Mark Egger addresses the Warren County Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening. He told the panel that the EDA violated Virginia FOIA law, according to a recent decision by the Virginia FOIA Council. He also encouraged the panel to “clean house” by removing the entire board. / Photos by Norma Jean Shaw
FRONT ROYAL – In an otherwise routine Warren County Board of Supervisor’s meeting Tuesday evening, Front Royal resident Mark Egger took to the podium during the public presentations portion of the agenda to call out the group for its lack of oversight regarding the Economic Development Authority.
Mr. Egger explained to the board that on May 18, 2017, a break-in at the EDA offices on Kendrick Lane was reported to the Front Royal Police Department, and a subsequent break-in was reported at the residence of EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. Egger stated that “numerous facts point to the conclusion that both breaks-ins were staged. Reputable people in the community have come to this conclusion.”
He then went on to relay that on June, 23, 2017, the EDA Board illegally went into closed session to “discuss the investigation of the Front Royal Police Department into the break-in at the EDA offices.”
According to an advisory opinion from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Council, the closed meeting was a violation of the Virginia FOIA law. Egger then read a passage from the decision, which he recently received via mail, as well as email:
This topic – “the investigation regarding the EDA office building” – does not appear to fall within any of the exemptions cited for the June 23, 2017, closed meeting. More broadly, there does not appear to be any exemption within FOIA that would allow closed meetings to be held to discuss police investigations generally, although police investigations might come up as matters discussed in relation to other topics that are exempt.5 Given that the letter indicates that the investigation was discussed during the closed meeting,6 that the topic of the investigation was not identified as a subject in the motion to convene the closed meeting, and that there is no general exemption for the discussion of police investigations, it would appear that this discussion was not proper for a closed meeting.
The letter that the advisory opinion of the Virginia FOIA Council refers to is a July 17, 2017 letter from the EDA board, signed by EDA Chairman Greg Drescher, to Acting Police Chief Bruce Hite.
The letter reads: “The Board of Directors of the Economic Development Authority discussed during closed session the investigation regarding the EDA office building that is currently being conducted by the Front Royal Police Department. The EDA hired a Private Investigator to assist in the investigation and we are now requesting that the Front Royal Police Department put the investigation on inactive status.”
Mr. Egger proceeded to inform the board the panel of supervisors that in addition to the illegal closed meeting, the EDA board had obstructed justice, a violation of Virginia Code 18.2-460, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The illegal closed meetings and obstruction of a police investigation constitute a “profound lack of judgment on the part of the EDA Board. And I haven’t even mentioned the numerous shady deals they’ve made in recent years,” Egger went on to say.
Before Mr. Egger was able to finish his presentation, Chairman Tony Carter interrupted, asking the father of former Front Royal Town Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger, if he was “coming to some sort of conclusion”.
Egger indicated that he was about a minute from finishing, urging the supervisors to do the following:
“First, clean house. You need to remove the entire EDA Board and appoint new Board members.
“Second, interview candidates for EDA Board positions. For years, Egger said, new members are appointed by the BOS without even being interviewed.
“Third, candidates should be interviewed in an open meeting. The people who elected you would like to know the reasoning behind appointing and reappointing a person who owes tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes to the County. The people who elected you would like to know how and why you decide to appoint a person to the EDA Board. The people who elected you would like to know why appointments become, in practice, lifetime appointments.”
As he closed out his presentation, Egger implored the board to “do something….It’s time to shine a light under the rock. It’s time to lift up the rug and sweep out the dirt.”
County Attorney Dan Whitten, who also represents the EDA in legal matters, and County Administrator Douglas Stanley, listen intently to Mark Egger as he reads from a decision by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act Council that declared the EDA in violation of FOIA State code.