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Town Talk: A conversation with Rick Novak, Royal Cinemas – Free Christmas Movies

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In this Town Talk, our publisher Mike McCool speaks with Rick Novak. Rick is the owner of the Royal Cinemas and Royal Family Bowling Center.

Christmas Movies, they seem to be everywhere – – but no better place to watch than on the BIG screen.

Starting this weekend, December 4 & 5, 2021, the Royal Cinemas in Front Royal will present several FREE Classic Christmas Movies, starting with a naughty or nice triple-feature, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. These movies start at 1 pm.

The next weekend, December 11 & 12, 2021, the movie is Arthur Christmas.  The final in the series is on December 18 & 19, 2021, and that is White Christmas.


On Thursday, December 16, 2021, there will be the adult Christmas Classic National Lampoons Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase. This movie starts at 7:30 pm.

Jean Plauger of Jeans Jewelers and Tana Hoffman of Sager Realty have co-sponsored this event. If you see them, please thank them as well.

The first 75 children 13 and under will receive a free child combo for the first two movies in the series.

Watch the video for a special offer for Clifford the Big Red Dog starting this Friday.


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

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McFadden: Resigned or is he? Hicks: Fired or is he? Legal questions follow Aug. 8 council work session – or was it a meeting first?

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Joseph McFadden was philosophical in discussing second thoughts on his sudden resignation on August 8 in the wake of the Front Royal Town Council’s 4-3 vote to immediately terminate Town Manager Steven Hicks. During a Saturday, August 13th phone conversation McFadden confirmed a letter he sent the previous day to Town Hall asking the mayor and council to rescind his resignation as not having been properly submitted by Robert’s Rules of Order.

“It looks like I can withdraw my ‘motion’ to resign … with no acknowledgment by the chair or vote by the members (to accept his resignation) does my motion to resign die on the floor?” McFadden asked of Robert’s Rules of Order guidelines presented to him following his verbal resignation in reaction to the Hicks’ termination.

While standing by his original comments the following day that it was somewhat of a relief to have removed himself from an increasingly contentious political situation within Town Hall, McFadden said that after being approached by a number of constituents and two fellow council members about disappointment in his decision to resign in protest of the majority vote to immediately terminate the town manager without what he considered substantiation of the accusations made against Hicks in closed session, he would be willing to return to council were he allowed to. However, he added that if his request to withdraw his resignation as not properly acknowledged by the mayor and presented to council for a vote accepting it was denied, he would not seek court action to reinstate him.

Perhaps I acted rashly, (former?) Councilman Joe McFadden is now thinking after feedback from constituents and some council colleagues.


 

“This whole thing is a debacle – my resignation was a debacle,” McFadden observed of legal questions that have been raised concerning both Town Manager Hicks’ termination and his subsequent verbal resignation. In fact, McFadden wondered if Hicks was legally terminated as town manager, does he remain the council-appointed Director of FREDA, the Town’s unilateral Economic Development Authority.

As to the emotion involved in his decision, McFadden confirmed that he was not in a good emotional place following what he termed a “very difficult closed session” following planning commission interviews completed after about the first half hour of the one-hour-and-35 minute closed door session. The fact that the meeting fell on the third anniversary of his mother’s death, which has been an emotionally trying day for him each year since her passing, didn’t help either, he said.

“Personally I’m glad to be off. But it’s never been for me. I’m only here trying to represent people – all the people, not just one political party or philosophical group. I was most relieved to get off initially – it is a burden, but it is also a service,” McFadden said of the renewed sense of responsibility he feels to those who voted for him and wish to see him serve out his full 4-year term.

About that termination vote

As for questions surrounding the legality of a motion and vote out of closed session to terminate the town manager, those revolve around whether council was in a meeting or a work session out of the closed Executive Session on August 8. It has been pointed out that public bodies can’t take action at work sessions, only at meetings.

