By Alex Bridges
MIDDLETOWN - Former councilmen who quit in protest last spring returned to public service by joining the town Planning Commission.
Without debate or much fanfare, Middletown Town Council on Monday voted unanimously to appoint four new members to the commission. The filling of the four vacancies brings the panel to full membership of seven that includes the Council liaison, Vice Mayor John Copeland.
Former councilmen Gilbert D. "Gil" Barrington and John Wesley Blaisdell Jr. had applied for appointment to the panel. Former councilman Mark Davis, who did not win a re-election bid in November, also sought appointment to the commission. Council also appointed Fred Wharton, the town's zoning administrator, to the commission.
Council voted 5-0 for each appointment. Councilwoman Donna M.G. Gum did not attend the meeting. Members earlier had unanimously elected Copeland to serve as vice mayor.
"We got a planning commission," said Councilman Clarence C. "Trip" Chewning. He added there are a few logistical things to work out, but they are going to take that up in the next meeting.
Davis thanked council members for their support in appointing him to the panel. Council also voted unanimously to continue Davis' appointment as the town's representative on the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission.
Mayor Charles Harbaugh IV read a letter of resignation submitted by Walter McCauley, chairman of the Planning Commission. McCauley, who did not give a specific reason for the resignation, served on the commission since 2009, according to Harbaugh.
The new members join Anita Holley and Stephanie Pendleton on the commission.
Virginia code and the Planning Commission bylaws state that a town employee may hold another office in the locality. Council can elect Wharton as a member of the planning commission and has the authority to decide whether he would hold voting powers on the panel.
Barrington, Blaisdell and then Mayor Marshall J. "Mark" Brown at a Town Council meeting in March took turns criticizing members' conduct before announcing their resignations from the board. Barrington and Blaisdell did not identify any members by name. Brown, however, made specific references to members he blamed for the discord.
Barrington after the meeting recalled that he left Council after serving a short time because of the behavior of other members at the time. Barrington said the current membership appears to get along better.
Brown has criticized Davis for holding up a proposed adjustment to the town's boundary line, seen by some as a way to increase revenue for the locality. Davis has refuted these allegations. Brown also has criticized Davis and others for not taking action to complete and approve the town's community plan as required by state law.
Also at the meeting, Chewning reported that the town "finished in the black" by approximately $32,000 for the first six months of the current fiscal year. The town has $1.05 million in available funds. Chewning warned council would soon begin the process to craft the next fiscal budget.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org