The Warren County Planning Commission met July 8 at the Government Center. Chairman Robert Myers (Happy Creek district) opened the meeting, reviewed the agenda, and prior meeting minutes, and for the third public meeting in a row, there were no citizen presentations, so the commission moved into public hearings for commission action.
Robert and Colleen Hencken have requested a conditional use permit for a private Montessori school located at 1694 Refuge Church Road in the North River Magisterial district. The Property is zoned A- Agricultural. Ms. Logan briefed the commission members on the staff work done on the application Staff had established conditions of approval of the permit, including compliance with the Department of Health, Fire safety, VDOT requirements, Signage ordinance, and parking plans.
The property is not located in an area with a homeowners association and the property would meet the county’s setback and Health Department requirements. The maximum occupancy of the property was proposed to be 80 persons. All neighbors to the property were notified about the public hearing. Mr. Hencken spoke briefly about the project and his plans for the school as a temporary site in a converted pole barn. In addition, four citizens spoke at the public hearing in enthusiastic favor of the project.
Chairman Myers then closed the public hearing. The commissioners were then given the opportunity to ask questions. Vice-Chairman Henry then questioned the applicant regarding the plan for a septic system, which he regarded as a potentially difficult site due to soil conditions. As an experienced septic system installer, he asked if anyone had discussed a surface discharge system as a potentially appropriate solution.
Mr. Hencken indicated that they had had Marsh and Leggett come out to do the testing they indicated that a soil drip would not work. Mr. Henry explained that typical systems treat the sewage and then disperse it into the ground, but in that area, the ground is not very good for soaking anything. There is a different set of rules for a surface discharge system, in which the sewage is treated to the point that it is “clean water”. He recommended that the applicant mention it to the soil people and work with the health department. “Pump and haul” is not allowed for permanent structures. He further stated that a solution to the sewage problem would be a condition of the commission’s recommendation for approval.
The applicant indicated their plan was for use of the facility for 8 months to a maximum of 2 years, their original plan was to use bottled water in the building for hot and cold, and trailers for solid waste. He indicated that requirements were building up as if it were a permanent use, which it is not. He agreed to research the suggested solution with the authorities and consultants.
Commissioner Kersjes expressed concern about the traffic to the school through an intersection of Refuge Church Road and Doubletree Church Road, which is at a 45-degree angle. The applicant responded that the likely traffic count for the school would be approximately 25 cars morning and evening, or 100-150 trips/day. Commissioner Kersjes maintained that a 50% increase in traffic would be problematic. The applicant indicated they had asked VDOT to reduce the speed limit to 35 mph, in an effort to create safer access, and that VDOT had indicated that dropping the speed limit would not necessarily result in traffic slowing down. Chairman Myers commented that VDOT prefers 90-degree intersections, so the subject is likely to recur during the approval process. There were no other commissioner questions or comments.
Vice-Chairman Henry made a motion to recommend approval with conditions, as work with approving agencies was not yet complete. Commissioner Joe Longo seconded, and with no further discussion, the Commission voted unanimously to approve.
Anthony Cappaert has requested a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 437 Jones Quadrangle Road in the Shenandoah Farms subdivision, Shenandoah Magisterial District. The property is zoned R-1 residential. Planner Matt Wendling provided the staff briefing for the Commission. The last recorded building permit inspection was in 1973. The property is an older 2-bedroom home acquired by the applicant for a vacation property. He is seeking to recoup some costs of improvement by renting it on a short term basis. The health department has recommended that the well be tested annually for E-Coli and the septic system be inspected every 3-5 years. An e-mail was received from the Shenandoah Farms POA Chairman Ralph Reynaldi, citing no objections to the proposed use. The applicant has been working with the planning department to meet all the requirements for short-term tourist rental. The property meets all the setback requirements, meaning the closest dwelling is 125 feet away, The sanitary district manager has submitted comments regarding the proposal, with no objections to the traffic but included recommendations for landscape and drainage improvements. The staff recommends conditions for approval of the permit:
1) The applicant will be required to maintain compliance with all Health Department, regulations and the maximum number of occupants shall not exceed 4.
2) The applicant shall have the well water tested annually for E-Coli coliform bacteria and a copy of the results provided to the planning and health departments by the end of the calendar year.
3) The applicant shall clear and remove vegetation along the property frontage on both sides, and install a culvert at the entrance to the property.
