FRONT ROYAL – In a small suite of offices on Front Royal’s historic Chester Street, a U.S. Army dog handler from the Vietnam War years found his true calling — helping wounded veterans find jobs and providing support for their families.
It was in 2009 that Skip Rogers, Joe Cunningham, U.S. Navy, and Skip’s wife, Kathy, having found their way from Fairfax County to Front Royal, realized their dream, the establishment of a unique non-profit they called “Able Forces.” The company provides aid and comfort and specifically job training and jobs for vets returning from war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We address the critical employment and training needs of combat injured veterans, and all disabled veterans,” Rogers said in an interview with the Royal Examiner. “We are here for our nation’s heroes suffering from severe physical disabilities, PTSD and traumatic brain injury.”
That the veterans’ travails, from joblessness to hopelessness to an inability to provide for their families, are always in the sights of executive director Rogers and his small Front Royal-based crew (“Caretakers of the Dream”) quickly became obvious to this reporter.
“Basically, we help families in crisis,” Rogers said from behind his office desk, surrounded by depictions of military actions from the Civil War to Iwo Jima. A folded U.S. flag, flown over the Pentagon to commemorate last year’s anniversary of 9/11, is carefully folded on the table before him.
Rogers estimates he and his small cadre of workers have helped settle “several hundred wounded, ill, or otherwise injured veterans” principally by placing them in jobs, not just any jobs but employment with a future, in various parts of the country. “Able Forces” accomplishes this through a network of government and civilian contractors which is defined as a Community Rehabilitation Program.
The staff includes his wife, Kathy, vice president for operations; Joe, his business partner of 35 years; daughter Lisa Salomon, accountant; and Stephen Carter. Carter, an army vet, joined “Able Forces” staff in 2013.
Rogers’ working relationships for “Able Forces,” include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; the U.S. Department of Labor; the national Wounded Warriors Program; Air Force and Coast Guard; state employment agencies (VET); and community veterans organizations.
A Californian born in San Jose 68 years ago, Rogers enlisted in the army after completing high school, later graduated college with a degree in behavioral science and earned a master’s degree from Stamford University. He provided in-patient care in psychiatric hospitals, then opted for a career in Silicon Valley, ultimately publishing a niche book, “Who, what, where when…in Silicon Valley.” Meanwhile, Kathy, legally blind since 1980, opened her own business, “Hasty Gathering,” specializing in a clothing line.
Note: Rogers’ declined to give his first name. His business card says “Skip,” his website says “Skip,” he’s been known as “Skip” almost all his life and sees no reason to change.
So, “Skip,” thanks for all you and “Able Forces” do for our disabled war heroes. Front Royal should be proud of you.
Old Town Hall inspection – HAZMAT suits and into the darkness
On Friday morning, August 23, members of Town staff, Interim Mayor Matt Tederick and Councilman Chris Holloway ventured inside the old Town Hall on an inspection tour. As readers may recall, around 2014 the Town traded the then empty old Town Hall, circa 1935, for the also empty and deteriorating Afton Inn, circa 1868, in an effort to have the EDA market one of the town’s most prominent and oldest downtown buildings for renovation or redevelopment.
At the time, Tederick was one of the Town’s harshest critics of that effort. We wondered how he felt about the swap in retrospect, now that he was inside the town governmental apparatus, rather than outside it.
Arriving to photograph the tour at 9:30 a.m. just after the EDA Board of Directors had adjourned to what would be a nearly three-hour closed session we found our town officials clothed in semi or perhaps mini-HAZMAT protective clothing, including hard hats, ventilators and plastic covering of clothes and shoes.
Uh oh, what are we getting into …?
“You sure you don’t want a ventilator Tederick asked your intrepid reporter as we prepared to enter.
“Nah, this’ll be a quick in and out for me – few pictures, BANG, I’m gone,” I reasoned as the mid-summer rain began to fall at the back entrance.
