ITFederal Local Government
Council bids farewells – continues sparring over ITFederal
December 13, 2016
14

Mayor Darr acknowledges departure of fellow lame-duck Bret Hrbek, who also did not seek re-election this year.

At its final meeting of 2016 (December 12), the Front Royal Town Council bid adieu to two retiring members, Mayor Tim Darr and Councilman Bret Hrbek, and continued its internal debate about exactly who it is that the EDA has contracted to become the bringer of economic re-development to the former Avtex Superfund site.

Between the fond farewells and philosophical impasse over the mystery company ITFederal, Council also concluded the year by:

  • unanimously voting to become an official sponsor of the five-year-old Memorial Day event that acknowledges, not only the human sacrifice of war service, but of canine service as well;
  • by a 4-2 margin, Hrbek and Meza dissenting, authorizing purchase of a new rear-loading garbage truck at a price of $175,935 to be paid over four years by an internal, interest-free loan from the Water Enterprise Fund;
  • unanimously authorized over $39-million in funding to be carried over into the FY-2017 Budget for multi-year projects. As pointed out by Gene Tewalt, over $25-million of that amount is attributed to State-mandated upgrades to the Town’s Wastewater Treatment Plant; and almost $9-million to construction of Leach’s Run Parkway;
  • authorized a deadline of December 28 for applications to fill the Council seat that will be vacated by Hollis Tharpe’s ascendance to Mayor. Council heard from one citizen, Tina Smith, who urged them to appoint the fourth place finisher in the November Election, Mike McCool, of National Media Services (and publisher of this online news site).

Annual Resolution

But all the “Reality Show” drama that has become the standard for American politics in 2016 was reserved for the fond farewells and not-so-fond majority-minority of one debate over the ability of ITFederal to achieve what it has promised in the way of investment ($40-million) and jobs (400 to 600) to this community.  That debate centered over Council’s second Resolution of Support of ITFederal LLC in two years.

The first was approved on November 23, 2015, at the request of First Bank & Trust before the bank would authorize a $10-million construction loan with which the Town’s “bridge loan” to ITFederal through the EDA was paid back around the turn of last year.

Boy Scout Troop 53 accompanies Mayor Tim Darr, who left the Council dais to join them, and Council in Pledging Allegiance to the American Republic.

This one was suggested to appease ITFederal CEO Truc “Curt” Tran after Hrbek conveyed the message that Tran was considering pulling out of that promised investment on 30 acres at the Avtex/Royal Phoenix site.  However, Tran might find it hard to walk away from what was essentially a $2-million gift of that 30 acres for development.  After several months of negotiations, the EDA agreed to sell the 30 acres valued at $67,000 per acre, to ITFederal for one dollar.

That gift, which EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald asserts there are local precedents for including Toray in the North Corridor, was made in an attempt to jump start commercial redevelopment at the Avtex site.  For about four decades the site housed the largest private-sector employer in Town, successively American Viscose, FMC Corporation and finally the Avtex synthetic fibers manufacturing plant.  However, the 467-acre site has been dormant economically over a quarter century of federally-overseen environmental cleanup and remediation.

At Council’s November 28 meeting, Hrbek said Tran had been offended by the nature or tone of questions posed about him and his company, most prominently at Council’s meeting of October 24.  As reported here in our Egger-and-Hrbek-inspired ”Perfect Storm of Silence” mini-series, in late October Egger questioned McDonald about:

  • Tran’s purchase of the 70-plus-acre Millennium Lotus property off Happy Creek Road and business plans for that property;
  • his involvement in the EB-5 Visa Immigrant Investor Program’s “America Commonwealth Regional Center, LLC located at Tyson’s Corner;
  • and what she said were past issues with some businesses under the auspices of that program failing to live up to promised economic development.

Egger suggested seeking assurances from Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte, credited by McDonald with bringing Tran and ITFederal to the EDA as “an economic development opportunity”, for assurances about the economic viability of the company.

