In this Town Talk, our publisher Mike McCool speaks with Ken Knesh, Principal at Warren County High School. On December 11, 2021, WCHS will be hosting a Holiday Craft and Vendor Bazaar from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. The school is located at 155 Westminster Drive in Front Royal.
Come out and start your holiday shopping at this event and help support the parents ‘Cat Pack’ programs and the 35 local vendors. Free admission and parking.
Some vendors include Avery Hess, Apron Love, Betts & Coop Boutique, Cardshop Bakers, Chantill’s Cupboard, Collectively Emily, ColorStreet, Darling Daughters Crafts, Dot Dot Smile, Essential Bodywear, Facial Aloe’s, Farmasi, Freshie Start, Malena’s Closet, Mama Bears Canned Goods, Norwex, Pampered Chef, Paparazzi, Park Lane Jewelry, Peace Pillows, and Scentsy.
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied, but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com
Farms POSF board members, supporters ask supervisors hard questions on Sanitary District management transfer strategy
As noted in our first story on action items on the Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting agenda of Tuesday, May 17th, a contingent of seven speakers supported by five written messages forwarded to the board by people who could not attend the meeting, leveled scathing criticism at the county board and staff for actions or inaction related to the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary Districts’ management future.
And for a board majority elected over the past three years on a “reform” platform related to oversight lapses allowing the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial scandal to boil over to the tune of $21 million dollars, it must have been difficult to listen to accusations of possible financial misappropriations, coverups, and a lack of good-faith communications with taxpaying citizen stakeholders directed their way.
Weren’t those the very type of things these supervisors, particularly the three-person majority of Cheryl Cullers, Delores Oates, and Walt Mabe elected in November 2019, ran on platforms to change for the better?
But some constituents with roots in the Farms’ geographically sprawling subdivision in Mabe’s Shenandoah Magisterial District appear to feel those supervisors, along with the more recently elected Vicky Cook and Jay Butler, have collectively failed to live up to campaign promises concerning transparency, accountability, and constituent communications. Due to the Public Comments format, there was no response during the meeting by board members to the criticism leveled their way. Should a subsequent response be offered by board members to what they heard during the May 17 Public Comments, it will be covered in a future Royal Examiner story.
As previously reported, the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms Inc. (POSF) notice of termination of the 2011 Sanitary District Management Agreement between POSF and the County appeared to have been made with the intent of the Farms’ citizen-elected POSF Board retaking direct Sanitary District project management authority. That transfer of authority would take effect at the turn of the fiscal year on July 1, 2022. However, as a number of May 17th speakers, including POSF board members past and present, noted, the County staff and elected officials have ignored as many as six requests by the POSF board for face-to-face meetings to discuss the Farms Sanitary District management transfer. And without notice to the POSF Board of Directors, the County has moved toward a supervisor-appointed Farms Sanitary District “Advisory Board” with no involvement by the POSF.
Following Farms resident and longtime POSF critic Lynda McDonough’s somewhat rambling opening Public Comment beginning with a perceived threat to America’s national sovereignty from public health, global pandemic guidelines being established by the World Health Organization, among other topics unrelated to POSF, things took an unexpected Public Comments turn – not as if that initial comment was expected.
That turn was seven consecutive speakers to the 7:30 PM Public Hearing cutoff time, later followed by five of six more messages from citizens unable to be present at the meeting read into the record by Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi in support of the POSF’s past and future role as the project and maintenance management organization for the Farms Sanitary District.
The sixth letter from Kristin Iden to the board addressed other concerns, beginning with the overly physical taking into custody of 77-year-old Ralph Ennis by WC Sheriff’s Office deputies (Ennis later died) LINK-Body camera footage details circumstances of Ralph Ennis’s April 2 traffic stop; and issues with a deputy serving as a school resource officer she said had bragged to students about intentionally inflicting pain on suspects being cuffed and arrested.
But back to the majority-referenced topic of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District management, speakers supporting the POSF were in turn Tracie Lane, Patrick Skelley, Doris Harrington, Joe Longo, Ryan Messinger, Kathleen George, and Jesse Lepinsky. Beginning with Lane those speakers are called starting at the 7:50 mark of the linked County video. Messages later read into the meeting record in support of the POSF were from POSF Chairman Ralph Rinaldi, Norman Nelson, Laura Corebello, Bruce Boyle, and Dr. Stephanie Shaefer. Those letters are read into the meeting record beginning at the 1:00:10 mark of the meeting video.
