Strasburg Mayor Richard Orndorff Jr. is opposing a petition filed by citizens to have him removed from office.
Through an attorney, Orndorff released a rebuttal Wednesday to allegations made in the petition, arguing the petition lacks evidence and is operating as “an attempt to short circuit the normal process of electing a person to serve as mayor for the Town of Strasburg.”
Christie Monahan and 111 other citizens filed the petition for Orndorff's removal in Shenandoah County Circuit Court earlier this week.
Orndorff’s attorney, Phillip S. Griffin II, argued the petition is “transparently lacking in facts.”
The state code lists a handful of reasons to begin judicial proceedings to remove an elected official from office via petition. Griffin wrote that because Orndorff has never been charged with any crimes that meet state code standards, the petitioners “sadly conflate Rich’s accident and recent charge into an act of official government malfeasance.”
Citizens can file petitions to remove elected officials for four reasons, according to state code: if an official is guilty of neglect of duty, misuse of office or incompetence; convicted of a misdemeanor involving possession, manufacturing or selling controlled substances or paraphernalia; convicted of a “hate crime” as described by state code or having been convicted of a range of sexual crimes including sexual battery and indecent exposure.
While Orndorff has not been convicted of any of the crimes set forth as grounds for judicial action in the state code, petitioners argue he did neglect his duty as mayor and abuse his office, facilitating gifts from the town to the Chamber of Commerce after it lost its nonprofit status and not telling the town. Orndorff is president of the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce.
The Northern Virginia Daily reported in November that the chamber missed a deadline to file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service, resulting in its loss of nonprofit 501(c)(6) status. According to the IRS, the chamber’s status was revoked on May 15, 2018, and a notice was posted on August 13, 2018.
Since May 15, 2018, the Chamber of Commerce continued to act as a nonprofit entity, accepting gifts from the town of Strasburg, hosting fundraisers and benefiting from its former nonprofit status, according to the petition.
In the petition, citizens point to the chamber’s application for banquet licenses from the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Authority — licenses that are only granted to “duly organized nonprofit corporations or associations” according to the ABC website.
The Chamber of Commerce applied for banquet special event licenses for its annual Mayfest events in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, the Virginia ABC granted the chamber a license on May 7, a week before its nonprofit status was revoked. This year, the chamber applied for another banquet special event license and Virginia ABC approved the application on May 6, 2019.
According to Virginia ABC records, Orndorff is the “responsible person” for both licenses.
Valerie Hubbard, public relations specialist for Virginia ABC, said the chamber was considered a “duly organized” nonprofit because it met a set of criteria ABC looks at when issuing licenses.
“It is not necessary for a group to possess a 501(c)(3) status to be duly organized,” Hubbard said. "They have to be nonprofit. They do not have to have IRS status."
A “duly organized” organization has records of a list of members, a dues structure, evidence it holds regular meetings and bylaws, Hubbard said. An organization does not have to meet all of those criteria; the chamber met enough of them to pass muster with Virginia ABC’s application for a banquet special event license.
For both applications, Orndorff was acting as president of the Chamber of Commerce, not as the mayor of the town. Griffin wrote that there is no evidence Orndorff “has in any way acted in a less than honest and straight forward way as he carried out his duties as mayor.”
However, petitioners argue that the license Orndorff obtained led to his subsequent accident that put him in the hospital for several weeks and caused him to neglect his office.
Griffin, in his statement, wrote that Orndorff has spent his time as mayor promoting the town and business through his office as mayor and work with the chamber. Griffin wrote that Orndorff has been critical in attracting new businesses and visitors to the town and contended the petition citizens filed is a “political witch hunt.”