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EDA Executive Committee ponders strategies, assets and impediments

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The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Committee met virtually Friday, August 14, to discuss its Strategic Plan. That an economic development strategy must balance vision and process, as well as assets that make a community uniquely attractive to prospective clients versus impediments that would drive them away, dominated the 90-minute discussion.

EDA Board of Directors Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne moderated the virtual meeting attended by Executive Committee members Jorie Martin, Greg Harold, Tom Pattison, and Melissa Gordon, the latter by phone hook up as she drove her child to Virginia Tech to register for their first year of college. So, the topic of establishing a “Project Return Home” as some states and areas have to improve the quality of job opportunities available for the community’s college-educated next generation was of particular interest for her, Gordon told her colleagues near the meeting’s end.

The initial discussion focused on the process by which an updated Strategic Plan would be developed in conjunction with a refined “Vision Statement” for the EDA’s work. Then the committee, along with EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons and Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson, delved into the factors that would form that vision. Browne pointed to the County’s geographical location and commercial transportation access to Interstate highways and railroads as a key “Vision” variable.

Greg Harold may be flashing secret hand signals during virtually-broadcast EDA Executive Committee meeting Friday morning. Below, his organizational chart on updating the EDA’s Strategic Plan. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

Harold presented a draft of an organizational chart he had developed and commented that he is a great advocate of the “KISS” method of planning – “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. Maximum use of available technologies to disseminate information among board members and targeted industries was also cited by Harold as a necessary tool in forwarding the Strategic Plan.

After Gordon noted she did such strategic planning development in her real job, Harold deferred to his colleague’s professional experience for elaboration on the process of strategic planning. Gordon cited the necessity for, not only the development of a comprehensive strategic plan based on a community vision but of regular review to “establish where you are” and how the Strategic Plan is functioning to achieve the desired goals.

“When I look at the Strategic Plan I start very BIG in terms of what is our maximum potential and then break it down from there … to where are we today. And then coming up with measurable objectives over however the length of time we’re setting the Strategic Plan for; and then evaluation each year of what’s working well and what’s not,” Gordon said of the long-term game plan.

She also addressed the variables of regional economic development and Warren County and Front Royal’s place in that development. “The other thing I would say is, even though there are a lot of other counties around that are moving forward with economic development, deciding what makes us unique from them …”

Economic development assets
“Location, location, location,” Browne quoted a long-time observation about the “top three” factors in business development. “Logistics is something we have a great strength in – we are almost dead center in the mid-Atlantic; we’re eight hours from the Canadian border; we’re eight hours-and-change to Boston; eight hours going west gets you to Indianapolis; and eight hours south gets you all the way down to Georgia,” Browne recited of commercial driving times from Warren County.

“We have the Inland Port and train transportation that gets us to one of the two largest ports (Norfolk) on the entire east coast for importing and exporting goods,” Browne continued of the logistical advantages the county has as a commercial transportation hub near the intersection of two major Interstate highways, I-66 (east-west) and I-81 (north-south).

“From a logistical standpoint, one of the critical things every company looks at, we’re really ideally situated. We’re close to Washington, D.C., I could keep going on and on, on the logistical advantages that we have here that are under-utilized in what we do,” Browne told the executive committee.

EDA Board Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne hosted the Exec Committee meeting on Strategic Planning, summarizing the community’s economic development assets and impediments. The major impediment is the current lack of a unified economic development front within the county. And that’s not likely to do anybody’s EDA any good – at least not anybody’s in Warren County.

The transportation hub discussion led to another geographical consideration, the Town of Front Royal as the northern gateway to the Shenandoah Valley and the county’s natural assets of the Shenandoah River, it’s north and south forks, and the Blue Ridge Mountains overlooking the river.

“That’s one of the reasons we live here,” Gordon chimed in from her trip south to Blacksburg and Virginia Tech, likely on I-81.

