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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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Former Trump Administration councilman seeks town street re-naming

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A wide-ranging, hour-plus work session discussion took an unexpected turn Tuesday evening as the Front Royal Town Council reached the “Open Discussion” portion of its agenda at about 8:10 p.m. In addition to a monthly revenue/expenditure update from Finance Director B. J. Wilson and a half-hour plus Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) briefing by Town Attorney Doug Napier, the first 70 minutes saw council consider some potentially profound procedural and code changes.

Unmentioned during Napier’s FOIA briefing to council was the fact that Matt Tederick is now listed on the Town website as the Town’s FOIA Officer. – That’s strange, I thought he’d been re-upped as Town Manager Hicks’ ‘Transition Team’. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini & TV image news agencies as identified

Those included changes in meeting procedures, most pointedly starting Public Concerns at 6:30 p.m. in order to separate them from the regular council meeting beginning at 7 p.m.; reducing the number of regular meetings and work sessions to once a month; and altering Town Codes to give council case-by-case authority to approve apartment developments in the Historic Downtown Business District, as opposed to being constrained by coded guidelines. Maybe there is substance to that rumored 60-unit apartment building earmarked for the old Murphy Building site now housing the Dynamic Life Coffee Shop on the first floor.

With non-agenda items then on the table, newly elected, first-term Councilman Scott Lloyd had several ideas, including a final one for a town street name change. Here’s a hint – Lloyd comes to municipal service after a hugely controversial stint as the Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services Director of Refugee Resettlement during the migrant child-parent separation policy.

Scott Lloyd, left in a file photo, couldn’t seem to leave his federal government roots behind in his first month as an elected town municipal official. Fellow first-termer Joseph McFadden, right, focused on how to access council records so as not be blindsided on future votes as he was on the Meza appointment issue.

“And the third is to consider changing one of the streets in town to Donald J. Trump Avenue in honor of the president,” Lloyd offered. And while the January 19th discussion immediately turned to the process for altering town codes, specifically reducing the number of readings to make an ordinance change from two to one, it soon turned back to Donald J. Trump Avenue on the final full day of Trump’s presidency.

Perhaps surprisingly, Lloyd saw some resistance generated from fellow Republicans starting with Gary Gillespie. Noting his concerns weren’t political – “I think he was great, don’t get me wrong, but I think we’re opening a can of worms,” Gillespie offered. Several potential repercussions were voiced by council, including forcing potential long-time residents to change their addresses and raising the possibility of other long-time prominent locals and political figures wanting street names changed for them.

“I agree with Gary,” council’s one non-Republican Committee member, Letasha Thompson offered.

“I agree,” it appeared Mayor Holloway chimed in, in the Town’s one long-camera shot virtually broadcast Town Hall work session during which no media or public was allowed in the Town Hall meeting room due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns.

While no media or citizens were allowed in the Town Hall meeting room due to Coronavirus pandemic surge concerns, only one mask and little social distancing were evident at the council table. Any press or citizen live spectators were relegated to a Town Hall-way viewing of the meeting.

After some additional discussion during which Jacob Meza pointed to the City of Winchester’s recent bout of road name changes related to past political road naming accommodations of known segregationists, Lloyd countered.

He pointed out that Trump won Warren County by 67% of the vote in the 2020 election, “Which if it was Congress would be enough to change the Constitution, it’s a supermajority,” Lloyd offered as justification for his former federal employer’s name emblazoning a Town of Front Royal street.

Lloyd, who was unable under court order to reunite nearly 600 of several thousand migrant children with their parents because his department had lost track of the parents, then went THERE. “There” being the online conspiracy theory that the only way the man who won the presidency 4 years earlier despite a nearly 3-million popular vote deficit and never hit a 50% approval rating during his presidency, could only have lost the 2020 election, this time by about 7 million votes, by widespread voter fraud, as opposed to a growing majority of Americans viewing his presidency as a failed one that pandered for the support of evangelical, white supremacist and neo-fascist extremists.

Apparent leaders of the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol pause to pray in Congressional chambers as the members who had been there to certify the election result was driven into hiding in fear for their lives. While not all present in D.C. in support of the incumbent president were part of the violent occupying force, what one might ask, does it all have to do with municipal politics 70 miles to the west?

