STRASBURG — The Town Council approved several budget amendments at a Tuesday night meeting that also saw the return of Mayor Richard A. “Rich” Orndorff Jr. after a nearly three-month absence and a failed motion for a closed session after the meeting.
Voting to approve budget amendments, the council approved payment of the state share of Phase II of the Streetscape Project in the amount of $1,085,644 using funds from the general balance. A full refund from the Virginia Department of Transportation is expected once the work is completed and the town submits paperwork to the state. The town’s share in the project is $271,411.
The town will also pay the state share of the Gateway Trail Project in the amount of $517,437, and make a request for reimbursement after completion.
The Streetscape Project is making transportation improvements to King Street and Massanutten Street, and the Gateway Trail Project will mainly involve the extension of a sidewalk along Massanutten.
The council also approved budget amendments of $32,500 for the Master Park Plan Project and $35,000 for the Wayfinding Signage Project.
Councilwoman Kim Bishop raised opposition to funding the Master Park Plan, but agreed to approve the measure anyway, since she expected everyone else would.
“While I’m going to vote for these amendments, I just want to state that I still don’t see a need for a Master Park Plan to spend $32,000 on that,” she said.
The council welcomed back Orndorff, who was involved in a vehicle crash on May 17 and has since been charged by Virginia State Police with two misdemeanors: driving under the influence of alcohol, and driving an all-terrain vehicle on a public highway.
Orndorff has been accused of crashing the vehicle into the town library. He has been absent from meetings since May, while recovering from extensive injuries.
He thanked Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup for taking over mayoral duties during that time, saying, “He did an exceptional job, and I certainly appreciate it personally.”
Orndorff also thanked the council, town manager and staff for keeping the town running well in his absence, and the community for its prayers and well wishes.
Speaking during a citizens comment session, Coleen McMains, owner of The Historical Homemaker bakery and cafe in Strasburg, welcomed Orndorff back, telling him “You’ve done nothing but support me and my business.”
“Thank you for all that you do for this town. … The majority of the people here in this town love you.”
Marlin Dixon, of Strasburg, also briefly welcomed the mayor’s return, wishing him luck. No other residents spoke during the meeting.
After several discussions on updates to the Council Code of Conduct and Ethics, council has decided to allow all town boards, commissions and council members to enact separate codes of ethics.
“This has been kind of an evolving process,” Terndrup said.
At a recent Boards and Commissions meeting, attended by members of the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and Architectural Review Board, the topic was well received and discussed, he said.
“They are going to go ahead and make their own creation of a code of conduct that makes sense to their board and commissions,” Terndrup said.
Asked how that affects the council’s need to regulate the code, or if members will be required to sign documentation, as previously suggested, Terndrup indicated the commissions and board will be responsible for their own documents.
“They decided to take it on themselves and they will create one for each of their boards and commissions,” he said.
“As far as the Council Code of Ethics, I think we have moved away from that into a personal pledge of ethical conduct.”
Terndrup said he’s signed a pledge of his own, a copy of which he gave to the Clerk of Council, available for public view and public comment.
The council also executed employment agreements for Town Manager Wyatt Pearson and Police Chief Wayne Sager.
Intending to follow up the meeting with a closed session that wasn’t noted on the public meeting agenda, Councilwoman Emily Reynolds read from a script explaining the closed session was pursuant to a Virginia code that allows councils to discuss, consider or privately interview individuals for employment, assignment, promotions, demotions and resignations or discipline of town staff and public officials.
“The subject of the closed meeting is to discuss personal actions of members of council,” she said.
Councilman John Massoud seconded Reynolds’ motion, but Jocelyn Vena voted no, saying she hadn’t been informed of the closed meeting ahead of time. Terndrup then also voted no.
“If we’re going to discuss personal conduct, especially since I just put in the Code of Conduct, I feel that there should be public [discussion],” he said. “Although, I have no problem discussing whatever council members want to discuss.”
“Personally I don’t think it’s appropriate for closed session,” he continued, “so I would have to say ‘no.’”
Council members Barbara Plitt, Taralyn Nicholson and Ken Cherrix also voted down the motion. Massoud, Reynolds and Bishop voted yes. The motion failed five to three.
Orndorff said he agreed with Terndrup and recused himself from the closed session, “since I am probably the subject of the discussion.”
However, since the motion failed, there was no closed session, and Orndorff adjourned the meeting.
The council has scheduled upcoming work sessions for 7 p.m. Aug. 19 and Sept. 3, which was moved to a Tuesday because of the Labor Day holiday on Sept. 2. The next Town Council regular meeting will be on Sept. 10.