Strasburg to hold discussion on murals

STRASBURG – The Town Council will hold a public discussion about murals at 7 p.m. July 31.

The  town, through Economic Development and Marketing Manager Michelle Bixler and former Town Manager Ryan Spitzer, had decided to spend $2,500 of town funds in a matching grant to help pay for outdoor murals that have been added to some buildings in town. The Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts will be spending the remaining $2,500.

But while the Recreation, Parks & Trails Committee voted unanimously to go along with plans to apply for the matching grant, the issue never came before Town Council. Orndorff said he thinks that was a mistake.

“It should have come before the council for a vote,” Orndorff said. “It should have come out in public.”

Orndorff said that the town manager is allowed to spend up to $5,000 on an item in the budget without a vote by the Town Council. That, Orndorff said, allows the town to easily and quickly spend small amounts of funds.

“We can’t vote every time we spend a dollar,” Orndorff said.

But Orndorff said that he thinks the council should be voting on controversial spending issues. Because a number of people are opposed to the murals and to spending public funds on the murals, he said the council should have decided on whether or not to hold a vote.

“People stop me in the grocery store, in restaurants, they come by my house,” Orndorff said. “This is a very sensitive issue, and people are very passionate about it.”

According to Bixler, Strasburg has an item in its budget devoted to community arts. She said that the grant seemed in line both with the budget item and with her broader role in Strasburg, which deals with economic development and tourism.

“Having a small focus on community arts is something that we’re doing for economic development,” Bixler said.

She said that programs like the mural program make Strasburg distinct and can help draw in tourism funding. As evidence of this, Bixler noted in an email to the Northern Virginia Daily that U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, had posted an image of the most recent mural on his Instagram page.

“If you haven’t seen some of the new murals popping up around Strasburg, they’re worth checking out!” Goodlatte’s post reads.

According to Town Manager Wyatt Pearson, the public discussion will come in the form of a question-and-answer session. The discussion will not change whether the town will spend the $2,500 in the matching grant program, Pearson said.

However, Pearson added that the discussion could alter the town’s approach to future murals.

Editor’s Note: The town rescheduled the public discussion to 7 p.m. July 31. This story has been updated to reflect that change.