STRASBURG – A Tuesday night Town Council meeting, which attracted more than 75 people, started with talk of a dual protest: those who want Mayor Richard Orndroff Jr. to step down and those who support the work he's doing in spite of three legal battles he's been fighting this fall.
"We're trying to get a message out to Rich Orndorff to step down," said Diana Snarr, of Strasburg. "I mean, we've tried everything. This will be a peaceful protest."
Holding two homemade signs as she waited alone in the cold outside Town Hall at 6:30 p.m., Snarr was soon joined by a handful of others before the meeting began at 7 p.m.
"He's had so many charges against him," she said. "There's never been an apology for his conduct. There's never been anything except blaming everything else, even calling this a witch hunt of all things. And gee, how original is that?"
Supporters of the mayor included his attorney, Phil Griffin II, who spoke at the meeting during a citizen comment session.
He asked people not to seek comments from the mayor about his ongoing court cases.
Griffin also offered a defense of Orndorff against a petition that a group of residents filed in Shenandoah County Circuit Court in September seeking to remove him from office - a case that was halted on Nov. 1 - as well as a set of recent charges filed in Circuit Court accusing the mayor of unauthorized use of "devices" that could include food stamps or electronic benefit transfer cards.
"Let Rich complete his journey through the court system," Griffin said before assuring that many of the points made in the petition "turned out to be inaccurate" and that the latest misdemeanor charges should have been filed in General District Court.
"I have no explanation for why the matters were indicted secretly and directly in the Circuit Court, as if a felony, when these cases are in fact misdemeanors that should have had a public summons or warrant served on the case," he said. "We believe that the indictments done in secret were only done to sensationalize this matter."
The council meeting, which included two discussion items – both concerning the mayor – saw increased presence from the Strasburg Police Department, which Chief Wayne Sager attributed to the large crowd and the possibility of children attending a recognition of Strasburg High School art students.
Orndorff, in calling the meeting to order, noted: "It's not often we have a full chamber."
In a lengthy discussion regarding the potential resignation of an elected official, most council members said they hope the mayor will choose to resign.
Only three members - Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup and Councilwoman Taralyn Nicholson and Jocelyn Vena - said they would not outright challenge the mayor to resign.
The council does not have the power to force the mayor to resign. As an elected official, he can choose to resign or serve the remainder of his term, which ends June 30. The next mayoral election is in May.
Recognizing what she called "a cloud hanging over the town," Vena said the mayor has a decision to make.
"I think at this point, it's up to him," she said.
Terndrup also remarked on what he called "a heavy mist" hanging over the council's discussion. Though admitting that divisiveness is a distraction from the council's public work, he also said he doesn't think it's his role to ask for the mayor's resignation.
Instead, he asked that Orndorff "seek his conscience."
Nicholson agreed, saying, "I can only be responsible for me."
Other members were more forceful in their disapproval, even those who called him a friend.
Councilman Ken Cherrix encouraged Orndorff to run again in a future election, if desired, despite asking for his resignation now.
"I, too, with sadness in my heart, would like the mayor to step down," said Councilwoman Kim Bishop.
"As leaders, we hold ourselves to a higher standard," said Councilwoman Emily Reynolds. "I hope that Rich can find the courage and the humility to do the right thing."
Councilwoman Barbara Plitt said the mayor's resignation would help the town continue to make progress.
"There's so much that's just impeding the progress that we've been making," she said. "And this town is making good progress. We need to continue that."
Councilman John Massoud referenced his friendship with the mayor as he read from a typewritten speech calling for the mayor's resignation.
Given all the attention surrounding Orndorff's legal cases, Massoud said he thinks it will be impossible for Orndorff to function in his current role as mayor.
"It is my hope that my friend Rich Orndorff will do the right thing here, and resign the office immediately."
Massoud said after the meeting that it was a necessary discussion for the council to have, considering the mayor's many legal battles.
"The whole thing is a tragedy," said Massoud.
Also at the meeting, the council discussed its options for fighting the possibility of having to pay Orndorff's legal fees to defend himself against the petition. After consulting with town attorney Nathan Miller, the council voted 5 to 3 in favor of asking Miller to make a motion to the Circuit Court requesting that the town not be responsible for paying the mayor's legal fees.
Voting against the measure were Terndrup, Vena and Reynolds.
Miller said, according to Virginia State Code, should the proceedings against Orndorff be dismissed in the mayor's favor, then it would be at the judge's discretion whether to require the town to pay reasonable fees for counsel. The reason for the statute, Miller said, is to keep from discouraging people from running for office for fear of having to pay legal fees anytime someone brings a case against them.
"Because I understand the statute and because I respect it and I think it's really important," Reynolds said before the vote, "even though I do not like the circumstances in which we … probably will have to pay the mayor's legal fees, I will not be voting in favor of this motion."