Prior to Monday’s vote Egger re-asserted her enthusiasm for the promise of ITFederal and said there was a lot in the Resolution she liked.  Prominent among things to like was acknowledgement of ITFederal’s commitment to contribute $150,000 to the West Main Street Extension, seen as a key access road to the planned Royal Phoenix Business Park.  McDonald noted to this reporter that commitment was integral to Council’s decision not to seek about $4,000 per month in interest on the two, one-month extensions of its September 2015 construction “bridge loan”.

Factual Evidence?

However, Egger questioned one paragraph included in the Resolution of Support related to her earlier queries.  That graph states, “Whereas, the EDA has factual evidence that ITFederal has been the recipient of awards of substantial federal contracts, which is one reason why Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte has strongly promoted ITFederal’s location in the Town of Front Royal;”

Egger asked if that “factual evidence” was available to Council.

Hrbek replied that McDonald had seen it.

Perhaps appropriately under the County Government Center Meeting Room’s declaration “In God We Trust”, following adjournment Bébhinn Egger and Gene Tewalt continue the debate over whether silence and secrecy is enough in the case of ITFederal’s promise to this community.

Egger asked if the EDA Executive Director was in possession of that evidence so that it could be shown to Council in order to verify the contention that the evidence of those large government contracts does, in fact, exist.  Discussion indicated she is not; but Egger’s subsequent amendment to delete the paragraph died without a second.

However, having admitted the alleged “factual evidence” was NOT in the EDA’s possession, Hrbek offered an amendment to reword the paragraph in question to state, “… the EDA has reviewed the evidence that ITFederal has been the recipient” of those large federal contracts.  Hrbek’s amendment to his original motion to approve the Resolution passed unanimously.

Mayor-Elect Hollis Tharpe reads acknowledgment of Mayor Tim Darr’s multi-terms of service to the Town. Tharpe ran essentially unopposed to succeed Darr after the Mayor announced he would not seek re-election this year.

But Egger continued to oppose the blanket endorsement without more facts.  Citing the veil of secrecy over basic facts concerning the financial basis upon which ITFederal can achieve what has been promised, Egger cast the lone dissenting vote to this year’s Resolution of Support of ITFederal and its plan to build at, develop, and populate a 30-acre parcel at the Royal Phoenix Business Park.

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There are 14 comments

  • Thank you George and Roger for the informative and spirited discussion . God bless ITFederal, or town and our country. Looking forward to good things happening in 2017

  • MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL ! And thanks to all that serve our community !

  • Linda J. Allen says:

    The effort to be a compassionate grown up allowing others their right to be whatever we experience sometimes slips badly on my part. So let’s just started. First, saying that social media starts up other rants is straight out attempted emotional blackmail. Why don’t we all get used to the idea that we DO understand each other and all the ploys that go with daily existence. I, for one, am never reliant upon social media or even a singular version of the news. And, since when am I cowed by some man with mouth open to spew words? Fellows, dream on. Secondly, having observed Town Council for about five years and having had a genuinely mean direct experience from one Town Council that still has at least one of the same persons on it, there is adequate documentation from Town Council actions to say definitively that if the subject is economic development, they fail to ask questions. Period. It is repeating behavior of successive Town Councils. Period. We all have been rather polite to ask for due diligence. Exactly one person has had to withstand the resistance to the effort publicly. I have mentioned some of the other instances previously in which it was Town Council that failed to handle itself by NOT asking questions that shoved the hope of economic development down the drain. The resistance to perform with knowledge of elements of accountability, conflict of interest forms, due diligence, and simply to sit there and learn by asking questions of a speaker who proposes a business development possibility is astounding. That isn’t what Councils do. Then, the audacity to say that it is not any of our business is like finding out who lives in an alternate universe. How can we communicate to such persons that we do pay taxes which fund the EDA and we did loan them money and we are as citizens entitled to know every detail about money. And, let’s also note that typically, 6,000 registered voters do NOT vote while about 2800 do. People do complain about how Town Council works and what they do which puzzles me when they don’t vote or help recruit candidates. I’m taking my responsibility of following along with the events and it seems to me that we get what we vote for. Or, maybe they get what they vote for because I expect better. And, we could go into the ploys played during campaigns just for kicks that the public must be buying into. How about stepping up to the plate? Put that care about the community into action by participating and insist that Town Council discover questioning and due diligence. And, let’s face up to the knowledge that we actually do have about human behavior and how Council works.

