On Friday, October 18, the attorney for the organizers of a citizens group seeking removal of all five Warren County Supervisors filed the Petition for that removal with a total of 941 signatures attached, broken down by County Voting Districts.
The filing required a minimum of 10% of the number of registered county voters who voted in the last election. That number is cited as 6,958, requiring a total of 696 countywide. However self-identified “primary organizer” of the petition drive, Bonnie Gabbert, noted in an affidavit filed with the petition that she had rounded each voting district’s total up, raising that minimum required signature total to 699.
So while the petition total of about one-seventh of the county’s most recent voting population does not indicate majority support for the recall, it does meet the State requirement for such a matter to be brought before a Circuit Court judge. And it appears on information from petition attorney Timothy Johnson that for the same reasons of personal or professional familiarity with defendants leading to recusals in EDA cases, that Warren Circuit Court Judge William Sharp will recuse himself from the recall hearing as well.
Johnson told Royal Examiner he believes Chief 26th Judicial District Judge Bruce D. Albertson, who has been presiding at EDA civil and criminal case hearings will preside at the scheduled October 28 Show Cause removal petition hearing. Albertson was already scheduled to be here that day to hear a number of defense motions to quash the very charges the main thrust of the removal is based on.
The removal petition cites the board members’ September 20th misdemeanor criminal indictments related to an absence of due diligent oversight of the actions of former Warren County Economic Development Executive Director Jennifer McDonald in the final four months of 2018 as a primary legal basis of the removal.
“Pursuant to Va. Code § 24.2-233(1), a Circuit Court may remove from office any elected officer residing within the jurisdiction of the Court for neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.
“On September 20, 2019, Supervisors Daniel J. Murray of the North River District, Thomas H. Sayre of the Shenandoah District, Tony F. Carter of the Happy Creek District, Archie A. Fox of the Fork District, and Linda Glavis of the South River District were indicted for violating the English Common Law, and specifically, each were charged on three misdemeanor counts …” of misfeasance and nonfeasance in the conduct of their office as previously reported (see below linked story).
The petition acknowledges the coming November 5 election in which two supervisors, Chairman and North River Supervisor Dan Murray and South River Supervisor Linda Glavis are not seeking reelection; and Shenandoah District Supervisor Tom Sayre is in a race with Walter Mabe. It also notes that Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox and Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter are not up for reelection until November 2021.
Regardless of those electoral variables, the petition asks the court “to suspend the Respondent-Supervisors from performing their duties in office until the Show Cause hearing is held”. There are no Board of Supervisors meetings scheduled prior to that October 28 Show Cause hearing that will revolve around the defendants’ arguments as to why they should not be removed.
And one might make an educated legal guess that at least part of those defense arguments will revolve around the same Sovereign Immunity issue the EDA has raised in the Town of Front Royal’s civil action against it.
“Sovereign Immunity is ‘a rule of social policy, which protects the state from burdensome interference with the performance of its governmental functions … Most importantly, the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity provides for ‘smooth operations of government’ and prevents ‘citizens from improperly influencing the conduct of governmental affairs through the threat or use of vexatious litigation,’ ” a motions filing in the Front Royal vs. EDA civil suit reads.
In addition to its primary Show Cause allegations regarding the misdemeanor indictments cited lack of due diligent oversight of the former EDA executive director late in 2018 the recall petition also alleges a number of other board failings since that time.
Those include failing to take corrective action to prevent a recurrence of the past absence of economic development oversight and use of public money; failing to “review critical financial information” related to a recent bond consultant initiative to refinance some existing capital improvement bonds that could save the County several million dollars; and allowing the EDA purchase of what is described as the “Westrock LLC warehouse purchase” (aka 426 Baugh Drive warehouse) at a price of $5.3 million.
While the removal petition allegations surrounding the misdemeanor indictments and other past absences of EDA oversight appear to have a solid footing for legal arguments, some of the peripheral allegations may have a less substantial foundation.
Unlike some other EDA owned properties, the Braugh Drive warehouse has been cited by current EDA officials as “just the type of property” an EDA should purchase for marketing/sale to a job creating company.
The alleged failure to launch corrective measures and lack of bond refinancing scrutiny seem to ignore several board initiatives and consultant processes. Those include the supervisors’ participation in an EDA Reform Committee and joint County-Town-EDA meetings held to discuss just such corrective measures, many already in the process of being implemented by the EDA and County, including the County’s assumption of the role of the EDA’s financial agent with check-writing authority.
The alleged lapse of due diligence regarding bond refinancing seems to ignore the County’s long-time use of bond consultant Davenport & Associates to perform that very bond reissue due diligence in recommending actions to the supervisors.
And the allegation of wrong doing in the tabling a decision on whether the County will fund the legal defense of the supervisors on their misdemeanor charges to December ignores the explanation that a decision be deferred until the motions to quash the indictments have been heard. That could be a factor in a decision as a compromise solution of the County using taxpayer money for the supervisors defense counsel only if the charges are dropped or the supervisors are acquitted at trial was broached during October 1 meeting discussion.