Policy Attorney Lloyd theorized that despite over 60 or so courts nationally, including the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling against the voter fraud challenges on behalf of the president, the issue was never decided factually. “What people can’t argue is that they weren’t ever adjudicated on a factual basis, they were on a procedural basis,” Lloyd offered, failing to continue that the “procedural” basis was a lack of factual support of the theory of widespread voter fraud presented to the court after court across the nation.

“And that’s been denied to those people who have legitimate concerns,” Lloyd appeared to continue on the theme of procedures versus facts, adding, “And then moving from that to the question of did I attend a rally or did I attend a riot? And so the people, people I know, people who went there and just had a great time, left before they even realized, are now being targeted and actually harassed by other people in this community, being labeled as bigots and rioters and everything else,” said Lloyd claiming victimization of the local pro-Trump crowd in Washington, D.C. and/or at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

If you think I am making this odd turn in the January 19 Front Royal Town Council municipal meeting up, I suggest you watch the linked Town video, also on the Town website. As noted above, it begins around 1-hour-and-9-minutes in and continues to just past the 1:21-minute mark.

But as odd a turn as this municipal meeting took there, the agenda business, as noted above, tackled some potentially impactful topics and is worth a listen during those discussions as well. The Open Discussion that continued beyond the street renaming detour, included late meeting discussion of the potential of offering town residents town work on private-property infrastructure repairs during its state-mandated I&I (Inflow and Infiltration) upgrades, particularly targeting older homes whose sewer and water lines may need upgrading.

The potential of offering payment plans, adding perhaps $100 to monthly utility bills Mayor Holloway suggested, with liens until the work was paid off being attached to those homes, might be of particular interest to town citizens owning such old homes, several council members theorized.

Watch the Town Council Work Session here.

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Correction: maker of Cockrell nomination as vice mayor

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Front Royal Clerk of Town Council and Executive Assistant to the Town Manager Tina Pressley has informed us that her initial citing of Scott Lloyd as making the nomination of Lori Athey Cockrell as vice mayor on January 11 was incorrect. Rather, it was Councilman Gary Gillespie who made the nomination, which was as initially reported, seconded by Jacob Meza.

This reporter had inquired of the nomination, having found it additionally difficult to identify motion makers and seconds when viewing meetings by virtual, remote broadcast. Pressley noted it wasn’t much easier in the council meeting room.

Perhaps a suggestion to all our municipal officials that in the future the makers of motions and seconds identify themselves and/or be identified by name by the mayor prior to calling for votes on those motions.

Vice mayor appointment raises more partisan issues; mayor accuses EDA of ‘intentional’ delay of Afton Inn sale during January 11 meeting

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Warren County Planning Commission begins new year

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The Warren County Planning Commission began the 2021 calendar year with the election of officers. So, the first order of business was County Planning and Zoning Director Taryn Logan’s call for nominations for Chairman and Vice-Chairman.  2020 Chairman Robert Myers was nominated for chairman, and Hugh Henry was not unexpectedly nominated for another term as Vice Chairman.  Both nominations were unopposed, and the commission’s vote was unanimous.

Upon accepting the gavel for another term, Chairman Myers offered the agenda for approval and opened the floor for public presentations.  There were none.

The published public hearing for a conditional use permit for Parallel Virginia for a Pharmaceutical business in the Stephens Industrial Park in the commission’s agenda had been postponed at the applicant’s request, so the commission moved on to consider four requests for authorization to advertise for conditional use permit applications

Justin and Felicia Katzovitz have requested a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 1253 Liberty Hall Rd in the South River Magisterial district.  Planner Matt Wendling provided a briefing to the commissioners regarding the request and recommended the commission authorize the advertisement for a public hearing.  The commission unanimously approved.

Planner Matt Wendling provided a briefing to the commissioners regarding the request and recommended the commission authorize the advertisement for a public hearing. File photo.

John and Sheila Kirkpatrick have requested a conditional use permit for a guesthouse on their property on Red Hille Way in the South River Magisterial District.  They will be building their residence on that property and intend to have a one-bedroom cabin placed there, so they can live onsite during the construction.  The guesthouse would subsequently be used for visiting family and friends and not for commercial use.  Planner Wendling provided an overview of the request and the commission unanimously authorized the advertisement for a public hearing.