“Regionalism is another area that I think is under-utilized in what it is that we do. We are, in my mind, less competitive with all of our neighbors although on specific projects we might well be vying for the same dollars on grants and the like. But the reality is that we are the Gateway to the Northern Shenandoah Valley. And if we’re doing our job well, we all benefit from it,” Browne said of an intertwined regional economy that fosters a cooperative outlook.

“To me, regionalism and working cooperatively is a much more attractive thing for site developers and companies looking to be here. I would rather get a piece of the pie by going that way, than none of the pie by going it alone,” Browne reasoned of regionalism’s positive impact on economic development for all.

Impediments to Economic Development
Browne then segued to what he called “impediments” to economic development. And ironically his referenced regional cooperative outlook has been impeded, not by an outside community, but by one closer to home.

“We’re well aware of the issues with the Town,” Browne began of a co-founding and still legally at least participating member, the Town of Front Royal, adding, “We have lawsuits and other things we’re going to have to overcome and have strategies for what it is that we do.”

We later checked with Browne on his “other things” reference. He elaborated that it was to three projects the Town owes the EDA debt service payments on: the new Town Police Headquarters, Leach Run Parkway and the West Main Street Connector Road at the Royal Phoenix site, the latter two he estimated adding about $3 million to $4 million to the $9-million debt service on the FRPD headquarters.

Front Royal’s new police station, financed for the Town by the EDA to the tune of about $9-million, remains a monthly financial albatross for the EDA.

As previously reported, on June 1st the EDA presented the Town with an invoice for slightly over $441,300 paid thus far by the EDA on the FRPD headquarters project, with a remaining balance of $8.44 million with 3% interest accruing. The Town’s response through back-channel negotiations between council members Chris Holloway and Lori Athey Cockrell and supervisors Cheryl Cullers and Delores Oates was to offer to pay a recoverable $10,529, or half of the interest-only July payment of $21,102, without admitting any legal or moral obligation to pay anything on the police station debt service.

The Town also requested and received permission from the state government to become the first Virginia municipality to be given authority to create an independent, second EDA while still technically a member of the EDA it co-founded with Warren County in 1969.

After initially championing a “reform” the EDA movement, the Town Council opted out of that cooperative effort with the re-tooled EDA and Warren County in order to sue the EDA for “at least $20 million” mirroring the EDA initial civil action against former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and seven co-defendants totaling $21.3 million. The EDA’s civil action has climbed to nearly $26 million against McDonald and 23 co-defendants, while other than the above-referenced and apparently stalled “back-channel” effort, the Town has rejected EDA offers of “good faith” negotiations to establish exactly what Town assets were involved in the alleged EDA embezzlements.

Other impediments were cited, including one created by an asset – blocked roads from lengthy freight trains headed to the Inland Port in the county’s north side. Though there is hopefully some relief coming with grant funds being accessed for a Rockland Road “flyover” to ease one of those blocked sites, he observed.

Martin also noted a hopeful contact to expand broadband service throughout the county to solve another impediment, the lack of broadband Internet connection countywide. That is a particular issue, not only for economic development but education during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency measures requiring a certain amount of home Internet virtual instruction to students while social distancing limits their in-school time.

Money and board vacancies
As with its own initiatives and Strategic Planning efforts, it was noted that budget factors were always a limiting variable on the County side as well. But it was commented that the EDA should become an advocate for the type of expenditures that will help stimulate economic development on the positive side, whether in educational funding or elsewhere.

Toward the committee meeting’s end, the matter of the two board vacancies created by the resignation of Gray Blanton and Ed Daley’s move to the County as interim county administrator was raised.

Browne said he had yet to receive word from the county supervisors who make EDA board appointments on Blanton’s seat but that he believed a decision was close. He also raised the possibility that an interim replacement for Daley might be put on the table with the understanding it would be a short-term replacement. The EDA and County’s intent has appeared to be that former EDA Board Chairman Daley will return to his position when the County hires a permanent replacement for Doug Stanley.

