On Wednesday, March 15, Len Sherp will hold his second “Vigil for Democracy” near the Town Gazebo at the primary East Main-Chester Street intersection of Front Royal’s Downtown Historic District. The weekly vigils will occur from noon to 1 p.m. each Wednesday for an indefinite time, and have been permitted by the town government.
The impetus for the vigils is Sherp’s concerns that the newly-elected president and his administration, coupled with a very conservative legislative branch majority and what is likely to be a soon-to-be approved conservative judicial branch majority, are threatening to undermine the ideals upon which the American Republic was founded, and upon which it has evolved over two centuries.
“The government still works for us – “of the people, for the people” – and just because one Party has achieved a majority doesn’t mean they shouldn’t show the same reverence for the democratic principals and values of honesty, openness and fairness which have made us a beacon for two centuries,” Sherp told us at his first vigil on March 8. “This administration, in eight weeks, has shown that it doesn’t understand the rule of law; does not respect the separation of powers; and has a Republican Congress that for some reason refuses to stand up and be adult. There are threats to our democracy when our president lies every day. And I think there are some underlying issues – I’m holding a sign today that says ‘Show us the Tax Returns’.
“Every president, I believe since Eisenhower if not even earlier, has released their tax returns, so that we can see that they are not indebted to or beholding to other foreign powers.”
We pointed out that Donald Trump has used the fact that his most recent tax return is under audit by the IRS to keep from releasing it. And while that fact does not appear to present any legal basis to prevent one from making their tax return public*, Sherp pointed out that Trump’s taxes due April 15, 2017 (2016 tax return) “is not under audit yet” so that he could release it when it is ready to be submitted to the IRS.
Sherp’s tax release sign was but one of several on display by about five people who had stopped to join the vigil during our visit to see what was going on at Front Royal‘s Village Commons on March 8. Sherp had several printed up, and there were blank pieces of cardboard available for people to stop by and add their own specific concerns with the administration or legislative and policy agendas.
One vigil participant, Hannah Bement, said she had been at that morning’s Sixth District Open Door meeting at Samuels Public Library in Front Royal. “Someone said Len would be down here, so I came down during my lunch hour to show my support.”
Kathleen Roush said she was there to show support, specifically on the affordable health care issue, as well as “equal education for everyone, especially special needs students – and the environment is a BIG one too.”
And that last one is bound to be a BIG issue on more people’s minds in coming weeks after Trump’s appointee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, made waves over the next week with a public statement that there was no substantive evidence that carbon emissions or human activity had anything to do with climate change.**
Was he concerned with the small turnout – though we did hear a number of horn honks as driver’s passed on East Main Street that appeared supportive – at his inaugural vigil, we asked. “No,” Sherp replied.
He explained the genesis of the idea for his Vigil for Democracy. “I got the idea as a replication of a protest movement during the Vietnam War when I was a student at the University of California-Santa Barbra. A professor, I believe he was a philosophy professor, started a silent vigil on campus in 1966. He stood there alone at the outset, and by the time I graduated in 1968 he had attracted hundreds of people each week. I’m going to try and do the same here.”
* FOOTNOTE: During the 2016 presidential campaign, U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett (estimated net worth $78.7 billion) pointed out that his taxes were also under audit but that, that fact did not legally prohibit its release. In fact, Buffett offered to meet Trump at a NYC street corner and publicly release BOTH their tax returns together. It was an offer Trump declined.
** FOOTNOTE: As Oklahoma’s AG and a champion of fracking in his state, Pruitt sued the EPA five times. Coincidently, as fracking gained traction in Oklahoma under Pruitt’s legal stewardship, so did earthquakes which were recorded in the hundreds across the state in areas with little previous history of earthquakes – something else the new EPA chief likely sees no connection between.
Process in Local Government
So, a fellow Councilmen is interested in exploring the option of naming a road after our 45th President. Oh boy! POLITICAL SUICIDE!!! The local newspaper is not thrilled (to say the least).
And now our Mayor has published a Press Release denouncing it as well. A press release that was sent to me at 4:55 PM and posted to Facebook a mere hour later without any responses to the discussion generated by the Councilmen being thrown under the Presser (pronounced “Bus”).
