Councilman votes on hospital bond after previously recusing himself

Jacob Meza

FRONT ROYAL – Town Councilman Jacob Meza, a Valley Health employee, opted to not recuse himself from a vote regarding whether the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority could issue Valley Health a bond for its new Warren Memorial Hosptial.

This comes after Meza previously recused himself from votes regarding the rezoning of the future hospital’s site from agricultural to mix-use campus. The bond was approved 3-1, with Councilman John Connolly serving as the lone dissenter, and Councilmen Gary Gillispie and Christopher Morrison absent.

Before voting to approve the bond, Meza read a disclosure statement that he said was drafted by Town Attorney Doug Napier. Meza noted in the disclosure that he is not employed in Front Royal by Warren Memorial Hospital, but that he is employed in Winchester by its parent organization Valley Health.

The Virginia State and Local Government Conflict Act states that officials should not participate in a transaction if it “has application solely to property or a business or government agency in which he has a personal interest or a business or governmental agency in which he has a personal interest or a business that has a parent-subsidiary or affiliated business entity relationship with the business in which he has a personal interest.”

Exemptions to that rule include being “a member of a business, profession, occupation, or group of three or more persons the members of which are affected by the transaction.” If that is the case, officials can participate if they disclose their interest beforehand.

Meza said he was advised by Napier that he could participate in the vote as long as it came with a disclosure. For that disclosure, he stated that “my personal interest is that I am a member of a group of three or more persons which are affected by this transaction.” He added, “I am able to participate in this transaction fairly, objectively, in the public interest by voting to approve this bond.”

He said after the meeting that he recused himself from rezoning votes because those directly impacted Valley Health’s ability to construct a new hospital. This vote, however, he said, merely dictates whether the EDA can issue Valley Health a bond.

“We weren’t voting the ability to build the project…What we were asked to do is say is this a legitimate reason to lend bonds?” he said.

He noted that the town has never denied an EDA bond issuance for any other business.

“As long as the request meets all of the requirements, it was a legitimate reason to issue the bonds, and that’s why I voted yes,” he said.