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EDA announces pending sale of Baugh Drive warehouse to medical marijuana distributor

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The EDA Board of Directors met in a Special Board meeting this morning. With a unanimous vote on a motion by Greg Harold, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the Board approved a resolution authorizing the Chair and Secretary to sign a Letter Of Intent (LOI) to sell the former Atlantic Skyline Building at 426 Baugh Drive for the full asking price of $5,750,000 to Parallel Virginia, LLC, a pharmaceutical processor of medical cannabis. The sale is contingent upon the conditional approval of the company’s application for a pharmaceutical processor permit in Health Service Area 1 by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy – a decision expected in March 2021. As authorized by law, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy may award conditional approval for only one pharmaceutical processor application in this health service area.

The Commonwealth of Virginia passed legislation approving the production and use of medical cannabis oil in 2018. The legislation established five Health Service Areas with one pharmaceutical processor per area. The Board of Pharmacy has already awarded permits in Areas 2-5. The Area 1 permit reopened for applicants in the fall of 2020.

Parallel Virginia, LLC, if awarded conditional approval, will begin establishing its manufacturing presence in the spring of 2021. This experienced, multi-state operator is already successfully operating in four states – Georgia, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Florida. In addition, the company is currently developing a recently awarded research-focused operation in Pennsylvania in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.

Parallel has a strong research and development component in every operation and has already signed letters of intent for strategic research and workforce partnerships with several public and private Virginia institutions of higher education.

The company’s industry-leading experience and multi-state success will greatly benefit the Warren County and Front Royal area. In the first five years of operation, they project a capital investment of tens of millions of dollars and the creation of hundreds of jobs.

Virginia law requires doctors who want to write prescriptions for medical cannabis to register with the Board of Pharmacy. Patients prescribed medical cannabis are required to pay an annual fee in addition to the cost of the prescription. The law also limits the number of dispensing facilities within the Health Service Area to five. The company, if selected, will establish its pharmaceutical processor operation at this facility, and has future plans to identify separate, stand-alone dispensing facilities within other localities in HSA 1.

Aerial perspective of the 426 Baugh Dr. warehouse – photo, graphic courtesy of WCEDA

Finally, selling the building will save Warren County taxpayers approximately $25,000 per month, or $300,000 a year, in loan payments, utilities, and insurance costs. It was a priority of the Board to get this building back into the hands of the private sector and back online creating jobs and adding to the economic engine of our community. This prospect will create jobs, generate tax revenue, and develop licensed medicine for patients in need. Doug Parsons, EDA Executive Director noted, “We believe this company is a good fit for our community. They have been thorough, transparent, and accommodating in thinking through their potential presence in Virginia. We appreciate their interest in our community and their commitment to making a lasting, positive impact in our region.”

Also following the closed session, on a motion by Tom Patteson, seconded by Harold, the board unanimously approved a short-term storage lease with Interchange Group for 10,000 square feet of space at 426 Baugh Drive for $4,125 per month.

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McDonald bankruptcy hearing draws ‘5th’ pleas on details of alleged 2015 sexual harassment settlement agreement EDA counsel says doesn’t exist

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(Editor/writer’s note: This will be the first installment of an exploration of Jennifer McDonald’s testimony at the first hearing on her bankruptcy filing in the wake of claims made against her in the EDA civil litigation. That litigation accuses the former EDA Executive Director and 23 co-defendants of conspiring to profit from alleged embezzlements and misdirection of over $21 million in EDA assets by McDonald over a period of years. Due to local interest in the EDA case and alleged misdirection of public funds we will explore that testimony in some detail.)