This reporter discussed that dynamic with Deputy, soon-to-be Interim Town Attorney George Sonnett the day after Hicks’ termination and McFadden’s resignation. And while the August 8 gathering of council was advertised as a “Special Work Session” with an added closed Executive Session attached, Sonnett’s opinion was that by town code Closed Sessions must be convened at an open meeting of council. Consequently, when council came out of Executive Session on August 8, it was to the open meeting they convened the closed session from. Hence, action could be taken before convening to the Special Work Session.

Deputy and soon-to-be Interim Town Attorney George Sonnett, reentering the meeting room Aug. 8, has likely been an extra-busy blur in the wake of Aug. 8 council actions – were they legal or weren’t they, that remains a question for many.

 

Royal Examiner contacted the mayor and council about these divergent theories on whether they were in a meeting or work session when the vote to terminate Steven Hicks was taken. The only answer we have yet received was from Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell, who voted with McFadden and Letasha Thompson not to terminate the town manager on August 8.

“With respect to your question regarding the legality of voting during a work session, since I am not an attorney, I am forced to rely on the opinion of the town’s legal council who was present during the work session. Although, I must admit I do not ever recall voting on any matter during any previous work sessions while serving on council. Therefore to respond to your inquiry, I have requested that the interim town attorney provide a written legal opinion to the council and to the local news media explaining why taking a vote during that work session was within council’s legal rights and responsibilities. I am hopeful that his response will clear up any questions or concerns that citizens may have,” Cockrell, who is the only candidate for mayor on the November ballot replied by email.

As to McFadden’s resignation, Cockrell added, “Since Mr. McFadden was elected by the citizens of Front Royal, I am uncomfortable with removing him from office. However, some members of council believe the withdrawal of the resignation was legally ineffective. As a result, I have requested a consensus of my fellow councilmen to seek an impartial opinion by the Virginia Attorney General concerning this matter. I think this course of action best insures the continued trust of our citizens in the electoral process.”

Where to from here, Mayor Holloway and Vice-Mayor Cockrell in foreground may have been wondering as things were about to get interesting on Aug. 8 in the FR Town Hall meeting room.

 

After 20-month tenure Steven Hicks ousted as Front Royal Town Manager

 

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County Planning Commission: No letup in Short-Term Tourist Rental Permit Requests

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The Warren County Planning Commission held a work session prior to their regular meeting on August 10.  The work session focused on the ongoing work on the County Comprehensive Plan.  The Planning Department staff provided a variety of demographic data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources, which will be updated and included in the plan.  Unfortunately, 2020 Census Data, which was scheduled to be released in April 2022, has now been delayed until November, and at the same time, decisions about growth and direction must be made.  When asked if the final Comprehensive Plan would be able to incorporate the new Census data, Planning Director Matt Wendling said, “The data in the plan will be the most up-to-date we can get.”

The work session included an extensive discussion of the wage range and population makeup statistics that did not yet include an age breakdown, which, as Vice Chairman Hugh Henry pointed out, is vitally important when planning land use.  Senior housing needs are significantly different than working families, and understanding trends will help the County and potential developers find the right mix of homes and employment opportunities.  Planning Director Wendling acknowledged that a good part of the analysis of available data is data mining, which is time and labor-intensive.  Commissioner Kersjes suggested that the planning staff investigate enlisting help from local colleges as a useful project, perhaps as an internship.  Given that current projections indicate Warren County will near 50,000 population by 2040, housing, infrastructure, and employment opportunities will have to grow along with it.

County Planning Commission, still a member short, hopes for a new member to be approved by supervisors, facing a continued onslaught of Conditional Use Permits and work on the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

Still with four members since June, when former Shenandoah District Commissioner Joe Longo resigned, the commission convened its regular monthly meeting following the work session.  They heard from Planning Director Wendling that a proposed new member is pending approval by the Board of Supervisors. That would bring the commission back up to full strength.


The Commission held six public hearings for Conditional Use Permits (CUPs).  All six were applications for short-term tourist rentals.  They included:

Michelle Moriarty – A request for a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 96 Cappy Road. The property is zoned Residential One (R-1), located in the Happy Creek Magisterial District. With no public objection, the commission unanimously voted to recommend approval.

