In contentious vote, Strasburg Town Council pays Mayfest band

The Strasburg Town Council voted narrowly on Tuesday to pay $1,800 for a band to perform during Mayfest.

The 5-4 vote came with supporters arguing that the annual festival, which will be held May 19-21, would help build community spirit and bring people to downtown Strasburg. Opponents, meanwhile, focused on the fact that taxpayer money was being spent on the event and that the contract for the event was between the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce and the band, and not between the town and the band.

Mayor Rich Orndorff, who in addition to his role on the Town Council also serves as president of the chamber, cast the deciding vote. Orndorff said that he believed the event benefited Strasburg.

“It’s an economic benefit to the community,” Orndorff said.

Orndorff said that Mayfest raises money for the Strasburg Fire Department and the Lion’s Club, in addition to the chamber. He also said that hotels and the town benefit from the additional traffic Mayfest provides.

Orndorff described the town’s decision to pay the band as a positive move.

“I think it’s positive, I think it sheds a good light for the Town of Strasburg to do that,” Orndorff said.

Orndorff’s role as the president of the chamber concerned at least one council member, Seth Newman.

“I don’t want any funds — any taxpayer funds — going to the chamber,” Newman said.

Under the arrangement the council agreed to, no money would go directly to the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce. Instead, the town will be paying the band to play at Mayfest.

In part because the chamber was not receiving any money as part of the transaction, Nathan Miller, the town’s attorney, said the arrangement did not violate Virginia conflict of interest laws.

Newman argued that there was still an ethics issue, even if no part of the arrangement violated law.

“To me, that’s just an ethics issue and that’s just wrong in every way,” Newman said.

Orndorff said the issue of whether there was a conflict of interest did not concern him.

“I was not concerned, and if you notice, I did not hesitate to make the vote,” Orndorff said.

Orndorff described the overlap between his role as mayor and his role as chamber president as a kind of overlap that inevitably occurs in small communities.

The contentiousness of the vote surprised Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup, who had previously run an informal vote during a working session. That previous vote, he said, was unanimous.

“This kind of back door kind of approach to it is really unfortunate,” Terndrup said.

Opponents of the bill said, however, that they were not aware that the contract was not being signed by the Town of Strasburg.

“I would have voted for this if the town had signed the contract,” Newman said.

Newman said that the fact that the contract was between the chamber and the band resulted in a closer relationship between the Town Council and the chamber than he would have liked.

Orndorff also stressed that the vote didn’t have to be held at all. According to town policy, the town could have either paid for the event out of the Strasburg tourism budget or as an expense approved by the town manager, Wyatt Pearson.

“In the spirit of transparency, former Town Manager [Ryan Spitzer] thought it prudent to get full council support, which is why it was brought up at the work session last week and brought to a vote [on Tuesday],” Pearson wrote in an email.

Contact staff writer Max Lee at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or mlee@nvdaily.com