Move aimed at closing $700,000 budget gap, reactions mixed
By Dan McDermott and Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
FRONT ROYAL, VA, April 1, 2010 – In what opponents are calling a “desperate move to generate enthusiasm for an unnecessary tax hike,” the Front Royal Town Council voted 3-2 Monday (with one abstention) to sell the Shenandoah River for $2.4 million dollars to Frederick County, VA, which has long coveted the once-pristine waterway to feed it’s desire for more development.
Informed his abstention didn’t block the move, supported by Councilmen Sayre, Holloway and Vice Mayor Hrbek, because it did not require a “super majority” fourth vote, Shae Parker said, “Are you sure? – It is sort of like a tax increase. I mean it replaces tax revenue, doesn’t that count?”
Eighteenth District State Delegate Clifford L. “Clay” Athey said that Parker probably should not have even considered voting as an appointed member of council. “The people didn’t elect him, he’s not a Republican – why are we even talking about him?” Athey, who introduced legislation this year negating the impact of appointed municipal body officials, wondered.
In a hastily called press conference, Town Manager J. Michael Graham said the decision, while unexpected, was a smart move. “Look, the river used to be a major way to move products from New Market to Harpers Ferry. But since I-81 came along, it has clearly become a burden to maintain. It has outlived its usefulness. And frankly speaking, it’s worth a nice chunk of change, transgender fish and all!” he said.
The final negotiated price for the historic and majestic river would close the town’s budget deficit for two years.
Frederick County officials say they plan to drain the river over a 16-year period provided that federal officials agree. A public hearing involving the EPA, the Virginia Water Control Board and Department of Game & Inland Fisheries is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 29, 2011.
One member of the Frederick County delegation in attendance who wished not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the board of supervisors said it was a win-win. “Look, tourists come to Front Royal to the ‘Canoe Capital’ and all that but it doesn’t say ‘River Capital’ so technically speaking there is no liability issue. And a lot of people will still swing by restaurants and gas stations as they look for the river and opt for the Skyline Drive. Plus, of course, we’ll get a [boat]load of water,” he said.
In an exclusive interview, Vice Mayor Bret Hrbek, who was a strong proponent of the idea, said it was a matter of “wading through a river of financial problems.”
“This wasn’t my first choice as you know. But there comes a time when you have to man-up and make the tough calls. Ronald Reagan would have sold it decades ago,” he said as he looked misty-eyed at a portrait of ‘the Gipper’ hanging on his office wall.
Front Royal Mayor and former town public works director Eugene Tewalt said with the decision to tear down the Riverton Dam, his decision to support the move was an easy one. “I thought the river was still good for something, or could be with a little tweaking. But once we saw the numbers on that – $500k to a million to fix to no apparent end, versus nothing, or virtually nothing, to get rid of the dam holding the river back – what the heck?! I mean the state guys told us Frederick County and Winchester are using up most of the river’s water before it gets to us anyway. If it doesn’t serve a purpose and they essentially control it already, what’s the point?”
Asked about the possible loss of recreational uses, including the canoeing that has given Front Royal the title “Canoe Capital of Virginia”, Tewalt was philosophical. “Well you know that was nice of then Vice President Gore to do that, but we didn’t even have a canoe launch point until we spent all that money fixing up the Luray Avenue boat landing last year. And one launch point – canoe capital? I think that whole nature’s calling tourist industry is more of a county thing, than of much direct value to the town.”
“What the *u@k!?!” River activist and longtime river businessman Trace Noel said. “Unfortunately, I guess we all live upstream from these guys. They just continue to astound me on an almost daily basis. I mean what are they thinking? They are going to sell a 2-billion-year-old historic river featured in movies, poems and songs for centuries so they don’t have to add $20 or so per year to real estate taxes?”
Local Tea Party activist leader Tim Ratigan was angered by the news, if from a different angle. “I don’t want the tax increases – I’m all for any alternative to that. But where are we supposed to dump our tea if push comes to shove next time around?”