Kendra Hansen, Kathryn Stuart, Simon Sarver & Michael Cherubin – A request for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental on R-1 zoned property located at 97 River Overlook Road in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.  During the public hearing, one neighbor, Claire Fay, objected to the presence on the property of several fire pits, and expressed concern about the fire danger if guests were to carelessly use them.  Applicant Simon Sarver responded that they had already removed all but one of the fire pits, and the remaining one was a moveable metal one.  The commission members discussed the challenge of enforcing what is already prohibited (open fires) in the supplemental regulations for short-term rentals.  Eventually, Vice-Chairman Henry asked the applicant if it was possible to lock up the moveable fire pit when guests would be present, and the applicant agreed that it could be locked in a storage building.  With no further objections, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.

CAZA Legacy LLC – A request for a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental for a property at 241 Wildcat Drive.  The property is zoned Residential One (R-1) and located in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.  This application contained a waiver request to reduce the required setback from neighboring properties from 100 feet to 50 feet.  In support of the request, the neighboring property owner had submitted a letter supporting the permit and the requested waiver.  With that support from the impacted neighbor, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.

Erin Kavanagh addresses the Planning Commission to explain his application for a setback waiver for his short-term rental CUP.

Matthew Williams & Jay Gilbert – A request for a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 244 Delicious Road on Residential One (R-1) zoned property in the Happy Creek Magisterial District. The commission heard comments from the planning director that all requirements had been met, but an Apple Mountain Lake Subdivision Home Owners Association letter of “no objection” had not been received.  The commission then unanimously voted to recommend approval.

Matthew Williams & Jay Gilbert – Their second request for a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental was at 115 Lonesome Flats Road. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and located in the Fork Magisterial District.  This application had generated a single letter objecting to the use from John Croft, who lives on the same road.  His objections fall along familiar themes – short-term rentals are bad for the neighborhood, short-term tenants are not good neighbors, dangers from shooting, noise from parties, or other illegal activities.  The Chairman pointed out that these concerns were why the County added supplemental regulations for short-term tourist rentals to prohibit these and other problematic activities.  He noted that the permit can be revoked if a property owner fails to inform guests and enforce the regulations.  The commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the request.

Thomas L. Pigeon submitted a request for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental at 540 Lakeside Drive.  The property is zoned Residential One (R-1) and located in the Fork Magisterial District.  This application drew two speakers who raised concerns about the on-site septic system.  Barbara Sealock also acknowledged that the supplemental regulations answered some of her questions, but she also remained concerned about whether guests’ pets would be unconstrained in the neighborhood.

Katsiaryna Holder told the commissioners that she owns an adjoining property and is building a house there.  Her concern was the septic system as it was built could have an impact on her home, for which a building permit was just issued.

Property owner Katsiariyna Holder explains her concerns about the approval of a short-term tourist rental next to her home under construction on Lakeside Drive. Commissioners discussed the concerns and eventually decided that the septic system at issue was not a risk to other properties, provided it was properly maintained.

The commissioners reviewed the documentation provided with the application that identified the alter native discharge system on the applicant’s property, and it is a state-regulated system that mandates additional maintenance and monitoring.  Properly maintained, it should have no impact on other properties.  The commissioners discussed the permit requirements, including continued compliance with State and local Health department testing and reporting.  Concluding that sufficient safeguards were in place, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval.

The Commission’s Consent Agenda consisted of authorizations to advertise public hearings for Conditional Use Permits for five short-term tourist rentals and two private use camping:

  • Gillian Greenfield & Richard Butcher – CUP for a short-term tourist rental at 1164 Riverview Shores Dr. in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.
  • Elizabeth A. Saman – Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 431 Cindys Way in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.
  • Jaden & Tori Walter – A request for a Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 80 River Oak Drive in the South River Magisterial District.
  • Vesta Property Management – Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 194 Venus Branch Road in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.
  • Vesta Property Management – Conditional Use Permit for a short-term tourist rental at 86 McCoys Ford Road in the Fork Magisterial District.
  • Stacy L. Lockhart – Conditional Use Permit for Private Use Camping (non-commercial). The property is located at Harris Drive in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.