When Councilmen Lloyd asked me if I would help him bring this to the Agenda, I said yes. And why would I do that? Well, staying clear of any and all political agendas, I said yes because this was a topic that he wanted to bring to the work session. And you need two councilmen to agree to it. If I want to bring a topic onto the Agenda, I hope that he will second those in the future.
During the Work Session, this past Monday, you can see the thoughtful discussion that Council was having regarding the topic. It was a third item raised by Councilmen Lloyd during our open discussion session of the meeting. Considering the Pros and Cons of a topic is what thoughtful representatives of the people are supposed to do, no? Councilmen Lloyds’ point regarding the fact that 67% of Warren County did actually vote for the 45th President of the UNITIED STATES OF AMERICA was valid. And those voters do feel upset and disenfranchised. On the Cons side, we have to consider costs. Where does it lead? How will the public feel about it?
I had a discussion with Councilmen Lloyd on the topic the other day when he asked if I would be willing to second it, just so it could make it on the Agenda in a WORK SESSION. He wasn’t asking me to bring it to a vote or even if I would vote for it. Just to help him bring something to a work session to discuss. I expressed to Councilmen Lloyd that I did not believe that this would ever get through to a vote. I told him that he could consider trying to raise private funds to cut public costs. I reminded him that we’d need to learn about president (SIC) regarding renaming of roads. I suggested that he try to find a single-home owner street that would be in favor or a business in a similar situation as the one Councilmen Meza raised during the work session – CBM Mortgage got their lane renamed “Hometown” so they could use it in marketing materials.
Now let’s go to the Press Release issued tonight – It felt to me like “cancel culture” on full display, in the form of a Press Release from our own Mayor?
Are we not able to discuss issues or even bring them to the table for discussion without them being cancelled beforehand?
I get it. If you don’t think it is a good idea – don’t vote for it. If you think it is an issue, express that in the work session. It’s good government. And in a County where 67% of the population voted for #45 – I’m not sure you need to go on the offensive against bad press on this one.
We already have enough other things deserving of actual Press Releases at this time, don’t we?
Front Royal, Virginia
Submitted Commentary: Is information free in Front Royal?
From: Front Royal Town Councilman Joseph McFadden
During a presentation on FOIA by Town Attorney Doug Napier, which is available on the Town Website if you wish to watch the entire presentation, I was given a lot to think about.
During the presentation, I wrote down questions. Some were answered at the time I asked them (at the completion of the presentation) and others were to be answered with information either provided to me or that I would have to dig up (which I was willing to do). It was emailed to me in a spreadsheet the following day thanks to a competent staff able to generate a report for me.
I’ll present some facts and figures here and the subsequent answers I learned by reviewing the spreadsheet I was given.
In the presentation, I was told that in the Calendar Year 2021 (Jan 1- Jan 19, 2021) there had already been 91 FOIA requests submitted to the Town of Front Royal. I was told that if that rate continued, we would face 1700-1800 FOIA requests in this year alone. Considering the issues we’ve already faced (Old: EDA Lawsuit, Afton Inn and Happy Creek project. NEW: Article 47 Lawsuit, Sexual Harassment, and Firing of former employee Lawsuit), I thought the number believable.
According to the document: There were 7.
I followed that statement up with a question regarding how many did we get in 2020 so that I could look at the trends and see if it was high, or normal for a month-to-month statistical comparison. I like processes and I like tracking trends.
According to the document: There were 87.
It would be a 2,011% jump in the number of FOIAs if we were to hit 1700-1800 predicted (I used 1750, splitting 1700 and 1800, as my number and 87 as the originating number to determine that percentage). That’s quite a jump.
Trying to wrap my mind around how there could be such a discrepancy in these numbers, I thought back on hearing in the presentation about FOIA requests that had 15,000 or even 80,000 pages in the request. But again those numbers don’t match up.
I heard that many of the requests take a lot of time to review because “Some laws are not easy to decipher.” Well, I’ll just leave that there. Shouldn’t we have a staff member that is an expert on this to field the massive volume of FOIA requests? That was my thought at the time.
I was told that we billed the staff hours used to fulfill the requests. Later, I asked to clarify if the staff was paid hourly as a contractor or yearly salary as an employee and if these FOIA requests were only being completed during overtime hours? They are salaried employees, and the searches are completed during normal business hours. And in fact, the searches are often farmed out to department heads to complete.
