Front Royal Town Manager “carried the ball” for Mayor’s land use application – Confidential Town Attorney Report

By Dan McDermott and Tom Sayre

Wednesday, Nov. 17 (7:30 pm) FRONT ROYAL—In an investigative report to the Front Royal Planning Commission marked “CONFIDENTIAL,” Town Attorney Douglas Napier said parts of a subdivision application from Mayor Chris Holloway were personally expedited by Town Manager Steve Hicks.

“In this case, it is clear from all staff reports that the Town Manager in effect personally “carried the ball” for Mr. Holloway’s application by the Town Manager himself making sure that the Planning and Public Works Departments and their staffs knew that the Town Manager was overseeing the resubdivision application for Mr. Holloway, and the Town Manager wanted this application expedited as quickly as possible,” wrote Napier.

Napier’s report says that there is no current town code provision that makes it impermissible for the Town Manager to “do this” or for the mayor or a Town Councilman to have the Town Manager “do this for them.” 

“The Town Manager himself fast-tracked the application and its approval in such a way that the resubdivision plat was approved by the Interim Planning Director on the spot, as soon as it was presented to him by the Town Manager, in the presence of Mr. Holloway. The Town Manager called the Interim Planning Director to his office, while Mr. Holloway was there, and asked the Interim Planning Director to sign the resubdivision plat right then, after the Town Manager himself had already signed it. Because the resubdivision application was to include a private street, Town Code requires that a special exception to be granted by Town Council. This special exception process has not been applied for within the experience of anyone in the memory of current staff, and therefore no one was familiar with it. Because of that unfamiliarity, and because the Interim Planning Director felt there was at least an implicit pressure to sign the resubdivision plat as soon as it was presented to him — it was presented to him by his boss, the Town Manager, in the presence of the Mayor — the Interim Planning Director did not feel he had the time, nor did he take the time, to review the Town Code to be certain the correct Town Code procedures were being followed,” Napier states.

“In addition, the Town Manager himself understandably could have felt pressure to fast-track this application, since the application was for the Mayor. The reports of the individual Town staff members of both the Planning and Public Works Department clearly indicate that they felt pressured, implicitly at least, to get their respective Departmental reviews of this application completed within that same business day if at all possible, when the Town’s usual policy was two weeks. While Town Code only makes a recommendation as to this two week period, it should be recalled that Town staff always has a lot of work to do which are already in the queue ahead of any given application, not just for certain people who apply later one but want to have their application finished and approved first,” writes Napier.

“It was only after the current Planning Director was hired, when she discovered that the special exception requirement was not followed, that this matter was begun to be brought to a head,” he says.

Photo of Front Royal Town Attorney Doug Napier leaving the Front Royal Planning Commission meeting Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021 by Tom Sayre.

Tom Sayre:

Dan McDermott:

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