About 20 people, including 26th District Democratic State Senatorial candidate April Moore, gathered at Front Royal’s Town Gazebo at noon on Wednesday, March 13, to join Len Sherp in marking the start of the third year of the Vigil for Democracy he began on March 8, 2017.
“We mark our calendar by Wednesdays – we started on the second Wednesday of March 2017 and it’s the second Wednesday of March 2019,” Sherp said of any date discrepancies.
On that second Wednesday of 2017 Sherp explained the impetus for his Vigil for Democracy to Royal Examiner: “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.”
And for Sherp on March 13, 2019, not much has changed.
“At the time I told you that I thought we faced a crisis in our country that basic constitutional principals seemed to be ignored; and we were heading toward a path that I felt the future of our democratic-republican form of government was in peril. Nothing over the last two years has convinced me otherwise,” Sherp said.
“We still have disrespect from the highest office in the nation, the presidency of the United States, for the rule of law; disrespect for the separation of powers; disrespect for the truth; we have disrespect for a free press; we have disrespect for the hardworking members of the federal government; we have disrespect for our allies; and we have instead an affection for dictators and a wish from our president that perhaps he could be president for life like his friend, Comrade Xi (Xi Jinping, president of China).
“And he talks about ‘love letters’ with (North Korean Dictator) Kim Jung Un – and we stopped our annual or semi-annual military exercises with the Republic of South Korea, our strongest ally in the Far East – what did we get for that? Oh, we got a picture with Kim Jung Un.
“And I didn’t even mention the violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution and the violations of the ban against nepotism – I could go on and on,” Sherp said deciding to end the litany of reasons the Vigil for Democracy continues, and will continue beyond his pending move to Oregon. Sherp and his wife are moving west in several weeks to be close to their daughter.
Sherp pointed us toward other vigil participants for comments, including those who will be instrumental in continuing to see the Vigil for Democracy remains a viable expression of political dissent guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Long-time vigil participants Bob Hill and Jorge Amselle will share Vigil for Democracy organizational rolls after Sherp’s departure.
We asked Amselle why he, like Hill and others in the vigil trenches, has been there on Wednesday afternoons with Sherp for the bulk of two years.
“This is the only thing that keeps me sane; this is the only thing that gives me hope for our country – to be out here with people who recognize the danger that we’re in, who are like-minded. I believe I told you before, I used to be a conservative Republican for 30 years; for years I voted Republican. When Trump was running I kept telling my fellow Republicans ‘You can’t vote for this guy – he’s insane and a racist.’
“And when he won the nomination I decided that’s it, I’m out, I’m done. And I left the Republican Party and volunteered for the Hillary Clinton campaign and did everything I could to make sure Trump didn’t win.”
Over two years later Amselle is maintaining his commitment to make Americans, including Republicans, see what he sees in the 45th president – a would-be demagogue who puts self interest above the national interest.
Amselle pointed out how many congressional Republicans, Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz being prominent examples, were documented during the 2016 nominating campaign saying horrible things about Trump’s character; but now fall easily in line with the worst of the president’s policy initiatives or personal impulses.
“I think it’s just winning at all costs – nothing matters but winning, you know, no morals, no qualms about lying, cheating, stealing, pandering to white supremacists, empowering racism and other forms of bigotry; being inconsistent on all the things you ever preached. See, there used to be a competition between all different kinds of conservatives, your libertarians, your evangelicals, all different kinds of conservatives were there to argue and debate conservative ideologies.”
“Now that’s all gone, now it’s just Trump – the only ideology that matters is Trump,” Amselle observed of an apparent party-wide fear of not antagonizing Trump’s sizable base among Republican voters.
And when the cult of personality meets ideological intransience tempered with stereotypical vilification of minorities and outsiders you have a historically dangerous combination – a combination often found at the outset of the rise of state totalitarianism.
It is a trend another former Republican present at the March 13 vigil has noticed. April Moore is positioning herself for a Democratic challenge of 26th District State Senate Republican incumbent Mark Obenshain in the upcoming election. See her observations on the trend of Republicanism in the Trump era mentioned by Amselle in this linked story.
