Leading the claim petition to remove Mayor Richard Orndorff Jr. from office, petitioners wrote that he "neglected his duty, misused his office," and led the town to give contributions to the Chamber of Commerce after it lost its nonprofit status.
When the chamber lost its IRS nonprofit status in May 2018, Orndorff should have told the town, petitioners argue. Christie Monahan and the petitioners argue that Orndorff’s alleged failure to inform town officials and continued acceptance of in-kind contributions for chamber events, such as the annual Mayfest event, caused the town to violate state codes for contributions.
Wyatt Pearson, the town manager of Strasburg, said he could not recall when he found out about the chamber's status. He said he does not know whether Orndorff told him or whether he found out when the Northern Virginia Daily reported the change in November 2018.
Regardless of the chamber’s nonprofit status, Pearson said the town has been committed to supporting Mayfest above and beyond other special events due to Mayfest's history, not its relationship with the Chamber of Commerce.
“Mayfest had been going on for so long that there had been a relationship built up between the town and whoever the host was,” Pearson said.
Since he has been with the town, the policy has remained that the town would contribute an equivalent amount to Mayfest as the previous year unless the host requested less. The town also provides services for Mayfest — renting portable toilets and providing trash service — that it does not for other special events.
The petition seeking Orndorff's removal points to $22,158.64 of “‘in-kind services’ (gifts) for the benefit of the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce’s fundraising activities,” that the chamber has accepted since May 15, 2018, when it lost its nonprofit status.
Virginia state code allows for towns to contribute to nonprofit organizations such as a chamber of commerce but does not prohibit towns from contributing to other organizations.
Pearson said it could be politically risky for a town to contribute to an organization that was operating with turning a profit in mind, but that it was not illegal to do so.
The town, Pearson said, views organizations and whether they are a nonprofit in a broader view than the IRS, which is involved in interpreting federal tax law as it relates to nonprofits.
“The nonprofit designation is not necessarily the only qualifier for an organization to exist as a nonprofit,” Pearson said.
According to town documents, in-kind donations from the town for Mayfest in 2018 and 2019 — the years referenced in the petition — consisted of paying for staff overtime, police overtime, portable toilets and dumpster rentals.
The bulk of those costs came from the public works department paying staff to work overtime in helping set up, tear down and work during the event. Documents show that the town spent $7,219.98 on public works for Mayfest in 2018 and $8,215.19 in 2019.
Overtime funds are set with the budget each year, Pearson said, so events that require staff overtime are not extra, unexpected burdens on the town or taxpayers. If there was an event that caused unexpected overtime that pushed departments to their limit, department heads would approach the town manager and work out how to deal with that situation, Pearson said.
In-kind contributions, Pearson explained, are costs the town incurs and does not charge the host of an event.
The most common request for events is an extra police presence, Pearson said. Each event that requests assistance from the town is considered on a case-by-case basis but Mayfest has, for years, been held as a unique event. Until recent years, Pearson said he believed the town had a line item of several thousand dollars in its budget for a donation to the chamber for Mayfest.
Council members did remove that line item after a “lengthy and controversial conversation,” Pearson said.
The relationship the town has had with the event has always been about the event, Pearson said, and not the host or the chamber of commerce in particular. Aside from the recent change to remove the annual donation to the chamber for Mayfest, Pearson said the town’s ongoing policy and relationship with the event have remained the same, regardless of the host.