Chairman Myers then opened the public hearing for one registered person to speak. Richard Goldie was opposed to the use and began a statement regarding the difference between residential and commercial uses of properties. The Chair reminded him that the Virginia General Assembly had determined that short term tourist rentals are not to be considered as a commercial activity, whereupon Mr. Goldie did not continue his statement but questioned whether the 100-foot setback requirement had, in fact, been met. The second speaker was the applicant, Mr. Kappaert, who expressed regret that he had not been aware of the opposition and was anxious to be a good neighbor and community member. He committed to reach out to the opposing parties and alleviate their concerns.
Another neighborhood resident, Jamie Hammick, was also opposed to the use, and indicated that it was purchased by an LLC rather than an individual, and feared that the proposed use could increase traffic, and potentially jeopardize the security of the neighborhood.
Once the public hearing was closed, Vice Chairman Henry asked the applicant if he had any issues with the recommendations of the sanitary district manager. The applicant was very agreeable.
Commissioner Longo asked if the applicant had a management plan. Mr. Kaeppert indicated he did and had an agreement with a local manager with 35 years of experience. Mr. Longo indicated that an actively rented property is preferable to a vacant unmaintained one. Similar sentiments were expressed by the Chairman.
Commissioner Kersjes asked about the property setbacks, and Mr. Wendling described the mechanism for using the county GIS system to measure dwelling to dwelling. The Chairman urged the applicant to work with the neighboring property owners to “extend an olive branch” as neighbors. Vice-Chairman Henry discussed the conditional use permit requirements and supported the idea that a well-maintained short term rental is better for the neighborhood than a badly managed long-term rental. He urged the neighbors to notify the planning department if there were problems. He also recommended informally that if there were a direct line of sight between the subject property and the nearest ones, that a neighborly gesture would be to consider some sort of screening
A motion was made by Vice-Chairman Henry, seconded by Commissioner Kersjes to recommend approval. Commission voted unanimously to approve.
Robert Hensley has requested a conditional use permit for non-commercial private use camping on his residentially-zoned (R-1) property on Rivermont Acres Road in the Fork Magisterial District. Matt Wendling of the Planning Office briefed the commission on the proposal. Neighboring property owners have been notified, but a response from the HOA has not yet been received.
The applicant seeks to use the property for seasonal camping and have access to the North Fork of the Shenandoah River for fishing and kayaking. There have not been any conditional use permits issued for this property although other properties in that subdivision have been issued similar permits for recreational use. Mr. Wendling outlined the supplementary regulations for that use, including the requirement for an RV to not be on the site for more than 180 consecutive calendar days, and a limitation on the number of recreational vehicles that would be allowed on the property. He also listed the conditions that would be part of the permit if it was issued, including compliance with County Health Department regulations, posting markers on the lot for fire/emergency services, RV-related materials to be stored neatly, and that the site would be subject to inspection to ensure compliance.
The property is located in a special flood zone, so an emergency plan would also be required to provide for evacuation in case of a flood event. Chairman Meyers opened the public comment period and there was no response from the sparse audience. Vice-Chairman Henry commented that this is an ideal use for the property.
Vice-Chairman Henry moved to forward the application to the Board of Supervisors for approval. Commissioner Longo seconded and the Commission voted unanimously to approve.
Aaron Hike has requested a conditional use permit for private use camping on a property on Beckwith Drive in the Shenandoah magisterial District. This property is also located in a special flood zone, so a flood emergency evacuation plan would be required. There would also be a requirement for an RV to be on the site for not more than 180 consecutive calendar days, and the site would be subject to inspection to ensure compliance. It has not been the subject of any previous conditional use permits. No speakers offered any comments during the public hearing, so Vice Chairman Henry moved to forward the application to the Board of Supervisors for approval. Commissioner Kersjes seconded and the Commission voted unanimously to approve.
During the planning director comments, Director Taryn Logan indicated that work is underway on the proposed Agricultural and Forestal Districts and that she is hoping to have all reviews completed by the end of the year. She also let the commission know that construction of the new building for Chipotle’s Drive-thru and Five Guys at Riverton Commons was in progress with one remaining unit in the new building not yet spoken for.
During the Commission Members’ comments, Vice Chairman Henry provided an update regarding the construction of the new fire station.
The Assistant County Attorney, Caitlin Jordan, did not have any comments for the commission.
