with the calendar’s turn to July and an election just over four months away.

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It’s back – The Front Royal Golf Club will remain open for coming year(s)

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Like a Phoenix rising from its own ashes, on Monday, June 29, the VA. Golf LLC management team gathered a four-person majority of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, Archie Fox dissenting, to resurrect the Front Royal Golf Club less than two days before its planned closing. That closing seemed cemented for the July 1st start of the new fiscal year after another four-person county board majority, Tony Carter dissenting, rejected the VA. Golf LLC’s initial management offer six days earlier.

All it took was the “little more skin in the game” County Board Chair Walt Mabe asked for on Tuesday, June 23rd. That skin amounted to a $49,000 turnaround in year one of a three-year initial lease period, followed by a minimum $37,000 turnaround in the years that follow.

Rather than the County paying the largely in-house management team $25,000 per year to try to turn an operation losing somewhere over $110,000 annually in recent years, Va. Golf LLC will pay the County $2,000 a month in the first year, followed by $1,000 per month in subsequent years, plus 5% of the management team’s profits, if there are profits.

I’m growing fond of this perspective of our now-resurrected municipal golf course – maybe I’ll learn to yell ‘Fore’ in my declining athletic years. File Photo/FR Golf Club website

And that Louis Nicholls and Ray Nash expect to be able to turn a profit from an aggressively managed, member and guest-friendly golf and clubhouse-based recreational facility along the banks of the Shenandoah River, seems apparent. And it is a belief shared by past members, including a recent Royal Examiner Letter to the Editor writer with membership and golf course work experience, skeptical of the County’s ability or interest in the successful management of a municipal golf club.

Louis Nicholls and Ray Nash expect to be able to turn a profit from an aggressively managed, member and guest-friendly golf and clubhouse-based recreational facility. Royal Examiner photo and video by Mark Williams.

How long that municipal golf club-based management lease will run depends on a variety of variables. The base term is a three-year lease with three, three-year renewal options at the management team’s discretion for a potential 12-years at the helm of what had become a money-pit for a county management team that, as noted above, some club members in recent years felt was unequipped, or uninterested in the successful management of the course on land gifted to this community’s citizens for golf and other recreational opportunities 82 years ago.

In making the motion to accept the proposal and authorize Chairman Mabe to sign a contract on behalf of the County to facilitate operations not ceasing between Tuesday and Wednesday, Cheryl Cullers told Nicholls and Nash that unlike the earlier rejection of a $100,000 management proposal the County would have had to pay to keep the course open, she had felt the passion of the VA. Golf LLC team and had felt bad about its rejection on a fiscal hard line that the County would pour no more money into the support of the course.

“You’re on my prayer list,” Culler said for their success.

“We’re on our prayer list too,” Nicholls said of the new offer that promises payment to the county regardless of when the course turns profitable for VA. Golf LLC.

Only the Fork District’s Fox decided to look this “gift horse in the mouth” saying he preferred an extra $500 cash added to the $1,000 per month payments as opposed to 5% of profits over subsequent years of the lease.

Supervisor Carter countered that 5% of profits could reflect additional income if the course became profitable in the coming years. And he told Fox, VA. Golf LLC would also be paying BPOL and sales taxes to the county on its operations, again adding income the County would not otherwise have.

Not enough, want more cash, not anticipated profits, Archie Fox told the management team.

However, Fox remained negative to the proposal, casting the lone dissenting vote.

There was no public comment, and since the special meeting was for reconsideration of a counteroffer made in the wake of last Tuesday’s public hearing and rejection of their original proposal, no public hearing at Monday’s 35-minute meeting.

See the VA. Golf LLC presentation, their counter to Fox’s arguments, and the board discussion and vote in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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County Board majority says ‘No’ to FR Golf Club management contract

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Enjoy it while you can – in one week with the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, it’s all over.

Kiss it goodbye – as of July 1, 2020, the FR Golf Club will functionally cease to exist after 82 years as the county’s second oldest surviving business, second only it would seem, to Shenandoah National Park. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Videos/Mark Williams

Following a Tuesday evening Special Meeting Public Hearing on a proposal to operate Warren County’s municipal Front Royal Golf Course at an initial annual cost of $25,000 under the management of a private entity created by current maintenance and operational staff, a 4-1 majority of the Warren County Board of Supervisors just said “NO”.

