FRONT ROYAL – The Town Council during its Monday work session discussed developing a public information office to better communicate with citizens and the media.
Todd Jones, the town’s information technology director, presented a plan to the council that included a proposed four-pronged approach for better public relations.
First, he said the town needs to “find and promote a clear message,” which would include a heavy social media presence and ensure that news releases and public notices are clear with consistent messages.
Regarding the press, Jones proposed a scenario in which media members request to talk to council members or town officials through the public information office. He said the media would submit specific questions to the office “so that you have a heads up as to what you’re getting into.”
“I don’t expect us to allow questions beyond what was given to us,” Jones said.
Jones said over the phone Tuesday that the idea would allow questions to be answered properly, adding that “it’s not like we’re trying to restrict anybody at all.”
“At the same time, I don’t know that this is a done deal yet and we’re just dialoguing about where we’re heading," he said.
Most importantly, Jones said there needs to be proper communication with the public. He proposed periodic town halls in which officials would explain the town’s policies and field questions from the public.
“Any question anybody wants to ask, we’d love to hear it...It’s not like a Town Council meeting where the public speaks and we don’t necessarily respond,” he said.
Mayor-elect Eugene Tewalt said he would like for these town halls to be held every month.
Jones said the fourth and final prong of his proposed public relations plan would be reviewing what is and is not working every 90 days “so that we can continue to refine the message.”
The council also discussed the possible "winterization" of the Afton Inn to protect it from the elements during upcoming winter weather.
Redevelopment of the Afton Inn stalled after the project was detailed in the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s $21.3 million civil lawsuit as one avenue the authority’s former executive director allegedly stole money.
Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick said the tentative plan for winterization, which will be completed by the town’s public works department, is to cover windows with plywood on which local artists may be asked to paint murals.
Tederick also brought up the EDA Reform Committee, which was a collaboration between town and county officials on how to move forward after the alleged embezzlement within the authority. The town pulled out of the committee in September upon the misdemeanor indictments of 14 current and former county officials, charges which were dismissed.
Tederick said he has had conversations with a recently elected county supervisor who “thinks it might be in everyone’s best interest to delay having more in-depth conversations” regarding the EDA until the new supervisors are sworn into office in January.