Jeffrey Steven Taylor – Conditional Use Permit for Private Use Camping (non-commercial) on Howellsville Road in the Shenandoah Magisterial District.

The Commission unanimously approved the Consent Agenda, and the meeting was adjourned at 8:10 p.m.

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Teachers remain uneasy about ongoing delays in approval of FY-2023 Public Schools Budget

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The final in a series of three presentations on departmental Fiscal Year-2022/23 budget requests at Tuesday evening’s Warren County Board of Supervisors work session was the briefest at about six minutes of the 84-minute work session. However, post adjournment discussion among Warren County Public School employees present, but not allowed by Board Chair Cheryl Cullers to offer input during the work session, indicated that it is likely to remain the most scrutinized and debated budget as the county’s elected leaders approach a decision on what appears to be plans to cut the county’s public schools local operational budget request by 25%, or as much as $7.4 million in local funding.

The agenda packet included numbers brought to the board by a county-schools liaison committee recently formed to clarify and hash out public school budget variables. Among a 37-item list of cuts totaling $1.8 million under the header “Potential $6.9m Reductions” were: 1-English Language Teacher; 2-Elementary Art Teachers; 2 Elementary School Counselors; a Director of Communications position; 2-Library Assistants; Senior, Junior, Sophomore, and Freshman Class Sponsor Stipends, among others.

However, a sub-list of six cuts apparently already on the table totaling another $5.7 million included some EYE-OPENERS: Eliminate Extra-curricular Events and Athletics (saving $1,040,782); Do not fill eight vacant teacher positions (saving $596,928); Cost of 5% Salary Increase (saving $2,324,206); Furlough all 200 day + staff three Professional Development Days (saving $727,317), and two others eliminating a December bonus ($864,430) and elimination of “Remaining Supplements” ($160,878).

One graphic indicated a “Final Proposed FY2023 Operating Budget” for public schools of $71,108,401, an increase of $2,960,856 over last year’s budget of $68,147,545. However, as one school employee present later observed to this reporter, the requested “Increase in Local Funding” to achieve that budget was $0 (zero dollars), as State and CARES funding would entirely cover the increase.


During the brief staff and board discussion, Board Chair and South River Supervisor Cheryl Cullers tried to assure those public school employees present that teaching positions and salaries were not under threat by the proposed cuts. Glancing at the agenda packet and noting the presence of such staffing and salary cuts, Cullers, a former public schools nurse, stated: “Teachers salaries were never a consideration for us. We value the teachers in this community, just as much as we value the fire admin people who were here,” Cullers said referencing Fire & Rescue Chief James Bonzano and staffer Jane Meadows, present earlier asking the board to approve additions of $2,600 to $7,250 to base pay for various levels of staff EMT Certifications.

With staff present in support seated in the back of the meeting room, Fire & Rescue Chief James Bonzano and Jane Meadows explained the department’s request to add EMT base salary bonuses for various response staff EMT certifications. As a going-on-10-year cardiac arrest survivor shocked back to life by F&R Company 1 EMTs (thanks for the assist, Paula), this photographer/reporter says give them what they want – it may pay off for you and yours some day if that first crew is out on call, that more staff is certified in life-saving techniques.

Cullers continued to point out that the supervisors had more control over county departmental budgets like Fire & Rescue or the EDA, the latter also present Tuesday, August 9 (seeking the board to authorize compensation to EDA board members for the monthly meetings they conduct in furtherance of community economic development), than the supervisors do over the Public Schools budget. Cullers compared the supervisors’ ability to approve or deny specific staff-related financing items as were brought to them by Fire & Rescue and the EDA that evening, versus the County funding of public schools where a total budget is presented for approval as the new fiscal year approaches. After that supervisors approval of the total budget, internal adjustments to that budget can be pursued by the Warren County Public School Board and administrative staff. Cullers and her board have appeared especially skeptical of proposed school system transfers of previous fiscal year reserves between departmental or operational uses.