All those supporters seemed to have something in common, either current or past POSF board service or involvement with that board as a concerned Farms citizen. Leading off the negative critique of the supervisors and staff was Tracie Lane. She opened by citing her disappointment in having to bring the POSF Board’s concerns about the county’s current elected officials and Sanitary District involved staff publicly forward. Lane’s comments outlined the range of issues the board would hear from those following her to the speaker’s podium.
“For more than a year we have been trying to serve the property owners of Shenandoah Farms by being good stewards of the resources of the community. Repeatedly our requests were ignored.
Finally we accepted that transparency on the part of Warren County wasn’t going to happen and took action and gave notice that we intended to take back the management of our Sanitary District,” Lane said of the POSF notice of intent to terminate the 2011 Management Agreement handing lead authority to the County.
“But instead of the civility one would expect from the board of supervisors for whom many of us voted, we were yet again ignored. When we asked for meetings to work together on the transition, we discovered that instead of answering our questions and working with us to resolve these concerns, we, the elected POSF Board were to be replaced by appointees. This stinks of an attempt to keep all of us, board members and property owners, in the dark. It stinks of a coverup,” Lane continued. – But coverup of what?
On a side note to the background of the 2011 shift of project management oversight to the County, it must be noted that the POSF had served the management role for the Farms Sanitary District from its creation in 1995, until that 2011 agreement. Several prominent POSF critics have given credit for that 2011 management shift to themselves and like-minded Farms citizens. However as would later be referenced by Patrick Skelley during his comments to the board, Rinaldi has noted that he as POSF board chairman at the time brought the suggested shift to direct County oversight forward due to that POSF board’s inexperience in handling a growing annual budget that had soared as high as $800,000. Recently Rinaldi has said he believes the current board is much more experienced to handle such high-dollar budgets, as the POSF has lost faith in the County’s current capacity to do so. That is a theme that would be revisited somewhat harshly several speakers later.
“The Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District is not the personal piggy bank of Warren County,” Lane continued Tuesday evening, adding, “The concerns I have imply that Warren County, not only want their collective hand in the piggy bank, but want the entire bank to themselves. Why else would you choose to appoint a new board, rather than meet with the existing board?” Lane asked those supervisors she faced from the speakers’ podium.
“While I wait for civility and respect, until we meet let me share with you a list of my concerns,” Lane said as she initiated an impromptu POSF-BOS meeting with the remainder of her 3-minute speaker’s time allotment. Those concerns included “Financial” which she began by citing a “lack of financial reports and a failure to respond to requests for those reports for more than 18 months.”
But she was only getting started.
“How has the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District balance sheet shed $700,000 in 30 days? Last time we were here it’s at $2.7 million and when the financial sheet that we finally got the day before our meeting on Saturday, it’s now at $2.04 (million). Where is the carryover from the last two years?” she asked referencing other financial variables involving the Sanitary District manager salary and out-of-Sanitary District budget transfers.
Patrick Skelley followed Lane to the speaker’s podium with a vote of support for the POSF retaking management control of the Sanitary District. He also expressed “gratitude to the County for the administration that they’ve done since they were requested by us” to take over those administrative duties in 2011.
“A lot of people are misinformed and think that we were taken over because of some degree of malfeasance, which has never been proven. Of course, social media is such an accurate reflection of reality,” Skelley joked of a preferred means of communication among some who like to sit on the sidelines and point fingers at those willing to undertake the work necessary to take on subdivision or Sanitary District management responsibilities.
Doris Harrington was next in line in support of the POSF and its elected board of directors of which she noted she was a current member. After acknowledging fellow board member Tracie Lane’s issues brought forward, Harrington observed that, “When we originally wrote our letter of intent telling you that we believed we could effectively manage the Sanitary District ourselves, that our present board had the commitment, the expertise and we felt we could exhibit the sense of common purpose and unity that would allow us for a better meeting of goals for the Shenandoah Farms residents – Nowhere in that letter did I see anything that would lead me to believe that you would dissolve our board if we withdrew from our contract.
“And yet that seems to be what you intend to do. And I’m wondering why. Most of you don’t know all of us on the board … I don’t know why you would appoint X number of people that may or may not have any knowledge of how Shenandoah Farms functions. I would really appreciate an answer to that question,” Harrington told the supervisors, adding that no information had been circulated on the process of the proposed appointed “advisory board” as to makeup, meeting schedule, or qualifications if any.
Her second question involved the lack of response from the board or its staff to what she said were five or six POSF requests “I am aware of” for meetings with county officials on the management transfer.
