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County approves board, staff EDA criminal legal fees; removes cap on EDA civil attorney fees

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Why do people hate lawyers? – They make all the money

Legal fees were a central point of action at Tuesday evening’s Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting, both early and late in the agenda. In fact the initial motion out of a Closed Session, which was the last agenda item, was to amend the agenda so that a vote on EDA (Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority) civil litigation attorney fees could be taken.

Both motions by Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter, seconded by South River’s Linda Glavis, passed unanimously.

The second of those motions removed the $750,000 cap previously put on payments to the Sands Anderson law firm contracted to handle the EDA’s civil litigation. That litigation initially filed March 26 was amended in October and is now seeking recovery of what has climbed to a total of $21.3 million dollars of allegedly misdirected or embezzled EDA assets.

The County Supervisors are anticipating continually climbing EDA civil cases legal costs – Tuesday they removed a cap on payments to the Sands Anderson law firm. Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Sands Anderson attorneys are also dealing with two countersuits filed by civil case defendants ITFederal (Truc “Curt” Tran, principal) and Earth Right Energy (Donald Poe, principal) seeking $15 million and $20 million in counter damages, respectively; as well as a suit by the Town of Front Royal against the EDA seeking recovery of “up to $15 million” in allegedly lost or misdirected Town funds.

The EDA is seeking to recover the balance of a $10-million dollar loan to ITFederal it contends was acquired under false pretenses; and another $2 million dollars moved to the company’s benefit through former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, ostensibly without proper EDA board authorization. The EDA is seeking around a million dollars in reimbursement of funds paid to Earth Right Energy (ERE), again through its former executive director and again ostensibly without proper EDA board authorization or work accomplished. However, ERE’s counterclaim revolves around a disputed $27 million dollar solar panel installation contract through the EDA for work on Warren County Public School facilities.

As we have previously reported, EDA-related court hearing discussion has indicated a voluminous amount of involved paperwork totaling somewhere between 700,000 and one million pages of financial fraud investigation documentation, court transcripts, EDA and related municipal financial and other meeting minutes and records.

Acting County Attorney Jason Ham, left, may be wondering if his firm might be included in Tuesday’s uncapping of legal fees by the County – just kidding, Jason. County Administrator Doug Stanley, right, later explained the process and thinking behind the board’s uncapping of EDA civil case legal fees.

Contacted the following day, County Administrator Doug Stanley noted that Tuesday’s vote will preclude the necessity of passing repetitive motions upping what has been authorized for legal fees in the now dueling EDA financial scandal civil litigations. Five times previously the County Supervisors have authorized payment caps to Sands Anderson, beginning on January 8 at $50,000; February 5 at $100,000; April 2 at $300,000; June 4 at $500,000; and August 6 at $750,000. Now the sky’s the limit and the unanswered question is how much money will it take to try and recover $21.3 million dollars in allegedly stolen money. The County invested another $500,000 in Contingency Fund money for the Cherry Bekaert public accounting investigation of EDA finances that is the basis for the EDA civil litigation.

Of the escalating legal fees, Stanley explained it this way, “If your house is broken into you go to the police and they file an incident report. Then you call your insurance company and they want an itemized report on what was stolen – you do that, not the police. The EDA has to catalogue, itemize all the stolen, misused or embezzled assets – the FBI is not going to do that for the EDA, Sands Anderson has to oversee all that and present it to the court because we want to hold those accountable to the full extent of the law.”

And THOSE legal fees

And speaking of the County Administrator, Mr. Stanley “won” the public groan meter during earlier meeting approval of County payment of his, former County Attorney Dan Whitten and four of the five board members’ EDA criminal case legal fees. Payments of those legal fees for the supervisors were all approved by 3-1 votes, with Tom Sayre dissenting and the supervisor whose payment was being approved, abstaining. Sayre has agreed to pay his own legal fees regarding those cases.

During earlier pubic criticism of County assumption of legal fees for the misdemeanor criminal defense cases of misfeasance and nonfeasance filed against County and EDA officials a compromise was broached. That compromise was that if the cases were dismissed or they were found not guilty, their fees would be covered; if found guilty they would pay their own attorneys fees.

Well all those charges were dismissed as having no legal basis, even dating back to English Common Law upon which the U.S. and Virginia legal codes were based. The fact those indictments were filed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office-led Special Grand Jury looking into criminality tied to the EDA financial fraud civil litigation on such nebulous legal grounds was a point of contention for public speaker and County critic Paul Gabbert during remarks directed at the board about those legal fees.

Paul Gabbert addressed a number of topics and expressed distress taxpayers will foot a nearly $50,000 legal bill on charges filed by the Special Grand Jury against County officials for things that are not illegal in Virginia.

As for the public groan meter, Stanley took the top spot with a criminal case legal bill of $15,166.54, edging out Glavis at $14,636.40.

The public may have been lured into a sense of complacency when the first supervisor whose fees were approved, Archie Fox, came in at $2,880. In fact, Glavis may have actually gotten a louder groan than Stanley when her $14,000-plus total was cited second, following Fox’s low-ball number.

Other legal fees approved for payment by the County were Dan Murray at $8,250; Carter at $5,000; and Whitten at $3,990.

No doubt that total taxpayer covered legal fee coming in just south of $50,000 at $49,922.94, was part of the fuel for Gabbert’s assessment of the court-ruled legally-baseless charges as “ridiculous”.

See the Board votes on those legal fees, the public response and Carter’s reply to some of the public criticism in the linked Royal Examiner video.