Former county supervisor and county Republican Committee Chairman Matt Tederick fumed at the news. “Why didn’t they go to Fairfax or Falls Church? They just had that water authority sale decision that has nothing to do with our fund balance situation – but they surely have deeper pockets than Winchester. This is a classic example of these incumbent politicians taking a good idea and turning it to [mud].”
Questioned about the move, Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Archie Fox said, “They did what? I don’t remember that coming up at liaison meetings. Can they do that on their own? Aren’t they still part of Warren County? I’m not sure this is legal.”
It did not appear to ease Fox’s mind that the state and feds apparently had the last call on whether the sale would be consummated.
County Administrator Doug Stanley also seemed taken aback at the news. “Was this Graham’s idea?” he asked. He was told it appeared to be a split council initiative. “Typical,” Stanley replied.
South River Supervisor Linda Glavis asked if the move would cost the county anything. Told the county appeared to be on the outside looking in, with no financial obligation or benefit, Glavis said, “Well, I guess that’s okay.”
North River Supervisor Glenn White seemed relieved at the news. “Maybe we can get some additional funding for the air show now. It’s going to be bigger and better than ever this year, you know. The river had its day but it is old news – it is over. But the airport and air travel and commerce transported on the wing, that is our future.”
It would seem the Front Royal Town Council, at least a portion of it, agree, at least in part, with that notion.
One is now left to wonder if a brewing annexation move by the town will shift its focus from the county’s northside commercial corridor to its southwestern corridor where that airport and adjacent land for a potential commercial and industrial complex lie.
Dan McDermott: firstname.lastname@example.org
Roger Bianchini: email@example.com
[Note, this story has been updated.]
EDA approves pending solar field lease at Avtex
By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
Is a small, rural Virginia town poised to take a lead position in a U.S. move toward increased reliance on solar power – and bring the troubled 70-year story of what was the nation’s largest environmental disaster Superfund site to a happy and green ending?
On March 26, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development unanimously approved the terms of lease and purchase agreement on approximately 40 acres of what is envisioned as a 150-acre business park on reclaimed land at the Royal Phoenix site in the Town of Front Royal, some 67 miles west of Washington, D.C. The lease is tentative pending approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and FMC Corporation.
EPA is the overseer of over $26 million in federally-funded cleanup of the site, which covers a total of some 467 acres, or about 10-percent of the land in the small, rural, northwestern Virginia town of about 13,000. FMC is a federally-mandated cleanup partner and the lone surviving of three owners of the former rayon and synthetic fibers manufacturing plant opened in 1940 by American Viscose Corporation.
After 49 years as its community’s major employer and economic engine, and a major materials contributor to the Allied war effort in World War II, the then Avtex Fibers plant was closed down in 1989 by Virginia Attorney General Mary Sue Terry for ongoing violations of the state’s water-control standards.
In June of 2009 principals of SolAVerde Inc. proposed development of what could eventually be a 100 to 150-megawatt solar field on one or more sites in Front Royal. But negotiations stalled as an initially envisioned $211 private sector start-up investment morphed into a request by SolAVerde partners for an up-front $18-million investment on a 14-year pre-purchase of solar power from the project by the town.
But with other investment options being explored, including a potential, private sector partnership between SolAVerde/Standard Energy and AMP-Ohio (American Municipal Power), things appear to be regaining momentum. AMP-Ohio is a municipal energy consortium Front Royal joined three years ago.
Former Front Royal Mayor James Eastham, now a town appointee to the EDA board of directors, made the March 26 motion to approve a lease-purchase agreement on 40.6 acres of the 150-acres Royal Phoenix business park site.
Afterwards he said, “The EDA doesn’t want to be an impediment in the process of this proposed use of the entire 150-acre business park side of Royal Phoenix. The EDA is about creating jobs and this is a step in that direction.”
While the remaining acreage at the business park has yet to be released, the EDA and 10th Virginia District U.S. representative Frank Wolf are poised to seek a fast track and eased restrictions on uses at the site at a planned March 29 meeting at EDA headquarters at Royal Phoenix adjacent to the involved 40 acres.