“Not only do we not get granted a meeting with you; we don’t even get acknowledged … And that just seems so discourteous and so unprofessional. I’m disappointed, I’m disheartened, and I’m very concerned for the residents of Shenandoah Farms,” Harrington concluded.
POSF Board member Joe Longo was next to the podium and things were about to be taken up a notch. He began by citing numerous social, legal, and infrastructure issues the Farms subdivision faced when he moved there 26 years ago. “The sheriff at the time called the roads creek beds and wouldn’t let his deputies drive over them. The Fire Department couldn’t get its equipment to calls.
“Our community was called ‘where the sleaze meets the trees’ in a local newspaper article,” Longo said of the myriad issues he had not been unaware of when he moved into the Shenandoah Farms subdivision. Becoming aware, Longo said he got involved with the POSF Inc. to try and help address the subdivision’s image and reality.
Eventually, during the POSF’s initial run as the Sanitary District’s hands-on management entity Longo noted he became the Sanitary District’s first manager: “I picked up trash, cut back trees, cut grass and did repairs on the community center and the docks. The creation of the Sanitary District made this possible, as well as road construction and road repairs … and as the roads became drivable the local contractors started building. The revenue increased and we were able to repair more roads,” he said of the experience and improvements wrought through the Sanitary District designation.
However, everything wasn’t rosy back then either he observed.
“When I was out working people would stop and threaten me – and they would accuse me of all kinds of things. So, what you’re doing is not new to me and it’s not new to the long-term board members,” Longo said pointedly to the supervisors.
“Until the last couple of years the county government has been a willing and helpful partner in the improvement of our community. We were all shocked at the EDA scandal. We’re now being treated like we’re a part of that somehow. You came in and got rid of all the people who knew what they were doing in this county for the past two decades,” Longo said appearing to reference without specifically citing the forced departure of long time County Administrator Doug Stanley followed shortly by the resignation of Deputy County Administrator and Sanitary District Manager Bob Childress, the latter who brought an earlier career with VDOT to the table of his Sanitary District responsibilities.
“Now you are lost, without a clue. You don’t know how to make this county work. And since you took control our road construction has stopped. We have no clue where our tax money is. We’re still getting road maintenance; we’re still getting snow removal – but we were getting that for $50 a year,” Longo said of Sanitary District fees of 20 or more years ago.
Earlier in his remarks Longo observed that during that earlier time Sanitary District lot fees were $50 per year, compared to $350 now. He also said that between those early days and now, 1700 homes had been added in the Farms to increase the lot-fee Sanitary District tax revenue base.
“Our community has paid millions of dollars in road construction taxes and nothing to show for it. And now you want to do a hostile takeover. You want to bring the same incompetent mismanagement to Shenandoah Farms that you brought to Warren County,” Longo said as Board Chair Cheryl Cullers attempted to get the speaker to wrap up with an expired time notice.
However, Longo was just getting up a head of steam as he continued.
“You’re stealing our road tax money and that’s embezzlement – you’re taking it and using it to pay Warren County bills. And that makes you a criminal organization,” Longo told the “reform board” of his theory of how the Farms Sanitary District money was being misdirected, as Cullers tried again, telling the speaker, “And your time’s up, sir. Thank you,” to which Longo concluded with a flourish, “We’ve invested too much into our homes and our community to let you screw it up,” as he turned from the podium.
“Anyone else, Mrs. Ciarrocchi?” the chair asked the board clerk, which led to three more speakers coming forward to carry the same pro-POSF management theme forward, if somewhat less aggressively perhaps, to the 7:30 PM cutoff for the evening public hearings on scheduled agenda items.
Those speakers were Ryan Messinger, Kathleen George, and Jesse Lepinsky. From their individual perspectives, each addressed themes previously mentioned that revolved around the current supervisors seeming to have taken the side of a few, often vocal POSF critics who admittedly don’t generally bother to become directly involved with POSF meetings on Sanitary District management issues, but choose to criticize and accuse of financial or procedural improprieties at distance.
Some POSF supporters might have wondered if earlier assertions of intentional financial misappropriations of Farms Sanitary District tax revenue by current county officials, and an attempt to cover such misuse up, was the bottom line of the County’s moves against POSF or could it be something more obtuse. Obtuse as in a psychological identification with critics at a distance who scapegoat those in the trenches of day-to-day Sanitary District or County management for removal over alleged, if unproven, misdeeds, as fellow “reformers”.
But we all may have to be on “the couch” way too long to ascertain an answer to that looming question.
