Middletown Continues to Sort Itself Out
By Sue Golden
Frederick County Report
At a special meeting on Tuesday evening, the Middletown Town Council appointed two members: Clarence “Trip” Chewning and Thomas M. Simon. The council also appointed Charles H. Harbaugh IV as interim mayor.
A close to capacity crowd filled the council chambers. Many of the attendees applied for either one of the council positions or the mayoral position. The meeting began with each applicant for the council openings making a brief statement.
Gilbert “Gil” Barrington started by apologizing for resigning from the council. “I let my emotions get the best of me.” Although, he added, he was not alone. He stated that normally, no one comes to meetings. And he exhorted the crowd to stay involved, saying “it’s about time you got involved.”
Trip Chewning went next. Trip explained that he got involved about a year ago, when there were items in the budget he did not agree with. At the time, he said, he was very upset and vocal, calling on the council to dissolve the charter, and return to Frederick County. Now, Chewning says, he is starting with a clean slate. He called dissolving the charter “impracticable”, and said he would not go after any of the jobs of town employees. Chewning’s starting over means getting along, listening, and discussing issues thoroughly. He understands that people are angry that the comprehensive plan has not been followed, and that the water and sewer rates continue to rise. While he hopes to “serve the people of Middletown,” he also hopes “people will take more interest.”
Kathryn “Kathy” Corderro moved to Middletown three years ago. She said she made Middletown her home because she loves history and tradition. She wants to use the history and tradition as the stepping stone for economic growth and development. She wants to “move forward and change.” Corderro wants to be a voice for Middletown, saying she would go door to door to represent the people.
Gerald “Dave” Sinclair was succinct; he has been on the council for sixteen years. He always “goes with what the people want.” He has worked with the current council, while serving as an appointed member after John Owings resigned. “I want to do it again.”
Thomas M. Simon is an eight year Middletown resident. He said he was sitting on the sidelines watching all of the activity over the past year. Finally, he knew he had to get involved. He likes the small town of Middletown. He is raising his family here. “Growth is unavoidable, but do it the right way.”
Carol Snyder came to Middletown with her husband. When he died, she chose to stay. “I love Middletown.” Snyder was a program manager at a major company, and has sat on lots of committees. She knows how to listen and how to get things done. She thinks she can be an asset to Middletown.
Councilor Mark Davis effused that he felt good that so many people applied for the council positions. He also mentioned that a number of seats will be voted on in November. He said the town hired an attorney for the day to file a writ for elections, which also was due today.
Councilor Davis explained the voting process. Each of the four councilors would rank each candidate. Town manager Joan Roche and Treasurer Sharon Fadely would add the votes. The two lowest vote getters would be eliminated. In the first round Barrington and Corderro were eliminated. In the second round Snyder and Sinclair were eliminated.
As the voting and counting took place, there was a palpable sense of suspense in the crowd. Then nervous chatter ensued. Councilor Donna M. G. Gray said she felt like the theme music on “Jeopardy” should be played, which Councilor Davis immediately took up humming. All joking aside, Councilor Davis said he did practice ballots in advance, to make sure the system worked.
The winners of the balloting, Chewning and Simon, were asked to go to the Frederick County Court to get sworn in as soon as possible.
The council then turned its attention to the mayoral appointment. John Copeland has been a resident of Middletown for forty years. For over twenty of those years, he has served in some capacity on the council, whether as councilor or mayor. He said he was seeking the office “whole heartedly.” And he thanked the crowd “for showing an interest in your town.” He then had Councilor Davis read from his resume, because he did not want anyone to think he was “embellishing.”
Councilor Gray spoke next. She is a forty eight year resident of Middletown. She raised her family here. She worked for the town for nine years, and has been on council for two. She loves Middletown, and the people that make up the town. She knows that she is a minority voice on the council, but she tries to listen to the people who elected her. She wasn’t intending to “upset the apple cart” by running for mayor. She thinks Councilor Harbaugh is a “real nice guy,” but she thinks she has more experience than Councilor Harbaugh, and therefore would be a better mayor.
Councilor Harbaugh spoke of growing up in Middletown. He has worked for the town. He has multiple degrees. He played three years of semi-pro football. He began running the July 4th festivities in 2009. He was elected to council in 2010. He became vice mayor in 2011. He wants to “build a team” to “get things back on track in Middletown.”
Councilor Harbaugh was appointed mayor. Councilor Gray was next in line in the voting, ahead of Copeland. Councilor Harbaugh relinquished his council seat, so he will be out of office unless elected again in November.
The council was asked numerous times during the meeting about not having four elected officials to vote on financial issues. Councilor Carl Bernhards, Jr. responded that “we will cross that bridge when we come to it.” Councilor Davis said it was “a grey area.” He said “technically it is not appropriate. We cannot raise taxes, spend new money or sign big contracts. For the budget we are fine. We will hire an attorney soon, who will guide us in the right direction.”
The council is looking for applicants for the open council position vacated by Councilor Harbaugh. Applications can be picked up at town hall and are posted on the town’s website http://www.MiddletownVA.gov. There also are vacancies on the planning commission. The council will vote on a new appointee at its next meeting on April 2nd.