Those defense motions to quash the misdemeanor misfeasance and nonfeasance indictments against County and EDA officials, as well as Discovery motions if necessary, are slated for hearing on October 28, the same day as the Show Cause hearing on the recall is on the court docket.
Among other EDA McDonald-related oversight lapses cited in the recall petition are the “red flag” of McDonald’s public story of “substantial gambling winnings” to account for her use of cash in her real estate businesses; as well as the sale of the 30-acre ITFederal parcel at the Royal Phoenix/Avtex site “for substantially below fair market value”.
One might say “substantially below” in that the publicly discussed $2 million 30-acre parcel was gifted to ITFederal LLC for one dollar in an effort to “jump start” further development at the 147-acre planned Royal Phoenix Business Park site. Four years later that plan is floundering and ITFederal and its CEO Truc “Curt” Tran are defendants in the EDA’s $21.3 million civil suit. In its first month of existence Royal Examiner broke the story of that one dollar sale being the reason for a one-year delay in U.S. Justice Department approval of the sale (see below linked story).
The EDA is seeking recovery of the balance of its $10 million First Bank & Trust loan to ITFederal on the grounds it was obtained “under false pretenses”. Despite that EDA civil suit contention, Tran and his Congressional sponsor Robert Goodlatte, who helped and/or stood silently by as McDonald pushed those alleged “false pretenses” into the municipal and public consciousness, have thus far remained off the EDA Special Grand Jury criminal indictment radar.
Indicted in addition to the five supervisors on September 20 by the EDA Special Grand Jury were County Administrator Doug Stanley, former EDA/County Attorney Dan Whitten, former EDA Board members Ron Llewellyn, Bruce Drummond, Greg Drescher, William “Billy” Biggs and current EDA Board members Mark Baker, Tom Patteson, Gray Blanton. Each faced three identical charges, two counts of Misfeasance and one count of Nonfeasance in the conduct of their public offices.
October 28 should be a long and interesting day in Warren County Circuit Court.
Interested in reading the petition? See below.
CIRCUIT COURT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA,
COUNTY OF WARREN
|In re Joint Petition for Removal of Daniel J. Murray, Thomas H. Sayre, Tony F. Carter, Archie A. Fox, and Linda Glavis
BONNIE GABBERT, as representative petitioner for North River District, KRISTINA C. NELSON, as representative Petitioner for Shenandoah District, MAUREEN SCHOFIELD, as representative petitioner for Happy Creek District, MARK HAJDUK, as representative petitioner for Fork District, JEAN M. STANLEY as representative petitioner for South River District, and all other signatories to this Joint Petition from their respective magisterial districts, Petitioners,
DANIEL J. MURRAY, THOMAS H. SAYRE, TONY F. CARTER, ARCHIE A. FOX, and LINDA GLAVIS,
PETITION FOR REMOVAL OF ELECTED OFFICIALS
Named Petitioners as representatives for Warren County’s magisterial districts, and the attached signatories to this Petition for Removal of Elected Officials who are registered voters who reside within the jurisdiction of the respective officer being petitioned for removal and who have signed this petition under penalty of perjury seek the removal from elected office of Respondent-Supervisors DANIEL J. MURRAY, THOMAS H. SAYRE, TONY F. CARTER, ARCHIE A. FOX, and LINDA GLAVIS, state as follows:
- Pursuant to Va. Code § 24.2-233(1), a Circuit Court may remove from office any elected officer residing within the jurisdiction of the Court for neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.
- On September 20, 2019, Supervisors Daniel J. Murray of the North River District, Thomas H. Sayre of the Shenandoah District, Tony F. Carter of the Happy Creek District, Archie A. Fox of the Fork District, and Linda Glavis of the South River District were indicted for violating the English Common Law, and specifically, each were charged on three misdemeanor counts as stated as follows:
(a) On or about September 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018, in the County of Warren, [respective supervisor’s name], did unlawfully commit nonfeasance by failing to act to limit or restrict the powers, responsibility, and access to the public financial resources of Jennifer Rae McDonald in her position as Executive Director of Front Royal Warren County Virginia Economic Development Authority resulting in financial loss to Warren County, in violation of Section 1-200 and 19.2-8 of the Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended.
(b) On or about September 1, 2018 through September 25, 2018, in the County of Warren, [respective supervisor’s name], did unlawfully and negligently commit misfeasance by not properly exercising his/her powers of appointment, oversight, and removal, of Jennifer Rae McDonald in her position as Executive Director of Front Royal Warren County Virginia Economic Development Authority resulting in the unlawful diversion of more than $300,000 in public funds, in violation of Section 1-200 and 19.2-8 of the Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended.