Zoning Administrator Joe Petty summarized his work.
A motion to adjourn by Vice-Chairman Henry and a second by Commissioner Longo ended the meeting at 8:00 PM.
Town of Front Royal is providing financial assistance to small businesses
The Town of Front Royal, administered by the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, will begin taking grant applications from Town businesses for financial assistance. The intent of the forgivable grant program is to provide immediate relief to Town small businesses that can demonstrate economic hardship from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant funds shall be used to pay outstanding Town of Front Royal utility bills in order to continue to receive essential services, the remaining grant funds may be used to pay for other expenses associated with a business interruption.
Businesses may receive grant funding between $2,500 and $20,000 depending on their 2019 gross receipts. The Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce will work in conjunction with the Town of Front Royal Finance Department and the Front Royal CARES Committee to administer the grant.
“The Town Council has been anxious to help local businesses and was prepared in April to use Town reserve funds. Fortunately, the Town has received over one million dollars in CARES Act funds to help our local small businesses and boost our economy. I would personally like to thank the Town Council, the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, and the Front Royal CARES Committee for all their hard work getting us to this point. I am looking forward to checks being cut in a few weeks.” said Matthew Tederick, Interim Town Manager.
Niki Foster, President of the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce said, “The Chamber’s Vision statement is, ‘To be recognized as the leading resource for business in Front Royal-Warren County.’ That is why we are so honored to be able to not only help the Town of Front Royal administer the financial assistance grant program, but as importantly, help our local small businesses who are the backbone of our community.”
Town of Front Royal businesses interested in applying for the business recovery grants can do so now at www.FrontRoyalVA.com/CARES
Mayor, council erupt over politicized interim town manager’s report
After being taken to the “brink” a week earlier during the County Supervisors’ 4-1/2 hour exploration of the intricacies and ethics of municipal government, things looked promising on Monday, July 27th.
A very light two-action item Front Royal Town Council agenda revolving around people GIVING the Town money or LOVE letters for display. How hard could it be, right – even with some critical citizen “Public Comments” from a riled-up Paul Gabbert and a more measured council candidate Bruce Rappaport?
That was before Matt Tederick decided to turn his Interim Town Manager’s report into a political attack on Royal Examiner Publisher and mayoral candidate Mike McCool, not present Monday, over meeting comments made two weeks earlier about the prevalence of unattended-to potholes around town.
Not that there aren’t any, Tederick admitted – “It’s on me and me alone,” he commented on their presence before attempting at length to portray McCool’s July 13th comments on a lapse of timely Town attention to road infrastructure issues, into an attack on the Town’s Public Works staff.
Tederick’s report started normally as he noted posting on the Town website and various other social media and distribution sources of the application process for the Town’s $1.2 million share of the CARES Act COVID-19 Coronavirus relief funding. But after one-minute-and-43 seconds, Tederick hesitated to say he found himself in a “quandary”.
“I really struggled with what to say tonight, whether I should or should not make these comments,” the interim town manager began, continuing to say he lived by “several personal mottos” including “always speak truth to power.”
So, who was the long-time County Republican Committee chairman, officer, and power broker described favorably by fellow local Republican Committee official Amber Poe Morris earlier this year as “Front Royal’s (Donald) Trump” getting ready to speak to? I found myself wondering.
“The quandary I find myself in, is on one hand I feel strong cause to protect town citizens who have been unfairly attacked. But on the other hand, calling out a current mayor candidate and owner of a local business and newspaper is the quandary I find myself in,” Tederick said in prefacing his coming remarks.
Saying he would “walk the line” Tederick began his defense of the public works department’s street maintenance crews – crews I do not recall being the target of McCool’s comments two weeks earlier a day after he said he had run through a massive pothole he feared might have damaged the undercarriage of his tiny “smart” car. It was apparently the same pothole the mayor had also hit recently, Tewalt later indicated. In fact, this reporter’s video review of McCool’s July 13 public comments indicated a critical focus on “department heads” and town administrative staff oversight of town crews and contractors for follow-up work, rather than of town staff in the field.
After two minutes of recitation of interdepartmental processes aimed at discrediting McCool’s road infrastructure comments, Mayor Gene Tewalt interrupted the interim town manager to say that if the public was going to be limited in the amount of time they could berate town officials, perhaps town staff should also be limited in the amount of time devoted to the personal berating of the political opponent of a sitting councilman, mayoral candidate, and fellow Tederick Warren County Republican Committee member. Chris Holloway is also on the November mayoral ballot.