On Friday the 13th of November, creditors including the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority had a first meeting by conference call concerning the bankruptcy filing of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. Information concerning McDonald’s bankruptcy claim of a $21-million-dollar debt due to the EDA’s civil litigation against her, versus her claimed assets ($2.48 million personal; $1.4 million MoveOn8 LLC; $76,000 Little Rugratz Daycare LLC property – about $4.6 million total) and current combined monthly income ($3400 versus monthly expenses of $3882.35) were taken under advisement without any rulings on the validity of her bankruptcy filing or requests for exceptions to it.
Among the exceptions being sought are the EDA’s to both McDonald and her real estate LLC MoveOn8’s bankruptcy claims. A first hearing on motions filed during or following the Friday the 13th teleconference meeting is scheduled for December 16 at 10 a.m. That will be an online ZOOM meeting.

EDA headquarters where Jennifer McDonald claims an executed copy of a $6.5 million sexual harassment Voluntary Settlement Agreement with the EDA was left in her office. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

If motions for exceptions are granted by a bankruptcy judge, certain of McDonald’s assets could be removed from control of the bankruptcy court and remain at issue in the EDA’s now $21-million to $25-million civil actions alleging a McDonald-orchestrated conspiracy to misdirect or embezzle EDA assets to her own and associates’ personal benefit.

$6.5 million settlement claim

In addition to questions surrounding the movement of properties through MoveOn8 and her other, apparently now-defunct real estate LLC, DaBoyz, a prominent topic of discussion last week was McDonald’s claim of a still-owed $6.5 million debt to her by her former employer, the EDA. McDonald cited an out of court “Voluntary Settlement Agreement” regarding a sexual harassment claim related to her job dating to August 2015. Asked by U.S. Attorney Webb King if she had a copy of the August 28, 2015, agreement, McDonald replied “no” that it had been left in her EDA office at the time of her December 2018 termination when she was locked out of her office as it was deemed a potential crime scene. Does the EDA have a copy of the agreement she was then asked?

“They should,” she replied.

Above, then EDA/County Attorney Dan Whitten and EDA Board member and former chairman Greg Drescher on Dec. 20, 2018, as Jennifer McDonald’s office is locked down and remote access to her computer is locked out by WCPS’s IT person Tim Grant, at computer. Below, just under four months later on April 16, 2019, the FBI and VSP seized materials from the still locked down office.

Asked if she had been paid any portion of the settlement amount, McDonald took one of her many Fifth Amendment pleas, reserving her Constitutional right not to self-incriminate. A follow-up question on whether she had ever been written a check by the EDA for a portion of the settlement amount led to a lengthy pause and apparent discussion with her attorney and second consecutive plea of the “Fifth”.

As to compensation from the alleged Settlement Agreement, McDonald did say there was “a list” of ways she could be compensated, including the transfer of real estate and payment of her personal debts. Both methods play into the EDA’s civil litigation against McDonald alleging embezzlement and the misdirection of EDA assets to her personal benefit and that of 23 co-defendants, both human and corporate “people”.

“Did the Warren County IDA (IDA is the acronym for the EDA’s original and often legally referenced name, Industrial Development Authority) transfer any sort of personal property to you?” U.S. attorney King continued in the wake of her claimed “list” of ways she could be compensated for her claimed sexual harassment compensation agreement. “I assert my right pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” she again replied.

“Under this agreement did the Warren IDA transfer any real property to you or any entity that you controlled?” came the next question. “I assert my right pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” again came the answer.

“And you claim not to have a copy of this agreement?” U.S. Attorney King pressed McDonald. “I do not have a copy of the fully executed document,” she replied after a brief pause.

“Do you have a copy of the unexecuted document,” King pressed on, adding, “I’m going to note the delay in answering the question again,” inserting into the record another 10-second and counting pause.

That led to McDonald’s civil and past criminal case attorney Peter Greenspun to come on the phone line to say that while he did not represent McDonald in her bankruptcy filing, as her counsel in the civil and any potential criminal cases he was present with her consulting her on her answers in the bankruptcy hearing. “We’ll be back to you in just a short minute,” Greenspun informed the hearing.