Of her presence in staunchly Republican Front Royal and Warren County for the March 13 Vigil for Democracy Moore said, “I’m impressed people here in Front Royal have been out here every week for the last two years protesting what the Republican Party has become and what it’s doing: this party that nominated, elected and now serves as accomplices to a president who lies to the public multiple times every day; and who is assaulting our rule of law; and even seems to be in some kind of strange cahoots with our most dangerous adversary.
“So part of why I’m running is the reason they’re out here,” Moore said of Vigil for Democracy participants.
Bob Hill, who with Jorge Amselle will continue the organizational impetus for the Vigil for Democracy in Sherp’s pending absence, sees a fundamental necessity for that continuation.
“I think the vigil has been an awakening for a lot of the people here in Front Royal that there is a two-party system and two parties make us stronger. Obviously if you have a one-party system you are heading away from democratic principals,” Hill observed of the role of political dissent in non-totalitarian nations.
Hill, who was a primary vigil player in establishing a dialogue with elements of the pro-Trump contingent across Chester Street, pointed to mutual concerns about local politics.
“My Trump friends over there,” he said gesturing toward Ralph and Michael Waller and their pro-Trump signs across Chester Street, “when I talk to them about what’s going on locally, about the EDA or about insurance policies (against abuses) they’ll say to me ‘Well, it’s the politicians’ and I’ll say ‘What politicians?’ and they’ll say ‘The ones we voted in’ – and I’ll ask ‘What party are they?’ And in staunchly-conservative Warren County and Front Royal the answer with few generally independent exceptions is Republican.
“Years ago my wife came home and said, ‘Look, I could be a Republican – I believe in smaller government except for one thing: smaller government would mean fewer people overseeing and making sure that I, as a Republican, don’t think of myself first and foremost.’
“Sure it’s smaller government, but it’s also corrupt government,” Hill said of an unmonitored economic system where the largest and wealthiest competitors are free to prey upon, not only smaller-positioned competitors, but the marketplace itself.
“Sometimes people just don’t see the forest for the trees,” Hill concluded with an age-old expression of the problem of seeing the bigger picture when you find yourself immersed in the middle of that picture.
And when one looks at the political picture being painted by the current occupant of the White House: from a general disregard for federal institutions from law enforcement to intelligence and the diplomatic wing of the State Department, coupled with the number of unfilled federal positions after two-plus years of the Trump presidency, as well as the conflicting professional interests of many who have been appointed to head oversight agencies like the EPA, Commerce and Interior, it would seem the core political issues that have brought Vigil for Democracy participants together for over two years are nowhere near a resolution.
So we imagine you will continue to see these anniversary reports, along with those coming across the Chester Street political divide, for at least another two years …
February is footwear month for Froggy’s Closet
February is footwear month for Froggy’s Closet, a nonprofit dedicated to helping foster children, children in need and at risk.
The third annual fundraiser started when a foster child who appreciated all the items received but took the shoes out of the bag, said “Why are the bottom of my shoes always dirty?”
A new pair of shoes can be a feeling of love, pride, and acceptance, like a new beginning. Froggy’s wants all children to have that feeling. This fundraiser helps collect enough new shoes to fill all requests for one full year.
All types of shoes and sizes are accepted with an ongoing need for sneakers and tennis shoes.
Froggy’s Closet has partnered with several business in the community for drop-off locations, including the following:
- Berryville Grille | 9 E Main St. Berryville, VA
- Escutcheon Brewery | 142 W Commercial St.
- Kimberly’s | 135 N Braddock St.
- Scarpa Alta | 28 W Piccadilly St.
- Winchester Country Club | 1300 Senseny Rd.
- Winchester Moose Lodge | 215 E. Cork St.
- Wilkins Shoe Center | 7 S Loudoun Street Mall
In addition, shoe donations are accepted at Froggy’s Closet, 32 E. Piccadilly St., Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monetary donations are accepted by cash, check, or online at frog-kids.org.
