Chamber president blasts council over donation issue

Rich Orndorff

STRASBURG –  Councilman Rich Orndorff blasted other members of Town Council this week, charging they are trying to shutter the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce.

“You, in effect, are closing the doors on your chamber of commerce. You are putting us out of business,” Orndorff said during an impassioned 16-minute speech at a council work session on Monday evening.

The topic that sparked the speech was the council’s $8,000 annual allocation for the Mayfest festival that traditionally has been managed by the chamber. In May, council decided not to give the chamber the funds for next year’s festival. Instead, the council is accepting proposals from any organization interested in managing it.

At Monday’s work session, council was considering the draft request for the proposal drawn up by Town Manager Ryan Spitzer when Orndorff, who is also chamber president, left the council table to sit in the audience to speak on the chamber’s behalf.

Orndorff said, “This is the first time in 18 years that I have seen the elected body in Strasburg be in the weeds over $8,000 and impugn the character of hundreds of volunteers.”

Orndorff’s speech led to a lengthy back-and-forth discussion about the $8,000 festival allocation.

Council members tossed around numerous ideas during the meeting, including renaming the “Mayfest” line item, giving the donation back to the chamber and handling proposals from other organizations interested in the funding.

With Town Mayor Tim Taylor absent from the meeting, Vice Mayor Richard Redmon led the meeting.

At times, the session turned into an open forum with council fielding numerous questions and comments from the public.

Resident Kim Bishop, a chamber member, said, “There’s no fairness here. Mayfest is a chamber event, they own the name.”

Bishop said, “You are strangling Mayfest with all of these little MOUs (memorandums of understanding) and things you are going to do.”

Resident Cindy Racey said, “I can’t tell you how many parades I marched in … looking at the faces of the people. Are you guys even thinking about that part of this whole thing?”

Orndorff also challenged council members to explain their reasoning for voting to re-allocate the chamber donation in May.

This led to a heated exchange between Orndorff and Councilman Don Le Levine regarding what was said during the April 14 work session.

Le Vine said he voted for the reallocation because he believed that Orndorff — speaking for the chamber on April 14 — threatened to cancel Mayfest if it did not receive the $8,000 from the town.

Orndorff interjected and voiced his exceptions to Le Vine’s comments, prompting both men to raise their voices.

“If Mr. Orndorff is going to be a citizen, then he has to abide by the rules … which means you do not interrupt the council,” Le Vine said. “I listen to you, now you have to listen to me.”

Orndorff responded, “I do. But you are not above me.”

Councilman Scott Terndrup said, “I don’t want anyone else to do Mayfest but the chamber … I’m ready to move on and make an amendment so that the funds can be released.”

Terndrup added, “My only concern is, if we’re going to put taxpayer funds into a chamber event … then the town should have some say over what those public events would be.”

Spitzer said council can decide what to vote on at its upcoming Aug. 31 meeting — whether it is a modified version of the request for proposal agreement or a releasing of funds to the chamber.

Le Vine said, “My first concern is the council and the town, the chamber comes second to me. What’s best for the town?”

He added, “I’m not sure what that is at the moment. It’s sort of getting muddled.”

Le Vine also indicated that at least two groups — including the chamber — have expressed interest in applying for the $8,000 line item.

At several points, Redmon expressed his displeasure at the session’s proceedings.

“I would like for the people here to know that this never would have happened had it not been a budget-crunch time, that we had to vote or the budget would not have been passed,” Redmon said.  “It’s the typical thing that can happen when government is put under a situation where it cannot operate properly.”

Following those comments, Redmon abruptly adjourned the meeting at 9 p.m.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com