Attorney John Foote, no stranger to local development dynamics, explains Equus Capital Partners plans for a large distribution warehouse just north of the RSW Regional Jail. Foote told the supervisors he doesn’t anticipate problems from the neighbors directly to the south, who appear, for the most part, to be shut ins.

Other business on Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors agenda included approval of rezoning and a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to allow construction of Equus Capital Partners 324,000 square foot warehouse and distribution facility projected to create 100 total jobs in two shifts on a lot just north of the RSW Regional Jail; approval of a County Ordinance Amendment and CUP to facilitate expansion of Backroom Brewery’s operations off Reliance Road to accommodate larger events hosting over 100 people.

Backroom Brewery’s Billie Clifton was lauded by Virginia Beer Museum proprietor David Downes, below, as a visionary who was ahead of the curve in developing a Farm Microbrewery in Warren County.

This agenda item drew an impassioned comment of support from Virginia Beer Museum proprietor David Downes, who called Backroom Brewery proprietor Billie Clifton “a visionary” in what has become a “growth industry” in the Commonwealth; and approval of necessary funding stream to proceed with much of the A.S. Rhodes Elementary School renovations; and approval of an EDA-requested rezoning on a two-acre parcel of the McKay property near the McKay Springs parcel for rezoning from Residential to Commercial, among other items.

See all these items on Royal Examiner’s full meeting video.

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As 2nd Amendment ‘Sanctuary’ drive comes to Warren County, State Democrats have an opportunity to show they do listen – but will they?

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The alarm of Second Amendment guns rights advocates to the content of at least one of, if not all eight Virginia State House and Senate Bills proposed for consideration in the first General Assembly session since Democrats seized majorities in both houses for the first time since 1994 is coming to Warren County this Tuesday evening, December 10.

In the wake of around one thousand people showing up for the Shenandoah County Board Public Hearing on a Resolution of Support for a municipal declaration as a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary Community, the Warren County Board of Supervisors’ Public Hearing has been moved to a Special Meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Warren County High School’s auditorium. The board’s regular meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning at the Warren County Government Center.

A rally in support of the initiative endorsed by the Warren County Republican Committee will be held in the Front Royal Village Commons/Gazebo area at 7 p.m. Monday, December 9. There were also four sites where supporting petitions were set up for signing on Saturday, December 7 in Front Royal.

The 2nd Amendment Sanctuary City initiative has been circulated to municipalities around the Commonwealth of Virginia. Two people speaking at the end of the November 19 Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting introduced the initiative here. Those speakers were Bonlyn Hawley and Ross McVey. You may see their comments in their entirety in the linked Royal Examiner video.

At issue for these gun rights advocates are House Bills 2 and 9 introduced respectively by Kenneth R. Plum and Jeffrey M. Bourne (uh oh, a Bourne Initiative – oh wait, that was Jason); and Senate Bills 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 18.

SB 12, 14, 16 and 18 were proposed by incoming Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, with SB 13 and 15 from the desk of Adam P. Ebbin. All of the gun control bill sponsors are Democrats.

After hearing the extreme degree of alarm expressed by Hawley and McVey to the County Supervisors on November 19, one gun owner in the room decided to explore what was at the source of that alarm which indicated a belief that local law enforcement agencies would soon be recruited by the new State General Assembly Democratic majority to go door to door gathering up everyone’s firearms.

The refrain from an earlier round of 2nd Amendment alarmism, “They’ll have to pry this gun from my cold, dead hands,” resurrected during the Obama presidency I believe, came back to me. Actually, my hands did get dead cold during the Obama years, but it wasn’t because anyone was trying to pry my firearm from them. Actually, we all survived Obama’s eight years, firearms intact and unseized.

So, is it “here we go again” partisan paranoia or is there more substance at the root of this call for municipal boards to declare “sanctuary” from any higher effort to enact truly oppressive gun control legislation?

I will explore each of the proposed Democrat-sponsored gun control bills in detail below. Several revolve around making background checks mandatory; one makes reporting a stolen or lost gun mandatory; two make it illegal to carry weapons into either the State “Capitol Square” complex in Richmond or any building “owned or leased by the Commonwealth”; one bans devices like bump stocks that convert legal semi-automatic weapons into machine-gun burst firing weapons; and another raises the age at which young people can buy a gun, or use one without adult supervision. However, none of these appear to rise to the level of requiring sanctuary from a fear your guns are going to be seized at the order of the new Democratic General Assembly majority.

But let’s cut to the chase – are there any of these proposed House or Senate Bills that raise legitimate alarm bells about weapons seizures or substantive 2nd Amendment Rights violations?

Which brings us to SB 16.

SB 16 “Expands the definition of ‘assault firearm’ and prohibits any person from importing, selling, transferring, manufacturing, purchasing, possessing, or transporting an assault firearm” and “prohibits a dealer from selling, renting, trading, or transferring from his inventory an assault firearm to any person.” Violations are Class 6 felonies.

SB 16 also prohibits “carrying a shotgun with a magazine that will hold more than seven rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered in a public place”. It is noted that under current state law such a prohibition “applies only in certain localities”.

And SB 16 “makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to import, sell, barter, or transfer any firearm magazine designed to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.”

2nd Amendment Alarm bells

And here is where the 2nd Amendment red flags – wait, is “red flag” a bad term to use here? – begin waving.

After some extensive online searching we found a specific reference on exactly what that “expanded definition” of “assault firearm” entails in an article on the topic in the Free Lance Star of Fredericksburg. That Ken Perrotte article stated that, “Modern, semi-automatic (one trigger pull, one shot, multiple-round magazine) sporting rifles or even small semi-automatic rimfires and shotguns with features like thumbhole stocks or pistol grips–features that, ironically, make the firearm safer to handle – would become illegal.”

