By Carol Vaughn —
A Chincoteague town council member apologized to the mayor, his fellow council members, and Chincoteague residents for his participation in a gathering held earlier this month in violation of the governor’s executive order during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for a situation I found myself in a few weeks ago that went against our governor’s order,” Councilman Matthew Reed said during the April 16 town council workshop meeting.
“I made a mistake. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Reed said, adding, “I went to what I thought was dinner with a couple of friends.”
Reed said he does “have the island’s interest in my heart, and will work as hard as I always have to continue to make this the best place for our residents and our visitors.”
Reed became a council member in July 2018. His term in office ends June 30, 2022.
Gov. Ralph Northam issued executive order 53, which among other measures prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people, on March 23. The ban has since been extended through June 10.
Violating the order is a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Officers on Chincoteague cited three people for organizing a party at a closed restaurant on Chincoteague, where up to 18 people gathered, Police Chief Robbie Fisher reported, according to an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The Chincoteague Police Department was among 37 law enforcement agencies that responded to a survey about citations being issued for violating executive orders, which was conducted by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, according to the Times-Dispatch.
Chincoteague police have issued the most citations for violating the gathering ban of departments responding to the survey, the article said.
Fisher said via email this week that the department charged two men and one woman with violating the order on April 1, and charged another man on April 5.
The April 5 incident involved Chincoteague pastor Keven Gary Wilson, according to a Christian Broadcasting Network report.
Wilson on Palm Sunday held a church service at Lighthouse Fellowship Church where 16 people were present, according to CBN.
The police department does not release the names of people charged with misdemeanors, Fisher said.
The department has made no additional charges of violating the order, he said.
Accomack County Sheriff Todd Wessells said his office has charged one person with violating the order, after someone held a party in the Parksley area earlier this month.
The Chincoteague Town Council during the April 16 meeting also approved an ordinance declaring running bamboo and certain other invasive plant species to be a nuisance.
The other species are defined in a list compiled by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which can be viewed at https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/invsppdflist
Property owners on Chincoteague with these plants growing on their property must not allow them to spread to adjoining properties or within 10 feet of a road or public right of way, according to the ordinance.
Violators of the ordinance can be charged with a class 4 misdemeanor.
The council sent back to the ordinance committee a proposed ordinance banning e-scooters on town streets and sidewalks.
The ordinance as written includes motorized skateboards and could be taken to include e-bicycles and personal assistant mobility devices, which some on the council noted should not be banned.
“I don’t want to see the person that is on a motorized skateboard be punished by this,” said Councilwoman Denise Bowden, adding that rental e-scooters are the problem.
“It really was about a business renting these out,” and the devices being left “all over town,” she said.
Reed recommended the ordinance exempt e-bicycles but not electric skateboards.
Mayor J. Arthur Leonard asked the ordinance committee to review the proposed language.
The council approved purchasing a new audiovisual system to improve streaming of council meetings from the council chambers.
The council approved the $8,334 purchase from Netwavz.
“In this day and time, with technology, we need to be on the forefront of being able to communicate with our constituents out there who are not able to make the meeting,” Bowden said.
Meetings will be streamed to a YouTube site with a link provided on the town’s website and may also be broadcast on the Facebook page.
Meetings can be watched live or in an archive, according to information in the meeting packet.
The money will come from $10,000 budgeted for council chambers furniture and equipment.
The new system should be installed by mid-May.