Responding that he was unaware of time limitations on staff reports, Tederick continued for another 2-1/2 minutes before the mayor again tried to end what had turned into a politically-tinged report. But this time when Tewalt attempted to halt Tederick, he was set upon by several councilmen, including Letasha Thompson, Gary Gillespie, Jacob Meza and briefly Holloway, who concurred with Meza that it was the mayor, rather than Tederick who had turned the meeting into a politicized sideshow – “I’m not surprised,” Holloway said of a negative perception of Mayor Tewalt’s attempts to cut Tederick’s report short.
The following morning after asking McCool to watch our video of Tederick, the mayor and council’s interaction over the attack on his July 13th “pothole of the day” comments, I asked our publisher for a response to what he saw, reminding him I had told him a month earlier his candidacy would make Royal Examiner, its staff and election coverage a target throughout the campaign season.
McCool replied that I was correct in recalling that his remarks had not been directed at Town work crews, but rather at administrative oversight and communications between contractors and department heads on follow-up work. – “I know, Mike, I re-watched the video this morning,” I told him, adding, “I still hold you responsible for the hellish situation I find myself in as a reporter. – You know, it’ll be my reporting next meeting that is somebody’s ‘quandary’ for comment.
As for his reply to Monday’s political developments, McCool said, “It seems Mr. Tederick is up to his political tricks and negativity. When I made the comments at the Town Council meeting two weeks ago, Mr. Tederick called my comments ‘absolutely false’. Are they? Mr. Tederick emailed me the next morning asking for the addresses of the potholes and the site of the curb and gutter issues. He said he wanted to address the problem and get them taken care of ASAP.
“And Mr. Tederick told me after the meeting that the Town had seven contractors doing this work, and they were inspecting the jobs, but one contractor had been doing such a poor job, most of which had to be redone, that the inspector was spending all his time with this one contractor. I noticed he didn’t mention any of this in the Town Manager’s report on the 27th.”
McCool added that people could judge for themselves what happened last night from watching the meeting video of the political turn in Tederick’s report and the contrasting reactions to it. In the first video we’ve edited his actual comments to council on July 13 and Tederick’s report which pivots toward McCool, as well as the mayor-manager and mayor-council sparring over the political turn the meeting had taken.
The second video is the entire Town Council meeting of July 27th.
Murray asks for ‘LOVE’ correction, and gives some LOVE to the departing county administrator
Former Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Murray, who did not run for re-election to his North River District seat last year, paid a visit to his old Warren County Government Center stomping grounds on Tuesday night, July 21st – but it wasn’t just a polite social call to see how things were going.
In fact, in two visits to the podium, Murray had some pointed words for his three first-term successors, Walt Mabe, Cheryl Cullers, and his old district’s Delores Oates. First, Murray chastised the chair and his colleagues for not correcting past board meeting misstatements indicating that the previous board which Murray chaired had authorized the LOVE sign under consideration for placement at the Route 340/522 intersection with Guard Hill Road.
“I’d like a retraction on that because this goes out to the public, and they don’t know what the real truth is. – So, let’s give them the real truth, thank you,” Murray concluded in a brief visit to the public speakers’ podium during consideration of the LOVE sign.
Contacted later, Murray explained that while he was chairman in his last term the LOVE sign had been before the County Planning Commission, never being forwarded to the supervisors for a final vote up or down.
Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers responded to Murray by noting that at a subsequent meeting she had apologized for the incorrect allusion to previous board approval of the LOVE sign project.
“Because I was under the impression that no projects went through without board approval and I knew it hadn’t come before us. So, that was a wrong assumption on my part and I do apologize, and I will apologize to you personally,” Cullers said, drawing a “Thank you” from the former chairman.
“I was wrong and if I’m wrong I will admit it,” Cullers added to conclude the matter.
About an hour-and-a-half later with its nearly 4-1/2 hour open meeting headed to a conclusion, Murray revisited the podium to say goodbye to County Administrator Doug Stanley, who as previously reported, has reached an “Involuntary Separation Agreement” with the current board to leave the county administrator’s positions he has held for the entire 20 years of this century, out of his quarter-century of service to the county government.