Several hours after the EDA vote approving a pending lease-purchase of the property, this reporter sat down with Front Royal Vice-Mayor Bret Hrbek to discuss the implications of that vote and the status of the solar proposal for Front Royal.
- President Obama’s healthcare bill has passed. What’s in it?
- Why so much misinformation?
- People are freaking out. Is it similar to the reaction to desegregation?
- Australia spends half as much of GDP on healthcare and everyone is covered.
- Doctors say it was a bad idea to have let the health insurance companies take over health care.
Guinea Pig-Gate: A Front Royal man is charged with buying a guinea pig at a pet store, killing it and making it into a hat which he wore around his neighborhood.
- Should he be charged with a hunting violation?
- Should you be allowed to kill your pets?
- Is the man competent to stand trial?
- Is it hypocritical to say cute furry animals can’t be killed but cows can?
- What if he had fed it to a snake?
Is Front Royal about to over burden local businesses with luxury taxes?
- Front Royal, VA will not raise real estate or personal property taxes.
- The town is facing a $700,000 budget shortfall but by law must balance it’s budget.
- The town is considering some luxury tax hikes that could affect smokers, restaurants and hotels.
- People freaking out over $20 a year
- Will town businesses lose customers to Warren County?
Police Chief criticized for speaking at public hearing in uniform with gun.
- Front Royal, VA Police Chief Richard H. Furr was criticized for an email sent by an aide advocating a tax hike to fully fund his department.
- He was also criticized for speaking at a town council public hearing while wearing his uniform and gun.
- Fair charge or silly town politics?
- Town police chiefs always go to town council meetings in uniform.
On Wednesday February 25, 2009, Front Royal Police arrested 52 year old Elias Efremidis of Front Royal for being a Fugitive from Justice. The fugitive charge stems from an incident involving the trafficking of cocaine in Boston, Massachusetts in 1988.
After an intensive investigation conducted by members of the patrol and criminal investigations division, Mr. Efremidis was found to have been living in the Front Royal area under the alias’ of Ilias and/or Louie Rodinos for the past eleven years.
The investigation was sparked by an incident in which Louie Rodinos had pointed a laser light device at a uniformed officer.
After warrants were obtained by Officer B. Miller and served by Officer E. Rosemeck, suspicions arose as to Rodinos’ true identity. Officer Rosemeck conducted research into the identity of Rodinos and found numerous discrepancies within various police reports. Officer Rosemeck notified Detective Sergeant J. Ryman of his findings and further investigation ensued.
The investigation continued with the assistance of Virginia A.B.C. Agent M. Wild and led detectives to Rodinos’ true identity of Elias Efremidis. Further research revealed outstanding indictments in Boston for the drug trafficking charge. Mr. Efremidis is being held without bond pending further court actions.
The investigation is on-going and anyone with additional information is asked to contact Detective Sergeant Jason Ryman with the Front Royal Police Criminal Investigations Division at 540-636-2208.
See related story: Rodinos arrested on Massachusetts’ extradition warrant
Embattled Victoria’s/Union Hall Lounge owner cited as 2-decade drug fugitive
By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
Front Royal, VA – The manager of Victoria’s Restaurant and Union Hall Lounge has been arrested and is facing extradition to Massachusetts on 20-year-old drug trafficking charges.
Louie Rodinos was arrested on Feb. 25, on an extradition warrant issued and served by the Front Royal Police Department. The 52-year-old Rodinos is accused of failing to appear for trial on cocaine trafficking charges in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, in 1988. He is accused of using two aliases, Louis Rodinos and Elias Rodinos, since that time. According to the Feb. 25 extradition warrant, Rodinos’ real name is Elias Efremidis. Rodinos’s wife and daughter, in whose names his local businesses have been held, have used the last name of Efremidis during their two business stints in Front Royal. Several years prior to opening Victoria’s at 231 Chester Street in March 2006, Rodinos and his family operated the Grapevine Restaurant/Texas-Spirit Saloon at the intersection of Commerce Ave. and North Royal Avenue.