Specifically, I asked that if it is in the scope of work of a staff member and not done outside of normal business hours, how can we then bill the requestor?
And my follow-on question is that if the FOIA is for my emails, couldn’t I simply pull them at no cost to the citizen?
Based on section 6 of the VA FOIA Advisory Commission’s Guide that I took the time to read before the meeting – Section 2.2.3704.1: “6 – A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia.”
That doesn’t seem to talk about charging for salaried employees to do what is part of their job duties, such as pulling emails when there is a FOIA request. We have search features in Microsoft Outlook that makes searching super fast and easy. And indexing on a server is also pretty fast. I should know, I once advised a DOD agency looking for a way to archive all their historical records being pulled from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq onto closed secret computers so that they could be searched by historians and journalists. And I got very familiar with how quickly indexing of documents and emails happens and can be accessed real-time.
I learned that some FOIA requests are “fishing expeditions” or submitted “to harass.” I also learned that it is charged this way to “be fair to everyone.”
However, upon review of the data provided to me, I saw that there were a few repeat requestors (out of the total 94 in the spreadsheet) but that not everyone got a bill. I found my dad’s name on the list. I followed up with him. He was not billed. If everyone is billed and treated fairly, why wasn’t he?
I learned that we have never been fined for not completing an FOIA request.
I am now awaiting the answers to several questions about the obvious discrepancies I saw between what I was told in the work session and what was delivered in the form of reportable and quantifiable data.
But I am also waiting to find out 2 key things:
1. If we collect money from an FOIA request for salaried time, where does that money go once collected?
2. How much money did we collect from FOIA requests in 2020?
Stay tuned if you are as interested in this as I am.
Remember, until only a few weeks ago, I was just a citizen like you!
(Originally posted on the councilman’s social media site)
We can agree to disagree, but never to the point of being narrow-minded
On January 21, a group of concerned citizens went to a BOS meeting to declare Warren County a “Constitutional Sanctuary County” against the COVID-19 pandemic.
First, I believe we need to stop with the fearmongering from our state health officials and governor! We have lived with this pandemic for over a year now, which we have learned a great deal and can, by all means, use our God-given brain to make health decisions for ourselves!
Second, if you are sick or have come in contact with an infected person, do the right thing, get tested, stay at home for 7 to 10 days and get on with life!
All along we were told by CDC, NIH, even our general M.D.’s to use the 3 things that help stop the spread: Hand cleaning, mask-wearing, (when out in crowds), the social distancing of 6ft., which by the way should always be the case with stopping illnesses.
But no, some in our government want to take away our rights and freedoms and call it for the good of the nation.
Really? Then how come some elected officials get to carry on their lives any way they want, but we can’t?
I call that “a narrative” to power over the rights and freedoms of our Constitutional laws!
To the email writer, calling those residents “selfish patriots” was uncalled-for. Name-calling never did settle things, it just keeps the solutions from being talked about in a manner which all can come together.
We can agree to disagree, but never to the point of being narrow-minded.
Let’s take this issue of being restricted to conduct our lives and businesses seriously. We were not made to live in a bubble, our bodies will either adapt and fight or die. Either way, all flesh will die, that’s a given.
Fear will kill far worse more than any pandemic or war!
Front Royal, Virginia
Odors and Town Processes – a theoretical seminar
Recent newspaper accounts report Front Royal work crews were out trying to find out where a strange odor was coming from. – All they had to do is open the door to the Town Council meeting. The work crews had to suspend their search due to a broken water main. I think they should notify Mr. Tederick. He is great with redundant water pipes.
Let’s explore that thread briefly before we talk about morals, ethics and legalities. In a page straight out of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” or maybe from the Sopranos, Tederick’s meteoric rise through the political hierarchy.
How did he get here? Well, he was appointed to a Grand Jury. Due to his leadership capabilities he became Chairman of the panel. Using his investigative skills, he signed the indictment for Hollis Tharpe – the charge? Frequenting a bawdy house. Long, goofy story short: Hollis had to resign as mayor but later all charges dropped.