Following Rick Novak to the podium after the Royal Cinemas owner also acknowledged Stanley’s decades of service to the County and community – “What we’ve accomplished in this county in that time period, through some of your efforts and a lot of other people’s efforts, is amazing,” Novak began, adding, “Warren County, even the EDA believe it or not,” Novak said referencing pre-financial scandal years and efforts under executive directors prior to Jennifer McDonald, “was the envy of the state for many years for all the things we got accomplished here. And Doug, you were a huge part of that. There are things this board will never know, the places in this community he has touched as a Rotarian, and you will be missed,” Novak concluded drawing applause from some of the hearty remaining crowd at 11:15 p.m.
Though not signed up to speak, Murray, Stanley’s former boss as board chairman, asked permission to return to the podium, which Chairman Mabe granted.
“Mr. Chairman, I come before you, your board and staff with a heavy heart. We are losing so much institutional knowledge and you don’t realize what we’re losing,” Murray began asking if he could approach the county administrator at his position on the dais, also granted by the chair, as Murray continued with rising emotion.
“I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for this community. You are a cornerstone that’s not appreciated. Doug, I found you to be amongst the best of the best,” Murray continued with a phrase from his military service.
See Murray’s heartfelt farewell to the only administrator this county has known through the first 20 years of the third millennium of the Gregorian Calendar in the Royal Examiner meeting video, as well as Murray and his former colleague Richard Traczyk’s stinging appraisal of the new board majority’s motivation in seeking Stanley’s “involuntary” separation from the Warren County government.
“And he (Traczyk) said please mention my name, that I agree with this: That it’s a shame to pay back election promises this way having not even worked with you (Stanley) for a full year,” Murray said before continuing to describe what he found to be a perhaps over-dedicated public employee during his tenure as a supervisor.
In the wake of the EDA financial scandal erupting through 2019, the newly-elected board majority generally campaigned on an “end of business as usual” platform seen by many as a major contributing factor in the evolution of that alleged in dueling civil litigations $20-million-plus financial misappropriation of EDA and municipal resources during the EDA executive directorship of Jennifer McDonald.
Stanley’s lengthy tenure as county administrator was perceived by some as a key element of “business as usual” here.
UPDATE: Back from the brink – supervisors save most interesting discussion for last
Just when suicide seems like a viable option to extricate yourself from a time/space loop of consideration of municipal government minutiae that you see no way out of, the unexpected pulls you back – to life, to the makings of a good story.
That was the case Tuesday evening, just over three-and-a-half hours into a meeting characterized by the “Nothing is Easy” perspective that seems to have overtaken the Warren County Board of Supervisors recently. Delayed for action Tuesday were, not only a vote on allocation of the $2.1 million County share of federal CARES Act Coronavirus relief funding due to the absence of Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Rick Farrall (correction: Farrall was absent due to the item being pulled from agenda by chairman due to the need for additional information on allocation process being developed), but also the rather routine approval of the minutes of previous meetings. Well, there were a lot of them – three regular meetings dating back to mid-May, three special meetings, and a May work session – “a lot of reading” as Chairman Walt Mabe pointed out.
But 3-1/2 hours later, long gone were general topics of public interest on recognitions of service to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and updates on Samuels Library operations during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response.
Also gone were potential lead stories:
- on the fate of a long-planned promotional LOVE sign designed to piggy-back Virginia communities on the half-century-plus success of the “Virginia is for Lovers” tourism promotional slogan acknowledged as one of the Top 10 marketing campaigns of any kind (keep it alive but explore alternate designs, locations and funding options);
- of a possible border war with Clarke County over a centuries-old surveying anomaly leading to a needed boundary adjustment (approve the changed boundaries as did Clarke County earlier in the day to correct the situation);
- or proper lighting, shrubbery, parking and positive movement on development of a Department of Game and Inland Fisheries overseen Morgan’s Ford Shenandoah River-side boat landing property (keep the project moving forward so as not to lose DuPont environmental settlement funding, but at reduced costs with less lighting and less shrubbery – “shrubbery”, is there a Monty Python script developing here?).
By 8:43 p.m., one-hour-and-43 minutes in, the meeting had settled into a mind-numbing series of Conditional Use Permit requests for private-use campground property additions; for short-term tourist rentals; and ordinance amendments controlling how many dead, unusable, untagged vehicles or recreational vehicles may be kept on residential properties; and how flags and signs can or cannot be regulated in the wake of a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on publicly displayed content.