  • michael graham says:

    Thanks Roger for the additional information and I will look forward to hearing who councilman Egger talked to at the EPA and more clarification of the answers she received. I did not know the process regarding the land price of a $1 that we had to go through the EPA for approval. It a good deal for ITFederal if the contracts are still in place that creates the revenue stream that supports the project. I hope it happens because our community needs the creation of living wage jobs. I still don’t understand why its so difficult to get verification from the Feds . It was a simple question that should be easy to verify without causing all of this nashing of teeth and personal attacks.

  • michael graham says:

    Roger you missed one important fact in your story based on the statement from Councilman Egger during the meeting. She reported that she had contacted the EPA and DEQ and was told by these departments contacts that they were not holding up to the project over the last year. The Council was told that one of the problems was coming from these governmental agencies that was delaying progress of the project..

    • Roger Bianchini says:

      In response to Mike Graham, I have to verify that info Egger reported regarding no delays — it contradicts what EPA contacts (attorney & Superfund press liaison) have told me over past months — which is that it took time to get approval of all remaining stakeholders — EPA, DOJ, FMC, FR, WC, perhaps others — to allow the property to be sold for a dollar & removed from the $2-million-plus lien on the property to compensate FMC, feds, and I believe the Trustee or his estate, to some degree for their work. We have the letter from DoJ granting that permission, it is dated 9-23-16, which would indicate there was a 13-month delay from Blair Mitchell’s 9-18-15 letter seeking that approval to allow the $1 sale to go through. I am still trying to get feedback from the State on the DEQ stormwater management plan approval process, and if related to or simply overlapped the EPA/fed process, and for how long. Apparently Ms. Egger did not speak to the same EPA sources I have.

  • Kimberly says:

    $1 dollar for all those acres. Heck, I will through together a biz plan tonight.

    • Federal Government OK’d this. It as an incentive, in their efforts, to re-vitalize this CONDEMNED Super-Fund Site. Help our community move forward with new jobs and future tax base. This is not unheard of and is not corrupt.

      This is a CLEAN, high tech business that a surrounding county is courting as well. The State of Virginia endorsed this project, as well.

      1000’s of hours by hundreds of people have been spent on rehabilitating this site for re-use. Too many people do not know, nor participated in this successful reclamation. Many of us were involved, worked on it and understand this. Please let this community be “BUSINESS FRIENDLY” for the benefit of all. Think of the potential for good and stop this “NEED” to know other people’s business. Social Media is inciting the rants we see as so popular today !

      • Roger Bianchini says:

        George, I think as Ms. Egger has publicly stated of her perspective on several occasions, no one is against successful commercial re-development at the portion of the former Superfund site authorized for it. My perception of the impetus for her questions is whether ITFederal is in a financial position to accomplish what has been promised — a $40-million investment & 400-600 jobs; or if ITFederal has essentially been recruited to be a sub-marketer of the bulk of that 30 acres to other companies it is HOPED will produce the promised jobs and economic redevelopment.
        If marketing largely empty buildings to others is ITFederal’s primary role at Royal Phoenix, I would think that raises legitimate questions concerning the one-dollar, up-front economic incentive & how ITFederal will generate its own revenue from the site — through large federal IT Solutions contracts or property rentals — as well as, and most importantly, the proportion of jobs that may be created there that will be relocated existing jobs versus new ones for the local workforce.
        I would suggest closing one’s eyes, trusting in invisible evidence, and hoping for the best might NOT be the best approach for an elected board representing the community (Front Royal) with the biggest stake in the answers to those questions — BUT then that’s the inquisitive reporter in me, George — what do you think?