Founded in 2009, Families Reaching Out Group (FROG), a Winchester, Virginia based nonprofit is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children who have been victims of abuse, neglect, or are at risk. Children and families in Winchester, and Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, and Warren counties are served.
Looking to send a little Valentine’s Day cheer?
Warren County Parks and Recreation Department is looking for several young sweethearts to help make Valentine’s cards that will be delivered to some of the elderly in our community. We will provide all the necessary supplies; we just need your help to make their Valentine’s Day a little bit brighter!
If you are interested, stop by the Warren County Community Center and pick up the “Valentine’s Card Goodie Bag” from Tuesday, January 26, 2021, through Monday, February 8, 2021. Cards will need to be returned to the Warren County Community Center by Thursday, February 11, 2021.
Additional information can be obtained by contacting the Warren County Community Center, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (evening and weekend hours may vary), at (540) 635-1021 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winchester man faces multiple charges following possible OD death at Hampton Inn
On Saturday, January 23, 2021, Front Royal Police Department (FRPD) and Warren County EMS personnel responded to the Hampton Inn, located at 9800 Winchester Road, for a report of an unresponsive 38-year-old female. The 911 caller was identified as the female’s husband, Nathaniel E. Green, III, 42, of Winchester, who remained on scene. Despite the best efforts of FRPD Units and EMS Personnel, the female was pronounced deceased on scene.
Detectives located three (3) handguns, multiple rounds of ammunition for the weapons, identifications cards belonging to Mr. Green, a pink powder and two capsules with white powder, both of which are suspected narcotics, located in the same proximity. A criminal history check revealed that Green is a convicted felon and is prohibited from possessing firearms.
Nathaniel Green was subsequently arrested without incident and transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail, where he went before a magistrate and is currently being held without bond. Green was charged with § 18.2- 308.2 Felon in Possession of a Firearm and § 18.2-250 Possession of a Controlled Substance. A court date for these offenses is set for March 2, 2021, at 10:00 A.M., in Warren County General District Court. Further details regarding this matter cannot be released at this time due to the pending nature of the investigation.
This investigation is ongoing and anyone with any further information is asked to contact Front Royal Police Detective L.J. Waller at (540) 636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
Claiming sexual harassment and cover up, former Council Clerk files federal retaliatory termination suit against Town of Front Royal
Alleging a long-term pattern of sexual harassment by former Front Royal Councilman and Vice-Mayor William Sealock and subsequent efforts by other Town officials, including then councilman and current mayor Chris Holloway, to have her withdraw internal complaints about the behavior, former Clerk of Council Jennifer Berry has filed a federal wrongful/retaliatory termination lawsuit against the Town of Front Royal.
The suit was filed on January 4, 2021, in the U.S. Western District of Virginia Court in Harrisonburg. It describes a lengthy and multi-faceted series of events, first alleged against Sealock commencing shortly after his January 2017 swearing on to council, for sexually explicit comments or actions (paragraphs 14 to 36 of linked lawsuit); and later indicating a lack of internal checks and balances to address Berry’s complaints, and even alleged observations about potential impacts on her family and employment initially expressed by then-Councilman Holloway if she did not drop the matter – Paragraphs 37 to 73 of the lawsuit. Attempts to reach Sealock and Holloway by phone prior to publication were unsuccessful.
The Town of Front Royal is accused of “discriminatory and retaliatory employment practices” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., as amended (“Title VII”) and/or the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. (the “FMLA”). Counts cited include Count 1: Discrimination on the Basis of Sex; Count 2: Unlawful Retaliation; Count 3: Retaliatory Hostile Work Environment; and Count 4: Violations of FMLA, the latter related to planned time off for foot surgery in December 2019-January 2020 timeframe just prior to her termination.
The suit seeks: “all legal and equitable remedies available under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., including, but not limited to, declaratory and injunctive relief, back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, placement into a position she would be holding but for Defendant’s discriminatory conduct, and any other legal or equitable relief as the Court deems appropriate.” A jury trial is sought.
