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Connolly again berates Egger for continuing workforce housing discussion

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The divide about exactly what constitutes appropriate Front Royal Town Council meeting business ramped up another notch on Monday, May 22.

Addressing the size of the EDA response to her submitted questions about the workforce housing project – 383 pages by Royal Examiner count – Bébhinn Egger observed, “It sort of reminded me of the person who goes in to pay their fine with all pennies … it was every piece of paper they could find with the words workforce housing on them.  And I had asked very specific questions and I expected very specific answers to those questions.  After looking through the packet, very few of those questions are answered.  So, I think it’s very important for council in the future to think about whether this is an acceptable way for our questions to be answered.”

Egger noted that she has seen a great deal of constituent interest in how the workforce housing project has evolved, and asserted that the questions she has asked are the questions many town citizens would also like answered.

As former EDA Board member William Sealock listens to her right, Bébhinn Egger makes her and constituent case for more clear answers from the EDA on withheld information on workforce housing project. Photos/Roger Bianchini

“And I know I’m not the only one with questions – since the last meeting (May 8) I have been stopped on the street, in the grocery stores, and by people who have taken the time to call me up; and a lot of our constituents have these same questions.

“So, it’s really important that we are treated with respect in getting our questions answered.  And on the end of their cover letter they did mention if there were any additional questions they should be submitted to Jennifer McDonald and she’d be happy to answer them.”

Egger explained that at Mayor Hollis Tharpe’s suggestion of May 8, she personally e-mailed her questions to EDA Executive Director McDonald – “And I’ll be doing that again for the majority of questions that have not been answered.”

see related story

Following the conclusion of her remarks, which will be explored in more detail below, Egger’s colleague John Connolly picked up where he left off on May 8.  He again berated Egger for not having her discussion about dynamics of the workforce housing project privately, out of the public eye.

John Connolly describes the ‘Connolly Rules of Order’ to Councilwoman Egger, which do not include her being allowed to raise constituent issues he does not want to hear about. Fortunately Mayor Tharpe, to his right, has continued to follow Roberts Rules of Order in allowing the councilwoman the same procedural rights as her male col-leagues.

He asserted that project financing or costs were beyond the scope of council interest, that the special permitting exceptions requested by the EDA and granted by the Town were purely a land use decision.  He also chided Egger for not asking appropriate land-use questions when the special exceptions permitting request was before council last November.

That assertion appears to ignore the fact that prior to council’s November 14 final approval of the Special Use Permit exceptions, Egger was the only council member to raise hard land-use questions, particularly as they applied to road exceptions and public safety concerns brought to council by area residents.  Connolly joined the 5-1 council majority (Egger dissenting) in voting down Egger’s land use concerns.  (William Sealock and Chris Morrison have since replaced Bret Hrbek and now-Mayor Tharpe on council).

Connolly again accused Egger of grandstanding and using the “council concerns and inquires” portion of the meeting as a “soapbox” to promote “personal vendettas”.  However, it has been Connolly himself who has appeared to take a policy disagreement to a more personal, even “showboating” level.  Connolly has taken on an almost parent-to-child tone to lecture Egger on everything from “respect” to what are appropriate topics of conversation at the dinner table – oops, I mean the “Requests and inquiries of Council Members” portion of town council meetings – and “daddy” has made it clear he does NOT hold “all his children” to the same conversational standard, as illustrated in his “special exception” for Jacob Meza referenced below.

“I think one of the most legitimate critiques of town council in the past few years has been the level of professionalism with which we conduct ourselves in this office,” Connolly began at a very measured pace (Wonder where he heard that? Have you heard that? I haven’t heard that!).  “And it’s one thing to talk about respect and wanting respect to be given,” he said glancing “stage right” toward Egger’s dais position.  “I was always raised that respect is earned and we should be giving respect in order to get respect.

“Mr. Mayor, my point of view is thus: we all have access to Jennifer McDonald, we can call her and talk to her.  We have ridden this train before where members of council have made accusations about public figures; about staff members; about people in the limelight; about businesses without going and getting their information first (does he mean like from the EDA about the un-gifting secret deadline? – I’m confused).