Of course he didn’t tell me there was suspected mold inside until we were in the basement viewing standing water and oil around the furnace and an apparently recent paint job on possibly mold-entrenched walls.
“I’ll see you later, I’m outta here – could you point that flashlight this way,” I asked the mayor. However the mayor graciously led us up the stairs into the light, air and light rain.
As we made our way back to EDA headquarters not realizing we had another two hours to kill before the open session would be re-adjourned, we promised a call back for more details on the inspection.
And by mid-afternoon we were free to call Tederick for those details.
He told us the Town is permitted to ask for inspections periodically as part of the contract with owner Frank Barros, a Northern Virginia developer who purchased the Afton Inn around 2006-07 with some grandiose redevelopment plans that were derailed initially by council itself. That derailment came when the town’s elected officials of that era, in their infinite electoral wisdom decided to sue its own Board of Zoning Appeals for granting Barros an exemption to a long-standing, perhaps ancient, code stating that no building downtown can be built taller than the Warren County Courthouse.
Barros’ plan, which included an interior water fountain, would have raised the Afton building about 10 feet above the courthouse bell tower. Needless to say the Barros-Town re-developmental marriage went south after that; followed in short order by the housing-market crash of 2008.
Welcome to the future, and two floundering, still awaiting redevelopment buildings against the backdrop of the EDA financial scandal.
Tederick said council authorized the town attorney to send a letter to the owner requesting an inspection – “We sent them three dates, they picked the first one. They were accommodating; it’s not an adversarial situation. We want it in good condition and to help the owner get it occupied.”
Staff involved in the inspection included the town manager, town attorney, clerk of council, town engineer, public works director, and planning director, in addition to the mayor and Councilman Holloway, himself a builder by trade.
“It was my first time in since it closed,” Tederick said.
Council made the decision to abandoned town hall when its governmental apparatus outgrew the space constraints of the building constructed in the mid-1930s and if our memory serves us, initially utilized as a fire house.
“It was sad, there were very little improvements,” Tederick said in the wake of the inspection, adding, “Most distressing was the amount of water around the furnace. I would say the furnace is ruined. There was standing water and oil – and a strong odor of oil and mildew … and there appeared to be mold.”
“Does anyone know what mold smells like,” I may have asked earlier as I exited the building trying to blow any potential mold spores out of my nasal passages.
Tederick said his attention was drawn to the status of the building on June 8 while attending an event at a nearby Methodist Church and saw what he called a “commercial grade” hose pumping water out of the basement onto the ground outside.
That is what prompted the request for an inspection, Tederick said.
“I think it needs a fair amount of work to be occupied. With our commitment to downtown – we’re not excited at a plan to see it sit and let it deteriorate,” the interim mayor observed.
The Town is also taking an aggressive stance toward re-engaging movement on the Afton Inn, which stopped in the wake of the EDA civil suit listing “Afton Inn Embezzlements”, though not by the developer, but rather allegedly by the former EDA executive director.
That former EDA executive director coincidentally found herself back in jail about 3-1/2 hours after our conversation with Tederick about the situation involving the two buildings swapped to facilitate EDA overseen redevelopment of the older of the two, now owned by the EDA on behalf of the Town.
While considering reacquiring ownership of the Afton Inn outright from the EDA, the Town does not appear too interested in acquiring any debt for redevelopment work that occurred prior to the work stoppage on the Afton Inn in the wake of the March 26 filing of the EDA civil suit.
These are indeed strange times surrounding economic development and municipal oversight of it in Front Royal and Warren County – HAZMAT suits on order …
Janice Shanks announces independent candidacy for Clerk of the Court
FRONT ROYAL, VA – Front Royal resident and current Clerk of Court Janice Butler Shanks announced today that she has filed as an independent candidate in this year’s November 5 election to fill the remainder of the unexpired term of Daryl L. Funk who was appointed to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court bench.