What they said “No” to, only Tony Carter dissenting, was 82 years of local history and recreational property to include golf, gifted to the citizens of this community by William Carson Sr. in memory of his dead teenage son, William Jr.

Carson Sr. was a pivotal member of this community, instrumental in the creation of Shenandoah National Park as a regional and local tourist attraction.

And while Carson Sr. and his son’s ghosts weren’t present – were they? – to hear this personal affront to their gift and their memory, many of those who have enjoyed the scenic Shenandoah River-side, more affordable municipal 9-hole golfing opportunity for much of their lives or who learned to play there after discovering its existence and lower than country club greens fees and membership rates, were.

“They made a mistake,” one angry course enthusiast said as the group left the Warren County Government Center meeting room during a recess following a PowerPoint on the history of the course and Virginia Golf LLC’s presentation totaling 45 minutes, and the hour-and-30 minute public hearing, board discussion, and vote that followed.

What the board majority also said “No” to, was the majority opinion of its constituency that cared to comment. There were 33 submissions by email, phone call, and public hearing comment in favor of the municipal club operational proposal versus a minority of 5. Most of that minority took to the public hearing microphone for lengthy, un-timed statements against the basic concept of governmental provision of recreational opportunities at a more affordable cost to its citizens than provided by the private sector.

Not an “essential service” of government, opponents of the course’s continued operation under County supervision, argued.

A philosophical and financial impasse was reflected between a majority of the county’s elected officials and their constituents regarding allowing the County’s municipal FR Golf Club course to remain operational as a private sector club-generated offer to take over management with a $25,000 initial county contribution was rejected by a 4-1 vote.

Cheryl Cullers appeared to speak for those five citizens and the board majority in stating support of the minority public hearing opinion that the county government shouldn’t “compete with industry” – in this case, the four private-sector golf/country clubs in the county. Though, as was again pointed out by course supporters, it was the gifted Front Royal municipal course that was the county’s first golf course, and one of the state’s first, and it has been the private sector club owners who have chosen to locate here to compete with that state historical site’s course.

The five public hearing speakers against the County’s allowing a newly created private sector entity grown out of personnel involved in an existing resurrection of the course maintenance and future planning were Bowling Green Country Club’s Ginger Winkler, and Gary Kushner, Paul Gabbert, James Harper, and Alberto Medina.

They were countered by four public hearing speakers, Bob Minor, Vincent Page, Chris Lang and a Mr. Gray whose first name we did not get; as well as 15 more people present who raised their hands in support of the pro-golf course management proposal speakers; as well as 12 emails of support (with a 13th email judged neutral) submitted for the public hearing, read into the record by board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi; and two direct phone calls of support board Chair Walter Mabe acknowledged receipt of.

I know I have a mask on, but you can put your hands down – oh, it’s the pro-golf club count, never mind – as the supervisors’ majority eventually did in consideration of your majority opinion.

However, perhaps rather than numbers the board majority was swayed by the dominant amount of unlimited time the anti-municipal golf course speakers were given to state their cases in the new board majority’s meeting format of unlimited public speaker time to express their opinions. Several kill-the-municipal-golf-course speakers went comfortably deep into the 10 to 20 … minute range. Some of those speakers used the lower cost offered by the Virginia Golf LLC group, at $25,000 a quarter of an earlier $100,000 annual management proposal, to argue that the new LLC wasn’t competent to manage the course and property.

Nicholls countered for his group that while the LLC was new, he and Nash were experienced in course maintenance and operations personally. Nicholls also noted the family nature of the group, with his wife’s bookkeeping and sons’ promotional writing skills at play.

Board Chair Mabe told Nicholls and Nash he wished they “had more skin in the game”. A proposal supporter asked how much more “skin” than a significant personal investment and a likely overtime commitment to the project, could be expected of a management proposal. It was a question that went unaddressed by the chairman.

“Give them a shot, what have you got to lose – what are you losing now? You talk about skin in the game, you want to get rid of it and they want to take it – I don’t see the problem,” one proposal supporter told the county’s elected officials.

Louis Nicholls, left, and Ray Nash at the podium, presented a very affordable operational case for transitioning the County’s 82-year-old gifted municipal golf course and recreational property to private sector management, possibly even eventual ownership. However, four supervisors sided with a 5-person minority (of 38 submissions) in saying, “No, not another penny – shut it down July 1.”