“That’s why we have looked at things, tried to categorize them, so that if we give money that’s supposed to go for a particular pay scale, it has to stay there and be used for that pay scale and not be pulled and put somewhere else. We’re trying to protect your salaries, not take away from it,” Cullers told the public school system contingent present.

Board of Supervisors Chair Cheryl Cullers, right, attempted to assure public school system employees present that teacher salaries and jobs were not at risk in cuts suggested to the proposed $71.1 million Public School budget despite evidence to the contrary in the agenda packet on the matter. Delores Oates, above left, also explained the board’s consideration of Capital Improvement Project debt and debt service in its review of the school’s operational budget proposal. Below, school system employees discuss what they heard versus what they saw in the agenda packet following the board’s convening to closed session.

However, with the new liaison group’s agenda summary pages before them, Cullers verbal assurances were received with some skepticism following the 7:24 p.m. adjournment of the 6 p.m. work session. One employee who raised their hand to ask permission to react to Cullers verbal assurances versus what was on paper in front of them, was not allowed by Chairman Cullers to speak. This reporter’s lengthy experience with municipal work sessions has been that unscheduled public input has generally been allowed within stated parameters at the chairman’s discretion. In fact, work sessions have often been seen by local municipal boards as a means to allow more direct give and take between the public and their elected officials than meeting rules generally allow. However, the current board of supervisors chair has been consistent in not allowing people not on the agenda to offer input at work sessions.

North River Supervisor and County-Schools Liaison Committee member Delores Oates also noted that the supervisors were taking into consideration coming and past public schools Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) and related debt and debt service, as they consider the Public School System’s FY-2022/23 Operational Budget. But rather than ease school employees minds, that mingling of CIP debt service as a factor in approaching and justifying reductions in the school system’s operational budget request seemed to add to the post-work session employee anxiety. Were future operational budgets going to be limited by past or current board decisions to build new or renovate aging school facilities, some wondered as they headed for the WCGC parking lot.
Supervisor Oates noted that the new BOS-WCPS liaison group would meet again this Thursday, August 11 for further discussion of the FY-23 public schools budget proposal. According to county administrative staff no date has yet been set for a vote of approval of the FY-2022/23 public school budget. One school staffer leaving the government center Tuesday evening asserted that Warren County was the only public school system in Virginia without an approved budget nearly six weeks into the fiscal year. – “We are a laughing stock,” they observed of the county’s ongoing unresolved public school budget.

See the full work session discussion of its four agenda items, including a recommendation on abandonment for now of Old Oak Lane Phases 4 and 5 projects by the newly appointed Shenandoah Farms Advisory Committee’s Chairman Bruce Boyle, in the Aug. 9 County Work Session video. That Farms Advisory Committee recommendation in favor of more cost-effective projects servicing more residents vehicular trips appears to go against the board and sanitary district staff’s plan to continue with the Old Oak Lane projects despite huge cost increases and the minimal number of residences, eight, directly impacted.

Shenandoah Farms Advisory Committee Chairman Bruce Boyle makes his committee’s case against proceeding at this time with the Old Oak Ln. Phase 4 and 5 projects amid skyrocketing costs Sanitary District residents would appear to be responsible for covering.

Following the work session, the supervisors adjourned to closed session to discuss personnel matters related to the newly appointed five-member Farms Advisory Committee. It was a closed-door discussion of which the Farms Advisory Committee chairman appeared to have no previous notice or knowledge.