“We have no mayor!” Was the cry that went out. The Gentle Knight Tederick stepped up and said, “Send Me!”, or something like that. Thus, without public input, Ta Da, he became mayor.
But one of his driving passions was to put in a redundant water line up the Route 340 North Corridor. Why? Well, just like the excuse for the destruction of Happy Creek, it was “well we had never done it, so we had better do it”. Really? How about “The Power Plant wants it”. Really? If they want it, why won’t they pay for it?
Or could it have been because he allegedly had a relative working for the developer that wanted to put in 800/600/200 units for senior citizens and low-income housing. Well, it all fell apart when it was pointed out that:
- There was no water. We were in the midst of a drought at the time. So Matthew had the Town Manager do a water consumption study – Damn, it came back – no water (and eventually doomed the guy).
- There was no capacity at the Waste-Water Treatment Plant.
- Traffic. Damn, the Sheriff said that they didn’t support the development.
Matthew was stumped. What to do?
First, get rid of that troublesome Town Manager. So, according to various staff members, he began to bully the guy, to such an extent he had enough and quit.
“We have no Town Manager!” Was the cry that went out. Once again, the Gentle Knight to the rescue.
So now, plans are underway for the pipe. The engineering firm selected was the same one that botched the Happy Creek destruction. We must save money! So Matthew fired the Town Tourism Board. Why? Well to save money, he said, oh by the way, allegedly to get rid of the head of it. So the solution? Pay a contractor $600,000 dollars to do it; evaluate themselves on their efficiency with a set of criteria nobody knows but them; and do it all “behind the famous closed door”.
Well, he rolled through the destruction of Happy Creek making that beautiful. Issues regarding that fiasco are continuing.
CARES money. After throwing a temper tantrum with those County Supervisors who had the temerity to ask for the required paperwork, Mr. Tederick went to the Chamber of Commerce and had them distribute the money! Legal? Well, the lawyer said it was okay. Questionable? Because you are asking a non-government entity to do the government’s job. He could have asked the EDA to do it but, well, we have seen how the Town deals with them. But why the Chamber of Commerce, have they ever done anything like this before? No. Could it be an example of rumored “friendly backscratching” circling Magic Matt. Nah! That would be unethical.
Wasn’t there a video on the Royal Examiner showing Matthew standing in the wreckage of Afton Inn telling a reporter that “we finally have a plan to move forward”. No he didn’t, the Town still doesn’t.
Then there was a Taj Mahal of police stations built with cafeteria etc. All based on Town Council input. There they were at the Grand Opening, Tederick, Holloway, and their pal Meza, grinning away. Off to the side was the new head of the EDA. How would he know that the Town would have no “moral, ethical or legal” requirement to pay for it. Yep, one morning the hirsute wanna-be Jacob Meza allegedly was driving down the street and Shazam (thanks to Gomer), there was a police station sitting there! How did that get there? What a surprise, surprise, surprise it must have been to find that there.
Well life goes on here in Mayberry: Meza was caught off guard when confronted with his conflict of interest (Recuse is defined as to withdraw from the decision-making process because of personal interest or unfairness). His personal interest? Other than his position on the Valley Health staff and his bosses staring him down and the purported big bonus. Really, no problem here folks. Why? Because a lawyer who just so happened to own nearby land said so. Moral? No way. Ethical? But legal?
But that’s okay. He was reborn as a Town Council person after it was found that Town Council members don’t fall under Council “jurisdiction”.
Once, on the Titanic a lawyer saw the iceberg looming dead ahead. Should he notify the captain and save people’s lives? No, because he had recently bought ice cube rights for that glacier and he might be held responsible. After all, there were no laws that said he had to say anything. Later, he was one of the first in the lifeboat. When questioned, he said “The law was changed to women, children and lawyers first”.
And that’s why it’s legal. So class, we have learned that morals and ethics are subject to vast interpretation. Tony Soprano once said, “If I do it, it’s ethical and if the lawyers say it, it’s legal”.
Warren County, Virginia
It was a dark day on Jan. 6 as Congress planned to confirm the Electoral College vote for the next president. Around 1 p.m. a group of pro-Trump protesters pushed their way into the Capitol building, disrupting the official count as Congress was forced into lock down. The issue at hand was the President’s claims of voter fraud and a stolen election.