Above, Royal Examiner file photo of McDonald on the job in fall of 2018 with board members Greg Drescher and William Biggs backs to camera in foreground, Bruce Drummond across the table and Gray Blanton chairing the EDA board meeting at right; below, McDonald attorney Peter Greenspun.

McDonald’s criminal charges at the state level were dropped due to prosecutorial speedy trial concerns so that they could be re-filed at a later date. The criminal investigation of McDonald and its million-plus pages of related documentation has been turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Virginia. McDonald’s original civil attorneys from the Berlik Law Firm withdrew from her case after EDA representatives indicated a belief the Berlik firm had been paid, albeit unknowingly by them, with stolen EDA assets; and of introducing what was cited as a forged document by EDA officials into evidence in an early civil case hearing. Greenspun, then representing McDonald in the state criminal cases also took on her civil defense.

As Greenspun and his client’s “short minute” passed, someone came on the conference call line to ask if there was an EDA representative on the line to which current EDA Board member and EDA Executive Committee member Greg Harold replied. Harold was asked if he had seen a copy of the alleged Sexual Harassment Voluntary Settlement Agreement between the previous EDA board and McDonald.

“I have not seen an official copy of the agreement located in the office,” Harold replied. That led Sands-Anderson and EDA civil case lead attorney Cullen Seltzer to introduce himself to the proceeding, after which he addressed the elusive $6.5 million-dollar Voluntary Settlement Agreement.

‘Our … belief no such agreement exists’

“I can represent to the court that we’ve investigated the existence of this agreement. It is our understanding and belief that no such agreement exists,” Seltzer told the hearing. Seltzer then responded to a follow-up question from McDonald creditor Tom Sayre, who has a $20,000 defamation civil judgment against her, as to the thoroughness of the EDA counsel’s search for the alleged sexual harassment agreement documentation.

“Without getting into the particulars or the nature of the inquiry, we’ve made a number of inquiries appropriate to try and determine if any such agreement exists. And we’ve found that it does not,” Seltzer stated, adding that inquiries with “appropriate people who would know” had been made.

McDonald at EDA board meeting with the late Patty Wines chairing.

McDonald did respond to an earlier question as to who had negotiated the Voluntary Settlement Agreement with her, citing then-EDA Board Chair Patricia Wines (deceased) and then-Treasurer William “Billy” Biggs.

McDonald civil, criminal counsel Greenspun then re-entered the conference call fray. (To be continued)

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EDA approves grant agreement with Backroom Brewery

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The EDA Board of Directors convened a Special Meeting Thursday morning, October 29. Following a one-and-a-half-hour Closed Session, the Board approved a resolution to approve the Master Agreement between Warren County, the EDA, and Backroom Brewery for an Incentive Grant and Tourism Grant to Backroom Brewery as financial assistance to expand its operations.

The Backroom Brewery is the first farm brewery operation in the state of Virginia and boasts more than 25 unique approved recipes. The EDA is proud to work with Warren County and support this local business. Congratulations to proprietor Billie Clifton and we wish them continued success.

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EDA settles civil claim against McEathron estate for $90,000

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Following an hour-and-thirty-five-minute closed session on a variety of topics that opened its monthly meeting of October 23, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors approved a motion agreeing to a settlement with the estate of late Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron.

The settlement amount agreed upon between the EDA and McEathron’s widow and two adult children is $90,000. McEathron was linked to the EDA financial scandal due to his partnership in former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s DaBoyz LLC real estate company. In the EDA’s civil litigation initially filed in March 2019, McDonald is accused, among other things, of unauthorized moving of EDA assets to her own benefit through her real estate companies DaBoyz and MoveOn8. Still Sheriff at the time, McEathron along with McDonald and the two real estate companies, were on the initial list of civil case defendants.

