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Council repeals ban on fortunetellers

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- Town Council ended a ban on "gypsies" and fortunetellers Monday after hearing from foes and supporters of the action.

Council voted 4-2 to approve a motion on a second reading to repeal the code section that bans fortunetelling and "gypsies." Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker and Councilmen Eugene Tewalt, Bret Hrbek and Hollis Tharpe voted to repeal the ban. Councilmen Thomas Sayre and Daryl Funk voted against the motion.

Parker and Hrbek noted their concern for repealing the ban and moving on with other town matters. Reading from a written statement, Hrbek pointed out he felt the most dismay when opponents of the repeal said the ban affected only a small part of the population.

"I feared for our community and I hurt for our town," Hrbek said, later adding, "We should have repealed this ordinance without incident."

Nearly 30 people spoke on the motion during the public comment portion of the meeting, highlighted by loud cheering and applause. More than half of the speakers said they supported the repeal and asked council to take the ban off the books. The other speakers urged council to keep the law in place. Many of the speakers made the same comments during the public hearing on the repeal held two weeks ago.

During the comment portion, Sherl Johnson told council they should fear God's wrath should they vote to repeal the ban.

"If you vote to keep the pagans and their corrupt ways out, you can be sure it will be taken to court by them," Johnson said. "It's also possible you'll lose your political career and it will come to an end. But that is not what you should fear because those things are temporary and will only last for a moment."

Sayre is not seeking re-election in November but has said he intends to run for the Shenandoah District seat on the Warren County Board of Supervisors in 2015. Tharpe is running for re-election to council.

Thomas Centrella spoke against the repeal, interrupted at times by people in the audience. Toward the end of Centrella's time at the microphone, Mayor Timothy Darr urged him to stop talking. Centrella continued to speak loudly until police Chief Norman Shiflett came over to the podium to escort Centrella back to his seat.

Deirdre Sparger urged council members to base their decisions on facts and law. Sparger criticized statements Sayre made on a TV news broadcasts recommending restrictions on fortunetelling near schools.

"Those opposed to the practice of tarot card reading have not presented any factual evidence demonstrating this practice would create a threat to children," Sparger said.

Melissa Sylvan addressed the use of the word "gypsy" in the regulation, adding that she is of Romani descent.

"So what I want to know is does this mean it's illegal for me to walk down main street?" Sylvan said. "Is my very existence against the law?"

Former Councilman Thomas Conkey criticized Sayre and Funk and pointed out the publicity the issue has drawn to Front Royal.

"Tom, you've been trying to influence people, you've been trying to put your will on people, on things that you don't approve of as long as I have known you and here we are again," Conkey said. "We're an absolute laughing stock."

Stuart Nolan Jr. sought to analyze the issue from a constitutional perspective. Nolan argued the laws on the books outlaw fortunetelling for money.

Cadyn Speziale said she may not have opened her store, Gathered, in downtown Front Royal, had she been met with the "same kind of groundless derogation" as stated in the fortunetelling ban. Speziale said she would support diverse businesses coming to downtown.

During her regular report, Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said the publicized controversy surrounding the issue before council has attracted the attention of state economic development officials.

Sayre proposed an amendment to the motion to change the language of the existing code section to remove the word "gypsies" and make the rule not apply to someone who engages in the activity of fortunetelling for entertainment. Sayre and Funk voted for the amendment that failed to gain enough support.

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

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