Rodinos was denied bond during an initial extradition hearing before Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judge Ronald Napier on the afternoon of Feb. 26. A second extradition hearing is scheduled for Warren County General District Court on March 3, at 10 a.m.
In arguing against bond, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton told the court Rodinos has been identified as Elias Efremidis, the man who fled Massachusetts in 1988 as he faced trial for trafficking two kilos of cocaine. Noting the man Rodinos is alleged to be, had disappeared from Massachusetts while on $25,000 bond, Layton called the defendant a continued flight risk. During cross-examination Layton asked Rodinos if he had not had his Victoria’s ABC license seized. Rodinos said no, that rather he had voluntarily turned it in. Regardless of the circumstance, Layton called the floundering Victoria’s business situation additional incentive for the defendant “to cut and run” if released on bond.
Rodinos’s attorney Paul Thomson called his client to testify at the extradition hearing in an attempt to establish Rodinos’ ties to the community and the state. Rodinos testified he has lived in Virginia for 11 years, that his son had graduated from Warren County High School and was now attending Hampden-Sydney College. Rodinos also said he currently lives in Warren County with his wife, Fatoula Efremidis, and that he has two grandchildren here. Both his wife and daughter were in court for the hearing but were not called to testify.
Neither attorney asked Rodinos if he was, in fact, the person named in the extradition warrant. However, in arguing for bond, Thomson asserted that if released, his client’s intention was to acquire counsel in Massachusetts to try and have that legal situation resolved.
Thomson later explained that authorities have 90 days to establish that Rodinos is in fact the person named in the extradition warrant – “Are you this guy? That’s the sole purpose of an extradition hearing,” Thomson said. He also noted that Massachusetts requires its governor’s authorization for extradition actions.
During the Feb. 26 hearing, Layton told the court the Massachusetts prosecutor that had originally brought the drug charges against Elias Efremidis had moved up within that office, and was still “eager to prosecute the case” despite the lapse of time involved.
The Efremidis family closed Victoria’s and the Union Hall on Feb. 11, six days before turning their ABC license in on Feb. 17.
By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
Front Royal, Virginia – A federal trial stemming from a 48-count indictment alleging that one of the three largest cookie and cracker manufacturers in North America has engaged in illegal activities to thwart union organizing efforts at its Warren County plant concluded in Martinsburg, W. Va., on Feb. 10. At this point it can be only guesswork as to how long a federal judge will take before rendering a decision in the alleged union-busting case, but it could be months, and eventually years before a final resolution is achieved according to a representative of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union.
“That is why the Employee Free Choice Act is so important,” BCTGM Union rep John J. Price says. “Up here where I am (in Ohio) a case has gone on for 6-1/2 years without resolution – there is no incentive to deter these companies [from anti-union activities]. There are 2000 pages of transcripts and 250 exhibits [in the Martinsburg trial]. The judge has set March 18 for briefs to be filed in that case. Say it takes until the end of August to review everything submitted and Interbake loses. They can appeal to DC and there’s another two years gone.”
The pending federal legislation Price referenced would simplify the process of unionization of the workplace. It would allow unionization through the submission of a simple majority of worker signatures on union authorization cards. Currently, companies can contest such generally supportive moves toward unionization and require secret ballot votes on labor representation.
Price pointed out the Employee Free Choice Act would fine companies found guilty of violating national labor laws, such as are alleged in the current Warren County Interbake case, three times the amount of back pay owed employees found to have been wrongly terminated for union support.
And it is this scenario of alleged management harassment and firings of union supporters that is at the root of the federal case brought by the Baltimore Regional Office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Interbake’s Warren County industrial bakery.
The plant specializes in cookies and ice cream sandwich wafers. Interbake’s website lists 1,100 employees at six locations in what it says is the third largest cookie and cracker manufacturing operation in North America. Interbake’s parent company is George Weston, a Canadian company founded in 1882. Interbake’s corporate offices are in Richmond, Va.