Carl and Jennifer Ey are applying for conditional use permits for short-term tourist rentals for two adjoining properties they own at 1406 and 1408 Panhandle Road in the South River Magisterial district.  Zoning Administrator Joe Petty provided a summary of the requests.  The property owners are experienced with short-term tourist rentals for more than 15 years in Page County.  The Eys have already submitted a property management plan.  The commission voted unanimously to authorize the advertisement for a public hearing.

During the commission matters portion of the agenda, Commissioner Scott Kersjes raised a concern about the portion of Route 522 between Reliance Road and Fairground Road, a 2.5-mile section of highway.  Commissioner Kersjes indicated that southbound traffic, especially tractor-trailers, tend to be unprepared to stop at the traffic signals at Reliance Road, evidence being skid marks all the way into the intersection from trailer tires.  Trucks use 522 south as a way of avoiding the Interstate 81 weigh station if they are overweight, contributing to a significant safety hazard.  The combination of lack of visibility for the intersection, too high a speed, and inadequate braking on a downhill slope could well result in a tragic accident.  The commissioner observed that a speed limit reduction to 45 MPH for that stretch of highway would reduce the risk.

Planning Director Logan responded that the County had requested VDOT perform a speed study, which would be needed to support a speed limit reduction.  She offered to send the Board of supervisors a letter asking for guidance.

Commissioner Longo asked if the next Planning Commission would be a joint meeting with the Board of Supervisors.  Planning Director Logan responded that if the Supervisors authorize, the March meeting would be doubled up.

Chairman Myers indicated that the traffic for Chipotle and 5 Guys, both of which are now open, was sometimes extending out to Country Club Road, creating some obstruction for access to the rest of Riverton Commons.  It is something to keep an eye on. Planning Director Logan observed that the traffic may even out with time.

Commissioner Crystal Beall had an issue raised by a citizen regarding new signage going up at public boat ramps including that at Gooney Creek.  Signs indicate that a permit is required for all watercraft for access to public waterways, including for canoes, kayaks, and even inner tubes.  The State Department of Wildlife Resources, as of Jan 1, 2021, requires a person age 17 or older to possess a valid Virginia hunting, trapping, or fishing permit, a Restore the Wild membership, an access permit, or a current boat registration to use an access facility.  The small warning signs regarding this requirement are the first indication that many citizens are seeing about this new policy that the legislature has created to help fund the Department’s activities.  There is a FAQ list at https://dwr.virginia.gov/boating/access-faq/ regarding the new rules.

South River District County Supervisor Cheryl Cullers attended the commission meeting and Chairman Myers asked if she could shed some light on the situation.  She explained what she knew of the requirement and that she has been seeking more information from the Department of Wildlife Resources on this topic.  Look for more information soon.

Planning Director Logan said that the Planning Department is working on its annual report and that new home permits numbered 191 in 2020, which is up 50 from 2019.  At 1%, this rate of increase is below the county’s 3% annual maximum for residential growth.

Planning Director Logan said that the Planning Department is working on its annual report and that new home permits numbered 191 in 2020, which is up 50 from 2019. File Photo.

Planner Wendling indicated that the planning office has sent out letters to flood plain affected landowners to refamiliarize them with floodplain responsibilities and rules, along with supplemental information about enforcement of permit conditions.

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Vice mayor appointment raises more partisan issues; mayor accuses EDA of ‘intentional’ delay of Afton Inn sale during January 11 meeting

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Other than fend off angry public feedback on the appointment of Jacob Meza at their January 11 regular meeting, there were action items and other business for the Front Royal Town Council to address. One of those, the appointment of a vice-mayor reflected some of the same council dynamics displayed during the Meza comment and responses.

That dynamic was that if you’re not part of the political inner circle of the supposedly by Town Charter ‘non-partisan’ council majority, you are not likely to be favorably considered for elevation to positions of higher authority, as with vice mayor.

Above, Republican ‘policy attorney’ Scott Lloyd nominated Lori Athey Cockrell, below, to the vice-mayor’s seat, leading to discussion of council ‘tradition’ on such appointments. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Straight out of national Republican political affairs and controversy into local, Scott Lloyd quickly nominated fellow county Republican Committee member Lori Athey Cockrell as vice mayor, seconded by Meza.