School division proposes grading policy changes, relocating LFK students during construction
The superintendent and staff at Warren County Public School (WCPS) earlier this week detailed proposed plans for an updated division-wide grading policy, as well as where to relocate students during upcoming renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School.
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and other division staff provided information and recommendations to Warren County School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice-Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins during the board’s Wednesday, May 18 work session.
In discussing updates to the grading policy, Ballenger told the board that he has been meeting with three committees of teachers and administrators from elementary, middle, and high schools to revise the current policy, which most recently was updated in January 2018.
Ballenger’s presentation to the School Board included the recommended changes by each of the committees at the respected level, and he said a final draft will be presented to the board for consideration.
“We have been able to put out a decent product that teachers are proud of,” Ballenger said about the draft grading policy document.
One of the “biggest changes,” he said, includes the addition of definitions for several terms, including ‘no credit,’ which is defined as a zero for an assignment in middle or high school.
Ballenger explained that all three committees felt it was important to define what no credit means. “It means that you’re not getting anything,” he said. “We needed to make sure that students, parents, teachers, and everybody understood that no credit means a zero.”
For instance, the proposed high school grading policy states that credit will only be given for assignments that are attempted. No credit will be awarded for any assignments that are not attempted.
At the teacher’s discretion, students may be permitted to make up, retake, and/or correct material in a timely manner as appropriate to the course pacing, and students must schedule a time with the teacher that may fall outside of the course’s normal class time, according to the draft document.
The goal, said Ballenger, is to “make sure students take some responsibility for their grades.”
Pence, who said she appreciated the work that’s gone into drafting an updated grading policy, said: “This is going to be a hard year for some students, but hopefully, this gets them better prepared for the real world and college.”
WCPS is now seeking public input on this and all of the proposed grading policy changes. Click here to read through the draft policy.
Draft grant applications presented
WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille, who is also the principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, and WCPS Coordinator Title I & Title III Donna Boies presentation to School Board members with details for the school division’s Title I, II, III, and IV draft grant applications.
The Title I-A, II-A, III-A, and IV-A applications seek federal funding to improve basic instructional programs, teacher and principal training and recruiting, support for language instruction for English learners, and to increase the capacity of school divisions to provide all students with access to a well-rounded education, according to the administrators.
While no motion was needed on Wednesday from the School Board, Rudacille and Boies said a motion and vote for approval of the grant applications will be requested at the board’s June 1, meeting. They wanted to give board members a chance to go through the draft applications now before making any decision on them next month.
Where will LFK students go?
Division staff pointed out that with the construction of the LFK renovations scheduled to start in January 2023, there are several considerations to make now prior to the start date so that the board can make decisions and parents can be notified. Students will be relocated beginning in August, they said.
“We have to have a plan in place,” said Ballenger, who added that staff is looking at its options and what would be the best choices to ensure consistency for students, as well as accommodating for construction.
For instance, one of the challenges is limited space on the LFK property site that will not allow for modular buildings to be utilized for the duration of the project, which is slated to be completed by August 2024, said Livesay.
Ballenger added that the topography at LFK also poses an issue since the school is on a hill. And it’s not feasible to put a modular unit on the asphalt where it would take up parking spaces. Livesay noted associated additional costs to installing modulars, as well.
LFK Assistant Principal Jessica Vacca agreed with Ballenger’s recommendation to relocate fifth-grade students to Warren County Middle School during specific construction phases. The school’s administrators have experience with such a move because that’s what was done during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when students had to socially distance themselves.
Having a school with over 530 students, no walls, and no doors made it difficult to keep students at LFK during the pandemic, so the fifth graders went to the middle school. Vacca said that students and parents did well with that strategy.
Relocating pre-kindergarteners is also a consideration, said Hirsch. Some of the options suggested included moving their classes into available spaces at other elementary schools during renovations or to the Riverton United Methodist Church, which has offered class space to WCPS.
Hirsch noted that there are many students with disabilities among the incoming class of preschoolers who will need specific accommodations, as well, and he noted that minimizing their transitions is key.
Smith said there are also bus considerations to make, as well as food service, access to a nurse, ensuring the facility is ADA compliant, that there are sufficient communications available, and green space for outdoor play. “These are just some of the challenges to overcome,” he said.
Rinaldi said he supports the division’s current plan and recommendations and added that there’s always room for adjustments to be made.
