Two questions submitted to the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce the day before their Front Royal Town Council Candidates Forum went unasked. The questions were pre-submitted to assure they met the chamber’s requirement that only general questions that can be asked of all candidates are permitted. Told the nature of the questions, chamber officials gave no indication the questions would not qualify for submission at the forum.
Those questions submitted by Royal Examiner were “Have you ever been sued for your actions as an elected official in any office?” and “Have you ever changed political party alliances to run for elected office?”
Both questions were accompanied by the follow-up, “If yes, please explain.”
So as Election Day approaches, town voters will not know if any candidate other than Warren County Republican Committee-endorsed, former councilman and vice-mayor Chris Holloway would have had to answer “yes” to both questions.
While not submitted, a third question Holloway is known to have to answer “yes” to – “Have you ever called a bomb threat in to a local restaurant,” might also have been asked.
Regarding the first question cited above, Holloway was one of three town councilmen, along with Tom Sayre and Carson Lauder, who were sued in 2010 for tortious interference in a business contract negotiation. That lawsuit was brought by SolAVerde and its local principals Donnie Poe and Greg Horton. And while the $30-million civil suit was eventually dismissed on a technicality that the councilmen’s actions, however questionable, were protected as actions engaged in as part of the conduct of their elected office, the underlying issues were never resolved.
Included in those issues were false reports given to local media, believed to have originated within the Front Royal Town Council, that then-Town Manager Michael Graham was engaging in secret meetings and had been offered or perhaps taken “bribes” as part of the negotiation to bring a 26-acre solar energy field into the Town’s energy grid. That sustainable-energy solar field was proposed as the first commercial enterprise at the Royal Phoenix Business Park at the former Avtex Superfund site.
Those alleged “bribes” as it turned out were nothing more than economic investment and jobs that would be brought to the community as part of the solar energy proposal. Graham was eventually ousted as town manager by a non-majority 3-2 vote, Holloway, Lauder and then newly-elected Hollis Tharpe voting in the affirmative; Tom Conkey and Shae Parker voting against sacking the town manager. Tharpe’s vote came despite campaign statements that he saw no reason for a change at the top of town staff. In fact, Tharpe made the motion to fire Graham.
A potential third vote against firing Graham that would have deadlocked council at 3-3 on the matter was widely believed to have resulted in a tiebreaking vote against the dismissal of the town manager by then-Mayor Tim Darr.
However, Tom Sayre’s absence from the September 27, 2010 meeting at which the vote was cast due to a so-called “family emergency” allowed the vote not reach the mayor, who had indicated support for the town manager. Sayre’s “family emergency” was later verified as a broken door lock on his daughter’s college dorm room access to a bathroom jointly used by occupants of an adjoining dorm room. It was a lock that was first reported broken about a week prior to Sayre’s September 27, 2010 meeting absence for the vote to sack the town manager.
As written by this reporter, along with other quotes below in The Warren County Report at the time, “Despite public pronouncements to the contrary, that (solar) proposal has been fought tooth and nail by the three councilmen named as individual defendants in the SolAVerde lawsuit. At various points, all have alleged thus far unsubstantiated allegations of secret meetings between Graham and those involved in the private sector side of the solar proposal.”
Asked hard questions about his role in the solar power/town manager fiasco the following year (2011) during a failed run for the county supervisors, Holloway said he initially supported the project. However, he said he turned against it after SolAVerde’s proposal was absorbed by an entity known as Standard Energy that initially asked for a large up-front investment in support of the project by the town government.
Holloway did not elaborate on questions from Democratic voters as to why he continued to oppose the project after Standard Energy withdrew the up-front town investment from the table after a universally negative reception to the idea.
Why, you may wonder was then Warren County Republican Committee member Holloway being questioned by local Democratic Committee members about his role in the highly-unpopular firing of the town manager.
Well, THAT relates to the second unasked Chamber Candidates Forum question about political party hopping.