So, if SB 16 proposes to put a blanket prohibition on, not only the future selling of currently legal semi-automatic weapons, but possession of ones currently owned legally simply if they carry multiple-round clips and/or have certain safety features attached, there you have a 2nd Amendment issue worthy of serious legislative pushback and debate.

But rather than focus on lobbying every municipality in Virginia to essentially declare itself a “sanctuary” community from a proposed State Code change that would appear to go too far in trying to stem the tide of mass shooting gun violence in America, why not engage those local municipal officials to in turn engage their state representatives to participate in that legislative debate before SB 16 reaches the Senate floor for a vote?

This reporter has rarely been accused of being a political conservative – and as my conservative friends know, don’t you dare call me a liberal. That said, I would write Royal Examiner editorials in support of removal of the oppressive aspects of SB 16 as they apply to currently legally-owned semi-automatic weapons.

Another aspect of SB 16, the maximum clip or magazine size, is another legitimate topic for legislative debate. Should the general public have access to military-sized clips carrying 30 or more rounds? Is a 10-round clip limit too small or too large for recreational shooting use? Is there justification for public access to larger clip sizes, and if so, how large? Correct me if I’m wrong hunters, but to my knowledge semi-automatic assault-style rifles and their large clips are not legal for hunting, and certainly wouldn’t be very sporting if they were.

Compromise is a key element of any democratically-based system of government. Withdrawal from the legislative debate, in favor of declaring “sanctuary” from something that does not yet legally exist would not appear to be the optimum course of political action.

Why not head that lone proposed substantial threat to your 2nd Amendment rights off at the pass?

Why not approach SB 16 sponsor Richard L. Saslaw and say, “Look you give on SB 16 and we’ll give on mandatory background checks, bump stock prohibitions, the age our kids can hunt on their own, and even stewing in the General Assembly Halls with our still legal handguns, Bowie Knives and Ninja throwing stars”?

Who knows what such a logical path of legislative discourse might achieve?

And I hope this isn’t a stretch because if the above-cited expanded definition is accurate, what is left to be defined as a legal “assault firearm” – plastic toy ones firing puff balls? So I am hoping that something I noticed about two of SB 16’s companion bills, SB 18 and SB 14, leave room to maneuver on SB 16.

First, HB 18 actually contains a passage that “raises the age from 18 to 21 for any person to knowingly and intentionally possess or transport a handgun or assault firearm anywhere in the Commonwealth.”

If the Democrats and their new Senate majority leader collectively believe they can make “assault firearms” essentially illegal in Virginia with passage of SB 16, why bother to raise the age to be able to legally transport them in the Commonwealth in SB 18?

And Saslaw is sponsor of both SB 16 and SB 18, as he is sponsor of SB 14 which prohibits bump stocks and other devices that convert semi-automatic weapons into machine gun burst firearms. So, it appears that two Saslaw-sponsored bills anticipate the continued legality of semi-automatic “assault firearms” of some kind.

What is crucial to this discussion is exactly what is left once that expanded definition of “assault firearm” is applied and will Saslaw and his colleagues be willing to listen to legitimate criticism of SB 16 as counterproductive on firearm safety and too obtrusive in its proposed redefinition and banning of assault firearms?

Legislative debate with an open mind is always a good thing from either side of the legislative aisle – or is it too late in our political evolution to ask for anything beyond partisan intransigence from either political party?

It would be a show of good faith for the newly-empowered Virginia Democrats to be able to admit a potential legislative overreach, and say to all Virginia’s citizens, “Yes, perhaps we have gone too far here and we ARE willing to listen and act to correct our mistake based on well-founded opposition arguments.

Such a move might not only play well across Virginia, but across the Potomac River where U.S. House Democrats are accusing their Republican counterparts of a collective unwillingness to acknowledge factual evidence and testimony regarding another fundamental Constitutional issue, presidential accountability.

The rest of the package

Now, lets go in detail to the two House Bills and five other Senate Bills on the table for the upcoming General Assembly session.

HB 2 “Requires a background check for any firearm transfer and directs the Department of State Police (the Department) to establish a process for transferors to obtain such a check from licensed firearms dealers.”

Such checks would become mandatory, rather than voluntary. Selling without the required background check would be declared a Class 6 felony; receipt of a firearm without the required background check would be classified a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Okay, I can live with background checks. In fact, in the face of the rising tide of mass shooting violence in America I believe a majority of Americans, perhaps even a majority of gun owners, support them.

HB 9 “Requires that, if a firearm is lost or stolen from a person who lawfully possessed it, such person shall report the loss or theft of the firearm to any local law-enforcement agency or the Department of State Police within 24 hours after such person discovers the loss or theft or is informed by a person with personal knowledge of the loss or theft.”

Reporting the loss or theft of a firearm “in good faith” provides immunity for that person “from criminal or civil liability for acts resulting from” the loss or theft of their gun. That immunity “does not apply to a person who knowingly gives a false report” and HB 9 “does not apply to the loss or theft of an antique firearm.”

Okay, this one actually protects a gun owner from liability for subsequent actions committed with their stolen or lost weapon – good to go so far.

Okay, let’s see what else is up with the State Senate Democrats.