 

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After 20-month tenure Steven Hicks ousted as Front Royal Town Manager

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Following an hour and 40 minutes behind closed doors to open a 6:30 p.m. work session Monday evening, August 8, an unknown portion of that time spent discussing the performance of both Town Manager Steven Hicks and Interim Town Attorney James Cornwell Jr., in a dramatic roll call vote the Front Royal Town Council, with Mayor Chris Holloway casting the tie-breaking vote, by a 4-3 margin terminated the contract of Town Manager Steven Hicks. Following Holloway’s vote, Hicks rose quickly from his seat at the far end of the meeting room table facing the mayor and simultaneously, Councilman Joseph McFadden stood up and stated, “I resign.”

At that point, Hicks, accompanied by Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis, went to clean out his office at the far end of the Town Hall second floor, leaving by a back stairway without comment to media. Leaving the meeting room with Hicks was Councilman Joseph McFadden, who had voted with Letasha Thompson and Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell to retain Hicks in his town manager’s position.

“This is a kangaroo court,” McFadden said as he tossed down what appeared to be council credentials, turning over other materials to IT Director Grant Autry on his way into the hallway behind Hicks and the police chief.

Part of the aforementioned drama came after the first two votes were cast on Gary Gillispie’s motion, seconded by remotely connected Amber Morris, to terminate Hicks’ contract. With Cockrell and Gillispie having cast the first two votes, the roll call reached recently appointed member Zachary Jackson at 1-1. Leaning back in his chair, his head looking upward, Jackson paused for 30 seconds before quietly voting “yes”. It may have been that from the closed meeting discussion the newest council member may have known his would be the decisive vote in either sending or not sending a 3-3 tie to the mayor.



That the mayor would vote for termination seemed to be indicated by McFadden’s brief statement to Royal Examiner reporter Roger Bianchini on his way out of town hall. After repeating that what had transpired had been “a kangaroo court,” McFadden suggested the media “investigate some on council and the mayor.”

In a somewhat anti-climatic subsequent vote, council voted 5-1, Cockrell dissenting, to terminate the services of Interim Town Attorney Cornwell of White Stone, Virginia. That would appear to leave Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett now in charge of the town’s legal department.

Hicks’ termination as town manager also leaves the unilaterally created Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) without a director, one of the additional management hats Hicks had been given by town council to wear during his tenure.

Council appointed Assistant Town Manager Kathleen Leidich to take on operational oversight of the Town Administrative Office on a temporary basis.

Upon hiring Hicks to what was his second town manager’s job, Front Royal officials had heaped praise upon him for his experience, declaring him “the perfect selection.” Former Interim Mayor and Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick stated, “To date, I have had a very limited time getting to know Steven, but this much I have already observed, he appears to be the perfect selection for our Town. Well done Town Council.” Tederick wasn’t alone in his praise of Hicks.

Then Mayor-elect Chris Holloway commented, “Hicks was selected because of his impressive leadership in operations, bringing business in communities, developing fiscally conservative budgets, managing enterprise departments, and delivering complex infrastructure projects on time and on budget.”

Then Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock said, “Finding the right candidate took longer than we expected. The Council knew what they wanted in a manager and was patient to find the right Town Manager for our community. I believe our efforts have paid off by having the best candidate possible. I’m excited to see what Steven will bring to our Town government, businesses, and community.”
Hicks began his tenure as Town Manager on Dec. 7, 2020, in the wake of some organizational, departmental, and departmental directors flux during Tederick’s tenures as Interim Mayor and Town Manager.

When a council debate arose some time into Hicks’ tenure about the expense of continued use of a consultant “executive search” firm in the hunt for a new town attorney to replace the suddenly resigned Doug Napier, Councilwoman Letasha Thompson asserted that expense would be money well spent, noting, “They got us, Steven.”

But what passes for experience and credentials in some people’s eyes may not be so elsewhere. Royal Examiner discovered that in his first town manager’s job in Selma, North Carolina, after which he came here, Hicks left under a cloud of controversy after less than a year on the job. According to a published report in the Johnston County Report, a Selma-area newspaper, Hicks agreed to resign after just nine months on the job.