After working for 15 years as Front Royal’s Council Clerk, following an initial five-year term (1998-2003) as an administrative assistant in the Town Department of Public Works, with a break in 2003-05 during which she gave birth to her child, Berry was terminated on February 4, 2020. By April 1, 2020, she had filed a charge of “discrimination against Defendant Town” the background portion of her lawsuit notes.
Her termination came despite a history of positive job performance reviews as late as July 2019, her attorney Timothy Cupp of Harrisonburg wrote, quoting from that 2019 evaluation approximately six months prior to her termination: “Defendant Town described Plaintiff in the Overall Performance Review comments as: ‘Exceptional employee, valuable team member, goes above & beyond, Glue in organization, pleasant & kind, on time with duties, excellent job. Pleasant employee to Work with her knowledge, experience and willingness to assist’.”
What changed during the subsequent six months?
According to her attorney’s description of his client’s experience, it was Berry’s unwillingness to drop her effort to have her employer, Sealock’s fellow elected officials on council, as well as the Town Human Resources apparatus, put a stop to Councilman Sealock’s alleged sexually tinged and demeaning behavior.
Rather than help in a municipal environment with a supposed “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual harassment, her bringing the issue to other members of council as well as filing a complaint with the Town Department of Human Resources, had a counter affect, Berry claims. That counter-affect was multiple instances of institutional retaliatory behavior culminating with her termination as part of the interim town manager’s “right-sizing” slashing of Town personnel and departments in early 2020.
The federal Title VII filing describes the final chapter of Berry’s three-plus-year experience of dealing with the alleged sexual harassment unfold:
(Paragraph) 69. On January 30, 2020, Plaintiff was contacted by email and text and told that her job was subject to “right-sizing,” that her Clerk position was to be abolished and that the Clerk position was to be a part-time position. She further was told that her employment with the Defendant Town would be terminated effective February 4, 2020. The result was that a 20-year employee of the Town had gone from being the employee slated to receive a promotion and raise in the summer of 2019 to an employee being terminated despite the fact that her Clerk position was required by the Town’s charter to be filled by the Town.
70. Moreover, Plaintiff previously had been employed as Clerk to the Council on a part-time basis. She became Certified as a Clerk and her position had been moved to full time. Plaintiff could have continued her employment in a part-time capacity without additional cost to Defendant Town and without losing her benefits. Defendant Town did not allow Plaintiff to remain employed with the Town in the position in which she had performed well.
71. Defendant Town’s termination of Plaintiff’s employment, however, was not about saving money. It was pretext for Defendant’s discrimination against Plaintiff based on her sex and/or for its retaliation for Plaintiff’s opposition to Defendant Town’s conduct that violated Title VII.
Go to the linked suit, published in its entirety by Royal Examiner, to see the federal Title VII complaint’s personal and institutional allegations leading up to the “right-sizing” conclusion of Ms. Berry’s 20 years of service to the Town of Front Royal.
2021 tax filing season begins Feb. 12; IRS outlines steps to speed refunds during pandemic
The Internal Revenue Service announced that the nation’s tax season will start on Friday, February 12, 2021, when the tax agency will begin accepting and processing 2020 tax year returns.
The February 12 start date for individual tax return filers allows the IRS time to do additional programming and testing of IRS systems following the December 27 tax law changes that provided a second round of Economic Impact Payments and other benefits.
This programming work is critical to ensuring IRS systems run smoothly. If filing season were opened without the correct programming in place, then there could be a delay in issuing refunds to taxpayers. These changes ensure that eligible people will receive any remaining stimulus money as a Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 tax return.
To speed refunds during the pandemic, the IRS urges taxpayers to file electronically with direct deposit as soon as they have the information they need. People can begin filing their tax returns immediately with tax software companies, including IRS Free File partners. These groups are starting to accept tax returns now, and the returns will be transmitted to the IRS starting February 12.