Shanks stated, “Let me be clear. When I first announced in March, I fully intended to abide by the Warren County Republican Committee’s request not to seek election as an independent had I lost the nomination. However, after my supporters and I witnessed the canvass election shenanigans led by a local Republican Executive Committee member, I cannot in good conscience just walk away from my community. Simply put, as someone who loves Warren County, I am placing my duty as a citizen above politics. Furthermore, after learning on last Thursday that the Special Grand Jury has been extended past the November election and after prayerful consideration with my family, I have decided that my experience serving as Clerk to the Special Grand Jury is necessary now more than ever to ensure that all wrongdoers are brought to justice and, equally important, that all innocent parties are exonerated.”
“Having worked in the Court System for the past 20 years and considering my experience in the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, I am the person most capable in assisting the Special Grand Jury in their investigation and deliberations. I want to thank the Special Grand Jurors for their devotion to the fair and equal administration of justice and their endurance through the questioning of countless witnesses and the review of voluminous evidence produced as a result of their investigation, which is far from over. My office has facilitated this process in coordination with and at the direction of the Special Grand Jury and Judge Athey.”
Shanks added, “With the departure of Presiding Judge Clifford L. Athey, Jr., to the Court of Appeals and Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden to the Circuit Court bench, it is imperative that a steady hand remain in place to ensure that the citizens of Warren County have confidence in the conclusions to be contained in the Final Report of the Special Grand Jury. Currently, with Judge Athey’s leadership, I believe that our citizens trust the diligent, fair, impartial and methodical process which the citizen members of the Special Grand Jury have employed. As the custodian of the Special Grand Jury evidence, I know that any perceived conflicts which a new Clerk of Court might bring to the job or any dramatic changes in the makeup of the Clerk’s Office staff would call into question the level of trust we have worked so hard to maintain.”
“This is why I have decided to run to remain Clerk of Court so that the citizens of Warren County will have an opportunity this November to vote to stay the course with the Special Grand Jury. At this crucial time, which is unprecedented in our history, there is no place in our Clerk’s Office for untested leadership or on-the-job training at the top position. I remain hopeful that at the end of the process we have put in place, our community can put this dark chapter behind us and look forward to a future of trust and prosperity again.”
Janice Butler Shanks was born and raised in Warren County and graduated from Warren County High School (Class of 1976 – The Great Bicentennial Class!). She and her beloved late husband, Jim “Jimbo” Butler, owned and operated Jimbo’s Restaurant and the Howard Johnsons while raising three children (Stacy Butler Clater, who resides in Winchester with her husband Troy Clater, and their 4 children and two grandchildren; Carrie Butler Burke, who resides in Stephens City with her husband Richard Burke and their three children; and Kristie Butler Shutts, who resides in Stephens City with her husband Chris Shutts and their four children). In 2008, Janice married Page County attorney and former Virginia State Bar President George Warren Shanks, Esq., who has 6 children, 4 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Janice and George attend First Baptist Church of Front Royal. They are active in numerous charitable and civic groups in Warren County.
Greenland not a good buy for the U.S. given serious problems lying in wait
If you, dear reader, recall an article published in the Royal Examiner last September 13, 2018, you can say your read it here first!
Regardless, the little known dangers facing whoever owns Greenland – now featured in the national news – were described in our local report from a San Diego wedding reception guest, a U.S. Air Force veteran based in Greenland in the 1960s.
Likely, if our president and/or his staff were aware of the situation, they might not be so interested in buying the country; and if Denmark’s prime minister was aware, she may not have been quite so quick to turn down the offer.
The fact is, and was confirmed at the time by the U.S. Defense Department and the Smithsonian Institute, whoever owns the island country must cope with a looming environmental catastrophe of unknown dimensions.
My table companion at the West Coast reception was Robert Michele of Phoenix, Arizona, a retired New York City cop, who told me he was drafted into military service 53 years ago. Anticipating a Southeast Asia assignment as the Vietnam War began gathering steam, instead, he was assigned to Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, relatively close to the North Pole.