“The question about the workforce housing project was a land use question; it was a planning and development question.  I fail to see how (shoulder twitch for punctuation) Miss Egger’s issues with how this was or was not funded were pertinent to the question at hand, that was before council at that time, is WHY she didn’t ask any questions about that, really, at that time (REALLY?).

“IF there are still questions to be had, I want to know why council members haven’t picked up the phone or gone to the EDA office, which we know we’re welcome to do because Jennifer has told us multiple times we are welcome to do that INSTEAD of making a big stink here in public, while the TV cameras are on, about someone’s performance? (one must wonder if Connolly read even the 8-page press release accompanying the EDA workforce housing packet, which made it clear the EDA Board was NOT going to authorize release to Town officials of any detail of its confidential agreement with the property owners, including the loss-of-gift deadline)

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I feel your pain (if, in fact, you are feeling pain) – to far left Vice-Mayor Tewalt occupies as Councilman Connolly continues his dissertation about respect and his ‘he’s OK, she’s NOT’ procedural world-view …

“On the whole I don’t know whether there are more questions that need to come out here or not.  What I DO know is that has nothing (dramatic finger punching) to do with the agenda that’s before us for this meeting here this evening.  My understanding of the ‘Requests and Inquires of Council members’ portion of our agenda, IS that it is not so we can use this time to soapbox; to go through our own personal vendettas; and our own personal motivations and drive our own personal agendas (WOW, talk about the pot calling the kettle black) but so that we can raise inquires, like Councilman Meza did in raising the issue of the railroad tracks and things that have been brought to us as an outlet for new business that needs to be brought up.”

So let me get this straight – Christendom College graduate John Connolly thinks that trains stopped here blocking railroad tracks for extended periods of time IS new business; but thinks the April 28 revelation council and its planning staff were not informed of a pending project start deadline adding $445,000 to the EDA cost for the workforce housing project IS NOT?!!?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Egger later responded to Connolly’s thoughts on the origins and acquisition of respect.

“I think with the discussion of respect, when the EDA disclosed at their last meeting (April 28) that there was a confidential agreement that included a deadline that was not given to us when we voted in November, that’s the first breach of respect – that they are withholding information from us … I don’t think my questions were given in an attacking sort of way, but I was very firm because I was extremely upset, and still am, that they’re withholding information and don’t seem to think there’s a problem with that.

“So that, I think, is the first breach of respect.”

Egger repeated that she hoped her inquiry was not interpreted as disrespectful, adding that she would re-submit it in the hope of getting “answers for our constituents.”

What’s the Town got to do with it?

During her remarks of May 22, Egger re-addressed the contention, expressed on May 8 by Mayor Tharpe and John Connolly that the workforce housing project was no longer a town concern because no town tax money was going directly to support it.*

“I think that stance lacks the bigger picture because we did vote on a Special Exception for this project; and come to find out we voted on that without being given extremely, extremely important information.  We were told that the land was being donated; and if you remember I ended up voting ‘no’ on that special exception – but I really took that into consideration that they were receiving a donation for the land because that’s HUGE, that’s a big asset.  And I’m sure others on council took that into consideration because that is a big asset … a huge plus, the land being donated.

Three shots of the gifted-ungifted workforce housing parcel – the first is up dead-end Royal Lane toward the parcel; then parcel boundary markers at the edge of the day care center parking lot at the end of Royal Lane and about 10 feet past those boundary markers. It appears no site work has yet been done – UNLESS that is a very expensive brush-clearing project in the bottom photo.

“But we were not given the information that there was a HUGE contingency on that donation and there was a huge chance that property was going to be reverted back to the property owners.  And the EDA board has stated in writing that they were under no obligation to tell the town council that.

“And I for one do NOT accept that – that we are going to be asked to vote on something and not given pertinent information that would help us make a well-informed decision.”