“Planning for the nation’s filing season process is a massive undertaking, and IRS teams have been working non-stop to prepare for this as well as delivering Economic Impact Payments in record time,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Given the pandemic, this is one of the nation’s most important filing seasons ever. This start date will ensure that people get their needed tax refunds quickly while also making sure they receive any remaining stimulus payments they are eligible for as quickly as possible.”
Last year’s average tax refund was more than $2,500. More than 150 million tax returns are expected to be filed this year, with the vast majority before the Thursday, April 15 deadline.
Under the PATH Act, the IRS cannot issue a refund involving the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) before mid-February. The law provides this additional time to help the IRS stop fraudulent refunds and claims from being issued, including to identity thieves.
The IRS anticipates a first week of March refund for many EITC and ACTC taxpayers if they file electronically with direct deposit and there are no issues with their tax returns. This would be the same experience for taxpayers if the filing season opened in late January. Taxpayers will need to check Where’s My Refund for their personalized refund date.
Overall, the IRS anticipates nine out of 10 taxpayers will receive their refund within 21 days of when they file electronically with direct deposit if there are no issues with their tax return. The IRS urges taxpayers and tax professionals to file electronically. To avoid delays in processing, people should avoid filing paper returns wherever possible.
Tips for taxpayers to make filing easier
To speed refunds and help with their tax filing, the IRS urges people to follow these simple steps:
- File electronically and use direct deposit for the quickest refunds.
- Check IRS.gov for the latest tax information, including the latest on Economic Impact Payments. There is no need to call.
- For those who may be eligible for stimulus payments, they should carefully review the guidelines for the Recovery Rebate Credit. Most people received Economic Impact Payments automatically, and anyone who received the maximum amount does not need to include any information about their payments when they file. However, those who didn’t receive a payment or only received a partial payment may be eligible to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 tax return. Tax preparation software, including IRS Free File, will help taxpayers figure the amount.
- Remember, advance stimulus payments received separately are not taxable, and they do not reduce the taxpayer’s refund when they file in 2021.
Key filing season dates
There are several important dates taxpayers should keep in mind for this year’s filing season:
- January 15. IRS Free File opens. Taxpayers can begin filing returns through Free File partners; tax returns will be transmitted to the IRS starting Feb. 12. Tax software companies also are accepting tax filings in advance.
- January 29. Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day to raise awareness of valuable tax credits available to many people – including the option to use prior-year income to qualify.
- February 12. IRS begins 2021 tax season. Individual tax returns begin being accepted and processing begins.
- February 22. Projected date for the IRS.gov Where’s My Refund tool being updated for those claiming EITC and ACTC, also referred to as PATH Act returns.
- First week of March. Tax refunds begin reaching those claiming EITC and ACTC (PATH Act returns) for those who file electronically with direct deposit and there are no issues with their tax returns.
- April 15. Deadline for filing 2020 tax returns.
- October 15. Deadline to file for those requesting an extension on their 2020 tax returns
Filing season opening
The filing season open follows IRS work to update its programming and test its systems to factor in the second Economic Impact Payments and other tax law changes. These changes are complex and take time to help ensure proper processing of tax returns and refunds as well as coordination with tax software industry, resulting in the February 12 start date.
The IRS must ensure systems are prepared to properly process and check tax returns to verify the proper amount of EIP’s are credited on taxpayer accounts – and provide remaining funds to eligible taxpayers.
Although tax seasons frequently begin in late January, there have been five instances since 2007 when filing seasons did not start for some taxpayers until February due to tax law changes made just before the start of tax time.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for January 25 – 29, 2021
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new entry or a revised entry since last week’s report.
Mile marker 5 to 7 including Exit 6, eastbound – Right shoulder closures for sign work along interstate and off-ramp, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through January 29.
*UPDATE* Mile marker 300 to 301, northbound – Right shoulder closures for tree removal operations, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
No lane closures reported.
Various roads – Flagger traffic control for utility tree trimming, Monday to Friday during daylight hours.
Vegetation management may take place district wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week.