        • Roger, I feel like the Councilwoman is carrying her concerns too far down the public pike.
          In the past process of courting a prospect, most of the information was done quietly and professionally. Today’s media, of all kinds, carries the information out into the public before the courtship and it’s results culminate. In other words, in the past, professional courtesy becomes more important than the sensationalism and public scrutiny that exists today. Once the EDA has completed their mission on behalf of our community for a new business, the information can be told to the public. This works, rather than upset or insult a prospect and forfeit what they may offer our community. I can say, with out hesitation and experience, this works.
          The marketing of SHELL BUILDINGS has worked for many years, in Warren County and throughout the country. This approach offers prospects an opportunity to finish a empty warehouse building and move their business in quickly. Most of our industrial parks have that done this with public, as well as private investments, even in the current year. This is the perfect way to introduce new business into our community. This is especially true about moving into a condemned property, like we have here. This also keeps the cost down for our community.
          Ask some of the current successful businesses, who live, work, employ and play here how much of their private information and contracts were questioned ? Ask the Virginia State Department of Economic Development in Richmond, ask Bryan Schull, former EDA Director and Stephen Heavener, very successful, .EDA Director about this. The worst case scenario, we become owners of buildings for the future. Best case scenario, successful business, jobs, growth, taxes and a positive image of our community and move their businesses here.
          As we saw in the recent elections, all the sensationalism created by public involvement and done “on behalf of our community” ! This is working against us, as far as separation. Just like pretending the elimination of cameras at the Gazebo is going to save someone’s rights. Working on BEHALF of our community and all the residents says NOT.
          We want ITFederal here. If we are upsetting him, the stop and move forward. As the Branding Committee says ONWARD !
          Thanks for wanting to see Front Royal and Warren County continue to strive forward and remain “A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE”.

          • Roger Bianchini says:

            George, as for the role of “today’s media” carrying information “out into the public before the courtship and its results culminate” – I don’t believe it is the media’s role to suppress available information of public interest to citizens that information impacts. And I would hope you agree that it is, indeed, the business of elected officials to be informed of the dynamics of economic development being recruited by their own quasi-governmental agencies created to do so – in this case the Town-County Economic Development Authority.

            But I also understand the need for privacy in early business negotiations to keep from undermining those deals during their early stages. My expectation as a Town citizen is that the Town’s elected officials would be informed behind closed doors about those early-stage dynamics that will impact the future of the community they are elected to represent. – As you note, THAT is an important function of Closed Sessions.

            Judging from the public discussion, in the case of the Town of Front Royal, the EDA, ITFederal and Royal Phoenix that has NOT happened – not even in the wake of Councilwoman Egger’s publicly voiced questions of October 24. That vacuum of internally-circulated substantive information surrounds publicly-available information, much of it cited by Egger on October 24. As we have previously reported, that information revolves around funding sources for the project such as the previously undisclosed EB-5 visa program under the auspices of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services; ITFederal’s contract base and its financial ability to accomplish what has been publicly promised; Tran’s purchase of other Town land for other business purposes unrelated to the Royal Phoenix plan; and how those peripheral purchases were financed and might impact the plan for 30-acre Lot 6 at Royal Phoenix.

            I contend these are legitimate inquiries for a member of Town Council. – Where the fault lies that those questions were not INITIALLY addressed in CLOSED SESSION with the EDA remains to be seen; however, I would suggest the fault lies with Council itself.

            I say that because Council discussion since October 24 indicates an apparent 5-member majority does NOT believe it is their responsibility to stay informed in Closed Session or elsewhere about what the EDA is doing on the Town’s behalf. That stance has been repeated both during and after work session and meeting discussions since Egger went public with her questions.

            Should Ms. Egger have first requested a joint Closed Session of Council and the EDA to discuss her and her constituents’ concerns? – Probably.

            But if she had, would a Council majority have agreed to such a meeting? – My guess is NOT. I base that guess not only on the above-referenced Council comments, but also upon the fact NO such Closed Session appears to have occurred in the seven weeks since Egger first publicly confronted the EDA Executive Director about details of the IT-Federal project.

            After all, Councilman Tewalt has publicly stated he doesn’t believe Avtex redevelopment and EDA marketing of the property, or anything else the EDA now does on the Town’s behalf is any longer any of Council’s business. And Councilman Hrbek has publicly stated he believes it IS the media’s job, not Council nor perhaps even the EDA’s, to vet a company Council and the EDA immediately loaned $10-million in September 2015; and officially endorsed in November 2015. That latter act, approving Council’s first Resolution of Support of ITFederal, according to the EDA Executive Director was made in order to achieve the bank loan of $10-million for the company, so that the Town’s $10-million “bridge” loan would not have to become more than a “bridge” to the bank loan, and be kept and used for the planned ITFederal construction project.