SB 12 “Requires a background check for any firearm transfer and requires the Department of State Police to establish a process for transferors of firearms to obtain such a check from licensed firearms dealers. A transferor who fails to obtain a required background check and sells the firearm to another person is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”

Okay, this appears to be the Senate mirror of House Bill 2 making such checks mandatory; and with the same exemptions: “The bill exempts transfers (i) between immediate family members; (ii) that occur by operation of law; (iii) by the executor or administrator of an estate or by the trustee of a testamentary trust; (iv) at firearms shows in accordance with law; (v) that are part of a buyback or give-back program; (vi) of antique firearms; (vii) that occur at a shooting range, shooting gallery, or any other area designed for the purpose of target shooting or for use during target practice, a firearms safety or training course or class, a shooting competition, or any similar lawful activity; or (viii) that are temporary transfers that (a) occur within the continuous presence of the owner of the firearm or (b) are necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”

SB 13 makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to bring, not just guns, but a variety of dangerous or lethal weapons on to “Capitol Square” in Richmond where the State Legislature meets. Capitol Square is defined to include “the state-owned buildings that border its boundary streets.”

Weapons banned from these state government buildings, which must have the prohibition prominently displayed for those entering, include “a bowie knife, switchblade knife, ballistic knife, machete, razor, slingshot, spring stick, fighting chain, throwing star, and oriental dart or any weapon of like kind” as well as firearm accessories, including “frame, receiver, muffler, silencer, missile, projectile, or ammunition designed for use with a dangerous weapon”.

“The bill provides exceptions for law-enforcement officers, conservators of the peace, magistrates, court officers, judges, county or city treasurers, commissioners or deputy commissioners of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, authorized security personnel, and active military personnel while in the conduct of such individuals’ official duties.”

Any such weapon or accessory seized is subject to seizure and “forfeiture to the Commonwealth.”

Okay, sort of annoying if you forgot you had your Bowie Knife or handgun on your belt as you entered the State Capitol complex, but hey, it’s a misdemeanor offense.

Don’t understand why State General Assemblymen would be so paranoid as not to allow a heavily armed audience in to listen to their legislative debates in this day and age.

SB 14 makes it a Class 6 felony to manufacture, import, sell, possess, transfer or transport devices that convert semi-automatic guns into automatic, essentially machine gun-style weapons, even for “two or more shots in a burst”.

Okay, machine guns are illegal to possess by current law and with mass shootings so popular as a means of lashing out at things you don’t like, this one’s probably not such a bad idea.

SB 15 essentially is an expansion of SB 13, making it illegal to carry a variety of lethal weapons or accessories into any building “owned or leased by the Commonwealth”. It carries the same exceptions for law enforcement, security and military personnel in the conduct of their jobs.

And finally there is SB 18, which “Provides that a person must be at least 21 years old, or must be at least 18 years old by the effective date of the bill, to purchase a firearm.” The bill also contains the mandatory background check provision and additional prohibitions designed to protect children, and perhaps to protect children from themselves.

SB 18 makes it a Class 6 felony for an adult to “recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any person under the age of 18”. It adds Class 1 misdemeanor status to any person who “knowingly” allows a child under 18 “to use a firearm except when the person is under the supervision of an adult.”

The bill notes that current law applies Class 3 misdemeanor status to adults who leave unsecured firearms in a reckless manner around children under 14; and Class 1 misdemeanor status to any adult who allows a child under 12 to use a firearm without adult supervision.

Perhaps with an eye toward student-generated school shootings, SB 18 “also raises the age from 18 to 21 for any person to knowingly and intentionally possess or transport a handgun or assault firearm anywhere in the Commonwealth.”

Can there be debate on the maturity level of teens at various ages, sure. But in the case of lethal weapons and childhood why not err on the side of caution?

And that’s a wrap – so what’s the verdict in your mind?

Do we need to declare “sanctuary” against a new partisan majority determined to violate all of our 2nd Amendment rights, or do we simply need to engage the State Democrats in a rational debate about how to best stem the tide of mass shootings and general gun violence in Virginia and America without violating anyone’s 2nd Amendment right to possess or bear reasonable and safe firearms legally?

Maybe we should try the latter first and have the former in the legislative “oven” just in case.

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Warren County Board of Zoning Appeals Meeting – December 5, 2019

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Warren County Board of Zoning Appeals. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

At the December 5th Warren County Board of Zoning Appeals Meeting, a public hearing was held on a request from Franklin and Sherry Barb, for a variance to Warren County Code 180-23(I)(1) to allow a forty (40) foot front yard setback for an accessory structure in lieu of the required fifty (50) foot setback. A ten (10) foot variance was sought. Variance was approved.

Watch the meeting here on this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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Local resident warns School Board; extra special ed teacher approved

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FRONT ROYAL — Local resident James Harper asked Warren County School Board members during their December 4 meeting to reconsider policy that prohibits them from responding to citizens who make public comments at regular meetings.

Warren County resident James Harper. Photos and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

“Miss Bower,” said Harper, referring to School Board Chairwoman Catherine Bower, “it is my hope that you’ll change your opening statement and have a dialogue or discussion with folks who take the time to appear instead of saying, ‘Members will not comment.’”

Prior to each community participation portion of every School Board meeting, the chair reads a statement that says: “Community Participation is a time intended for the public to give input on relevant school issues and not intended to be a question and answer period as this may be the first time the Board has heard this information. Please do not expect individual responses or any comment by the Board at this time but be assured that any concerns will be reviewed. Please print your name on the sheet at the podium, state your name and address, and limit your comments to three minutes.”

Following that longstanding criteria, the School Board members did not respond to Harper’s request.

Nevertheless, the Rockland Road resident continued with a few more comments.