This was by no means the first contested election in the U.S. The 1800 and 1824 elections were both decided in Congress. The 1876 and 2000 elections were both decided in the courts. Let’s also not forget the South seceded from the nation in 1860 because of Lincoln’s election. In fact, in 2001, 2005 and 2017 some Democrats protested the final confirmation vote the same way some Republicans did this year. In these cases, the Vice Presidents acted like Mike Pence this year and did their duty and confirmed the vote even with political pressure not to do so.
The differences between this current election and the past ones were that the controversies did not involve a sitting president. They were always between two new candidates. 1800 did have an incumbent president in the race, but the controversy was between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Trump is the first sitting president to contest his defeat. The other more important difference was those election controversies were all handled peacefully, except 1860. Yes, there have been many protests over elections, but trying to take the Capitol to obstruct the vote is unprecedented.
There have been other elections with fraud claims, most recently, the 2016 election that Democrats claimed foul because of Russian influence. Yet, the one I think is important because of the behavior of the candidates is not remembered today as controversial but at the time was called out by many as fraudulent.
Today, when discussing the 1960 election, most think of the young charismatic John F. Kennedy manhandling and crushing the much older Richard Nixon in the first televised debates. I would argue this is a false memory. For one, Nixon was only four years older than Kennedy and, two, this was one of the closest elections in history. The closeness of the election meant that several states were swing states and just one or two of them going the other way meant a difference in the president.
Two of the states that could have gone either direction were Texas and Illinois. Both ultimately voted for JFK, but not without some controversy. In Texas it was claimed that JFK’s V.P., Lyndon Johnson, used undue influence and fraud to guarantee a Democratic win. Yet it was Illinois that captured the nation’s attention, especially the mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley. Daley is one of the men credited with the quote, “Vote early and vote often.” On election night, he called JFK to tell him basically that, with a little luck and some help from some friends, he would win the state. Daley was a mayor either loved or despised, depending on your political leaning, but no one questioned his power over the city and even the state. Daley was rumored to be involved in ballot stuffing, especially in Cook County, that turned the state towards Kennedy.
The cries of corruption were minimal on election night and ultimately JFK was the victor. It was after the election that the rumors began to build. The man more than any other who began to beat the drum of fraud was a reporter and friend of Nixon, Earl Mazo. He began to investigate the rumors and wrote a series of articles detailing his evidence. He had found graveyards in Chicago where all the permanent residences had voted. The story that most stuck out was the 56 voters whose residences all turned out to be the same abandoned house. Yet as interesting as these stories were, most were never published at the insistence of Nixon.
Nixon asked his friend to stop running the stories. His request was not because he felt they were untrue. In fact, Nixon, for the rest of his life, privately insisted the election was stolen from him, and many from his administration insisted they had evidence of fraud. What Nixon believed, however, was that in the midst of the Cold War his nation could not afford a challenge to democracy. Recounts were requested, but after a couple of legal challenges failed, Nixon did what was best for the nation and stepped aside. It was Nixon’s job as sitting Vice President to confirm the votes for Kennedy in the same ceremony that was interrupted Jan. 6 with Pence. Nixon did what Trump could not. Whether or not there was fraud, Nixon believed there was. But he put his ego aside for the good of the nation and did not resist.
While all of Trump’s court challenges were completely legal, almost all of them were found by several courts to be without merit. We have seen similar actions in many elections. Where Trump will be remembered with infamy was his refusal to accept the outcome even after the courts rejected him. The difference may be this: eight years later Nixon ran a second time and won. However, after Jan. 6, even Trump’s staunchest supporters turned on him, making any effort for a second run obsolete.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog
Long-time Meza ‘fan’ perspective on council appointment
There are those who have no problem expressing their opinion. I happen to be one of those people. So I thought I would now express my opinion on the appointment of Jake Meza to Town Council.
Since this was a pre-planned appointment, Mr. Meza did not have to spend a penny on a campaign for the November election.
Now, my opinion: EGO, ARROGANCE, POWER HUNGRY, VOTING POWER, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS DIRTY POLITICS, MANIPULATED TOWN ATTORNEY, PUPPETEER AND PUPPETS, RULE BREAKING REPUBLICAN PARTY/COMMITTEE.
Front Royal, Virginia