One of Michele’s assignments in the 1960s was to make deliveries to a top secret installation nearby called “Camp Century”. Camp Century, it turned out, was a system of tunnels beneath the ice sheet that would be used, if necessary, to deploy nuclear missiles targeting the Soviet Union in the event the Cold War turned hot.
Michele described the time he first entered Camp Century: less than 800 miles south of the North Pole, he said he entered a “main tunnel” to the covert base about 30 to 40 feet wide, then descended about 50 feet to underground (and ice?) structures including Quonset huts, a movie theater, mess hall, and other accommodations consistent with a military base.
According to information I gleaned from WikiLeaks, Camp Century had its own nuclear power plant, scientific laboratories, library, chapel, and barber shop. The “official” purpose of the installation was to test various construction techniques and perform other non-military experiments under Arctic conditions.
Readers of last year’s Royal Examiner article may remember that a published report authored by the Smithsonian’s Ben Panko titled “A Radioactive Cold War Military Base Will Soon Emerge From Greenland’s Melting Ice” warned in a subtitle: “They thought the frozen earth would keep it (the base) safely hidden. They were wrong.”
The bottom line is that when the U.S. left Camp Century to the Danes a half century ago, no one figured there would be a change in climate so severe that the 115 feet of ice and snow that covered the “camp” would eventually disappear, leaving exposed an estimated 9,200 tons of toxic materials and 53,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Uncovered, these materials would be carried toward the ocean, along with radioactive water from Camp Century’s nuclear power plant, according to Panko’s report.
According to the Smithsonian, climate change could uncover and unleash the toxic waste by 2090 or perhaps earlier, a situation not contemplated when the U.S. walked away from the Camp Century in 1995.
So it would seem President Trump and staff didn’t realize some of the baggage they were trying to buy into and Prime Minister Mette Fredericksen and her staff may have forgotten what is under the melting ice in Denmark’s northern territory, the cost and responsibility of eventually dealing with she could have passed back into the hands of the nation that created the mess in the first place.
Just saying …
(Malcolm Barr Sr., our contributing writer, met Bob Michele at his God-daughter’s wedding in San Diego last July. On his return to his Rockland home he followed up on the tales of Michele’s unusual military service in the Arctic. A journalist from age 16, Barr, now 86, worked for The Associated Press and several newspapers in three countries before joining the U.S. government in Washington, D.C. from which he retired 22 years ago.)
EDA ponders separate future legal representation; elects new officers
At its monthly meeting of August 23 the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors discussed future legal representation in the wake of County and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten’s pending departure for the county attorney’s job in Prince George County.
The County-EDA legal situation is further complicated by Assistant County Attorney Caitlin Jordan’s giving birth the previous day and being on maternity leave through mid-October. Whitten’s last day here is September 13.
The potential of separating the County and EDA’s legal counsel also came up at the EDA Reform Committee meeting four days earlier. The issue of potential County and EDA legal conflicts of interest has been a topic of public and municipal discussion in the wake of the EDA financial fraud investigation and consequent civil litigation.
County Administrator Doug Stanley told the EDA the County is looking for an interim solution pending the hiring of a permanent replacement for Whitten and that dual representation for such a short-term hire could be problematic in the current legal situation.
EDA Board member Ed Daley said independent EDA legal counsel could be a viable solution short term that could end up pointing to a longer term arrangement.
Whitten suggested the EDA seek a contractual rate for a set amount of time, rather than an hourly rate on its legal services. Stanley noted the RSW Jail Authority had such a contractual arrangement with outside counsel at $30,000 per year that was believed to be a cost saver over the long term.
The county administrator noted that part of the justification of moving former County Attorney Doug Napier, now Town Attorney, from part time to full time, was the added work of representing the EDA legally.
A board consensus was to pursue independent representation in the short term at the best financial terms available and see how that experience contributed to the discussion of a long-term legal solution for the EDA and County.