For example, Harper said he plans to ask the Warren County Board of Supervisors to take control of spending for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) or to, at the least, sign off on it.

“In my opinion, your spending needs oversight,” Harper told School Board members. “I’m still flabbergasted that this board paid someone a $12,000 cost-of-living raise and paid this person for another six months when he resigns.”

Harper was referring to outgoing WCPS Superintendent Greg Drescher, who resigned in September citing his wife’s illness as part of the reason for deciding to leave early.

In October, the School Board placed Drescher, who pulls down a six-figure salary at WCPS, on paid administrative leave following a now-rescinded indictment related to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) financial scandal. Drescher had served on the EDA Board of Directors for 12 years — five while also serving as superintendent of schools — and resigned in August 2018 as the EDA board’s chairman.

Since the School Board’s October decision, the paid-administrative-leave designation has allowed Drescher to collect his regular paychecks until year’s end despite not having to conduct WCPS superintendent duties.

“I challenge you to find one other person in Warren County who got that deal,” Harper said.

Also in October, the School Board approved additional funds totaling $3,250 a month in extra stipends to cover the superintendent position Drescher vacated. The stipends will be paid to three WCPS employees until a new superintendent is hired next year.

Harper, who is not a stranger to School Board members and regularly comments during community participation segments of their meetings, also questioned Drescher’s compensation, which is set by the School Board.

It’s a question that Harper also asked earlier this year of Bower when he wondered why Drescher’s salary wasn’t comparable with those of other superintendents in the area. Bower had responded that the School Board didn’t collect such data.

“I was shocked and wondered how you decide how much to pay someone,” Harper recalled on Wednesday.

“Just so you know,” he added, “Warren County paid Greg Drescher $45,000 more than the superintendent of Shenandoah County schools,” which Harper said has more schools, a larger student population, and where the superintendent has a PhD.

The School Board must have thought it was a good idea to give Drescher a $12,000 cost-of-living raise coupled with approval for paid administrative leave “at taxpayers’ expense” after he resigned, said Harper, noting that the board “must think this County has unlimited money to spend.”

Harper also suggested that if the School Board instead had used both the $12,000 and the $45,000, it could have given $1,000 raises to some 40 WCPS teachers. “That’s just a thought off the top of my head,” he said.

Another community participant who spoke at the School Board’s December 4 meeting was Phillip Hong, the sexual assault prevention specialist for the Winchester, Va.-based Laurel Center, who presented an opportunity to work cooperatively with WCPS on prevention programming to reduce violence and empower youth resilience.

Phillip Hong, sexual assault prevention specialist for the Winchester, Va.-based Laurel Center.

Hong cited a report showing an uptick in Warren County sexual assault reporting during this year. “Any number, regardless of what it is, is something we hope to reduce,” he said.

The Laurel Center provides numerous free workshops and classes, including Teenage Prevention Programming that is school- and group-based, said Hong.

Likewise, the center’s Sexual Violence Prevention Program is free and confidential for residents in Warren County, Frederick County, Winchester City, and Clarke County, and includes multiple school-based prevention programs designed for middle and high school students.

In other presentations — including resolutions recognizing the service of retiring School Board members Donna McEathron and C. Douglas Rosen, as well as Drescher — the board also heard from Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley, who as president of the Warren County Educational Endowment announced the group’s award of 10 grants totaling $44,411.74 to several local projects throughout the WCPS system.

Additionally, the School Board voted on several items during its action agenda portion of the meeting.

For instance, board members unanimously approved an additional Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) teacher for the current school year at an estimated cost of $65,423 in salary and benefits.

“As our preschool programs … increase in numbers, the need for an additional ECSE is evident,” WCPS Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch told School Board members. “This additional resource will also allow our Family Engagement coordinator to lighten her caseload and expand family engagement activities.”

According to a report that Hirsch also submitted to the board, the additional teacher will be utilized as a resource teacher to students with disabilities in both classroom and community settings throughout the ECSE programs during morning hours and will provide classroom-based services to newly eligible students in the afternoon in the preschool classroom at Skyline High School.

The high school’s classroom does not currently have students there in the afternoon, so utilizing that space will alleviate the addition of a new physical classroom, according to Hirsch’s report.

Warren County School Board members present and voting at the December 4 meeting included Chairwoman Catherine Bower; Vice Chairman C. Douglas Rosen; and members Donna McEathron, James Wells, and Arnold Williams Jr.

Watch the entire Warren County School Board meeting in the exclusive Royal Examiner video:

Retiring superintendent, school board members receive formal send-off

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Tederick addresses Financial Disclosure submission and tie to law firm hired in Town’s EDA lawsuit

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In a December 2nd telephone interview Interim Front Royal Town Manager Matt Tederick dismissed questions about seeming gaps in his State-required “Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council STATE AND LOCAL STATEMENT OF ECONOMIC INTERESTS” form submitted to the Town for his Interim Mayor’s appointment as the work of political enemies.

“I’m a political figure and politics is what it is … and political enemies will get their pound of flesh. I’m used to it,” Tederick said of increased public scrutiny of his business interests during his tenure as, first Interim Mayor and now Interim Town Manager. Much of that scrutiny has come in two Letters to the Editor of Royal Examiner by Simon Mays.

The former Warren County supervisor and long-time county Republican Committee chairman said his perception of those letters published under the titles “Words Do Matter” and “Matthew Tederick’s Peyton Places”, the latter a reference to the 100 Peyton Street Front Royal address of some businesses with apparent Tederick ties, as an attempt to drag him or those businesses entities “into the EDA thing”. Tederick explained some of those business ties as simply being the landlord and picking up mail for absent tenants, leading to some “Registered Agent” designations.