Town hold first public input on Comprehensive Plan re-write, second on Saturday, May 21st
The Town hosted its first public input session on the rewrite of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan on Friday, May 20, and will hold the second one on Saturday, May 21. The location will be at the Town Hall, in the 1st-floor lobby at 102 E. Main Street in Front Royal. This session will be from 10:00 am to noon and again from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
The existing Comprehensive Plan controls development and the Vision of the Town and is 25 years old, so your input is greatly needed to manage development and create a sustainable community.
Please visit https://publicinput.com/Portal/Q6282 for additional information regarding the Comprehensive Plan and to participate online.
If you have questions, please contact Lauren Kopishke, Town’s Planning Director, via Email.
Anne Darby, Planning Department Manager from Summit Engineering, provides an overview at the first public input session.
School Board approves pending $1.9M in bonuses for WCPS employees
The Warren County School Board, during its Wednesday, May 18 meeting, unanimously approved more than $1.9 million to be used to pay a one-time bonus to all full-time and part-time employees of Warren County Public School (WCPS). The Warren County Board of Supervisors also must weigh in on the request.
School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Board Vice-Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins voted yea to the recommendation from WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger to approve giving full-time employees a net payment of $1,500 and part-time employees a net payment of $750. Employees hired on or after January 1, will receive a net payment of one-half of the approved amount, Ballenger said.
The superintendent pointed out that the School Board’s approval is contingent upon the Board of Supervisors approving the necessary transfer of funds between categories for the School Board to execute the payments.
The estimated cost of the bonus ($1,908,452) would be paid with approved fiscal year 2022 budget savings primarily generated from the inability of the school division to fill several positions during the school year, lag pay savings from when an employee leaves and their replacement is hired, and staff turnover savings said Ballenger.
The School Board also, on Wednesday evening, unanimously approved other purchases contingent on the appropriation of funding from the Warren County Board of Supervisors.
For instance, board members voted to approve a $343,600 contract award to Black Stone Roofing LLC, which will replace the membrane roof at the Blue Ridge Technical Center.
WCPS Director of Maintenance Greg Livesay told the board that the existing membrane roof has developed multiple leaks over the years, with previous repair attempts being unsuccessful. He said WCPS staff posted bid invitations online at the end of March, and a pre-bid meeting was conducted on April 13 that brought in eight contractors.
Livesay said five bids were received on April 29, with Black Stone Roofing “being the lowest, most-responsive bidder at $343,600.” The project could to ready to start in early to mid-June and completed within a four-to-six-weeks timeframe, depending on the weather, he said, adding that the contractor has the needed materials in hand, “so there are no lead time issues getting this project started.”
The board also approved the $96,117 purchase of additional Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) kits for all elementary schools and Brighter Futures. WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille, who is also the principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, said LLI was implemented this school year at all elementary schools to help address the reading gaps that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on learning.
The Fountas & Pinnell LLI System is an intensive, small-group, supplementary literacy intervention for students who find reading a challenge, Rudacille said, adding that the goal of LLI is to lift the literacy achievement of students who are not achieving grade-level expectations in reading.
“Schools have requested the purchase of additional LLI kits to support more students in the coming school year and, in the case of Hilda J. Barbour, which has used the program for many years, to also update and replace worn materials,” said Rudacille.
Additionally, the School Board approved a contract to New Virginia Tractor of Winchester, Va., in the amount of $27,903.26 to purchase two John Deere Zero Turn Mowers.
“In order to assume responsibility for the grounds maintenance for both high schools effective July 1, the Facilities Maintenance Department will need to purchase two zero-turn mowers,” said Livesay. “The existing equipment that was provided to Warren County when they assumed responsibility will remain in use by the County as they are responsible for the grounds maintenance at the middle and elementary school until April 2023.”
The board also approved a WCPS recommendation that the superintendent is authorized to request that the Warren County Board of Supervisors approve several fiscal year 2022 Operating Fund category transfers.
“It’s an evening up of the money. A bookkeeping move to move money into the right categories so that we don’t overspend,” said Ballentine.
Additionally, the School Board approved, with gratitude, two new scholarships.
The Limeton United Methodist Church Scholarship will offer $2,500 to one graduating senior at both Warren County High School (WCHS) and Skyline High School (SHS) to attend Lord Fairfax Community College, which soon takes on its new name, Laurel Ridge Community College. According to Ballenger, additional criteria is that one scholarship will be awarded at each school; students must maintain a 3.0 GPA in high school, and awards will go to students in need due to financial hardship.