At the August monthly meeting Board Chair Gray Blanton also said that after a year at the helm he was ready to relinquish the chairmanship. It was observed that Blanton may have not known what he was getting himself into when after about a year on the board he volunteered to take the helm after Greg Drescher’s resignation as chairman last August. As previously reported here, Drescher resigned on August 24, 2018, one day after town officials confronted him, then EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and EDA counsel about years of debt service overpayments by the Town to the EDA.
The EDA board then unanimously elected Ed Daley as chairman; Jeff Browne as vice chairman; and Jorie Martin as secretary; with Tom Patteson re-elected board treasurer.
See these discussions and appointments, as well as the rest of the EDA board discussion of its direction forward in the wake of the financial turmoil surrounding it in this Royal Examiner video:
Pageant dream comes true for Front Royal native
FRONT ROYAL — Local native Alexis Stiles, 21, recently received the Miss Warren County pageant title, just one more accomplishment for this home-grown gem.
“When I won, I was very excited,” Stiles told the Royal Examiner. “I had worked hard for this and was competing against some girls who have done pageants for so many years. I was ready; I wanted it more than ever that day.”
Readers may remember the two Royal Examiner profiles of Alexis Stiles, who at 19-years-old got hired as a fourth-grade teacher at A.S. Rhodes Elementary School in Front Royal for school year 2018-2019. She took a new job this year as a fourth-grade teacher at Greenwood Mill Elementary School in Winchester, Virginia.
In addition to teaching and partaking in pageants, the high-achiever is an online graduate student working toward a master’s degree at Western Governors University. Stiles also coaches a competitive gymnastics team at Winchester-based East Coast Gymnastics and Cheer, and she owns her own home.
Stiles’ future includes owning and operating a gymnastics center while teaching and — and once her business is up and running successfully — Stiles wants to earn a doctorate degree in leadership administration with the long-term goal of becoming a principal.
And Stiles said last week that although she cannot hold any other major pageant titles while serving as Miss Warren County for the next year, “I foresee myself going for more after this year is up.”
She received the Miss Warren County title on Sunday, Aug. 11 at the Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, which sponsors the yearly pageant that serves as a major fundraiser for the department, according to pageant director Pattie Henry.
“Not only does Miss Warren County represent the fire department, but she also represents the community,” said Henry, who has overseen the Miss Warren County pageant for about the last 15 years, “She also becomes a role model for younger girls.”
“I plan to hold the title of Miss Warren County with honor and really try to help out within the community as much as I can,” said Stiles.
A three-judge panel chose Stiles based on her poise, personality, speaking ability, pageant wear, introduction speech, and answer to a randomly drawn question, Henry explained.
Stiles recalled that her question regarded how she would simultaneously balance her everyday life and the duties associated with being crowned Miss Warren County.
“I don’t remember exactly what I said but I said something along the lines of, ‘I am able to do everything I do in my life because of balance. I make sure to prioritize the importance of everything I do in my life. I would make time for this because becoming Miss Warren County has always been a dream of mine,’” said Stiles.
Stiles got involved in the pageant with the hopes of positively impacting more lives in the community, which she said she’ll support through service work, fundraising for the Front Royal Fire Department, and by participating in local parades.
For instance, Henry said that Miss Warren County and Miss Honorary Fire Chief, another local pageant she directs and holds in June, will build their own floats for both the Christmas Parade and Festival of Leaves Parade in Front Royal, among other related activities.
As seems to be her nature, Stiles wants to do more.
“I would love to create a big fundraiser to help the lives of children in this area and I have some ideas for that,” she added. “I hope to be a role model to the children I will be able to impact.”
Questions on McDonald arrest linger as EDA quartet remains jailed at RSW
Following another week of Economic Development Authority Special Grand Jury interviews former EDA Executive Director Jennifer Rae McDonald, her husband, Samuel “Sammy” David North and Donald Fears Poe were booked into the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Jail (RSW Jail) in the late afternoon and early evening hours of Friday, August 23.