Matt Tederick on the job as Interim Mayor at June work session. Royal Examiner File Photo/Roger Bianchini

We told Tederick we didn’t read Mays’ letters as an attempt to tie anyone, including him, to the EDA financial scandal, but rather as a call for an over-abundance of care in both public statements and due diligence regarding such financial disclosure filings by any municipal official at this point in time while public mistrust of municipal leadership is at such a peak due to the EDA financial scandal.

Of the appearance of David Damiani of the Damiani & Damiani law firm as the Registered Agent of not only the Alexandria law firm bearing his family name, but for 1839 Capital LLC which lists Tederick as “President”, Tederick said that if not in his financial disclosure and conflict of interest statement where 1839 Capital is not listed, the connection – in addition to Damiani’s Registered Agent designation the two companies share the same 604 Cameron Street address in Alexandria – was extensively discussed with the Town Attorney and Council as the law firm was considered to help represent the Town in its civil suit against the EDA.

On November 25, Damiani & Damiani PC was approved by Council for up to $200,000 in legal fees related to the Town’s civil suit against the EDA. In fact, Tederick said that while still serving as Interim Mayor in October, he recalled handing the mayor’s gavel over to Vice Mayor Bill Sealock when the hiring of Damiani & Damiani was discussed.

As for 1839 Capital’s exclusion from his financial disclosure form, Tederick explained that as a new start-up company – its website indicates an “active” SEC filing process stretching from May 17 to August 9 while Tederick was emerging as a candidate for, and then serving as Interim Front Royal Mayor – the company has yet to generate any income. That lack of income precluded the company needing to be added to Tederick’s State financial disclosure and conflict of interest form, he said in the December 2 phone interview.

In fact, Tederick said he contacted the State’s Ethics and Advisory Council to help in his preparation of the financial disclosure and conflict of interest form. He cited Ethics Committee staffer Stuart Petoe as the person who helped “walk me through” that preparation – “I’ve disclosed everything I get income from,” Tederick said.

And Tederick added that he had conversations with Town Attorney Doug Napier regarding the potential hiring of Damiani & Damiani to assist in the Town civil action against the EDA. In fact, Tederick said he had asked David Damiani, whom he had recently met, if he could recommend a law firm that was experienced in handling civil municipal litigation as the Town was looking for such a company regarding its EDA civil suit.

“You don’t know what we do,” was Damiani’s reply Tederick said. Damiani then informed Tederick of the company’s background in “class action lawsuits for and against municipal entities”.

Tederick next to Town Attorney Napier in his current Interim Town Manager’s seat – Royal Examiner File Photo/Mark Williams

Tederick took that information to Town Attorney Napier, who participated in the vetting process and agreed that Damiani & Damiani “was absolutely the right law firm” to assist in the Town’s civil case against the EDA seeking recovery of an as-yet-to-be-determined amount of Town financial assets.

Tederick said he was able to negotiate a favorable rate with Damiani & Damiani related to travel expenses because one of its members had moved out this way.

As reported in our story “Town skirts EDA request for FRPD construction back payments”, up to $200,000 in legal expenses was authorized for payment to Damiani & Damiani in one of three November 25th motions related to the Town litigation against the EDA. In addition to the $200,000 in legal expenses, council authorized $45,000 to Mitchell & Company PC for “auditing services to support litigation in the Town’s civil lawsuit against …the EDA”.

In a third motion council authorized a budget amendment transferring $282,000 in scheduled debt service payments to the EDA to cover legal and auditing expenses in its EDA civil action. Contacted later in the week, Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson confirmed that those transfers do relate to the Town debt service overpayments he discovered in the spring of 2018. It was that discovery and a subsequent August 23 confrontation between Town staff and auditors and then EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and then EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher that began the dominoes of the EDA financial scandal tumbling into motion.

All motions were approved by 5-0 votes with now Mayor Tewalt’s council seat vacant.

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Local Government

Front Royal poised to lobby for State Code change to allow 2nd EDA

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Could the Rt. 522/340 N. Corridor become ground zero for another economic development battle between Front Royal and Warren County?

Despite unresolved legal complications the Front Royal Town Council plans to move forward with approval of a Resolution seeking State General Assembly authority to create its own Economic Development Authority (EDA) despite the continued existence of the EDA it co-created with Warren County in the mid-1960’s.

“I’m all for it,” Gary Gillespie exuded after a five-minute work session briefing by Town Attorney Doug Napier Monday night, December 2.

“I agree with you,” Gillespie’s council colleague Letasha Thompson added, with no opposition opinion being expressed.

Mayor Gene Tewalt then instructed staff to include a vote on the Resolution at the next scheduled meeting agenda, Monday, December 9. That is council’s only meeting of December’s holiday season.

However, what appears to be council’s preferred path of distance from the existing EDA and creation of its own alternate Economic Development Authority may not be such an easy task, with or without the legislative sponsorship Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick says he has been promised, without citing a name.

Existing State Code 15.2-4905 forbids the creation of a second EDA or IDA (Industrial Development Authority) in a locality without the concurrence of “the governing body of such locality” to the “inducement resolution” of the second EDA or IDA. The fact that the Town and County co-created the existing EDA could present a legal hurdle to the Town’s planned move away from the now largely retooled EDA Board and totally revamped Executive staff.