Reaching Out Now (RON) will provide $500 scholarship awards through the creation of its new Harlee Anne Hire Scholarship Program to support and encourage student-athletes at WCPS. Two awards of $500 each will be made during the 2021-2022 academic school year through the RON Endowment Program to a student-athlete at WCHS and at SHS, said Ballenger. The program’s main goal is to offer financial support to a current senior athlete at WCHS and SHS and “to encourage serious and deserving students to continue their studies after graduation,” he said.
The new scholarship program is named for Hire, 16, who died earlier this month. She would have been a 2024 SHS graduate. Ballenger said she played right field and was a catcher for the SHS Varsity Softball team. “Harlee loved sports” and “also had a servant’s heart,” said Ballenger, noting that Hire had earned the most service hours volunteering for the RON Girls of Destiny Program.
For next time
The School Board tabled action on the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) revised policy GCL Professional Staff Development.
Every employee holding a license issued by the Board of Education is required to complete cultural competency training, in accordance with guidance issued by the Board of Education, at least every two years, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith.
Each employee required to complete cultural competency training also must complete at least one such training no later than the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, Smith told School Board members, noting that this was a July 2021 policy revision of the approved May 2021 GCL policy.
WCPS staff have communicated with representatives from the Virginia Department of Education for an update on the module that has been approved and revised by Gov. Youngkin’s administration, which Smith said is set to release the new module “within the next week or so.”
Board member Salins suggested tabling action on the item because the new module has not been released yet. “We would be voting on something that we can’t even read yet,” she said.
But board member Lo said that because teacher licensure is attached to the policy action, “it’s not up to us; we have to pass this.”
Board Chair Pence said that action on the item can be taken by the School Board during its work session in June when members should have a copy of the module.
After explosive criticism from Farms POSF supporters, County Supervisors settle down, more or less, to its meeting agenda
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chair Cheryl Cullers opened Tuesday evening’s regular meeting open session by commenting on how pleased she was to see a good turnout of people present for the May 17th meeting. By the time the Public Comments on non-agenda items near the meeting’s opening were interrupted to move into the 7:30 PM Public Hearings portion of the meeting, she may have had second thoughts on her greeting of at least a portion of that crowd.
For it appeared a number of them were there to question the Board’s reasons, methods, and motives surrounding issues related to a transferring of responsibility for direct management of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District road and other maintenance projects away from the elected Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) Inc. Board. The supervisors authorized advertisement for volunteers to be appointed to a Farms Sanitary District “advisory board.” It was 7 of 8 speakers, and then 5 of 6 writers of messages read into the record by Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi, who was highly critical of the board of supervisors in this regard. The other two addressed other issues.
But more on that in a forthcoming Royal Examiner story.
For now, we will focus on the meeting’s scheduled action items.
The bulk of the evening’s action agenda was comprised of seven public hearings. Two, including an Ordinance Amendment to allow Conditional Use Permitting (CUP) of a “Day-Child Care Center (Nursery)” accommodating more than six children on Agriculturally zoned land, related to the Rivermont Baptist Church’s initiative to create such a child Day Care Center utilizing its existing Fellowship Hall building across Catlett Mountain Road from the church. A vacant lot across Figgins Road would also be used as a “non-commercial” playground and recreation area for the Day Care Center, the staff agenda summary noted.
A need to accommodate the use to serve working families in the Fork District was cited by the church in its permitting application. The County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the church plan and use. The board followed suit with 5-0 votes of approval on both the ordinance amendment and Conditional Use Permitting for the church Day Care Center.
Four CUP requests for Short Term Tourist Rentals were unanimously approved without Public Hearing Comment or opposition expressed by any neighbors. Those Short-Term Rental CUP requests, in order of presentation, were by:
Soloman A. Stavis at 9 Oak Hill Drive in the Oak Hill Subdivision in the South River District;
Jared Smith at 31 Henry Way in the Blue Mountain Subdivision in the Shenandoah District;
James B. & Jeonghe C. Lal at 280 Overbrook Lane in Shenandoah Shores in the Shenandoah District. During the presentation, it was noted that the Lals were Christian missionaries whose work in Malawi, Africa, took them out of the country for extended periods of time, during which they wished to rent the property on a short-term basis;
And the final Short-Term Rental CUP request was from Rocky Quach for the property at 524 Freezeland Road in the Cherry Ridge Subdivision in the Happy Creek District. During discussion of this Short-Term Rental request, it was noted that the applicant currently resides in San Jose, California, and would hire a “local property management company” to handle the operation and property maintenance. The rental focus would be aimed at families with amenities for infants, including high-chairs and a portable travel crib, made available as part of the rentals.