“Instead of concentrating on making ice-cream sandwiches and cookies, that plant’s management seems focused on union busting,” Price says of the union’s read on Interbake’s management tactics at its Warren County plant. “We believe it reflects a diabolical plan on the company’s part. Unfortunately in 2007, employees were required to attend mandatory company meetings that put fear [of unionizing] into workers.”
The current federal suit alleges Interbake management began a pattern of worker intimidation and profiling following an initial pro-union authorization vote shortly after the plant opened in the spring of 2006. Price said at that time about 2/3’s of the Warren plant’s workers signed pro-union authorization cards. Then, despite what he calls a mutually beneficial past relationship between the national baker’s union and the company, Interbake declined to let BCTGM in as the plant’s employee representative. It was then the trouble started, according to Price.
“Given the history of the relationship between the company and the union I have no idea why they did that. As I said, that’s the million dollar question and it remains the million dollar question,” Price said of Interbake’s initial move against BCTGM as the labor representative of its Warren County workforce. Price said that Interbake and its parent company, George Weston, actually increased its market share and profitability from an earlier relationship with the baker’s union based at a plant in North Sioux City, South Dakota. “The employer made money – they actually went from fourth to second in the industry during this relationship,” Price said.
Interbake’s Richmond-based attorney in the case, Mark Keenan, did agreed with Price on that one point – that the union and company had a previously good working relationship based at Interbake’s North Sioux City, SD facility – but that’s about it as far as concurrence on the basic issues at stake in the federal suit goes.
Timing is everything
“In 2006 before we had hired any employees, the union was demanding that they be allowed to be the employees’ labor negotiations representative. The company wanted to preserve the right of workers to choose,” Keenan said of Interbake’s move toward a secret ballot on unionization. Keenan said the company believes a secret ballot is the most effective way to assure employee’s right to vote what they believe, without undue coercion from either side.
Keenan also disputes Price’s estimate of initial and subsequent union support at the Warren County plant. He said Price’s own testimony at trial estimated the number of pro-BCTGM union authorization cards topping out between 55 and 60 percent, rather than the 66 percent Price’s referenced 2-1 margin implies. The Interbake attorney also stated that BCTGM Local 68 Business Manager Gary Oskian testified at trial that the union had “demanded” voluntary recognition as the Warren plant’s labor representative early in 2006 before the plant opened. At issue remains whether such a union “demand” predated a workforce expression of union support, be it 55 or 66 percent.
Keenan also said the company believes the timing of union allegations of worker coercion just prior to the April 2008 vote were prompted by the union’s expectation of a second consecutive loss by secret ballot of the plant’s employees. Keenan observed the union made no allegation of similar coercion in the wake of the 2007 election that saw unionization soundly defeated.
The disputed and tightly contested 2008 vote came following a decisive, nearly 2-1 defeat of unionization in April 2007. Price says the union views such marked short-term turnarounds in union support at individual plants, as he believes was the case between 2006 and 2007 at Interbake’s Warren County plant, as indicative of concerted and often illegal management efforts to crush organized labor representation.
Keenan counters that if 60 percent or less of the plant’s workers signed the 2006 union authorization cards, the numbers to affect the 2007 secret ballot turnaround could be explained by a change of as few as 20 or so votes – “which is not nearly as dramatic a turnaround.”
The federal trial began on Oct. 27, and concluded after 27 days of testimony on alleged violations of the National Labor Relations Act at Interbake’s plant here. The complaint was filed on July 31, 2008, three months after a still disputed secret ballot on unionization in April 2008. Among the evidence heard by US Administrative Law Judge John T. Clark was whether Interbake fired six employees for their union support prior to that April 16, 2008 election at which the company contends unionization was defeated by a 100-97 vote. Price says if the NLRB-enabled, but still contested votes of the four, fired employees are allowed to stand, the union wins the April election by a 101-100 count.
While the company says the contested employees were all fired for legitimate reasons, the union has a different read on the situation. Of fired union supporter John Robinson, Price said, “He had never missed a day; did all he was asked to do and achieved top seniority He was approached about a change to third, or the midnight, shift,” due to a specific personal situation. “All he did was question why, with his seniority, he would move to the third shift – and they fired him on the spot. Everybody at the plant knew why he was fired,” Price says.
