Councilmen at odds over conference

A dispute over attendance at a state conference has erupted between two outgoing Front Royal Town Council members.

Councilman Thomas Sayre came under fire for seeking reimbursement after he attended the Virginia Municipal League’s annual conference at The Doubletree Hotel in Roanoke in early October. A fellow councilman complained that Sayre attended part of the conference without registering and then asked that the town reimburse him for the expenses.

Town Council plans to discuss the conference matter at a work session after its regular meeting Monday.

Sayre did not register for the conference, according to information provided by the town, but did receive reimbursement for $245.75 to cover travel and other expenses. Mary Jo Fields, VML  director of research, confirmed Friday that she gave Sayre permission to visit the exhibit hall and go on the mayors walk at the conference.

The town has reimbursed Sayre for $245.75 to cover the cost to attend the conference on Oct. 4, excluding lodging expenses. Information provided by town officials shows reimbursements for food, travel and parking for those members who attended as follows:

  • Councilman Bret Hrbek, $229.50
  • Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker, $187
  • Mayor Timothy Darr, $190.50
  • Councilman Hollis Tharpe, $190.30
  • Councilman Daryl Funk, $294.15

Councilman Eugene Tewalt did not attend the conference, which was held Oct. 5-7.  The town paid for the hotel rooms for each member and any guests who attended the event.

Manassas attorney David Silek expressed concerns about the matter in an email sent this week to council members, town officials and the media. Silek stated he had learned about Sayre’s reimbursement for the conference for which he did not register.

Sayre said Friday that Parker filed the complaint with the council clerk. Asked why Parker would file the complaint, Sayre said: “I think it’s vindictive.” Sayre called it a case of “sour grapes.”

Reached by phone Friday, Parker said, “I will confirm that I did ask for it to be looked into but I would like to reserve any further comment until after council has had a chance to discuss it on Monday.”

Parker said he asked that the matter be placed on the meeting agenda.

Sayre and Parker leave office Dec. 31. Sayre did not run for re-election to another term. Parker did not receive enough votes in the Nov. 4 election to keep his seat on council.

In an Oct. 20 letter to Sayre, Darr indicates that he received an official complaint from the clerk of council on Oct. 8 “stating that a member of Council expressed opposition to any Travel Reimbursement that you may have submitted for your one night in Roanoke.”

The councilman opposed to the reimbursement claims that Sayre “was not formally registered for VML in any capacity … did not even attend the opening session … merely gathered the free items from vendor tables … left without gaining any substance from the day,” Darr’s letter states.

Darr states he discussed the matter with Town Attorney Douglas Napier on Oct. 10 and 14 on how to take appropriate action on the complaint. Darr states that he and Napier felt council should make Sayre aware of the complaint and that the councilman should submit a written response to the complaint.

In a memo to Town Council obtained by the Daily, Darr notes that Sayre had originally booked that Sunday through Wednesday to attend the conference. Sayre then asked Darr to cancel the booking, which the clerk did, and book him for one hotel night. According to Darr, Sayre asked the clerk to list him for a Saturday night stay, to check out on Sunday.

The mayor notes that on Oct. 31 he received a response from Sayre via an email from Clerk of Council Jennifer Berry. Del. Thomas Rust, who represents the 86th District in the House of Delegates, signed an affidavit stating that he met Sayre at the conference on Oct. 5. Rust works for Pennoni Associates Inc. and spoke to Sayre at the firm’s exhibitor’s booth.

Darr made some suggestions in his memo about options council may take to address the matter.

“Due to the sensitivity of this issue I would like to resolve it at the lowest possible level and not create any issues that will embarrass the town or any council member,” Darr stated in his memo.

The issue of reimbursements for the conference also came a couple of weeks ago. During council’s meeting Nov. 10, Hrbek responded to a comment Sayre posted on the Daily’s website, http://www.nvdaily.com, regarding a member’s expenses from the conference. Hrbek noted that the member was not identified in the comment but he knew it was directed at him. Hrbek said at the meeting that he repaid the $15 to the town for a charge on his hotel bill for which he had been reimbursed.

<p id=’reporter_info’>Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or <a href=’mailto:abridges@nvdaily.com’>abridges@nvdaily.com</a></p>