A final CUP request was from Richard W. Durkee for non-commercial Private Use Camping at two vacant lots in the Riverview section of the Shenandoah Farms Subdivision. The staff agenda summary explained that the applicant’s family has owned the lots in a Special Flood Hazard Area since the 1960s. The original home on the property was “substantially damaged” by Hurricane Agnes in June 1972 and consequently removed. Durkee’s CUP request would facilitate construction of a single accessory structure of up to 216 square feet for the storage of recreational and property maintenance equipment. Staff observed that the applicant “plans to have a recreational vehicle and utilize a port-o-john” while camping at the property seasonally.
Like the six public hearing requests before it, Durkee’s was approved on a unanimous 5-0 vote by the board.
Cardinals beer sales and property acquisition
If the public hearings went off without much, if any board discussion or any expressed opposition, not so for two other action agenda items. First was a Consent Agenda item pulled for discussion on the Valley Baseball League Front Royal Cardinals management request to be allowed to sell beer at Cardinal home games at the County-owned Bing Crosby Stadium. That led to a largely guesswork board exploration of the alcohol content of various beers and of putting a cap on the strength of beer to be sold at games. Walt Mabe suggested a 3.2% cap while admitting no background knowledge on relative strengths of beers.
During a May 10 work session presentation to the supervisors on the team’s plan, Cardinals Vice-President Alex Bigles noted that no higher alcohol-content craft beers would be sold, and extensive security and sales measures would be established to prevent overindulgence and impaired driving away from the stadium after games. Those measures included sales staff training on signs of intoxication, a limit of two beers per customer sale, available breathalyzer testing, and free bus rides from the stadium, as well as no beer sales after the start of the seventh inning of the nine-inning MLB developmental league games.
As that discussion wore on Bigles noted the County had to approve the team’s request to sell beer to allow its state ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control Board) license to be applied for. A turnaround on ABC licensing of as much as a month was estimated by Cards representatives, who said they were pointing to a late June start of the new concession sales. With the board stuck on alcohol content guarantees, Interim County Attorney Jason Ham did a little research with his phone and told the board that mainstream U.S. brand name beers were rated at 5% or below.
After a half-hour of discussion and suggested adjustments to the presented Consent Agenda motion, board attorney Ham did a proxy reading of his rewritten motion into the record for the board. On Vicky Cook’s motion to approve the motion as read, seconded by Jay Butler, the board approved the Cardinals’ beer sales request at an alcohol content of “5% or less” by a 5-0 vote.
Then it was on to the final agenda item of the evening, authorization for staff to move forward on the purchase of an East 2nd Street residential lot at a price of $212,000 that would complete County ownership of the block on which the Warren County Government Center (WCGC) lies. That led Delores Oates into a brief treatise on small government to justify a vote against authorizing the purchase. “We own too much property,” Oates reasoned in arguing against the purchase based on political ideology directed at shrinking governmental functions and apparently future property and space needs.
However, Board Chair Cullers pointed out that a state-mandated staff position was currently officed in a storage space in the WCGC, indicating an existing need for more space in the county governmental center complex, not less. Vicky Cook’s motion to authorize the purchase passed by a 4-1 vote, Oates dissenting.
And after two hours, the open meeting was adjourned at 9 p.m. See all the board’s business, including the latest chapter in the evolving story about the future of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District project management and decision-making advise, in the County video.
Joint motion to continue Luckey hearing toward what – trial date or plea agreement? RSW fatal overdose hearings also continued
A trio of high-profile criminal cases set for hearings and at least one possible setting of a trial date were continued in Warren County Circuit Court on Monday morning, May 16. Those cases, in the order they were called on the May Grand Jury Term Day docket, were Daniel Edward Shifflett, Brian Thomas Martin, and William Raymond Luckey. Shifflett and Martin’s hearing were continued to July 11, at 9 a.m. Luckey’s hearing was continued to June 3, also on the morning docket.
Based on evidence indicating the in-facility sale and provision of a fatal opioid dose, Shifflett and Martin have been charged with Second-Degree Murder in the RSW Regional Jail inmate overdose death of Jonte Smith last December 12. Luckey, a former Christendom College professor and professor emeritus for 30-plus years, was arrested June 25 of last year on charges of “Indecent Liberties” and “Solicitation” of a minor child under the age of 16.