Sheriff Daniel McEathron – File Photo/WCSO website

After taking early retirement effective May 1, 2019, just over a month after being named a co-defendant in the EDA civil litigation, the county’s long-time sheriff was found dead on his Bentonville property 28 days later, May 28, from an apparent suicide. Some questions about the death arose after Sheriff’s Office personnel, ostensibly alerted by McEathron to his planned suicide by phone, removed the body from the scene where it was discovered in proximity to an expended firearm before the Virginia State Police, the EDA criminal case investigating agency, was notified of the death.

On Friday, EDA Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, who made the motion to approve, addressed the McEathron Estate settlement prior to the vote.

“Mr. Chairman, I want the community to know that the EDA has negotiated in good faith for this settlement for a long time. This is something that we’ve taken very seriously; this is something that we have called back and forth with, with our attorneys and the estate’s attorneys. While we feel there are certain risks and rewards with these situations, I think the EDA is comfortable at this time that we have done the best that we can for the community and that it’s time to put this matter behind us as the motion is written,” Harold said.

EDA Asset Committee Chair Greg Harold, pictured during Friday’s ZOOM meeting, recounted the process leading to the settlement with the estate of late Sheriff Daniel McEathron. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Thank you for that,” Board Chairman Jeff Browne responded. There was no other comment prior to the vote on Harold’s motion, seconded by James Wolfe, which then passed by a 4-0 margin of the members remaining after the closed session, the above three and Tom Pattison. Jorie Martin and Melissa Gordon were present for the 8 a.m. convening of the meeting into closed session but had left to other commitments prior to the closed session’s 9:45 a.m. conclusion.

The motion on approval of the settlement read into the record by EDA Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson states in part, “Whereas the Front Royal-Warren County EDA has certain claims against Daniel McEathron; Whereas the EDA and McEathron’s heirs desire to resolve any claims that may exist between them; Now therefore be it resolved the chairman and the secretary of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA Board are authorized to enter into an agreement … (with those heirs) for the purposes set forth in this resolution which agreement shall provide for the payment of $90,000 dollars to the EDA …”

The motion adds that if any FOIA request are received by the EDA related to the settlement, McEathron’s widow or her attorneys will receive notice of those requests having been made.

As initially reported by former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw, McEathron and McDonald’s first transaction in DaBoyz dated to October 2016 and the pair purchased a total of $2.8 million of real estate between then and 2019. The LLC was involved in a number of transactions cited in the EDA civil litigation filed to recover allegedly misdirected assets, including a mysterious one in which a property was bought and sold back to the owner a month later at a loss of $600,000.

January 2018 Royal Examiner file photo of Jennifer McDonald in her EDA office displaying tax receipts she said indicated winnings at Charles Town’s Hollywood Casino. Coincidentally, the blue star on her chair is the logo of her favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys from whom the real estate LLC ‘DaBoyz’ name was taken.

A number of McDonald and her two LLC’s existing properties were frozen by the court early in the civil case process. However, civil claims against McDonald assets have been complicated by her recent filing of bankruptcy, which put her assets under control of the Harrisonburg-based bankruptcy court.

The EDA civil litigation has grown to 24 human and business entity co-defendants, with total claims, actual and punitive, of about $25 million dollars. And as previously reported, the Harrisonburg Special Prosecutor’s Office has turned the criminal investigation into the EDA financial scandal over to the U.S. Western District of Virginia federal prosecutor’s office.

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EDA approves short-term lease on Baugh Drive during Strategic Planning weekend meeting

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The EDA Board of Directors met, via Zoom, Friday, and Saturday, October 9-10. There was one item of new business before the board. On a motion by Jorie Martin and seconded by Greg Harold, the Board of Directors unanimously approved a short-term storage lease with ECOMNET for use of 426 Baugh Drive warehouse building.

File photo from October 2019 building tour with EDA.