Former county Republican Committee-affiliated Holloway’s unsuccessful 2011 run for the North River seat on the Warren County Board of Supervisors was made as a Democrat. His run was likely unsuccessful because there may have been no county Democrat aware of the dynamics of Holloway’s nomination who voted for him.
That was because no involved county Democrat appeared to believe Holloway’s sudden claim of being converted to Democratic principals. That claim came after Holloway descended on a lightly-attended Democratic North River District nominating caucus with about 15 friends claiming to be Democrats. What Holloway had in common with those 15 or so people who gave him the North River Democratic nomination that night was that none were familiar to county Democratic Committee members; and other than Holloway touting his run for county office as a Democrat, none are believed by actual county Democrats to have ever attended another Democratic Committee meeting.
Asked about his political conversion by this reporter at the time, Holloway claimed an embracement of Democratic values – “education and jobs – that’s me,” Holloway said at the time of his Democratic run for the board of supervisors.
Local Democrat Tory Failmezger, who was among Holloway’s harshest critics for what he saw as a high-jacking of the Democratic North River District nominating process, ran as an independent in that race, garnering virtually all Democratic support. Running as the Republican nominee Dan Murray won that three-way race. Murray still holds the North River seat on the county board.
Local Republicans denied any orchestrated effort to eliminate what was at the time the only party-affiliated elected Democratic official in Warren County. Included in public denials of any such political hanky-panky were then state 18th District representative and former Front Royal mayor Clay Athey, long-time party operative Matt Tederick and Happy Creek Supervisor and current board Chair Tony Carter, the latter who is Holloway’s cousin.
Holloway’s former fellow local Republican and council colleague Bret Hrbek had a different assessment than political party intrigue to explain Holloway’s sudden switch of political allegiances:
“I don’t believe this was a Republican coup of the Democratic Committee. Chris was hardly a Republican and I would be surprised if he could articulate the principals or values of either party,” Hrbek told this reporter at the time, adding, “The GOP was rallying around another candidate against Glenn White and he (Holloway) got mad and stormed away. It was my experience – and this situation is another example – that when Chris doesn’t get his way he gets angry and switches sides.”
As for party principals, the Warren County Republican Committee recently drew social media criticism after endorsing Holloway following its own candidates’ forum in what is by town code a non-partisan election. That criticism centered on Holloway’s Republican candidates’ forum statement that he believed the town government should consider mandating standardized hours of operations for downtown businesses as a means of encouraging downtown commerce.
The gist of the criticism noted that conservative, Republican principals traditionally are to minimize government regulation and let the private-sector marketplace set its own standards of operation.
Forgive and Forget
We asked county Republican Committee Chairman about Holloway’s endorsement and the issues surrounding it. Kurtz said that while details of the vote were not made public, the endorsement of Holloway, along with those of A.D. Carter and Gary Gillespie, resulted from a post-committee candidates’ forum poll of the membership present.
As for endorsing someone who abandoned the committee seven years ago in a run for county office, Kurtz said he thought it might have been more of an issue that it apparently was.
“I think people have gotten over it. Chris is a Republican, always has been. He’s always voted Republican – I don’t think he’s ever voted in a Democratic Primary,” Kurtz told Royal Examiner.
As for the town government setting of private-sector business hours, Kurtz said Holloway told him his forum statement “came across wrong – what he meant to say was not that he believed in forcing certain hours on local businesses, but that he believed the Town should promote businesses that keep longer hours to encourage a vibrant downtown, rather than stay open two hours at a time or whatever.”
Oh, the bomb threat? Holloway has previously admitted to a youthful lack of judgment in calling in a bomb threat to The Melting Pot restaurant on 14th Street.
“I’ve never really asked him about that – but you know, we all have skeletons in our closet,” Kurtz observed.
You know what they say, boys will be boys – you need to look no further than Brett Kavanaugh congressional hearings surrounding the now U.S. Supreme Court justice’s high school and early college years behavioral issues …