The July 30, 2020, issue of the newspaper stated that the council had scheduled a special called meeting for 5:30 p.m. that evening to discuss personnel matters. However, the meeting was canceled after a deal in which Hicks apparently agreed to resign under specific conditions was reached earlier that day.

The Johnston County Report story said, “Sources say the deal will require Mr. Hicks to resign on August 3rd. In return, he will receive his full salary for the next six months, including contributions to his retirement and health benefits. Vacation and sick leave will stop on August 3rd, but he will receive all accumulated time. He will also be allowed to seek employment elsewhere before the six months severance ends.”

The Town of Front Royal press release announcing Hicks as the town manager stated, “Hicks has over 25 years of state and local government experience. He was previously the Town Manager of Selma, N.C., that provided a full range of services, including Solid Waste, Water, Sewer, and Electric, as well as Police and Fire. During Hicks tenure, he was able to develop a transparent operational budget and manage the Town’s enterprise funds delivering positive operating revenue. As part of the budget process, Hicks was able to establish Selma’s first-ever 5-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) with major emphasis in addressing groundwater and stormwater (I&I) that enters into the Town’s sewer system for treatment. Hicks also partnered with Eastfield Crossing Developers and Duke Energy to amend the 400-acre mixed-used development and incentive agreement to increase the Town’s tax base and create 3,100 jobs.”

According to Selma’s public records, the solid waste was contracted out to a company called GLF when Hicks was town manager though he did oversee the water, sewer, and electric departments cited on his resume.

A Selma source stated that the budget Hicks developed, in fact, required “a bit of hands-on work” by that town council after its initial presentation. The source stated that the “positive operating revenue” cited in that Front Royal press release existed prior to Hicks’ tenure as town manager. Selma public records support that fact as well.

Selma’s public records also indicate that the Eastfield Agreement was amended and significantly changed in 2021.

Prior to the Selma stint, Hicks served as director of the Durham, N.C. City’s General Services Department from October 2015 to July 2019.

More will be forthcoming on this story as additional information and comment from involved parties becomes available. Following the two action item votes, council went directly into its scheduled work session agenda, largely reviewing Special Use Permit applications for advertisement for public hearing, allowing no time for a Q&A with members on the reasoning for their votes.

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Rugged Terrain Crossfit takes home the trophy at the Waggin’ for Dragons 2022 race

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Waggin’ for Dragons 2022 is a wrap.

Thank you to all of the participants and volunteers who spent their day with us down on the Shenandoah River with the 22Dragons crew. This year, this fun boat race benefited the Humane Society of Warren County, Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, and United Way of Front Royal.

Check out the lineup of teams this year! All of these boats raised at least $1,000 as an entry fee. There were several fierce rivalries that added to the energy and fun!

  • Humane Society of Warren County – Foster Fleabags
  • Rotary – Rotary River Rats
  • Warren County Sheriff’s Department
  • State Farm – Good Neighbors
  • Element Risk – Risky Business
  • Rugged Terrain Crossfit
  • Valley Health
  • Skyline High School
  • Coldwell Banker Blue

The winner of the race on the water was Rugged Terrain Crossfit! Congratulations!


Team Rugged Terrain Crossfit

This tough crew came out and gave it their all. Fun banter was held between the Sheriff’s team and Crossfit, as there was wife vs. husband action on the two boats! Be sure to stop by the Rugged Terrain gym to see this gorgeous Waggin’ for Dragons trophy in person. Bragging rights and good luck will live at this gym for the next year!

  • GOLD: Rugged Terrain Crossfit 1.01.4
  • SILVER: Warren County Sheriff’s Department 1.01.88
  • BRONZE: Coldwell Banker Blue 1.02.08
    (Numbers are appropriately correct)

There were two other categories that were judged: Most Funds Raised, and Most Spirited teams. The Rotary River Rats brought home both of these honors, netting a total of $5,011 in funds raised, a full $2,000 more than next in line. All three of our local Rotary clubs were represented on the boat – Rotary Club of Warren County, Rotary Club of Front Royal, and the Rotary Club of Northern Shenandoah Valley. The team had a representative from the House of Hope, Department of Social Services, and I’m Just Me Movement (a local non-profit that supports our youth through mentoring and positive reinforcement) rowing as well!

