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Warrenton Town Council talks website, economic development

Tuesday, Sep. 16 | By Jonathan Hunley
Warrenton Town Council members recently discussed two issues that figured into May's election: the town's website and economic development.

All four candidates for the at-large seats on the Town Council said during this spring's campaign that the Warrenton government's website needed an overhaul, and movement toward that end continued at a recent work session.

The town's information-technology vendor, Warrenton-based F1 Computer Solutions, gave a presentation on different fixes possible for the town's website warrentonva.gov.

Alterations to the government portal could vary widely – as could how much the town might have to pay for them.

F1 executives described scenarios that could cost as little as $10,000 or as much as more than $100,000.

Mainly, the council will need to decide what they want in terms of the look, contents and functionality of the site.

For example, Vice Mayor L.P. "Sunny" Reynolds said, "People can't find things [on the website]. "That's the biggest complaint."

Council members also seemed interested in having a local company tackle the site work, if possible.

"I prefer this not be designed by someone in Minnesota," Reynolds said when F1 executives mentioned the possibility of Warrenton contracting with an out-of-town operation.

The vice mayor also updated her colleagues on economic-development efforts in the municipality.

She and Mayor Powell L. Duggan recently met with Fauquier Economic Development Director Miles Friedman to discuss how the town and county could work together to draw new businesses and boost companies that already are here.

Warrenton doesn't have its own economic development chief. But the town has employed one in the past, and Reynolds said during her election campaign this year that it should hire one again.

How that might work is still being pondered.

It could be that someone could undertake the task on a contract basis, Reynolds said, or an economic development director could work part-time.

Councilman Sean M. Polster, who like Reynolds was elected in May, agreed with his colleague on the importance of recruiting businesses.

He noted, for example, that downtown Culpeper is courting companies that perhaps could come to Old Town Warrenton instead.

Also at the work session, Fauquier County Voter Registrar Alex Ables briefed the council on how life would change if they chose to abide by the campaign-finance regulations that govern larger towns.

Political candidates in Virginia towns have to keep detailed contribution records only if the place in which they're running has 25,000 or more residents.

None of Fauquier's three towns has that many people; Warrenton's population is the largest at nearly 10,000.

But the council members in the county seat are considering whether to opt to use the stricter rules.

The benefit would be that the public would have more of a view of what individuals or organizations are funding campaigns.

But, if they voted for the change, council members would have to get used to recording a lot more information, Ables said.

That means not only financial contributions but also in-kind donations of materials or help, he said.

"It's all going to have to be reported," he said.

But does that mean a politician would have to make a note even if a supporter bought him a hot dog at Carousel? Duggan asked.

Yes, Ables responded.

"You're not painting a very rosy picture," said Councilman John S. "Sparky" Lewis.

"It's not a rosy picture," Ables replied. "It's not supposed to be."

It's unclear exactly when the council may take up the matter again, but the registrar isn't recommending for or against a change.

"I just want you to go into this with your eyes wide open," he told the councilors.

It's also not clear if there are enough votes on the council to make the leap to more campaign-finance reporting.

However, Councilman Jerry M. Wood, used to filling out contribution forms as a former member of the House of Delegates, said he doesn't mind the documentation.

"I've always believed in full disclosure," he said after the work session.

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