County Administrator Doug Stanley noted that the County would have comparable costs to the $25,000 proposal in supporting the property this year without the Virginia Golf LLC contract or golf on the property. And Nicholls’ expressed confidence in turning the property profitable fairly quickly in the wake of the County’s long-term mismanagement so that his company’s $25,000 annual funding request would only be necessary short term on a property the County had been losing an estimated $110,000-plus annually on for years.

However, Tony Carter’s motion to accept the proposal died without a second.

Delores Oates motion to reject the proposal, seconded by Cullers, then passed 4-1, with only Carter dissenting.

Why not 15th-century golf?

South River District’s Cullers then offered a compromise solution, noting that while not a golfer, she had studied the origins of golf, dating it back to 15th century Scotland.

“I’m pretty sure they didn’t have immaculate courses. But they loved the game and progressed through the years. So, why can’t we mow it and have it in a decent shape and let people go out and golf for free? I don’t have a problem with that,” she said of a no-golf-specific funded option.

South River Supervisor Cheryl Cullers, file photo above, had a novel idea – take municipal golf back to 15th century Scotland, unmanicured, unfunded – and it’ll be FREE! Below, FR Golf Club website photo of a man and his dog on the fairway – ‘Hey boy, feel like eating a little grass while we’re out here? The goats haven’t arrived from the 15th century yet.’

Cullers did not elaborate on how resorting to 15th-century maintenance standards at the unforgiving river’s edge allowing for FREE municipal golf, did not equate to unfair competition for private sector courses. But there it is sports fans – get out in the really rough, ruff and let her rip – it’ll be FREE!!!

WAIT, Cheryl – did they have mowers back then, or just use grazing goats? Now there’ another natural hazard in the making.

It now appears that of July 1, without funding or a management team in place, operations and play at the 82-year-old Front Royal Golf Club will cease. That is what County Administrator Doug Stanley said in response to Supervisor Carter’s question prior to the vote on Oates’ motion to deny the management contract proposal. The property’s hiking trails will remain accessible, but the clubhouse will apparently also be closed, Stanley indicated in the wake of the supervisors’ decision not to fund the golf operations.

Delores Oates’, above, assertion on comparable private-sector greens fees at one private county course was contradicted by one spectator who noted the lower fee she cited was only till 3 p.m. after which it nearly doubles. Below, only Tony Carter sided with those seeking to save, not only a golf course but an 82-year-old piece of county history and a personal family recreational legacy to this community’s citizens.

As for the property’s ultimate fate, it would seem the board decision will likely weaken the County’s legal stance in a dispute with Carson family heirs over ownership of the property. It was a court dispute staff and Virginia Golf LLC principals told the supervisors the County likely had the upper hand in with the history of management of the recreational property, with golf, as intended in the deeded gift from William Carson Sr. 82 years ago. By an October civil court date that will no longer have been the case for three to four months.

Other business

Also, on the meeting agenda was the background on the need for immediate movement on acceptance of a $30,000 Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) Coronavirus CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Securities) Act grant to help pay the County’s municipal airport hangar debt service; followed by Sheriff Mark Butler’s work session plea for funding to immediately replace his department’s obsolete and non-functional body cameras; and County Deputy Emergency Manager Rick Farrall’s overview of the status of implementing, with the Town of Front Royal, the County-received federal CARES Act local business and citizen relief funds of $3.5 million.

Board Chair Walt Mabe’s early meeting message to citizens appeared to be, sure talk as long as you want within the 40-minute group guideline, just skirt the personal attacks on, and potential slander of, staff. Opponents of continuing operations of the municipal FR Golf Club took full advantage of the open public hearing speaker clock.

See those topic discussions following the Front Royal Golf Club history PowerPoint, Club Management Proposal presentation, Public Hearing and board of supervisors discussion and vote that opened Tuesday’s Special Meeting – following Chairman Mabe’s public apology to Mr. Kushner for cutting him off after 15 to 20 minutes of public comment at the board’s last meeting; and the chairman’s request that citizens stop berating, personally attacking or perhaps even flirt with “slander” of county staff during public comments, in these Royal Examiner videos:


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