Letasha Thompson’s effort to nominate herself as the most senior remaining council person, as she noted was explained to her previously is a council ‘tradition’ for elevation to the vice-mayor’s seat, failed when Town Attorney Doug Napier told Mayor Chris Holloway that Cockrell’s initial nomination should be voted on prior to any other nominations. Cockrell’s appointment as vice mayor was then approved 4-2, with Joseph McFadden joining Thompson in casting dissenting votes.

As it is only a tradition, not a rule, Letasha Thompson’s effort to be appointed vice mayor as council’s most senior remaining member failed along party lines, minus Joseph McFadden’s dissenting vote to Cockrell’s nomination.

The report of Mayor Chris Holloway was of particular interest as he accused the still legally Town-County Economic Development Authority (EDA) of having “intentionally delayed” the sale of the Afton Inn, which he continued to observe should either be re-developed or torn down soon.

Despite the fact the EDA has been trying to finalize the sale of the Afton Inn property to redevelopment group 2 East Main LLC for several months to allow further stabilization work and redevelopment to commence and has been blocked by the Town’s questionable claim of ownership that were it true, would still not net the Town any revenue from the sale, no one on council challenged the mayor’s description of the impasse. – Maybe it’s just that new member “knowledge gap” referenced by Councilman Meza, who had nothing to say on the matter either.

‘Alternate facts’ don’t just seem to be an issue at the national Republican level, as despite evidence to the contrary Mayor Holloway reported it is the EDA that has ‘intentionally delayed’ the sale for redevelopment of the Afton Inn.

No EDA business was on the agenda, so there were no EDA staff or board members present to voice the EDA’s side of the story.

In another major agenda action item, council unanimously approved reducing the Town Planning Commission membership from seven to five. Cockrell asked for McFadden’s opinion, being the most recent planning commissioner elected to council. McFadden explained the commission has had a difficult time having full membership available for planning commission meetings. He added that the current commission membership “fully supported” the number reduction, leading to the unanimous vote of approval.

A one-item Consent Agenda was also approved unanimously. That item was approval of a $36,227 “sole source” contract with Applied Digital Solutions for an upgrade to the Front Royal Police Department’s call and radio recording equipment. The current equipment was installed in 2014. In the agenda summary Town IT Director Todd Jones explained the old equipment was on the verge of failing and was incompatible with new technologies linking all the department’s recording equipment.

With the contract coming in below the estimated $40,000 cost to upgrade, the contract was called a favorable one. There will be an annual maintenance cost of $3,400, staff noted.

And speaking of the police department, near the meeting’s outset Chief Kahle Magalis was present to present the department’s officer and civilian employee of the year recipients to council.

FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis lauds the role of civilian Employee of the Year Hillary Wilfong in keeping him and his administrative staff on track. Officer of the Year Brian Whited missed the presentation of employee of year awards due to earlier high-speed chase and accident-strewn conclusion of that chase inside the town limits, the scene of which he remained at as Monday’s meeting progressed.

However, only one, Civilian Employee of the Year Hillary Wilfong, was present to receive the honor. Chief Magalis explained that Officer of the Year Sgt. Brian Whited was still on site of a major traffic incident that occurred earlier in the day.

That incident was the accident-strewn conclusion of the high-speed chase that went from the Riverton Area onto I-66 eastbound and back down John Marshall Highway to Leach Run Parkway and ending on Sixth Street near Manassas Avenue with about seven total cars involved in the accident that ended the pursuit of a juvenile driver arrested at the scene.

See all of these meeting actions unfold, including approval of next week’s Town-County Liaison Committee agenda and the report of Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission Director Brandon Davis, as well as Mayor Holloway’s report referenced above.

Watch the Town Council video recording here.

New year, same public disconnect from their elected town officials

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EDA in Focus

County Supervisors review VDOT issues, contracts, coming FY-2022 outside agency requests and public comment rules

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On Tuesday afternoon beginning at 4 p.m. and continuing after a brief adjournment at 6 p.m., the Warren County Board of Supervisors held a work session to discuss, first VDOT issues entering the new year and later early FY 2022 budget items. Those items were requests of partner agencies, including Samuels Public Library, Northwestern Community Services, the Economic Development Authority, and County Health Department.

The EDA discussion included some reference to the ongoing $20-million legal dispute with the Town of Front Royal and how to approach any future work for the Town, should the Town desire it.

As EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne listens to left, EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons told county officials the EDA will work with the Town or without it, as the Town chooses. The supervisors have not absorbed the EDA as a County Department while waiting to see if a new town council and new town manager will bring a new direction to Town attitudes regarding the EDA. Based on unchallenged mayoral comments Monday evening, the answer would appear to be ‘no’.

There was also discussion of meeting rules regarding the length of time devoted to public comments and how that should be addressed in the future, by code or meeting decisions by board members.

Also, on the agenda was a review of the parameters of several renewable contracts tabled for supervisors unaware of those contract dynamics and use and value to the county government.

See the County meeting video here.

Is it live or is it virtual? With a nod to an OLD Memorex cassette tape commercial; and an additional nod to the 1960’s-70’s ‘surreal’ comedy troupe Firesign Theater for the timeless observation about time and space that has been challenged in 2020 – ‘How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?’ the 1969 album cover of which is pictured below just so you didn’t think I was making that one up. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

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New year, same public disconnect from their elected town officials

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Negative public reaction to the appointment and seating of Jacob Meza by his four fellow county Republican Committee council members and council’s response to that reaction dominated the Front Royal Town Council’s first regular meeting of 2021. And while there was other business conducted, including acknowledgement of FRPD employees of the year and election of a vice mayor, that will be covered in another story.

Nine of 13 public speakers, 10 of 14 if you include one read into the record by Councilwoman Letasha Thompson from a citizen not present, took a hard line in criticizing, not only Meza’s change of heart in continuing his service on council after declining to run for re-election in November, but also at the four council members who voted for the appointment. Council’s lone non-Republican Committee member Letasha Thompson, cast the lone dissenting vote against Meza’s appointment, citing a preference for “a new face” to take the appointment.

Front Royal Town Council virtually on Jan. 11 – the year is getting off to a rocky start for the newly aligned council. Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

And while one of those Meza supporting councilmen, Joseph McFadden, has posted on social media that he would not have made Meza’s nomination or voted for it had Town staff informed him of the Charter question concerning its legality, council’s overall reaction was unrepentant for the appointment. And even McFadden stood by his assessment that Meza was the best qualified candidate who applied, while the Town refuses to divulge the identities of those other candidates as protected from FOIA as a personnel matter.

But if McFadden, Scott Lloyd, Gary Gillespie and Lori Athey Cockrell see Meza as a “most qualified” candidate, the majority public perception expressed Monday night appeared to be “qualified at what”? The answer for many, including some who were or identified themselves as fellow Catholics or Christendom College alumni of Meza’s, was as a hypocritical agent of his employer Valley Health and a major player in other council initiatives that ran afoul of public opinion in recent years.

At the point of much of that negativity is Meza’s alienating much of his base, particularly in the huge local Catholic community, by his reversal of recusing himself from earlier votes or even work session discussion of approval of a past EDA board-facilitated loan to his employer Valley Health to help finance a maternity ward-less new Warren Memorial Hospital. That reversal came in front of several Valley Health executives as Meza’s vote was required to achieve the necessary majority for the required Town approval.

Birth Local demonstrators were not happy with Valley Health’s decision to build a new hospital in Front Royal without a maternity ward. And they were as, or even more unhappy with Councilman Meza for his sudden lack of a conflict-of-interest recusal for the deciding vote on Town approval of a loan to help facilitate that hospital’s construction costs.

Of that vote, one speaker, Christa Marie Adanitsch, who noted she was a fellow Christendom College graduate, observed, “I noticed that you got a nice, big promotion after your vote that you did not recuse yourself in the big Valley Health vote. And I’m wondering if this is one of those shenanigan deals again where we’re coming up on,” at which point Mayor Chris Holloway intervened to halt the speaker as making a “personal attack” on the councilman, which is forbidden by meeting rules.

Adanitsch regrouped, attempting to make her point in a less direct manner.

“You did not recuse yourself in the deciding vote for the Valley Health deal when you had recused yourself every other single time. Okay, and now we’re coming up on the issue of the PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes fee) for Valley Health. And you were placed in this position, which was an unethical placement. So, I’m just wondering with your track record for gutting the things going on in this town, what you’re doing up here.”

Above, Meza’s fellow Christendom College alumni Christa Adanitsch questioned his objectivity and potential conflict of interest on Valley Health issues, as well as the legality of his appointment. Below, Meza said he would not be run off council by public attacks on his character. But if a majority of council sought his resignation, he would comply. However, only one did.

