Town police announce holiday DUI crackdown, name names

By Dan McDermott
Warren County Report

Front Royal police say they are stepping up enforcement of Driving Under the Influence laws during the holidays. Interim Chief Richard H. Furr calls the Christmas and New Years weeks “statistically dangerous,” urging holiday revelers to get a designated driver.

Furr also named four charged in DUI-related arrests over the weekend of Dec. 19 – 21.

  • Elmer D. Hickerson, 59, of Chester Gap was charged with Driving Under the Influence.
  • Jason R. Misdom, 31, of Front Royal was charged with Driving Under the Influence.
  • Arthur D. Kline, 35, of Front Royal was charged with Driving Revoked (DUI related) and Reckless Driving.
  • Kathryn R. Teel, 24, of Sperryville was charged with Driving Under the Influence and Open Alcohol Container.
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Published in: on December 23, 2008 at 1:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Town under the gun on successful legal appeal

At left, Town Attorney Tom Robinett, Town Manager Michael Graham and Councilman Shae Parker soak in Matt Tederick, right,’s opinion on the way town business is conducted (poorly, illegally and belligerently). Northern Virginia Daily reporter Ben Orcutt, whose name was invoked several times during discussion, is an interested observer in background at right.

At left, Town Attorney Tom Robinett, Town Manager Michael Graham and Councilman Shae Parker soak in Matt Tederick, right,’s opinion on the way town business is conducted (poorly, illegally and belligerently). Northern Virginia Daily reporter Ben Orcutt, whose name was invoked several times during discussion, is an interested observer in background at right.

Outside accusations accompany 5-0 vote of support of AG challenge

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

After all the infighting and backbiting over the legality of Front Royal Town Attorney Tom Robinett’s rapid legal response – 2 days – to Virginia Attorney General Robert J. McDonnell’s formal opinion that Councilman N. Shae Parker had been illegally seated, the Front Royal Town Council presented a united front in support of that filing on Dec. 15.

On that date a motion approving the town attorney’s actions in filing the Dec. 5 suit challenging the formal AG opinion and seeking a ruling that Parker was, in fact, a legally-seated councilman passed by a 5-0 vote, Parker abstaining. Even attorney-Councilman Tom Sayre, who initially questioned the legality of Robinett’s move prior to a formal vote of approval by council, voted with the majority to approve the town attorney’s actions in filing the suit after an informal telephone polling of a majority of council.

The unanimity came none too soon as the mayor, council and town staff came under scathing attacks later in the meeting largely centered on Robinett’s actions in the case. Those attacks, from former Warren County Republican Committee Chairman and county supervisor Matthew Tederick and attorney and Board of Architectural Review member David Silek, were directed primarily at Robinett but also included the mayor, town manager and council to varying degrees. Much of Tederick’s criticism echoed a Dec. 12 letter to council from Northern Virginia Daily attorney J. David Griffin. During his 20 or so minute tirade against the town government Tederick made a point of reading Griffin’s letter into the public record.

That letter accuses the town of “willfully” violating Freedom of Information Act requirements by allowing Robinett to file the suit seeking judicial ratification of Parker’s appointment prior to a public meeting vote (see related story). Griffin, like Sayre earlier, cited two council votes, on Aug. 11 and Nov. 17, declining to seek judicial appointment of Parker’s as a safeguard against any legal challenge or pending AG opinion.

Griffin wrote that council’s earlier actions created the legal requirement any change of direction on the matter be re-voted on by council at an open meeting.

Perhaps ironically, Sayre first suggested in early August that council seek judicial ratification of the coming council appointment to assure its legality. Sayre’s motion to certify Parker’s Aug. 11 appointment was voted down 4-1 at that meeting. Parker has abstained from all votes concerning his council seat.

At a Nov. 17 Special Meeting to discuss an anticipated formal state attorney general’s opinion that Parker had been seated illegally, council again declined to seek Parker’s judicial appointment, this time by a 3-2 vote. On that occasion Sayre sided with Vice Mayor Bret Hrbek and Chris Holloway to form the majority opposing submitting Parker’s seat to the court for ratification.

While Sayre was initially critical of Robinett’s filing of the Dec. 5 challenge of the formal AG opinion and its defacto ratification of Parker’s appointment without a public vote, as stated above he sided with the other four members voting on Dec. 15 to approve the town attorney’s action on the matter.

During the meeting Robinett explained that he had polled the mayor and council – other than Sayre – by phone prior to filing the suit asking 26th District Circuit Court Judge Dennis L. Hupp to overrule the AG opinion that Parker’s appointment violated state law by exceeding a 45-day time limit.

When Sayre raised the issue that Robinett’s call to him about filing the suit came about 15 minutes after it was filed at the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office on Dec. 5, Robinett said he was already well aware of Sayre’s opinion because “it was plastered all over the paper for a couple of days – that you wanted a special election.”

That exchange was the first of three testy ones Robinett had leading Mayor Tewalt to pull the town attorney’s reins in somewhat as Robinett responded directly to what appeared to be personal attacks on his competence, integrity or character. A second exchange was with Tederick over a code cited in reference to Griffin’s letter and supposed FOIA violations. The third was with NVD reporter Ben Orcutt, who Robinett cited as the source of information leading him to believe time was even more crucial in filing a response to the AG opinion. Robinett said that information, that Tederick would lead a move to call a special election to fill Parker’s seat, was given to him in a phone call from Orcutt following the Dec. 3 release of the formal AG opinion. Robinett became angered as Orcutt shook his head in disagreement with the town attorneys’ appraisal that FOIA issues with the NVD had been resolved during his phone conversation with the paper’s attorney earlier that day.

The Dec. 15 vote to approve Robinett’s filing of the suit to overturn the AG opinion and ratify that Parker was legally seated came later on the same day Judge Hupp ruled in the town and Parker’s favor against the attorney general’s opinion on one crucial point – that Mayor Eugene Tewalt did not vacate his council seat on June 25 when he took the mayor’s oath of office, but rather on July 1 when he assumed the office of mayor (see related story).

But if a judge was on the town’s side that day, others were certainly not.

Where to begin?

Following Robinett’s exchange with Orcutt, Tederick was the first to address council during the Public Concerns portion of the meeting. After a pregnant pause during which he looked at the Daily reporter and commented that he didn’t know where to begin because there were so many inconsistencies, Tederick fired his opening salvo.

“Mr. Mayor, I think you’ve lost control of your staff.”

Tederick said he’d been a supporter of Parker in the general election and the main issue on the table in the wake of the AG opinion was full voting rights for all council members. Another portion of the AG opinion is that appointed members do not fit the constitutional criteria of “elected members” and therefore cannot vote on certain issues including appropriations over $500, bond issues, annexation, the disposition of property and issuing of franchises.

Tederick then suggested council call for a special election in May so that all members would have full voting rights.

While lauding council for an earlier resolution in support of Town Manager Michael Graham in the wake of the NVD revelation the town manager had been rejected for Front Royal Rotary membership, Tederick bemoaned the potential connection between Graham’s background in the private sector and what he called the town’s propensity for meeting behind closed doors.

“You’re a public body, not a secret body having secret meetings in secret board rooms.”
Tederick then accused the town attorney of being a publicity hound – “I think Mr. Robinett likes to go to court. I think he likes to have his name in the papers …”

Tederick, who has been at recent political odds with both the town and county governments over what he sees as an anti-business stance on 522 North Corridor issues, reasoned that stance and what he called a confrontational attitude with both business and county government stemmed “from the advise of the town manager and town attorney.”

“You should be embarrassed about the Molly Denton money,” Tederick said of the town’s decision to throw the matter of a $40,000, 1992 bequeathment for swimming lessons for the community’s children into court. Earlier that night council had followed Robinett’s suggestion to let the court decide how to dispose of the money by a 4-1 vote with only Sayre dissenting. While the county believes it is entitled to the money because it has operated the community pool since 2000, Robinett asserts a three-year non-use clause in the Denton will mandates the money be returned to her estate.

Tederick also was critical of the town’s reluctance to come up with a solution to what has been a decade-plus debate with the county over commercial trash hauling and tipping fees.

“There are personalities at play – I think I know some of it … you seem to be in a death match with the county; you seem to be in a death match with Mr. Sayre,” Tederick said.

Where to end?

Ironically perhaps, Parker, around whom so much of the controversy voiced on Dec. 15 swirled, opened the council concerns portion at the outset of the meeting with a holiday poem calling for more cooperation internally and externally, a reexamination of corridor issues, and more general fairness in the conduct of town business.

(See more on this story and our complete Warren County coverage in our FREE Late December 2008 edition.)

Published in: on December 19, 2008 at 11:01 pm  Comments (2)  

Free complete print edition: Late December, 2008

Published in: on December 19, 2008 at 10:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Judge validates Parker appointment

Judge Dennis Hupp has ruled that the Front Royal Town Council’s appointment of Shae Parker to replace the seat vacated by Eugene Tewalt’s ascension to the position of mayor was within the 45 day limit in state code. This decision contradicts an opinion of the state attorney general which ironically contained repeated misspellings of the judge’s name.

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 7:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Op-Ed: Should Google buy The New York Times?

By Dan McDermott
Warren County Report

Veteran PC Magazine columnist and “Cranky Geek” John C. Dvorak recently started a discussion on his blog about rumors reported by Dealscape that Google should or might purchase the New York Times. John said that this might be a good idea. I think he is right.

A newspaper is simply one means of delivering news content.

But there is more.

Ten or twenty years ago I would have said:

The difference between print and broadcast is often the depth and length of stories–and usually the quality. When the TV news covers something at 6 or 11 it is often a 30 second version of the basic facts. Then its on to the “Wednesday’s Child” segment featuring the cute kid of the week. The longer version of the same story that appears in the next day’s paper usually has a much stronger and more lasting impact.

Today there is the Internet–which is bringing far more readers around the world to newspapers’ content but in an unprofitable way–and many cable news outlets which sometimes offer long-form in-depth coverage and analysis which traditional broadcast media outlets–CBS’ 60 minutes aside–would never have the resources or viewers’ attention span to cover. The problem is that these same cable news outfits often give undue attention to a story because it is “breaking” than it really deserves. A helicopter following a car chase that will never be mentioned again after its conclusion is an obvious example.

Print media is very, very expensive to produce and distribute. This newspaper has a circulation of over 9,000 and about 20,000 readers. It costs about $2,000 per issue just to print and distribute. This website has every issue we have ever produced available–so it has all the same content. It costs about $100 per year.

Here is the problem.

All of the past competition newspapers have historically faced and weather offered arguably lower quality content. Radio, TV & early cable news outlets by their nature offered less time per story and thus lower quality for the end user who wanted all the facts. You can print as many pages in a paper as budget and content allow. You can’t add more minutes into an hour. So the newspapers stayed strong and profitable.

The Internet is completely different. It has all the advantages of print publications (and now even their content) and is portable, usually free and allows for random access to any article rather than having to leaf through a paper or wait through a radio or TV program. It’s an increasingly ADHD consumer’s dream.

So the risk for us all is that if all of the papers go down, who will have the money to pay for the Woodwards and Bernsteins of the future? Who will have the resources to pay a reporter or team of reporters to study and investigate the Walter Reed scandal? That story was around since 2004 but never hit traction until a series of front page stories were printed in the Washington Post after an expensive years-long investigation by their permanent investigations unit–ironically started by Bob Woodward who has the luxury of being able to stay on at the Post for $1 per year.

I’m not arguing that we bail out the industry or that dinosaurs should be kept on life support in perpetutity. I do think that someone will figure this whole mess out and find away to allow the high quality content that some of the big papers have produced to survive in this new age–and help protect democracy in the process.

If there is any outfit that has shown the creativity, intelligence and innovative skills to reform the New York Times–and show the rest of us in the industry the way, it might well be Google.

It certainly won’t be “Wednesday’s Child.”

As for the arguments of the editorial slants of various media outlets, it is nothing new. People on the right see Fox News as “mainstream” and hate the New York Times and MSNBC. People on the left see the inverse. Good. Our diversity makes us stronger. That’s what the first amendment is all about. It’s all about equal access to the system. If Matt Drudge can start the most influential news website in the world single-handedly while sitting in his pajamas in his living room with no advertising then so can you.

Dan McDermott is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Warren County Report Newspaper in Front Royal, VA: editor [at] warrencountyreport [dot] com

Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Attorney General says Front Royal Mayor resigned council seat when taking oath

By Dan McDermott
Warren County Report Newspaper

In a formal opinion released Dec. 11, Virginia Attorney General Robert McDonnell says that Front Royal Mayor Eugene Tewalt’s decision to take his oath of office for mayor 6 days prior to assuming the office was tantamount to immediately resigning from the town council seat he vacated to assume the new post.

This issue is the subject of heated debate in Front Royal where Town Attorney Thomas Robinett is asking Circuit Court Judge Dennis Hupp, whose name is repeatedly misspelled in the attorney general’s written opinion, to ratify the council’s appointment of Shae Parker, who may or may not be a sitting member of town council.

This is a developing story.

Read the entire opinion of the Virginia Attorney General.

Published in: on December 13, 2008 at 2:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Town likely to challenge 45-day portion of AG ruling

Court likely to decide if Shae Parker is a Front Royal Town Councilman

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

On Dec. 3, Virginia Attorney General Robert J. McDonnell issued an anticipated formal opinion on the status of Front Royal Town Councilman N. Shae Parker’s seat.

That opinion mirrors the informal notice sent to 10th District Del. Clifford L. Clay Athey Jr. by Senior AG Counsel Stephanie Hamlett on Oct. 28. It concludes that the town exceeded the 45-day limit to appoint a replacement for Mayor Eugene Tewalt’s vacant counsel seat. Tewalt’s council seat was not up for election this spring when he successfully ran for mayor. Parker, who finished fourth in the spring election just 43 votes (one percent) behind Tom Conkey for the final of three council seats up for grabs, was appointed from a pool of six applicants on Aug. 11. That date was 43 days after the town believes Tewalt assumed the mayor’s office after former Mayor James Eastham’s term expired July 1.

Despite apparent clarification from Athey in seeking the formal opinion that the town contends Tewalt never resigned his seat when he took the mayor’s oath of office on July 27, four days prior to assuming the office, the AG opinion disagrees. That opinion continues to assert Tewalt did in fact resign his seat when he took the mayor’s oath. It is not immediately clear to this reporter amidst the opinion’s rampant legalese why this opinion is held. However, earlier discussion with other attorneys indicated the legal belief the AG would contend that public officials cannot hold two seats at once, and in such cases the higher office prevails.

Tewalt explained he took the oath early to accommodate his daughter’s wish that she and Tewalt’s grandson could be present.

The town is likely to argue in circuit court that since Eastham was still mayor until July 1, Tewalt could not have vacated his council seat on June 27 even though he took the mayor’s oath that day.

Front Royal Vice Mayor Bret Hrbek has said he believes it has been common practice over the years for newly elected officials to occasionally be sworn in early to accommodate personal or court scheduling conflicts.

So, did Front Royal have two mayors for four days? – Does it have one now?

Are there five or six sitting councilmen at the moment?

Appointed, not elected

The AG opinion also rules such “appointed” members, even when done legally, do not meet the Virginia Constitution’s definition of an “elected member” and so cannot vote on certain matters of municipal business. Those include appropriations over $500, bond issues, annexation, disposition of real estate and awarding franchises. On the advise of Town Attorney Tom Robinett, the town has been working on the assumption that latter point was true from the time of Parker’s appointment.

Referencing a 1996 AG opinion, McDonnell also asserts the town must now petition the circuit court to “issue a writ of election” to fill Parker’s seat. Perhaps coincidentally, Hamlett’s cover letter to Athey in late August suggest such legislation to solve the problems of full voting rights to all municipal governing body members. Athey, a Republican like McDonnell, has expressed a desire to introduce such legislation requiring special elections to fill all vacant municipal body seats in the coming General Assembly session.

The new opinion expressly overrules a 1975 AG opinion that “selected” by the other board members fits the Virginia Constitution’s section ruling on approval of some municipal business by a “majority of the elected members.” McDonnell’s opinion explains that it does not and cannot overrule a 26th District Circuit Court decision in Rockingham County upholding the 1975 AG opinion on a matter pertaining to the Public Finance Act. It is that Rockingham Circuit Court decision that gives those in disagreement with the new opinion hope it can be fought successfully in circuit court.

Parker speaks

The afternoon of Dec. 5, Shae Parker released a statement about the Dec. 3 formal opinion released by McDonnell on the status of his Aug. 11 appointment to the Front Royal Town Council. In the opinion the Virginia AG holds that Eugene Tewalt’s council seat became vacant on June 27 and so Parker was appointed 47 days, rather than 43 after the council seat became vacant. Virginia law allows the town to petition the court to appoint Tewalt’s replacement, something it is likely to do if the court rules against the town on the 45-day AG opinion.

“To the citizens of the Town of Front Royal,” Parker began. “In light of a formal opinion being issued December 3rd by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office on my situation of being a duly-appointed member of the Front Royal Town Council, at this time I will side with the Town and its legal staff in asserting they acted within their rights and means. With that, though it has been suggested I resign my selection as councilman, I still intend to act as a representative of the citizens of the Town of Front Royal and will not resign unless asked by the council or directed by the circuit court.