A hint that negotiations toward a possible plea deal in the 73-year-old Luckey’s case were being pursued was offered by Stafford, Virginia-based defense counsel Thaddeus Furlong in forwarding a joint motion with the Commonwealth for continuing the hearing at which a trial date was expected to be set. “I think we are making progress toward resolving this case,” Furlong told the court in seeking the continuance of the hearing.
Judge William W. Sharp granted the continuance to June 3rd on the 9 a.m. docket. The judge also extended Luckey’s $50,000 bond granted conditionally at the Circuit Court level on July 12, 2021. Luckey had initially been denied bond in a June 30 Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court hearing in front of Judge Nancy Reed. Conditions of Luckey’s bond imposed by Judge Sharp include that he has “no contact with minors without another adult within sight and sound of them” and “No contact directly or indirectly with the victim or the victim’s parents”. Luckey was further ordered “Not to counsel or direct or encourage any effort by anyone else to discourage victim, victim’s parents, or other witnesses from cooperating with the prosecution”.
The order forbidding attempts to influence a dropping of the charges addressed Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Samantha Meadows’ concern about the content of recorded phone calls between Luckey at RSW Jail after his arrest and his wife Julie, indicating a possible effort to influence the victim’s parents into dropping the charges, which Meadows noted during that earlier bond hearing would be witness tampering, a crime in its own right.
A pandemic-masked and frail-looking Luckey made his way into the courtroom shakily late Monday morning, with the aid of a walker. Defense council Furlong told the court his client suffered the consequences of an earlier brain injury. In arguing for bond in the lower court, Furlong’s co-counsel Shannon Johnson cited myriad health issues Luckey suffered from that would be exacerbated by continued incarceration. Those included cardiac problems, high blood pressure, and consequences of a past back injury. Defense counsel Johnson also contended that specifics in the Commonwealth’s case against Luckey indicate a comparatively mild incident compared to some of the verbiage included in the “Solicitation” warrant reflecting the harsher side of sex abuse against minors statutes.
As reported in Royal Examiner’s coverage of the June 30 J&D Court bond hearing, responding to his wife’s taped phone conversation comment, “This isn’t what happened” of specific oral or penetrative sexual acts listed in a general “Solicitation” warrant, Luckey replied, “No, it doesn’t say ‘Show me your hiney’.” At the initial bond hearing the prosecution first presented evidence indicating Luckey had offered the child ten dollars to see their posterior, which was declined. However, the prosecution noted that the ten dollars had been left by Luckey, perhaps indicating additional efforts by the defendant that achieved that initial request.
RSW overdose charges
As to the two scheduled preliminary hearings for Shifflett and Martin, the former who also overdosed the day of the Jonte Smith’s overdose death, both were continued to July 11, on the 9 a.m. docket. Shifflett was represented in the courtroom by defense counsel Lou Nagy. Shifflett, like Martin who was represented by Greg Bowman, appeared by video from RSW Regional Jail where they both were incarcerated at the time of the overdose drug incidents of last December 11-12.
As previously reported by Royal Examiner regarding the “Death in Custody Briefing” of RSW Regional Jail Superintendent Russ Gilkison on March 24, the meeting minutes state: “Mr. Gilkison explained that the event took place on the night of December 11 and into the morning of December 12; inmate Daniel Shifflett and inmate Jonte Smith who were both incarcerated; had a medical emergency that was discovered after the fact that it was an overdose. The inmates obtained the heroin (corrected spelling) that inmate Shifflett stated that they were taking; from another inmate inside of the housing unit.”
Brian Martin is believed to be that inmate.
“Staff responded to the medical emergency; performed First-Aid, CPR to include AED, administered Narcan, and EMS was called. Mr. Shifflett was revived about the time EMS arrived on the scene, unfortunately, Mr. Smith was not revived by our staff or EMS and was taken via local transport to the hospital where he was pronounced dead on December 12, at 0120 hours (1:20 a.m.).”
Also as previously reported: “Inmate overdose survivor Daniel Shifflett, 32, and a second inmate, Brian Martin, 34, were indicted by a Warren County Grand Jury on April 11 for Second-Degree Murder in what is believed to have been the 21-year-old Smith’s accidental death from an opioid drug overdose. Other pending charges against Shifflett, who was incarcerated on a Probation Violation charge related to earlier drug offenses when he overdosed inside the jail, include 10 counts of distribution of a Schedule I or II substance for at least a third offense. Martin is charged with eight counts of distribution of a Schedule I or II substance for at least a third offense. At the time of his death Smith was incarcerated on possession of Schedule I, II drugs and a firearms charge.