According to the RSW Jail website, North, 51, was booked into the facility at 5:25 p.m. on two felony counts of Obtaining Money by False Pretenses and one felony count of Money Laundering – “Financial Transaction, proceeds from known felony activity”.
Jail records showed the 42-year-old McDonald being booked at 6:22 p.m. The jail website list of charges against her was 14, the number of her pre-existing charges. So it was not immediately clear if she was facing 14 additional charges or had been booked on a bond violation regarding her 14 pre-existing charges. The Jail website does not list individual case numbers, but only applicable State Codes regarding each charge. So until the case numbers related to her arrest can be verified with court or facility officials the question of McDonald’s arrest on bond violation, new charges, or some combination will remain.
The counts listed against McDonald include six Fraud – Obtain Money by False Pretenses; five Money Laundering counts and three Embezzlement charges. Since the EDA indictments are coming from the Grand Jury sealed there is no further detail on the charges available at this point.
Poe, 61, was shown being booked at 6:31 p.m. Friday evening on one new felony count of Money Laundering – “Financial Transaction, proceeds from known felony activity”. When Poe was arrested on July 23 he was charged with two felony counts of Obtaining Money by False Pretenses and one count of Perjury.
McDonald was arrested on May 24 on eight initial counts. She was twice served with additional charges while incarcerated. After twice being denied bond as a flight risk by Judge Clifford L. Athey, she was granted $50,000 secured bond on July 31, by newly-placed Judge Bruce D. Albertson.
The special grand jury that has handed down criminal charges, now against four people, McDonald, her former EDA Administrative Assistant Michelle “Missy” Henry, business partner Donald Poe and now her husband, was empanelled within a day of the EDA’s initial $17.6 million civil suit being filed on March 26. The amount of assets seeking recovery has since been raised to over $20 million.
A press release issued today indicated the EDA grand jury has requested a six-month extension to continue its inquiry into March of next year. It was also requested that Assistant Warren County Commonwealths’ Attorney Bryan Layton, who has worked with his boss Brian Madden on the EDA Special Grand Jury inquiry, continue as the lead prosecutor of the grand jury as Commonwealth’s Attorney Madden prepares to take a seat on the judicial bench.
McDonald was the central figure in the nine defendant EDA civil action of March 26. Other defendants included McDonald’s two real estate companies, D’BOYZ and MoveOn8, ITFederal LLC and its CEO Truc “Curt” Tran; Earth Right Energy LLC and its principals Poe and Justin Appleton and the late Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron. McEathron passed away on May 28 is what Virginia State Police classify as “an unattended death with a firearm nearby”.
Like McDonald, after spending some time in jail, both Henry and Poe were granted secured bonds. Henry was granted $2500 unsecured bond on July 23 after twice having a bond hearing continued in the wake of her June 24 arrest. Henry remains charged with two felony embezzlement charges related to the EDA’s involvement in the B&G Goods small business loan and asset disbursement upon its November 2016 closing.
As noted in a related story, B&G Goods registered agent and co-owner William Lambert became the fourth person arrested on EDA-related charges Friday.
McDonald and Poe were granted $50,000 and $20,000 secured bonds by Judge Bruce D. Albertson on July 31. Poe was arrested on July 23 on two financial and one perjury count related to EDA affairs.
No hearing dates were yet posted for McDonald, North, Poe or Lambert. However, presiding EDA case Judge Albertson is based in Harrisonburg, complicating bond hearing scheduling. He took over EDA cases when all county judges recused or indicated they were on the verge of recusal due to familiarity with people involved in the EDA sphere or other aspects of the investigation. However pending his promotion to the Virginia State Appeals Court, Judge Athey has continued to preside over the EDA Special Grand Jury inquiry as indicated by his signature on the August 21 extension and prosecutor orders.
In past hearings Albertson has indicated the possibility of presiding by conference call on basic matters.