            Has there been any other Council voice contesting Tewalt and Hrbek’s lack of inter-est in seeking details on the EDA’s recruitment of ITFederal to the Royal Phoenix site? – NONE that I have heard; and I’ve been listening pretty closely.

            In such a vacuum, one might suggest a malfeasant vacuum, of public responsibility should we be surprised things took the public turn they did?

            And once they did, George, what would you suggest is the role of media present when these questions were publicly posed? Should we join Council’s five-member majority and put our heads in the sand and pretend we didn’t hear them or have no interest in the answers?

            I would contend in the perhaps disappearing world of independent, investigative journalism that Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers believed was a cornerstone – “the Fourth Estate” – of the American Republic, it IS media’s responsibility to seek answers to publicly-discussed questions; and use publicly-available information to seek not only those answers, but also pose new questions the answers to which impact the future of the communities they cover.

            Perhaps the questions posed by Egger on October 24 would have best been first discussed in Closed Session with the EDA – they weren’t.

            And if the resultant public discussion leads Mr. Tran to “take his promised $40-million investment and go home” – or perhaps elsewhere into the Northern Valley – I would sug-gest the blame most appropriately be placed on ALL those elected Town officials who do NOT believe it is their job, behind closed doors or elsewhere, to seek relevant information on business recruitment and the use of public funds to foster that recruitment.

            After all, it’s only recruitment and financing of the business poised to shape development of a large swath of this Town and community’s employment future – what’s to know, right?

      • michael graham says:

        George if that is the case why is everybody in the federal and state government so resistant to confirm that everything is still on tract. Things change over time and so might the same have happened with this project. The questions being asked is not to create fake media stories that we are hearing so much about lately. All this would go away if someone in the federal government would confirm the contracts. I do not buy not responding because its top secret. They can confirm without disclosing the nature of the project. The other issue is the project was delayed by the EPA is not true based on the information shared by Councilman Egger. She obtained information by talking to the EPA directly that EPA was not holding up the project. You keep trying to make this personal and emotional by bringing up the how much work has been done by people prior which is not the point. The question that was asked was to reconfirm the the contracts that created this project is still in place after this long delay and that the EPA was not the hold up.

        • Michael, I hear you and agree. But, I trust the EDA to make prudent decisions and lead us in the right direction. They are the professionals’, along with the State and Federal Economic Systems that help educate and guide them.

          The media stirs the pot, to sell news.

          IT Federal knows their business, you and I do not. Stating that all they have to do is turn over their contracts and private matters is an arbitrary call that I can’t make Anyone who has ever worked with EDA, DEQ (I have) knows that they make decisions on a daily basis and can HOLD YOU UP forever in their system. If you think for a single moment they would ever admit, through a phone call, or otherwise they’d admit they held something up. That sir is comical. And YES, it is PERSONAL AND EMOTIONAL TO ME AND MANY OTHERS that have done the time, for years and years. Too bad FRED FOSTER is no longer around, he was the Bulldog in the fight at AVTEX and the hero in pushing the Superfund Site through.You are WRONG about this not being the point. The point is being professional and respectful in the leadership role our appointed and elected officials portray ! Merry Christmas !

          • michael graham says:

            george, after some research i discovered that the federal
            funding for this project is coming from the EB-5 visa program. Until I looked it up , I was unaware of this type of program and how it works. There is both good and bad reviews about this federal program. I also will admit that i was unaware that this project was based on this program until councilman Egger brought it up in a council meeting several weeks ago. i also worked hard to continue the work that Fred started and have been frustrated with the length of time to get something going out there. I have experienced first hand the pain that occurs when you work hard on good projects only to have it torn down by a small group of individuals pushing the media. Lets agree to disagree with each others view on the right of an elected official to ask questions that they feel is important in protecting the town’s interest. right back at you Merry Christmas

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