Adanitsch explained her perception of Meza’s appointment as “unethical” due to a perceived conflict with the Town Charter’s one-year Chapter 6, Section 47 prohibition on the appointment of former council members back to council. And while that interpretation is in dispute by Town Attorney Doug Napier, non-attorney public opinion appears to agree with the conflicting legal opinion that it does apply because there has been no clear explanation why town legal staff believes council is not under its own “jurisdiction” since its appointment and Conflict of Interest investigative power would clearly seem to indicate such “jurisdictional” authority.

And as reported by Royal Examiner yesterday, a legal challenge of Meza’s appointment was filed in Warren County Circuit Court on behalf of one of the other candidates for that council seat Monday morning.

In the wake of Meza’s appointment, the evening’s first speaker Gary Kushner suggested Front Royal’s longstanding nickname of “Helltown” be changed to “Clowntown”. While noting he was not a town resident, Kushner said he chose to address the issue due to “sympathy” for the level of citizen concern about the appointment issue.

“There was much citizen concern about the chaos and divisiveness associated with the last council. And there was hope there’d be relief with a new majority. But alas, the new year just seems to be the continuation of controversies,” Kushner said, citing Meza’s appointment by his inner circle of council allies.

Gary Kushner’s was scathing in his appraisal of the method of Meza’s continuing to serve on the Front Royal Town Council.

Kushner wondered at Meza’s decision not to run for re-election a bare two months earlier, exposing himself to the same level of public scrutiny other candidates did, including at least two, if not more, who applied for the vacant seat Meza now occupies.

“The councilman could have filed an application and run a campaign and been subjected to the same scrutiny as other legitimate candidates. But that didn’t occur. Instead, the prior councilman is again on the council via a slimy back door,” Kushner observed, adding, “I wonder how long ago that plan was hatched, and to what degree the infamous past interim town manager was involved.”

Lyrics to the 1960’s-‘70’s classic rock band The Who’s song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – “New boss, same as the old boss” – popped into at least one observer’s mind as Kushner’s, and subsequent public comments were forthcoming.

Rebuttal

During his member report Meza presented a defense of his appointment, and his colleagues all referenced the issue at some point in their respective reports.

“I did want to say, first and foremost, thank you for the vote of confidence of council. And I was happy to fill the appointment seat and will continue to serve in that capacity as I have in years past,” Meza said in opening his remarks, before continuing to address some of the negative public comments he had heard.

One comment Meza did not address was Adanitsch’s assertion of his “big promotion” in the wake of his recusal reversal for the decisive vote of approval of Valley Health’s $60 million-plus hospital construction loan.

He began with a timeline related to his seeking the appointment. Referencing one public comment, Meza did note there was a December 2 legal opinion on the Town Charter’s relevant section to council appointments and the year’s delay sought. However, he pointed out that he did not submit his “Letter of Interest” in the appointment until December 18, over two weeks after that opinion was sought.

Meza claims he was acting in good faith to help ‘bridge a knowledge gap’ on council until a November 2021 Special Election to fill Chris Holloway’s vacated seat, not any ulterior motive like help his employer avoid Town assessment of PILOT fees to compensate for the non-taxable status of their new hospital as some public speakers suspected.

Of his interest in the appointment, Meza stated he wrote in his application letter that, “I was offering it as assistance to bridge the gap (till a November 2021 Special Election to fill the seat) for council, some of the knowledge gap that would be on council. But to feel no pressure in appointing me to council and pick the best person as they saw fit.”

And once the Charter issue was re-raised, Meza noted that following his January 4 appointment by council he had delayed his swearing in until earlier in the day Monday, so he could take his seat the evening of January 11.

On January 7, during that interim before he was sworn in, Meza said, “I wrote a comment to council in response to other emails. In an effort to demonstrate that I had, have no ulterior motives, if a majority of council regrets their decision to appoint me for another year, I’d be more than willing to decline the appointment. But I will not decline because of people lashing out false accusations against my character,” Meza said. He noted that a majority had not asked for his resignation, that only one member request had been submitted to him.

See the sometimes-volatile opinions expressed between the public and council over the Meza appointment in the video from the Town website recording of the meeting.

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