Keenan asserts that the company’s effort to change Robinson’s shift was strictly due to medical limitations Robinson admitted to at trial. “He was a good employee but there were medical issues that limited what he could do,” Keenan asserts. Rather than shift other workers to accommodate Robinson’s situation, the company’s policy was to move Robinson to an open third-shift spot. Keenan characterized Robinson’s departure as almost a “self-termination” due to his medical limitations.
In addition to disagreeing on the particulars of specific terminations, Price and the union point to other methods of company harassment and coercion. Price cited “mandated” company meetings during which the union contends employees were threatened with lost retirement benefits and the specter of lost jobs if unionization was allowed at the plant. – “And the bottom line for any worker is they don’t want to lose their job. No wonder they were scared to talk to us after that,” Price said.
In contrast to the alleged series of mandatory management meetings the union believes were designed to scare workers away from union support, Price says the union was allowed scant opportunity for rebuttal at the plant in 2007. “We got only two, hour slots before and after shifts – it wasn’t a level playing field. Our tables were right across from management’s offices. We actually spent more time talking to managers than employees,” Price observed.
“I think that’s simply inaccurate,” Keenan counters. “Workers change their minds for a variety of reasons.” Of past labor violation allegations against Interbake in 2006, Keenan said that of 46 individual claims filed in 2006, 40 were either dropped by the NLRB or withdrawn by the union. Of the remaining complaints, Keenan says they were generally minor violations such as supervisors removing union materials from tables were they were legally set out for employees. He said the company decided it was not cost effective to litigate such minor offenses, and settled those cases out of court.
After the trial’s conclusion, one Interbake employee and union supporter spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his own job.
“I would like to emphasize that Interbake and it’s attorneys had a real good idea who was for union representation and who was not by the constant categorizing of it’s workforce by many surveys like demographics. Removing workers from their workstations to ‘speak’ with them about their concerns but never taking any actions, was a clear sign of being profiled. All the while, problems in production were being ignored. Training was non-existent until this federal trial. The workers at Interbake have made the plant productive despite all the obstacles, however we knew we needed representation due to the treatment management instilled on us daily, like not being allowed to go home during a state of emergency one winter.
“At the very least, now Interbake has a split shop. But they could have taken the NLRB recommendation of remedy to rehire the fired workers and count their votes to resolve the issue.
For some reason they will never admit, management chose to block their workers by whatever means necessary.”
“The Judge will decide whether or not the NLRB Regional Attorneys have proven the facts around the unlawful termination of BCTGM supporters Phillip Underwood, Connie Nelson, Christina Duval, Milo Malcomb, Clyde Stovall and John Robinson,” Price says. “Four of the six discriminees listed above voted in the April 16, 2008 election. Their votes will make the difference on whether or not 210 Interbake employees will have the right to collectively bargain a BCTGM union contract.”
Hometown Car Dealership Protection Bill to Assist Motor Vehicle Dealers Advances to State Senate
Richmond, Wednesday February 11, 2009 – Del. Clifford “Clay” Athey, Jr. (R-Warren) , Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee , announced that his bill to assist statewide community motor vehicle dealers passed 98-0 in the House of Delegates and will go on to the Virginia State Senate.
The following is a summary of HB -1778:
HB 1778 Motor vehicle dealers; coercion. Revises and clarifies responsibilities of manufacturers toward motor vehicle dealers in the event of termination of a dealer franchise.
By the end of this year General Motors is expected to terminate over 5,000 of their 7,500 existing dealerships in North America. Every job related to the auto industry in Virginia will be affected by the Detroit Three auto manufacturer’s plans to eliminate auto line makes like Saturn (Chevy), Chrysler, and Ford (Mercury) as well as many others throughout the nation. Some auto parts manufacturer’s plants as well as our hometown car dealerships will be forced to close or dramatically reduce their workforce.