The remainder of the evening, as well as the full-day Saturday, was devoted to the process of updating the EDA Strategic Plan. The board, along with EDA staff, invited members of the community and Board of Supervisors to share their insights on the role the EDA can play in improving the economic health of and shaping the economic direction of the Front Royal Warren County community.

Attendees included Walt Mabe and Delores Oates, Warren County Board of Supervisors; Ed Daley, Interim County Administrator; Melissa Chapman, President, Ninth Way Solutions; Jeanian Clark, Vice President of Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education, Lord Fairfax Community College; Scott Jenkins, owner of Mountain Home B&B; Chris Laurence, Realtor; Dee Sparger, Outreach Coordinator, Front Royal Presbyterian Church; and Kelly Sprague, owner/manager Blue Wing Frog restaurant.

EDA Board Director Jim Wolfe facilitated the program. The goals of this event were to begin to articulate a vision and mission statement for the EDA, plus develop a list of objectives that the EDA can accomplish within the next five years. While the EDA Board, staff, and participants represented diverse professional backgrounds, all involved share a common passion for this community and a hopeful outlook for the future.

Chair Jeff Browne stated, “A lot of good ideas came out of the sessions that give us terrific ideas to consider as we move forward. There was a strong consensus on important ideas, like Town-County cooperation on a common vision for our community.”

The Board of Directors is proud to have begun this community conversation and look forward to fine-tuning the plan in the coming weeks.

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‘This is BIG’ – EDA Chairman reacts to news feds handling EDA criminal investigations

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At 12:03 p.m., Thursday, October 8, Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson forwarded a press release from Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst to the media regarding the status of her office’s investigation of potential criminal charges related to the EDA financial scandal and resultant civil litigation.

As stated in that release posted on the Royal Examiner website earlier this afternoon, Garst and her appointed EDA prosecutor Michael Parker, a specialist in white-collar crime, came to a decision to hand their investigation over to the Western District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s office in Harrisonburg in late February of this year.

Both FBI and VSP were on hand for April 16, 2019, removal of evidence from the EDA office regarding alleged embezzlement and asset misdirection by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and thus far civilly accused co-conspirators. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

“Our primary goal with the prosecution is to assure a just outcome. Mr. Parker did an excellent job of assessing the case and putting the evidence together. In doing so, it became apparent that federal prosecutors would be able to gain the best outcome,” Garst wrote in her release dated October 7, continuing to note the late February turnover of the case to the federal prosecutor’s office in Harrisonburg.

“It was explained that my office cannot comment on the case further or jeopardize any potential federal prosecution. I want to assure the citizens of Warren County that my office is dedicated to seeing justice done. In light of an ongoing criminal action, I cannot provide any further information,” Garst concluded, referencing further inquiries to Western District U.S. Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Specialist Brian McGinn.

While anticipating a similar reply to Garst’s “no further information” qualifier, Royal Examiner did reach out to the federal prosecutor’s office to see if there were any clues on timelines on decisions that might be made public. And in a very quick reply to our emailed query, McGinn noted as we predicted, “As per DOJ policy, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.”

Perhaps the judicial system is running silent, but deep on the EDA criminal front, like a submarine tracking its prey above the surface.

Garst’s release acknowledging the change in prosecutors from the state to the federal level in the EDA financial scandal criminal investigation over seven months ago comes just nine days after the Front Royal Town Council’s aggressively worded September 28th Resolution “demanding justice” condemning the lack of action on the EDA criminal prosecution front by the Rockingham prosecutor’s office, and Parker in particular.

We contacted the author of that Resolution, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick who coming out of a meeting had not seen the Garst press release. Informed of its content, Tederick said, “Good news – mission accomplished,” in that a response containing some new information on the EDA criminal investigation’s status had been received.

“I’m sure there’s a rationale and a reason,” he added of the previous silence from the state special prosecutor’s office. “But when the public trust has been violated to this degree, the public deserves some assurance that they are still pursuing the case.”

