A petition to remove Mayor Richard Orndorff Jr. from office was filed in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Monday.
The petition includes 112 signatures from town residents who said they were registered to vote. “Christie Monahan, et al” is listed as the plaintiff in the case. This is the first step in a process to potentially remove the mayor from office through a referendum election ordered by a judge.
The petition reads, “We, the undersigned, hereby move this Court to suspend Mr. Richard Orndorff, Jr. from position of Mayor of the Town of Strasburg immediately upon the filing of this petition using the powers granted to you by Virginia Code § 24.2 -236 and subsequently set a trial for his recall.”
Monahan said in a Tuesday email that the signatures were collected by referral.
“Someone would sign and then refer a friend,” she said. “In some cases, people in neighborhoods would text neighbors to see if they were home and walk me around to meet them. It was a real effort by not me, but the citizens of Strasburg trying to make a difference in their town.”
Though she filed the petition, she said the “et al” means, “the citizens of Strasburg who also signed and worked hard to help in obtaining the signatures.”
The petition follows several months of unrest in town and on social media after Orndorff drove a John Deere Gator recreational vehicle into the Strasburg Town Library on May 17 during the first night of the town’s Mayfest celebration. Orndorff has been charged by Virginia State Police with two misdemeanors — driving under the influence of alcohol and driving a recreational vehicle on a public highway.
This was his second DUI charge in five years.
In May 2015, Orndorff pleaded guilty to drunken driving and was ordered to pay a $250 fine. He also received a 60-day suspended jail sentence and was required to attend state Alcohol Safety Action Program classes “as part of a plea agreement in which the prosecution agreed to drop charges of speeding and driving on a suspended license,” the Northern Virginia Daily previously reported.
Orndorff’s record in public office in Strasburg includes an initial stint on the Town Council from 1990 until 2000 when he was elected mayor and served three years.
In May 2004, Orndorff pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court to assault and battery of a family member. He then pleaded guilty to the same charge about three months later.
Following this year’s vehicle crash, Orndorff underwent weeks of surgeries. He appeared in Shenandoah General District Court on Sept. 10 and has another court date on Nov. 19.
Asked about his response to the petition, shortly after the filing, Orndorff said, “It’s the will of the people.”
Saying he’s already considered the possible outcomes of his actions, he added, “I don’t feel that I am guilty of malfeasance or misfeasance.”
Monahan said she was inspired to pursue filing the petition of removal after talking with a friend who lives outside of town but attended Mayfest with her family.
“She was very upset, because her friend had a child that was almost hit by the Mayor while riding the Gator,” Mohanan wrote. “She was even more frustrated that living just outside the town limits there was nothing she could do to prevent this from happening again and asked me what could be done, so I began looking at the process for the petition to remove a public official.
“In order to remove an elected official, you must connect their behavior to their ability to carry out the duties of their office,” she continued. “What is contained in the petition is not one poor choice on a Friday night, but a series of poor choices that could [a]ffect the town. For instance, the alcohol license was issued to Rich Orndorff for Mayfest under the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce. The law is that these licenses should be issued to only non-profits. Rich knew that the Strasburg Chamber had lost its non-profit status but still applied for the license as if the Strasburg Chamber was a non-profit placing the Town of Strasburg at risk for potential fines and lawsuits.”
The petition cites the alcohol license as one of its points under a subheading of Grounds for Removal.
“Acting as the President of the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce, he obtained Banquet Permit Special Event Licenses in 2018 and 2019, and used said permits after May 15, 2018 which are only to be issued to a non-profit. Mayor Richard Orndorff, Jr. neglected his duty of office by not informing the Town Manager of Strasburg, Chief of Police Wayne Sager, and the VABCA [Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Authority] that the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce was no longer qualified as a non-profit to sell and serve alcohol,” the petition reads.
The petition continues, “this neglect of duty allowed alcohol to be served under license #548451,” contributing to the blood alcohol limit of 0.17 documented by the Virginia State Police of Orndorff when he drove an all-terrain vehicle into the library, “endangering the wellbeing of the citizens of Strasburg.
“Wherein, these actions directly led him to neglect his duties as the Mayor of Strasburg for over two months,” the petition says.
The document says that Orndorff violated his responsibility as mayor to uphold Strasburg’s town charter and “exercise a constant supervision over all the affairs of the town and over the conduct of all subordinate officers.”
It states that Orndorff “has neglected his duty, misused his office, or been incompetent in the performance of his duties; an(d) his neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of his duties has had a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office of Mayor.”
On Aug. 26, the Strasburg Town Council issued a formal censure of the mayor, writing, in part:
“[W]e the members of the Strasburg Town Council declare that this incident is unacceptable and disappointing, and all of our residents deserve an explanation, an apology, and a plan to ensure this never happens again.”
Censure is not enough to remove an elected official from office, and the Town Council does not have the authority to remove Orndorff. State code says he can be removed from office if a number of registered voters who live within Orndorff’s jurisdiction equal to 10% of the total number of votes that were cast at the last mayoral election petition the Circuit Court as part of an election recall process.
The 112 signatures that Monahan obtained exceed the minimum 10% required to begin the recall process. The Virginia Department of Elections reports 794 votes were cast for mayor in 2016.
In order to file, Monahan said at least 80 signatures were needed.
State code also says the number of signatures required on the petition is determined by the number of voters registered as of Jan. 1 of this year.
“If the court or authority finds that the filed petitions are valid and sufficient under law, it shall proceed, as provided by law, to order or call for the referendum election,” the Strasburg Town Charter reads. “If the court or authority finds that the filed petitions are invalid for any cause, the petitions and the signatures on them shall be invalid for all purposes.”
Strasburg’s process for temporarily filling a vacant seat for mayor is similar to the process of filling a vacant council seat, which requires conducting a two-thirds council vote. Since Orndorff’s term expires on June 30, the interim mayor would then serve until the spring. Strasburg town elections take place in May.
Though Monahan pursued the petition and filed it, she stressed that she doesn’t dislike Orndorff.
“[T]his petition has nothing to do with Rich Orndorff personally (many people who signed think he is a nice person), but it has to do with his ability to hold the office of Mayor,” she wrote.
Town resident Gerard Avvenire was among those who signed the petition.
“The Mayor has made choices that reflect poorly on our town,” he wrote in an email to the Northern Virginia Daily. “He needs to leave the office, get personal help and let our town have time to heal.”
Town resident Rachael Wood, who moved from Northern Virginia last year, said she signed the petition as a way of disagreeing with the mayor’s ethics.
“Coming here and seeing that, it just doesn’t paint a good picture in our eyes when it comes to political figures and our town,” she said. “If he would do the right thing, then he would step down.”