After an hour of this drier side of municipal business, first, the LOVE sign issue came before the board seeing a 6 for, 2 against, 2 in the middle public split. Following a revisiting of early agenda board and staff, reports pushed back by other business and the 7:30 p.m. start of the eight public hearings, an agenda item added at the meeting’s outset by Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter, one of two still-sitting incumbents (with Archie Fox) whose seats have not yet come up for election, post-EDA financial scandal.
Reservation of whose rights?
That item was board consideration and a vote of “formal approval” of a renegotiated “Reservation of Rights Agreement” with the Front Royal Town Council. As Royal Examiner has reported, that agreement negotiated informally between Supervisors Cullers and Oates and Council members Lori Cockrell and Chris Holloway was an attempt to have the Front Royal Town Council agree to assume payment responsibility for its Economic Development Authority-financed new Town Police Station headquarters in the new fiscal year.
That the negotiated and renegotiated agreement not quite achieving that goal – the Town has agreed to a one-time, recoverable, half-interest payment of $10,528.95 – had been accomplished by Cullers and Oates without his, and perhaps other supervisors’ knowledge, led Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter to inquire as to the nature and advisability of his involved colleagues’ negotiating process, without the formal endorsement of the entire board.
That 35-minute, sometimes confrontational, discussion involving, not only board members, but County Attorney Jason Ham, EDA Board Chairman and soon-to-be Interim County Administrator Ed Daley, will be explored in a related story “Two supervisors questioned about ‘back channel’ dealings with Town on EDA issues” and attached video segment.
See the Morgan’s Ford Boat Landing, the public comment section, boundary adjustment, and the LOVE sign discussion and tabling vote in these Royal Examiner videos:
Warren County Board of Supervisors Meeting – Morgan Fords Public Hearing – July 21, 2020
Warren County Board of Supervisors Meeting – Public Comments – July 21, 2020 – (The Public Comment video has been updated to include both sections of public comments presented at the BOS meeting.)
Warren County Board of Supervisors Meeting – July 21, 2020 – LOVEworks Sign Project
Warren County Board of Supervisors Meeting – July 21, 2020 – Boundary Line Adjustment between Warren and Clarke Counties
Sheriff Butler recognizes outstanding contributions to his department and the community
At the July 21st Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting, Sheriff Mark Butler presented several officers, administrative staff, and County support personnel with special recognitions for their service to the community and department.
Singled out for Outstanding Support Awards were County Transportation Department personnel Aaron Mitchell and Jeremy Smith for work on department vehicles; Deputies Terry Fritts and Anthony Stevens and Investigator Jeremy Seabright with Outstanding Service Awards; though absent, Deputy Cindy Burke with a Community Policing Medal; Deputies Christopher Anderson and Chad Ruckman with lifesaving medals – that’s an important one; and Major Jeffrey Driskill and Lieutenants Charles Brogan and Robert Mumaw with Distinguished Service Medals.
See Sheriff Butler elaborate on these employees’ service and contributions to his department and our community in this Royal Examiner video:
Two supervisors questioned about ‘back channel’ dealings with Town on EDA issues
On Tuesday, July 21, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter’s call to add board discussion and a vote of “formal approval” of an informally negotiated “Reservation of Rights Agreement” with the Front Royal Town Council led to the evening’s most surprising and most contentious discussion.
During that discussion, Carter asked if informal County “Reservation of Rights” negotiators Delores Oates and Cheryl Cullers should be made an official board committee. When County Administrator Doug Stanley noted that once formed as a formal municipal committee, further meetings would require public notice of, and minutes to be taken at future meetings.
“I know, that was my intent,” Carter replied, indicating he thought a formal committee a better path than the undocumented, unsupervised way those unofficial meetings between Cullers and Oates and Lori Cockrell and Chis Holloway on the Town side were being conducted. Carter called the meetings similar to the Town-County Liaison Committee meetings, which are formal and documented. Perhaps oddly or not, the Reservation of Rights Agreement discussion was NOT part of last week’s Liaison Committee meeting agenda.
“I think everybody wants to be transparent. And it seems like that would be the best way to be transparent – notify the media, notify the public about having these discussions,” Carter said of formalizing such an important matter involving the County, Town, and EDA.
However, Cullers and Oates countered that their un-monitored meetings with the Town representatives were being made in good faith to move a stagnated process forward.