Egger said that assuring council has ALL the relevant information impacting decisions on projects inside the town limits that impact town citizens was the reason she would continue to pursue the matter until she believes her questions, the questions of her constituents were answered.  She pointed out to her colleagues that to the best of her recollection, all citizen comment council heard prior to its vote had been AGAINST approval of the special use exceptions the EDA had requested, particularly related to traffic and public safety concerns.

Egger then offered to include any of her colleagues interested in answers to specific workforce housing questions, in her next e-mail query to the EDA.  The responding silence was deafening, other than Councilman Meza’s acknowledgement there might be relevant issues of exploration by council related to all it had approved in the special use permitting exception granted to the EDA in November.

Appendix

On May 8, Egger requested answers from the EDA to the following questions by May 19:

  • Who put the $445,000 price on the now-voided gifted deed of transfer?
  • A timeline on all permitting for the project, particularly now that fingers have apparently been pointed the town’s way for the failure to meet the March 1, 2017 deadline;
  • Why there was a confidential agreement between the EDA and the Campbells on the land transfer?
  • An itemization of how the EDA has already spent $500,000 on the project, leading to the decision to proceed with a purchase of the property;
  • Public disclosure of all familial relationships between anyone involved in the transaction;
  • And finally, appraisal prices on the Afton Inn and old Stokes Mart/B&G Goods building the EDA is also involved in managing or marketing.

* Footnote

EDA’s are quasi-governmental institutions created by municipalities to oversee economic development in their communities.  In Front Royal and Warren County’s case, both municipalities were involved in the creation of what eventually became known as the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (originally Industrial Development Authority).  Both funded that entity with annual operational budgets and a share of debt service payments.  While both the town and county still support EDA debt service payments in their annual budgets, the County took over the Town’s operational funding several years ago as part of the ongoing 522 Corridor Agreement negotiations compensating the Town for its extension of central water-sewer into the county’s northside industrial-commercial corridor.  Much of that budget assumption compensation by the County involved taking on funding responsibility for things town citizens were being double taxed for as both citizens of the county and town.  The 66%-34% “Fair Funding” formula of shared County-Town expense on EDA or related matters was also developed, at least in part, to address the fact town citizens are also county citizens.

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EDA in Focus

Town reversed initial commitment to cover Afton Inn ‘winterization’ costs

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During an update on the status of various properties at a Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Asset Committee meeting, Friday morning, the status of the on-hold Afton Inn “winterization” project two months into the winter of 2019-20 was broached.

In the agenda summary the project, described as once “a high priority” of the town government, was now observed to apparently be dead in the cold winter elements.

Why?

According to Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, Town staff apparently did an about-face on responsibility for, or the necessity of, covering the winterization costs.

Harold told those present that since the Town approached the EDA about working together with Afton Inn redeveloper 2 East Main Street LLC in November to get the stabilization project underway to prevent further deterioration of the 151-year-old brick and wood building shell, he had a record of communications with Town Attorney Doug Napier indicating Town responsibility for, and intent of, paying for the winterization work.

Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, center, traces the status of EDA properties, including the Afton Inn and its now apparently-abandoned ‘winterization’ project. The bottom line as from left, Doug Parsons and Ed Daley listen – the Town decided not to fund those stabilization and safety measures. Photos by Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

At various points in those communications a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) dating to the 2014 transfer of ownership from the Town to the EDA for marketing and redevelopment purposes was referenced; as was Napier’s written expression of a “moral obligation” of the Town to provide for the “safety and welfare” of its citizens as pieces began falling off the building; and former Town Planning Director Jeremy Camp’s written notice of the apparent availability of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for the Main Street façade improvement work that could be utilized by the Town to pay for its own staff to work on the winterization project.

Consequently, Harold noted the EDA spent $3,500 on an engineering report to get a cost estimate on the project to the Town. However, several subsequent emails from the Town indicated logistical complications discovered by its staff leading to the likelihood of increased costs.

Harold observed that Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick had stepped in at a mid-December EDA board meeting to state that earlier communications indicating the Town would cover the winterization costs were a “mistake”.

Harold noted that his response to Town Attorney Napier asking for substantiation to support the interim town manager’s assertion was forwarded to the Town’s outside counsel, Damiani & Damiani, handling its civil claims against the EDA with no further communications.

However, EDA Board Treasurer Jorie Martin interjected by phone hook up that she had one initial communication from Damiani & Damiani stating that they “would get back to us” after which there were no further communications.

In that December 19 email to Napier forwarded to the Town’s outside counsel, Harold wrote, “I have read the MOA, and I am not able to find any subordination clause or other languages that strips Front Royal of this requirement (of funding),” adding, “Contrarily, there are 2 paragraphs which explicitly detail and reaffirm the town’s commitment.”

One of those paragraphs from the MOU dated June 23, 2014, is quoted stating, “The Town agrees that during ownership of the Afton Inn property by the EDA, the Town shall not require the EDA to perform any repairs, maintenance or demolition of any part of the Afton Inn building unless the Town agrees to bear the costs of such repairs, maintenance or demolition.”

The following paragraph describes the Afton Inn’s close proximity to Town Hall at the head of the East Main Street Historic Downtown Business District, observing, “The Town has clearly identifiable interests in the use to be made and in the appearance, of the Afton Inn property … As such, the Town has an appropriate, identifiable interest in keeping the Afton Inn property in both a viable safe physical condition and an aesthetically pleasing condition.”

I guess it depends on how you define ‘Safe’ and ‘Pleasing’ – gets harder the closer you get.

It was again noted that 2 East Main Street LLC continues to express hope of maintaining its interest in the Afton renovation project now stalled by the EDA’s financial dilemma tied to the financial scandal asserted in the County-EDA funded Cherry Bekaert forensic audit of EDA business in recent years.

And put up a parking lot?

However, it would appear in this season of the interim town manager and a new council majority committed to cost and tax reductions despite $29 million in capital improvement funding needs in the coming budget year, those steering the ship of Front Royal Town government have simply decided the Afton Inn’s appearance, condition and redevelopment are no longer fiscal priorities.

As the discussion moved to the collection of bad debts, EDA Board Vice Chairman Jeff Browne noted that since the involvement of the EDA’s contracted attorney, the first check from a debtor had been received – “We just have to pick it up … so, we’re already starting to see results,” Browne told the Asset Committee, leading Board Chairman Ed Daley to quip, “Was this a large check from a municipal corporation that owes us a very significant amount of money?”

Harold displays documentation on referenced EDA assets, as from left, Jeff Browne, Doug Parsons, Ed Daley, Cheryl Cullers and others invisible by phone link, listen.

“The answer would be no,” Browne replied, dashing the hope the Town had decided to make good on at least a portion of its undisputed $8.4 million debt to the EDA on the principal for the Town Police Department construction project, if not on Afton Inn winterization costs.

See this discussion just past the 38-minute mark of the linked Royal Examiner video, as well as other topics in the entire meeting video. Among topics discussed were bids received on removal of the solar panels on the EDA’s Kendrick Lane office complex; a pending closing date of February 28 on the Stokes Mart property sale; and re-acquisition of the Workforce Housing parcel, hopefully, at the same $10 price, it was inexplicably transferred to the Cornerstone LLC branch of the Aikens Group in late November 2018 for.

After initially being “gifted” to the EDA for $10, due to unmet, publicly undisclosed deadlines not being met, the EDA acquired the property at a cost of $445,000, with additional resources allegedly being committed to the project leading to the property being written off as a $600,000-plus loss.

In addition to Harold, Daley, Browne, and Martin, the latter by phone hookup, present at Friday’s Asset Committee meeting were EDA attorney Sharon Pandak, also by phone connection, EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons and South River Supervisor Cheryl Cullers.

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Town, County, EDA join forces with commercial realty community

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EDA Board Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne launches the joint Town-County-EDA Commercial Property Open House with local commercial realtor representatives. Photos by Roger Bianchini, Royal Examiner.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, February 19, members of the local real estate brokers community gathered at the Kendrick Lane Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development office for a “Commercial Property Open House.

After some breakfast snacks provided by the EDA through the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club’s catering service and a briefing by EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons on economic incentives available locally and through the state economic development partnership, the group representing 10 realty companies, accompanied by EDA, Town and County officials began the tour close by.

First to be viewed of 28 properties were two vacant offices in the EDA office complex at 400 Kendrick Lane. Then it was on to the Town Trolley for a foray into the adjacent Royal Phoenix Business Park’s 117 vacant acres before heading into the Route 522/340 North Commercial and Industrial Corridor.

Above, tour started close to home as realtors view one of the vacant office spaces at the EDA’s Kendrick Ln. complex in old American Viscose/FMC/Avtex Admin building; and then it was on the trolley to view 27 more available commercial properties around the town and county.

Royal Examiner caught up with Parsons and Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson shortly after noon following the Open House tour’s conclusion back in Front Royal. In fact, Parsons noted that of the 28 EDA overseen properties on the tour, all but seven were in the town limits.

On the Town side, Community Development Director Felicia Hart had taken the point, working with EDA Board Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne to propel the Commercial Property Open House forward. Following Hart’s January 29 termination with several other Town staff and department heads as part of the interim town manager’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal, Browne worked with Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick to see things moved forward on the logistical side.

Planning Director Taryn Logan represented Warren County and Chris Brock, who identified himself as Interim Planning and Zoning Director, was present for Front Royal. Parsons and Henderson acknowledged the contribution of town staff in preparation of a properties’ booklet for the open house and the provision of the trolley for the tour.

As Interim Town Planning & Zoning Director Chris Brock listens at right, Doug Parsons briefs realtors on some economic development financial incentives that might help close some deals.

“Everybody’s working together,” we observed to Parsons of the joint EDA-Town-County driven interaction with local commercial realtors.

“Yes, as always,” the EDA executive director replied.

“Or at least ‘almost’ always,” we suggested of certain litigious efforts of one participating municipal partner. However, Parsons declined to take the bait, preferring to accentuate the positives of the day. So, we asked for his assessment of the day and its impetus.

“The idea behind the event was to bring together the Blue Ridge Association of Realtors members and take them on a tour of 28 properties here in Front Royal and Warren County that we think are good, viable properties for both commercial and industrial development. So, we looked at 21 properties in town and seven outside of town.

“I think we saw a good variety of buildings, vacant ground that could be used for a variety of purposes. I think the realtors appreciated the information, and I think it was a good partnership effort between the Town and the EDA. I want to thank Chris Brock and Alfredo Velasquez for their help in collating and binding the materials. And Chris’s expertise was a big part of the day as he was able to talk to the group about planning and zoning and certain properties in town.

The Open House tour turns off Kelley Drive near the Dominion Power Plant and a Rappahannock Electric Cooperative office/warehouse.

“Taryn Logan was also a very valuable asset to help explain the planning and zoning in the county and some of the history of the properties.

“And a lot of the realtors that were on the tour, they knew a great deal about some of these properties because they’d either bought or sold them before; or had dealt with them in the past, so knew the history. There was a lot of knowledge on the bus which was shared amongst the group and hopefully, it’ll lead to some sales for some of the properties here in town – and out in the county,” Parsons concluded what he believes was a morning well spent.

Apparently the private sector participants agreed. A sign out sheet was punctuated with “Comments” including “Great Event”, “Good Idea”, “Thank you so much!!”, “Wonderful – very informative” and “Next Year?”

We asked Parsons about his pre-tour briefing on some financial incentives available through the Town, EDA and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP).

“I know a lot of times the real estate community in states across the nation may not be as in tune with the local and state incentives that these job developers’ programs have to offer. So, I was hoping to make them aware of what is out there for them in that regard … Because if you’re a realtor and you are dealing with someone and maybe there’s a ten or twenty thousand dollar gap in being able to close the deal, if you can bring the Virginia Jobs Investment Program incentive to the table, or the tech zone incentive here locally to the table, it could be a deal closer for someone,” Parsons observed.

And deal closings on some commercial properties are what the EDA, its municipal partners, and private sector realtors are all looking to make happen.

There appears to be some action at a portion of this warehouse property as the Commercial Property Open House pulls in.

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EDA presents budget proposal to Board of Supervisors; delinquent taxes from contractors

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EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons presents a budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors. Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

On Tuesday, February 11 at the evening work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, the EDA Board and staff presented its budget proposal to get through the final 3 1/2 months of this fiscal year and to continue into FY 2021.

Also included on the agenda was a discussion with Building official David Beahm and Commissioner of the Revenue Sherry Sours on the payment of delinquent taxes and business license fees by contractors prior to issuance of building permits.

County Administrator Doug Stanley discusses the management and lease agreements of the Front Royal Golf Club.

County Administrator Doug Stanley discussed the Department of Environmental Quality Financial Assurance requirements. Also, Stanley, along with County Attorney Jason Ham, discussed the management and lease agreements of the Front Royal Golf Club.

See the presentations, including discussion of the Town’s $8 million-plus debt to the EDA on the new police station and the status of the Front Royal Golf Club in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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EDA report to County – long-time annual auditor withdraws from lagging 2018 audit process

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During one of six operational updates from entities with which it is either directly or indirectly involved at its Tuesday, February 4 meeting, the Warren County Board of Supervisors got what Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Doug Parson called “bad” and “very disappointing” news.

That news was that long-time EDA auditor Yount-Hyde-Barbour had withdrawn from the EDA’s 2018 audit process. That process is running considerably behind as the EDA tries to get to the bottom of the final year of a number of years during which a contracted financial investigation by Cherry Bekaert, known for its forensic audit discoveries of criminal financial behavior, alleged a number of years of financial improprieties within EDA operations.

As EDA attorneys Dan Seigel and Cullen Seltzer look on, EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons updates county supervisors on the EDA’s state of affairs. That state includes the withdrawal of long-time auditor Yount-Hyde-Barbour from the long-developing audit of 2018 EDA finances. Royal Examiner Photo by Roger Bianchini

The Cherry Bekaert investigation conducted from mid-September 2018 into the spring of 2019 has resulted in a $21.3-million EDA civil litigation against what currently stands at 14 human and business entity defendants and multiple financial felony indictments by a special grand jury empaneled to investigate potential criminality tied to the EDA civil litigation. At the center of both the civil and criminal cases is former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

It was Yount-Hyde-Barbour that was contracted by the EDA to conduct its annual audits during most, if not all of the years during which the EDA financial scandal is believed to have occurred. In recent months retired Warren County Finance Director Carolyn Stimmel and Heather Tweedie of the auditing firm Hottel-Willis have been pouring through the EDA’s 2018 financial records trying to ascertain what EDA assets went where, how, to what purpose and most importantly, were those purposes legitimate and authorized by the EDA Board of Directors.

Yount-Hyde-Barbour had been expected to take the result of Stimmel and Tweedie’s work to belatedly conduct their annual audit for 2018. Completion of that audit has been termed crucial to the
EDA’s future ability to function as it attempts to traverse the operational aftermath of the financial crimes alleged to have occurred under McDonald’s decade of executive leadership of the EDA.

One EDA civil case defendant’s attorney wondered aloud during a past motions hearing that if their client was a defendant for the financial actions alleged against them, why the EDA auditor that had rubber stamped the EDA’s finances annually through the years of alleged embezzlements and misdirection of assets, wasn’t also a defendant.

Could Yount-Hyde-Barbour’s withdrawal from the 2018 audit process be an indicator of potential legal issues between the auditor and the EDA? In response to media questions Sands Anderson attorney Dan Siegel, present with lead EDA civil case attorney Cullen Seltzer for a closed session discussion with County officials of the EDA’s civil case landscape, said only that EDA counsel continues to explore potential legal liability in many directions.

EDA civil attorneys enter WCGC caucus room where the supervisors would eventually adjourn to a three-hour-plus closed session on a variety of topics, including the EDA civil litigation and Town litigation against the EDA. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

VDOT Revenue Sharing
In other business Tuesday, after a week’s delay to allow new supervisors to gather additional information, the county board unanimously approved the County’s contribution to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Revenue Sharing Program. It was explained that the program that runs through multiple municipal fiscal year budgets allows involved municipalities to get a 50% revenue match from the State on needed and desired road improvements throughout the county.

Numbers presented projected the County’s contribution in the coming FY 2021 budget at $250,000. It was a number projected to remain constant in FY 2021 through FY 2024. Six total involved road project costs were cited at $2.9-million over a number of years, with a 25% County contribution total of $753,312.50 and a 25% contribution from involved Sanitary District and POA fees at $703,313.50.

Short-term rental permit
By a 3-2 margin, a divided board approved a short-term rental Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Stephen J. Aron Jr. despite some objections from neighbors in the gated River Ridge Property Owners Association. Tony Carter and Archie Fox cast the two dissenting votes.

Carter cited neighbor concerns about security issues tied to the applicant’s efforts to recoup some of his residential property improvement costs in purchasing what he said at the earlier public hearing was the run-down home of what he described as the less than conscientious previous occupants. In explaining her vote for the CUP, Delores Oates noted that renters wouldn’t be given the code to the gate, but would utilize a locked key box key to activate entry to the gated community.

Carter replied that, that solution still allowed entry and access of strangers to a community that many residents may have located to for the additional security provided by locked access available only to residents and their guests.

During the January public hearing it was noted in favor of the request that many short-term rental operations do quite a bit of vetting of guests. The applicant indicated he intended to be conscientious about those allowed to stay at the residence he and his family plan to spend a great deal of time at themselves.

In addition to the EDA, other operational updates the county received were from VDOT, RSW Jail, the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, Department of Social Services and the Town of Front Royal.

See a related story on the Town report; and see the full Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting – other than the 3-hour-plus closed session – in this Royal Examiner video:

Who’s doing what for whom? Terminated employees pop up in written Town Report to County

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EDA in Focus

Economic development proceeds amidst legal and Spotted Lanternfly threats

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This reporter sat down with Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne and Executive Director Doug Parsons on Friday, January 31, to discuss the work they do amidst challenges they face in the aftermath of the financial scandal that developed during the executive leadership of Jennifer McDonald and a previous EDA board majority.

Executive Director Doug Parsons  and Vice-Chair Jeff Browne meet in the Royal Examiner studio with Roger Bianchini to discuss what the EDA has been doing recently. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

In what we hope is the first of at least monthly video interviews on EDA business and affairs, listen as Browne and Parsons describe how their time is budgeted as they continue the EDA’s work of business retention and recruitment in an environment of dueling civil litigations. They continue to offer an olive branch to the Front Royal Town Council to work together in good faith to determine exactly what the EDA owes the Town in allegedly misdirected EDA assets generated by Town taxpayers, as opposed to an increasingly expensive attorney-driven civil suit filed by the Town against its existing co-created EDA.

It is litigation, as is pointed out in the interview, in which town taxpayers face the unhappy task of funding both sides, as Town taxpayers for the plaintiff and as County taxpayers for the defendant.

And speaking of olive branches, Browne and Parsons conclude the interview by describing the economic threat presented by the expanding presence of the fruit-tree and grapevine feeding Spotted Lanternfly in Frederick County to our north; and how Warren County citizens and businesses can be on the alert to spot, report and mitigate early signs of the destructive bug’s presence in our county.

Watch the discussion in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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EDA in Focus

Judge denies EDA civil suit defendants’ motions for removal from case

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In a written ruling signed January 24 and filed in the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office on January 27, Judge Bruce D. Albertson denied a host of EDA civil litigation defense motions for removal from the case as alleged co-conspirators with central defendant, former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

Among defendant attorneys involved in the December 12 motions hearing were those representing April Petty, Jesse Poe, Donald Poe and his Earth Right Energy (ERE) solar panel installation company, and ITFederal and its principal Truc “Curt” Tran.

The basis of those defense counsel arguments for dismissal of their clients from the civil case primarily revolved around the plaintiff’s notion of an overarching conspiracy that somehow links the various defendants to central figure and former EDA Executive Director McDonald; and that there are legally definable contractual breaches making those defendants individually liable for funds that came their way through McDonald.

At the December motions hearing christened “Groundhog Day” by one media rep present (guilty as charged) for the bulk of four-and-a-half-hours of repetitive legal arguments put forth by each defense attorney on essentially identical claims for removal of their clients from the civil case, lead plaintiff attorney Cullen Seltzer’s counter was briefer.

It has been a long EDA litigation day into night, and it’s only just begun – will we be seeing EDA ‘Night Court’ before it’s over? Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

That was because Seltzer’s reply was essentially a one-response-fits-all argument. That response was that there did not have to have to be direct knowledge among all defendants of each interlocking conspiracy McDonald is alleged to having been a party to, for that conspiracy to exist to the benefit of separate defendants in separate transactions. Seltzer scoffed at the idea of McDonald as “a rogue tornado” distributing EDA assets to various defendants without a general common knowledge that something illegal was transpiring to each defendant’s benefit.

“I deny each Demurrer and Plea in Bar for the reasons cited by the plaintiff,” Judge Albertson wrote in his brief, three paragraph ruling.

However, the judge also ruled that a plaintiff claim of “Breach of Fiduciary Duty” against all defendants, cited only McDonald and her former Administrative Assistant Michelle Henry for such action.

“Plaintiff alleges that this count applies to all defendants due to the conspiracy count. The manner in which this count is written, however, names only Ms. Henry and Ms. McDonald as parties that have breached this duty. I find that his count does not apply to the other defendants as written in the Amended Complaint,” the judge ruled.

The judge also continued a decision on Earth Right Energy’s “Plea in Bar and separate Motion for Sanctions” based on other arguments heard December 12. There was disagreement between ERE attorney Ryan Huttar and EDA counsel on the validity of contracts between the EDA and ERE in amounts over $10,000, which is most, if not all involved contracts.

The EDA Board of Directors meets under the executive leadership of Jennifer McDonald, center, in September 2018, about the time the Cherry Bekaert financial fraud investigation began. Who approved what, when and why??? – are likely to be long-contested questions as the various EDA civil and criminal cases grind forward in the coming year …

EDA counsel noted that any EDA transaction or contract over $10,000 had to be approved by the EDA Board of Directors, which EDA counsel stated did not happen in the Earth Right Energy cases. However, Earth Right attorney Huttar contended the company’s contracts, including a $27-million one with the Warren County Public School system negotiated while Greg Drescher was both an EDA board member and superintendent of schools, were legally binding.

It appears a decision on those arguments will require additional factual information to be brought to the court.

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Day of Giving @ Samuels Public Library
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In conjunction with “Love Your Library Month,” Samuels Public Library will hold its first “Day of Giving” on Thursday, February 27, 2020. Thanks to an anonymous donor, all donations made in-person at the Library or[...]
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Loom Knit a Kitten @ Strokes of Creativity
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Loom Knit an adorable kitten. In this beginner’s class for teens and adults, you will work on a 24 peg loom to knit a small stuffed toy. *Instruction will be right handed. No prior knitting[...]
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Statistics show us that one in four children will experience trauma by the age of four. This trauma could be abuse, hunger, homelessness, witnessing violence, medical trauma, or grief. We know that a child’s greatest[...]
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Read Across America Day @ SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke
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Monday, March 2nd, 2020, is National Read Across America Day. Students of all ages are invited to come to the SPCA of Winchester, Frederick, and Clarke’s pet adoption center, located at 111 Featherbed Lane, to[...]