The work session agenda summary prepared by the Town Attorney notes that, “The Town no longer appoints any of the members of the Board of Directors of the existing EDA (an apparent voluntary abdication of appointment authority), nor does it fund the existing EDA” (an operational funding consequence of County compensation to the Town for its 1998 agreement to extend Town central water-sewer into the County North Corridor without annexation).

The legal staff summary continues, “However, under current State Code, even if the Town rescinds its EDA creation ordinance, because the existing EDA was jointly created by the Town with the County, the Town will be unable to create a separate Town EDA which can finance facilities outside the Town, unless the County concurs with this financing by a Board of Supervisors’ resolution.”

But that isn’t all, as Town Attorney Napier points out in his agenda summary of the Town’s options.

“In fact, as the next paragraph will show, there may well be an argument that as long as there are outstanding EDA bonds whether the Town can even rescind its ordinance co-creating the existing EDA at all, in which case the Town would not even be able to create a separate Town EDA which could fund Town EDA facilities in Town,” Napier wrote.

 The Town Council appears settled on a course of action fencing itself off from the existing EDA as a new EDA staff and largely new board tries to right the ship of community-wide local economic development. Royal Examiner File Photo

The referenced legislative code paragraph cites the potential of an EDA Board of Directors stating its mission accomplished, with all debts paid, leading to its own initiative to dissolve itself. At that point, “the title to all funds and properties owned by the authority at the time of such dissolution shall vest in the locality creating the authority and possession of such funds and properties shall forthwith be delivered to such locality.” (bold in agenda text context)

Of this language Napier writes, “A strong argument can be made that until all the debts and bonds of the existing EDA are paid, the existing EDA must remain in existence. Additionally, even if the Town could rescind its ordinance which created its part of the existing EDA, would the Town wish to give up its rights to its legal one-half of the EDA property and other assets? … That potentially could be a lot for the Town to consider walking away from.”

Prior to the mayor’s polling of council on a preferred course of action, Jacob Meza asked Town Attorney Napier if proceeding with his suggested effort to alter State law to allow the Town of Front Royal alone to create a second, functioning EDA within the community wouldn’t produce the same complication in giving up the Town’s claim on half of the existing EDA’s assets.

When Napier responded that it would not, Meza began the expression of support for the town attorney’s recommended option on a path forward if council’s desire is to create its own EDA while its civil litigation against the existing co-created EDA proceeds. As Napier confirmed to us the following day, that recommended path is toward a legislative exception for the Town of Front Royal to create a second EDA independent of the County without withdrawing from its legal interest in the existing, co-created EDA.

Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick told council that it must move quickly to get its request for a State Code change on the floor during the next session of the General Assembly or face waiting another year for the opportunity. Tederick also said he had made contact with a member of the state legislature who would be willing to sponsor the Town legislative exemption request, though he did not publicly name that state representative. Warren County and the Town have three State House representatives, the 15th (Todd Gilbert), 29th (Chris Collins) and 18th (Mike Webert), as well as 26th District State Senator Mark Obenshain, in the Virginia General Assembly. The smart money is on one of those four.

However, it remains to be seen how such a legislative move toward a singular exception for the Town to create a second EDA while suing the existing one it co-created with the County over a half century ago will play in Richmond, or for that matter across town at the Warren County Government Center.

Napier’s independent, Town-created EDA situation agenda summary observes that there may be times that it would be advantageous for the Town to consider economic development financing of “facilities outside its boundaries”. Such times could relate to the expansion of “water or waste disposal facilities … the addition of facilities of higher education … the expansion of additional medical facilities” or if the Town “wanted to expand its tax base” Napier observed.

However, these are things the Town could only accomplish in a joint Town-County EDA or with a Resolution of Support from the County Supervisors related to actions of an independent Town-controlled EDA. And the latter is contingent on a General Assembly majority granting the Town its desired exemption to the existing State Code.

Is this writer the only one who sees irony in the Town’s coming initiative to seek a one-of-a-kind State legislative exemption to facilitate creation of an independent EDA? After all, wasn’t it a first-of-its-kind State exemption, though judicially approved in 1999, that allowed Warren County to receive the economic development benefit of Town of Front Royal water-sewer utilities in its North Corridor without the established process of annexation by the municipality controlling those utilities preceding that extension?

Perhaps in a clue of things to come, toward the work session’s end Councilman Chris Holloway suggested Town staff explore the pros and cons of revisiting Town annexation of the North Corridor “out to Rockland Road”. Mayor Tewalt observed that a Memorandum of Understanding between the Town and County that may be attached to the Town’s water policy, prohibits Town annexation in the North Corridor for as much as 20 years from its inception.

Wonder if the Town could get a one-of-a-kind exception, perhaps from the State Executive branch this time, to rescind that MOU while they’re at it?

Town skirts EDA request for FRPD construction back payments

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Local Government

Following work session Town poised to move on several key initiatives

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It was a varied and potentially far-reaching Front Royal Town Council work session that followed Monday evening’s dedication of the Town Hall foyer placement of a Memorial Plaque to Dr. Joseph Warren, the Revolutionary War figure for whom Warren County is named. Period-costumed re-enactors Larry Johnson and Ned Farenholtz keynoted the dedication, citing the Massachusetts physician’s pivotal role in galvanizing support for American independence and his early death as a martyr to that cause.

Above, a council quorum and the mayor join Revolutionary-period clad Larry Johnson and Ned Farenholtz in dedication Dr. Joseph Warren plaque for Town Hall; below, with a little help from his friends Interim Town Manager Tederick, left, oversees Mayor Tewalt and Councilman Holloway’s plaque hanging efforts. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Following a closed session to interview candidates for the Board of Architectural Review and Mayor Tewalt’s now-vacated council seat, Town officials, minus Vice-Mayor Sealock reportedly cited out west in Oklahoma, launched into several key topics surrounding the Town’s future on several fronts.