“My HB 1778 ensures that a small part of the Federal bailout money GM, Ford, and Chrysler received last month will be shared with Virginia car dealerships which may be forced to close their doors because the cars they sell and service will no longer be manufactured. This bill provides them a way to attract other manufacturers to replace the Detroit Three saving local jobs.
Protecting home town dealerships and their employees should be our top priority in this time of economic uncertainty not bailing out the corporate CEO’s in Detroit whose bad decisions have brought the domestic auto industry to its knees,” noted Delegate Athey.
“I look forward to moving this Hometown Car Dealership Protection Bill through the State Senate and the Governor’s desk in spite of the opposition of the Detroit Three,” Athey said.
Interim Police Chief Richard H. Furr advises that on Friday, February 6, 2009 the Front Royal Police Department executed a search warrant at a residence located at 1102 Monroe Ave. Investigators seized several items pertaining to an on-going investigation involving an illegal tattoo parlor operating from that residence. Police subsequently arrested 35 year old JeffreyDwayne Gilliom of Front Royal and charged him with three counts of “Tattooing or body piercing of minors” (18.2-371.3), a class 1 misdemeanor. Mr. Gilliom was booked and released on his own recognizance and is scheduled to appear in Warren County Juvenile & Domestic Court on March 5, 2009. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Sergeant J. Ryman of the Criminal Investigations Division at 540-636-2208.
Richmond, VA – On Jan. 30, the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services killed legislation introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) to privatize Virginia’s ABC Store operations. Although SB 1542 will not be considered further this year, Sen. Obenshain says he will continue to work towards the goal of divesting these operations.
“Although we have considered many vitally important bills this session, few pieces of legislation struck a chord with voters as much as this one did,” said Sen. Obenshain. “The voters do not understand why the state needs to be in the retail business, and frankly, neither do I.”
Virginia’s ABC Stores are a relic of an earlier era, a holdover from the early days after Prohibition when many, including oil baron John D. Rockefeller, were concerned that the private sale of alcohol would corrupt the moral character of the citizenry and lead to moral decay.
Seventy-five years after the repeal of Prohibition, nothing has changed in Virginia – even though thirty-two states allow the private sale of distilled spirits. In fact, these “private sale” states actually experience slightly lower levels of underage drinking, driving under the influence, and alcoholism.
Sen. Obenshain’s bill would have created “package store licenses,” which would authorize the retail sale of alcohol beverages, to be auctioned off one at a time, with no less than one license in every city and county, but not more than one per 10,000 residents, adjusted every five years. The auction price would form the basis for that licensee’s annual fees, adjusted for inflation, and the state would continue to tax the sale of spirits. No licensee could locate within a one mile radius of an existing license holder, making the first license issued in any locality the most valuable.
“Handled correctly, privatizing the ABC Stores will save money and increase consumer choice,” said Obenshain, noting that privatization tends to offer consumers such benefits as greater convenience, better hours, wider selections, lower prices, and the innovation inherent in competition-driven systems.
Although the bill did not pass this year, Sen. Obenshain intends to work with interested parties to revise and reintroduce the legislation next year. Support for the measure transcends the usual political divides: “Everywhere I go, people ask me about this bill,” said Obenshain. “Democrats and Republicans, young and old, they all want the government out of the business of selling alcohol.”
A Facebook group Sen. Obenshain created for supporters of privatization efforts currently boasts over four hundred members, and in a recent survey available on http://www.markobenshain.com and mailed to thousands of voters across the district, seventy percent of respondents favored privatization, with nearly 85% supportive if they were assured that the Commonwealth could reap a considerable profit by the conversion. The numbers ran still higher if voters were assured that the Commonwealth could impose restrictions on the location and advertising of distilled spirit retailers. “The people of the twenty-sixth district understand what some in Richmond just don’t get,” commented Obenshain. “They aren’t ready to give up on this bill, and neither am I.”
Senator Obenshain represents the twenty-sixth district in the Virginia Senate. The district includes the city of Harrisonburg and the counties of Warren, Shenandoah, Page.