“I would like to disagree with that,” Culler said of Carter’s formalized committee idea, adding, “simply because I feel like we’re making some headway – not that I’m trying not to be transparent. But at some point, you have to sit down with people in a room, shut the door and get down to business without too many people in the room. I think the Reservation of Rights that we came to here is a step in that direction. I don’t know if we would have got there if we had more people in the room.”
“I understand what you’re saying, that you prefer to conduct public business without the public,” Carter retorted of Cullers’ rationale for continuing her and Oates meetings as they have thus far been conducted without public and media scrutiny.
As previously reported, the original “Reservation of Rights Agreement” was a late June, Town-drafted quasi-legal document agreeing to a one-time, recoverable $10,528.95 payment covering half the $21,102 interest-only July payment on the new Front Royal Police Headquarters debt service. The agreement was first revealed during a June 30 Town Special Meeting called to approve the initial draft. However, due to excessive conditional language included in that document, first EDA officials who were being asked to sign off on the agreement they had no previous knowledge of, and then apparently County officials as well, rejected moving forward with it.
Last week a revised and severely paired back, one paragraph “Reservation of Rights Agreement” was brought forward by North River District Supervisor Oates and Board Vice-Chair Cullers for reconsideration by the supervisors. While the intent remained the same, a one-month, recoverable half-interest Town payment on the July FRPD debt service that the Town was admitting no obligation to make, virtually all the excessive verbiage that would have had the EDA and County signing a document stating the Town has “no legal or moral obligation” to pay for its EDA-financed police station and preventing any future EDA or County use of the payment and its documentation in court or “any forum” was gone.
It was replaced with the Town’s acknowledgment that the payment was being made “with no admission of obligation and reserving all rights to continue to contest this and other matters in pending litigation between the Town and EDA. The EDA accepts this payment acknowledging this reservation of rights.” See Royal Examiner’s coverage of evolution of the draft proposals in previous stories “Legal questions surround Town offer of one-time, recoverable FRPD payment” and “Pared back FRPD payment ‘Reservation of Rights Agreement’ revealed by County”.
As for the asserted “good faith” aspect of the secretive Reservation of Rights Agreement discussion, Carter said, as EDA Board Chairman Daley would soon agree to during his comments on the matter, “Wouldn’t it be good faith if the Town paid their obligations? Wouldn’t it be good faith if the Town, County, and EDA worked together, instead of against each other in legal procedures?”
Both Cullers and Oates responded that was their ultimate goal, adding that the non-publicly acknowledged meetings allowed the conversation to be undertaken “without the undermining going on”. Contacted later, Cullers said that was not a reference to any media coverage of Town-County issues.
Carter continued his “show of good faith” questions, asking, “Is it a show of good faith that the Town is starting its own EDA, thus duplicating costs to the town taxpayers, instead of working together? After all, most of the EDA projects are located in the town.”
Carter also questioned the advisability of the supervisors as the county’s governing body, signing off on a document that Oates admitted had not been what she and Cullers had hoped to achieve on behalf of the County and EDA, which was the full July payment acknowledging the bank-financed 3% interest rate on the FRPD debt service.
Part of the Town of Front Royal’s $20-million-plus civil litigation against the EDA is the claim it was promised a 1.5%, 30-year debt service interest rate on the FRPD project by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.
Called to the podium to comment for the EDA Tuesday night, still EDA Board Chairman Daley told the supervisors the EDA has documentation dating to 2017 and 2018 indicating the Town knew the FRPD project interest rate would be no lower than 3%.
Daley also was fairly pointed in indicating to the supervisors that he believed the Town was not dealing in good faith with the EDA regarding any financial issues. He observed that Town legal attacks or refusals to meet financial obligations with the EDA were also attacks on the County since the County has taken on sole financial responsibility in support of the EDA.
Following the 35-minute far-ranging, sometimes pointed conversation, on a motion by Carter, seconded by Fox, the board voted 4-1 to table action on the Reservation of Rights Agreement. Oates cast the lone negative vote. After a long pause when her name was called for the roll call vote, Cullers voted with the majority to table.
See all the drama of your local government in action, including discussion with County Attorney Jason Ham on the advisability of formal versus informal meetings of this magnitude, Chairman Mabe’s observations in the middle of the debate, and Daley’s full observation from the EDA perspective in this Royal Examiner video segment: