Council takes no action to respond to county’s corridor offer

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council made no official response Monday to Warren County’s latest offer on the U.S. 340-522 Corridor.

But council remains divided over the town’s next step given the comments members made about the matter.

The Board of Supervisors proposed a memorandum of agreement last week under which the county would give some revenue it collects from the corridor to the town. The proposal would exclude the future Crooked Run West property.

Early in the meeting council debated whether or not to go into closed session to talk about the latest proposal or to keep the discussion in open session. Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger made a motion to move the item from closed to open session. The motion died on a tie vote Councilman Bret Hrbek and Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe sided with Egger while Councilmen John Connolly, Daryl Funk and Eugene Tewalt voted against the matter. The action required a unanimous vote.

Funk said anything council would say in closed session likely would come out in the open. Going into closed session wouldn’t deny anyone from talking about the matter publicly.

Hrbek said earlier in the meeting that he was not willing to respond to the county’s offer. Hrbek cited council’s decision in May to send a final proposal to the board with the idea that should the county not give a response favorable to the town that council would vote to lift a self-imposed moratorium on the collection of revenue from the corridor.

“I think we’ve had enough conversation about it,” Hrbek said. “We’ve made decisions about it and I’m not going to go and help screw the taxpayers of Front Royal any more. I think the supervisors are doing a great job of doing that themselves and they don’t need our help.”

Funk disagreed with Hrbek.

“I think Mr. Hrbek’s comments are troubling given the fact that I’ve been on this council three years with him and certainly I’ve participated in every closed meeting that he’s requested,” Funk said. “I’ve never voted against them even involving issues that I care very deeply about.

“I think our ability to consult with legal counsel and to discuss in closed session are important and I’m sure if this were any other issue you’d probably agree,” Funk added.

Egger noted that “we’ve had multiple chances to talk with legal counsel in closed session about this very topic.

“There’s not a lot that’s changed with the county’s offer except that it keeps becoming a worse offer for us,” Egger said. “So I think it’s important that we discuss it and decide what we want as a council but I think we owe it to the citizens that elected us to do it in the open because this is too important of an issue for us to keep having these back-room deals…”

Connolly voiced support for talking about the offer in closed session because legal counsel retained by the town has pointed out some issues with the proposed memorandum of agreement.

“I really feel that it would be inappropriate to deny council the ability to discuss a sensitive negotiation and consultation with legal counsel that they retained,” Connolly said.

Egger countered that Town Attorney Doug Napier has advised council that he would like to make changes that would not affect the nature of the agreement. Hrbek said he didn’t need to consult with legal counsel.

“I think it’s pretty clear what the county wants and are willing to give,” Hrbek said. “I think we’ve made our statement pretty clear.”

Council voted 4-2 to go into closed session. Hrbek and Egger voted against the motion. Hrbek sat outside while the rest of council met in closed session. When council emerged from the closed session Hrbek abstained from voting on the motion to certify that members discussed the matters used for the session.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com