Tederick noted that confidential information was not being sought in the Town resolution approved by a 5-1 vote, Thompson dissenting, on September 28, just that the case had not gone cold and been abandoned.

As a masked Matt Tederick listens, Lori Athey Cockrell reads a statement into the Sept. 28 council meeting record regarding her perspective on the EDA business at hand.

But as noted in our story “Town targets Special Prosecutor’s Office over EDA prosecution delays” it appears the Town pursued its Resolution initiative without any prior communications with the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.

That apparently was not the case with an inquiry launched by the EDA, according to Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne.

Having received Garst’s press release through the EDA, we contacted Browne about it. Browne indicated an EDA inquiry about the criminal case status through the EDA’s civil litigation attorneys was begun about a week before the Town resolution was publicly approved.

Browne said he believed local attorney and “B.E.E.R. Party” principal David Downes launched a separate inquiry to Garst’s office as well. Downes publicly criticized the Town Resolution’s message and tone in public comments at the September 28 council meeting prior to the vote on its approval.

Local defense attorney David Downes was critical of the message delivered by the proposed Town resolution on the pace of EDA criminal prosecutions at the Sept. 28 meeting. He then undertook a different path toward seeking information on the EDA criminal case status.

Contacted about the County’s knowledge of the origins of Garst’s press release, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley said the County had inquired about the status of the Rockingham prosecutor’s EDA investigation through State Senator Mark Obenshain’s office. It was through Obenshain’s office Daley indicated County officials became aware yesterday of Garst’s press release that may have first been circulated locally in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area.

Regardless of who, how, or why – the consensus is that the information that the case is active and in federal prosecutors’ hands is welcome.

“This is big – from our standpoint, it is really good news,” EDA Board Chair Browne enthused. “This shows that it is still on prosecutors’ radar. The people of Warren County deserve justice. And we want to see anyone there is evidence of involvement prosecuted for it.”

Of the EDA inquiry, Brown observed that he kept hearing that nothing was going to be done regarding criminal accountability for the at-this-point still alleged criminal misdirection of EDA, County and Town assets – “It made me mad and I wanted to let people know we’re still interested in achieving justice,” Browne said of the impetus for the EDA’s inquiry through its legal counsel to the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.

Some people have been working toward cooperation on the EDA legal front longer than the final weeks before Election Day. Here, newly elected Mayor Tewalt promises cooperation on his part in December 2019, as Jeff Brown, standing in the red shirt, Ed Daley, dark shirt seated left, Supervisors Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, behind Tewalt, among others listen. Ten months later have Tewalt’s council colleagues caught up to the idea?

And while the nature of the inquiries may have been different, Browne said he looked at it as a positive that both involved municipalities and the EDA were on the same page in seeking assurances that criminal accountability was still on the legal table at this point.

“We’re in this together, we should be working together,” he said of the Town, County, and EDA.

Perhaps another small step toward increased cooperation, as opposed to increased hostility and litigation, as this community moves forward toward an outcome, if slowly in a complex legal setting.

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all-day Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
Dec 5 all-day
Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
Why should Small Business Saturday just be celebrated on the Saturday after Thanksgiving? Buy Local – Shop Local – Eat Local – Support Front Royal’s Small Business Community and stay local! Small Business Saturdays –[...]
7:00 am 64th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
64th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
Dec 5 @ 7:00 am – 1:00 pm
64th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
The Kiwanis Club of Front Royal is celebrating its 75 anniversary this year and are committed to holding the annual Pancake Day fundraising event. This event raises significant funds which are put back directly into[...]
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 5 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
7:00 pm Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
Dec 5 @ 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
It’s that time of year for Rotary Club of Front Royal’s annual Cash Fair, and we are going virtual this year due to COVID. This is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year and[...]
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all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Dec 6 all-day
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 6 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
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all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Dec 13 all-day
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 13 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
Dec
19
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11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 19 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
Dec
20
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all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Dec 20 all-day
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]