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Higher adult meal prices, more preschool slots, new division leader on School Board agenda

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The Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, August 3 regular meeting unanimously approved several items — including additional preschool slots and higher prices for adult meals served at the schools — and met a new school division assistant superintendent.

Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Christopher Ballenger introduced board members to the school division’s new Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Heather Bragg, a WCPS Instructional Resource Team member for the last five years who specialized in English, history, and foreign language instruction. Bragg replaces Alan Fox, who formerly held the position before retiring in June.

Heather Bragg (above, at podium) was introduced as the new WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction during the Warren County School Board’s Wednesday, August 3 meeting.

“I believe that my time here [with WCPS] over the last five years… has prepared me to begin the job, but I know that I’ll have a lot to learn and look forward to engaging in those partnerships and continuing those relationships with the principals, teachers, and staff that I’ve already established,” Bragg said, adding that she’s “truly passionate about instruction and curriculum and the positive impact it can have on the lives of our students.”


WCPS Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch (above) provided the School Board with updated COVID-19 guidance, noting that major changes include those for people who are asymptomatic, or who show no symptoms of the virus.

“They no longer have to quarantine,” said Hirsch. “Persons who test positive for COVID should isolate for five days. If they are asymptomatic, their symptoms are resolving, and they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours, they may return to programming after five days.”

Ballenger added that contract tracing by school nurses also is no longer required. “We’re going back to ‘if you’re sick, stay home; if you’re not sick, then come to school,’” he said.

In School Board action, all members were present, including School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins.

The board unanimously approved 10 items on Wednesday. Among the highlights were approvals for:

1) The 2022-2023 Dual Enrollment Contract between Laurel Ridge Community College and WCPS that sets out the terms and conditions for which courses will be offered to high school students who opt to take college-level courses and receive both college credit and high school credit toward graduation.

2) The first amendment to the lease agreement between Warren County, the Warren County School Board, and the Samuels Public Library for the development and maintenance of an amphitheater adjacent to the library. The original lease agreement between the School Board and Warren County, as well as the lease agreement between Warren County and the Board of Trustees of Samuels Public Library did not permit the library campus to be used for anything except a library, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith. The first amendment allows for a portion of the library campus to be used for the construction and operation of the open-air amphitheater, as well as the library, he said.

3) Increasing the adult breakfast rate to $2.40 and the adult lunch rate to $4.00 effective August 9, in order to meet the 2022-2023 Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) minimum Adult Price requirement. Smith explained that adult meal prices must be high enough to compensate for the total paid reimbursement and the commodity value that is not provided by the federal government for these meals. “The paid reimbursement and commodity rates change each school year, meaning adult meal prices may change each year,” said Smith.

4) One additional Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) teacher and three additional VPI assistants at a cost of $145,000 and $5,000 in non-labor funds for a total of $150,000, covered by an increase in the VPI state allocation. The superintendent is also authorized to request additional appropriations from the Warren County Board of Supervisors. Hirsch said that WCPS has experienced an increase in pre-K enrollment that, in turn, warranted an increase in the allocation from VDOE. “Our new allocation is 173 slots, which brings our dollar allocation to $714,044,” he said. “Our current appropriation for this school year was $564,044.”

5) Five wheelchair-accessible vehicles to transport students that will be largely funded through the $309,038.12 American Rescue Plan flowthrough grant WCPS was awarded in July 2021. Hirsch said the vehicles will alleviate space issues and support social distancing in vehicles. The total cost of the vehicles is $298,450. The balance of $10,588.12 will be used to support plexiglass, car seats, and other accessories that will enhance COVID-19 mitigation strategies, said Hirsch.

Click here to watch the Warren County School Board’s August 3 meeting.

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