Primary among those (not in chronological order) were:

A/ what will be necessary to facilitate an apparently growing majority consensus to create an independent Town Economic Development Authority (EDA) – hint, it won’t be easy and will require a change in State Codes and the cooperation of the County;

B/ facilitation of the long-brewing “Blighted Building” aspect of a Town Property Maintenance Code, as well as developing a report from the Subdivision Committee anticipated by the end of January;

C/ hiring of a professional facilitator at a cost of $2,000 dollars to try and reach a consensus among downtown business owners on how best to proceed on parking, street closings and other issues revolving around special events in the Gazebo/Downtown Commons area at the intersection of East Main and Chester Streets;

D/ funding at a cost of $45,000 dollars, a council-requested “detailed review” of Town water-sewer rates, connection and other service fees.

On that latter front there appeared to be a council consensus to re-enact Town staff handling of utility Tap and Connection hook ups. Discussion indicated that an administrative decision was made in 2008 “somehow, somewhere” as Town Attorney Doug Napier put it, to withdraw the Town from providing that service.

See these discussions, as well as other “Open Discussion” and related topics touching on items ranging from providing volunteers to help financially-strapped people perform major property cleanups to improve the overall appearance of the town; exploring the Town-County Memorandum of Understanding regarding possible Town annexation of the North Commercial Corridor; and writing off the uncollected bad debt owed the Town for over five years.

As Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick pointed out, that $11,141.46 number representing 34 unpaid utility accounts being written off the books represents .3% (point-3 percent) of the Town’s public accounts – and a 99.7% collection rate isn’t bad, as Tederick told council. In fact, later discussion indicated an initiative, at least on the commercial side, to prevent Town utility clients from being hit with unreasonable deposits due to minor delinquent accounts.

Tederick cited the example of one customer with a $42 delinquent commercial rental bill that resulted in a $500 deposit being tacked on to that $42 back bill payment – okay guys, let’s add residential utility customers who may have had a day or two late utility payment on their records into that equation and we might be on to something.

See all these discussions impacting the Town and its citizens’ futures in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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‘Tis the Season

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Quotes

Upcoming Events

Dec
10
Tue
4:30 pm Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 10 @ 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Tuesday, December 3: Kids will explore popular books and book series through science, games, food, and more! After reading a Christmas story, we’ll discuss giving and how it affects us and the people around us.[...]
Dec
11
Wed
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 11 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, December 4 and Thursday, December 5: Gingerbread and Candy Canes will be the delicious theme of our stories, songs, and craft this week! Siblings welcome.[...]
Dec
12
Thu
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 12 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, December 4 and Thursday, December 5: Gingerbread and Candy Canes will be the delicious theme of our stories, songs, and craft this week! Siblings welcome.[...]
Dec
13
Fri
6:00 pm Holiday Open House @ Ruby Yoga
Holiday Open House @ Ruby Yoga
Dec 13 @ 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Holiday Open House @ Ruby Yoga
Ruby Yoga will host a Holiday Open House Friday, Dec. 13. Doors open at 6 p.m. with free gentle yoga starting at 6:20, followed by refreshments and door prize drawings.
7:30 pm Canticum Novum: Sing a New Song @ Front Royal Presbyterian Church
Canticum Novum: Sing a New Song @ Front Royal Presbyterian Church
Dec 13 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Canticum Novum: Sing a New Song @ Front Royal Presbyterian Church
The Blue Ridge Singers presents its 2019 Christmas concert titled “Canticum Novum:  Sing a New Song” featuring some of the finest Christmas choral music across the centuries at one of the most popular events in[...]
Dec
14
Sat
11:00 am Celebrate George Washington @ Samuels Public Library
Celebrate George Washington @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 14 @ 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Celebrate George Washington @ Samuels Public Library
December 14 is the 220th anniversary of George Washington’s death. Today we will learn more about this great leader of our country and celebrate his legacy. Refreshments will be served. For ages 7 to 18.[...]
Dec
15
Sun
4:00 pm R-MA Hosts Community Christmas C... @ Randolph-Macon Academy | Boggs Chapel
R-MA Hosts Community Christmas C... @ Randolph-Macon Academy | Boggs Chapel
Dec 15 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
R-MA Hosts Community Christmas Concert @ Randolph-Macon Academy | Boggs Chapel
The local community is invited to join the Randolph-Macon Academy family for an afternoon of holiday spirit with the R-MA Band and Chorus! The annual R-MA Christmas Concert will be held on Sunday, December 15th,[...]
Dec
17
Tue
4:30 pm Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 17 @ 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Science Scouts and More @ Samuels Public Library
Tuesday, December 3: Kids will explore popular books and book series through science, games, food, and more! After reading a Christmas story, we’ll discuss giving and how it affects us and the people around us.[...]
7:30 pm Christmas Concert @ Boggs Chapel on the R-MA Campus
Christmas Concert @ Boggs Chapel on the R-MA Campus
Dec 17 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Christmas Concert @ Boggs Chapel on the R-MA Campus
Christmas Concert | Presented by the American Legion Community Band Tuesday, December 17, 2019, at 7:30 pm Boggs Chapel on the R-MA campus in Front Royal, VA
Dec
18
Wed
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Dec 18 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, December 4 and Thursday, December 5: Gingerbread and Candy Canes will be the delicious theme of our stories, songs, and craft this week! Siblings welcome.[...]