“Since the attorney general’s opinion is just that, his opinion, the circuit court should have the final say on this matter. If the court finds I was not appropriately selected, then I can’t resign a position I never held. If the court upholds the Town’s claim then I would look forward to serving the remainder of the term.

“Over the past four months it has been my honor and privilege to serve on council and serve the citizens of Front Royal. Regardless whether my selection is upheld or this seat is put up for special election, I look forward to bettering our community and providing the greatest degree of safety and welfare a government should provide. Though some of my experience on council has been trying on my family, I still feel that service to one’s neighbors is worth all we’ve been through.”

Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 12:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

BREAKING NEWS: Attorney General rules on Parker appointment, voting rights of appointed members

By Dan McDermott
Warren County Report

In an opinion that may have sweeping ramifications across the Commonwealth of Virginia, Attorney General Bob McDonnell has issued a much-anticipated opinion that appointed members of local bodies do not have the same voting rights in certain circumstances as do members elected by the governed. The opinion also states that the appointment of Shae Parker to Front Royal’s Town Council was invalid because it was made after an allowed 45-day period.

There is a dispute in Front Royal on the “45 day” issue as to whether that by taking the oath of office as mayor early, the new mayor was in effect resigning from his council seat at the same time, creating the early vacancy and the situation the town now finds itself in. This dispute does not appear to be addressed in the AG opinion however in a separate cover letter from the AG’s staff, three Supreme Court decisions were cited that rule that taking an oath for a new office is a de-facto resignation from a different office if that office cannot be held at the same time.

The opinion states that a member appointed to local governing bodies does not have voting rights when the state’s code or constitution requires that specific votes require a certain number of the “elected” members of the body.

There is speculation that there may be lawsuits across the state from parties who have been assessed fees or otherwise effected by decisions made by local government bodies that included appointed members. Presumably, only issues voted on in the past two years could be the subject of litigation since state law requires that localities be notified within two years of pending action.

In an unusual twist, the opinion expressly states that it is not calling into question the validity of a contradictory Circuit Court decision in Rockingham County while seemingly and obviously doing so.

Developing…

From the opinion:

“Issues Presented

You ask whether the Town Council for the Town of Front Royal (the “Town”) under the Charter of the Town of Front Royal (the “Charter”), may appoint an individual to serve the remaining two years of the unexpired term of a council member elected as mayor, or whether such individual must be elected pursuant to the requirements of Article VII, § 5 of the Constitution of Virginia. Further, you ask whether the Town Council may appoint such individual after a vacancy has existed for more than forty-five days. You also inquire regarding whether the Town Council may call a special election to fill the vacated council position. Finally, you ask whether the term “elected” members of the governing body as used in several provisions of Title 15.2 includes a member who is appointed by the Town Council to serve the remaining two years of the unexpired term of the council member elected as mayor in contrast with an individual elected by the qualified voters of the Town in a special election.

Response

It is my opinion that the Charter of the Town of Front Royal authorizes the Town Council of Front Royal to appoint an individual to serve the remaining two years of the unexpired term of a council member elected as mayor. Further, it is my opinion that the Town Council is not authorized to appoint such individual when the vacancy has existed for more than forty-five days. It also is my opinion that pursuant to § 24.2-226, the Town Council may petition the circuit court to issue a writ of election to fill the vacancy in an election that complies with the requirements of Article VII, § 5 of the Virginia Constitution. Finally, it is my opinion that an individual appointed to serve such unexpired term is not an elected member of the Town Council as that term is used in Title 15.2.”

Read full opinion

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 8:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Free complete print edition: Mid December, 2008

Published in: on December 2, 2008 at 10:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

NEW SIGNAL OPERATION AT N SHENANDOAH AVE & 14TH STREET

The Town of Front Royal Department of Environmental Services and the Department of Energy Resource Management will be modifying the signal operation at N Shenandoah Avenue and 14th Street tomorrow morning, December 2. The signal control for east and westbound traffic on 14th Street will become independent traffic movements. This work is being done to improve school traffic during morning and afternoon cycles.

Motorists traveling on 14th Street will be able to turn and travel through the intersection without delay by oncoming traffic. The traffic signal for eastbound traffic will be red while motorists traveling west will be given a green signal, and vice versa.

Installation of left turn arrows will provide guidance to vehicles in each direction.

This work should be completed by the afternoon dismissal.

If you have any questions about this project, please contact the Department of Environmental Services at (540) 635-7819.

Published in: on December 1, 2008 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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