(c) On or about October 20, 2018 through November 30, 2018, in the County of Warren, [respective supervisor’s name], did unlawfully and negligently commit misfeasance by not properly exercising his/her powers of appointment, oversight, and removal, of Jennifer Rae McDonald in her position as Executive Director of Front Royal Warren County Virginia Economic Development Authority resulting in the unlawful diversion of more than $9,000 in public funds, in violation of Section 1-200 and 19.2-8 of the Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended.
- These criminal charges stem from the Respondents’ failures to perform their duly elected duties, and ensure proper use of and safekeeping of Warren County’s taxpayers’ monies. Aside from the criminal charges as stated, the Petitioners further allege that the Respondent-Supervisors neglected their duties or otherwise were incompetent to perform their duties by:
(a) Failing to establish policies and procedures that would have ensured a proper accounting oversight of the Warren County Economic Development Authority, including its Executive Director, in contravention of its duty to establish appropriate oversight policies pursuant to Va. Code § 15.2-403(A);
(b) Failing to require and actually review regular, sufficiently descriptive financial and other activity reporting from the Warren County Economic Development Authority, including its Executive Director, and any other financial monitoring department such as the from the Commissioner of Revenues, and/or the Warren County Treasurer, and/or the Finance & Purchasing Department pursuant to Va. Code § 15.2-403(B);
(c) Failing to inquire into official conduct of the Warren County Economic Development Authority’s Executive Director when ‘red flags’ were presented such as her alleged substantial “gambling winnings,” the ‘data center project’ land being sold for substantially below fair market value, and when the Executive Director acknowledged falsifying invoices pursuant to Va. Code § 15.2-403(C);
(d) Failing to account for the “Westrock LLC” warehouse purchase for more than $5.3 million, which served no apparent benefit to the citizens of Warren County and no apparent plan for said warehouse;
(e) Failing to take appropriate corrective actions to ensure that such gross errors in accountability cannot happen again as no proposed solutions have been presented to the public or to the Board of Supervisors to establish proper policies and procedures, or otherwise improve financial oversight; and
(f) As recently as October 1, 2019 at the most recent Board of Supervisors meeting, admittedly failing to review critical financial information concerning revenues and County bond information that would be used to fund Warren County services, and for refusing to decide an agenda item concerning whether the taxpayers of Warren County were to pay for the criminal defense costs associated with the Supervisors’ criminal indictments stemming from the charges related to their misfeasance and nonfeasance in office and postponed such a decision until December 2019.
- The above-stated actions have caused irreparable injury to the interests of the Warren County Government and the citizens whom it is supposed to serve. Millions of dollars of taxpayer monies have been embezzled or otherwise misplaced; trust in local government officials and the departments they work for has been broken; and the reputation of Warren County is forever tarnished. The Respondent-Supervisors have allowed these injuries to occur, and have taken inadequate actions to remedy the errors.
- Two Supervisors (Mr. Murray and Ms. Glavis) are not seeking re-election, and one Supervisor (Mr. Sayre) is running for re-election next month. The other two Supervisors (Mr. Carter and Mr. Fox) are not subject to an election until November 2021.
- As the criminal charges are pending, the citizens of Warren County believe that the Respondent-Supervisors are not in a position where they can capably perform their duties while also addressing such criminal allegations. Aside from the criminal charges, the Respondent-Supervisors have failed to present any cognizable plan of addressing the lack of accountability and oversight, and have demonstrated that they cannot perform their duties competently.
- The Petitioners request that the Court suspend the Respondent-Supervisors from performing their duties in office until the Rule to Show Cause hearing is held pursuant to Va. Code § 24.2-236.
- This Petition has been signed by the requisite number of registered voters who seek to remove their respective Supervisor from office. From the last election for that respective Supervisor’s election, the following number of registered voters voted in the respectively stated districts were as follows:
|Magisterial District||Number of Voters in Last Election Cycle|
|North River District||1,084|
|Happy Creek District||1,811|
|South River District||1,107|
Pursuant to Va. Code § 24.2-233, this Petition is accompanied by signatures of registered voters who reside within the jurisdiction of the respective Supervisor totaling at least ten percent (10%) of total number of votes cast at the last election for the office that the officer holds.
WHEREFORE, Petitioners respectfully request that this honorable Court award the following relief:
- Issue a Rule to Show Cause to the Respondent-Supervisors requiring that the Respondents appear before this Court and show cause why they should not be removed from office, and that such hearing be held no less than five but not more than ten days from the filing of this Petition;
- As part of issuing the Rule to Show Cause, issue an Order suspending the Respondents from their elected official positions on the Warren County Board of Supervisors until such Rule to Show Cause Hearing is heard;
- Upon hearing sufficient evidence proven by a preponderance of the evidence, remove the Respondents from their positions in office; and
- Grant other and further relief as the Court deems just, proper, and equitable.
Dated: October 3, 2019 Respectfully submitted,
Timothy R. Johnson (VSB No. 87673)
The Law Offices of Timothy R. Johnson, PLC
20-B East Main Street
Berryville, Virginia 22611
P: (540) 352-4672
F: (540) 595-3500
Counsel for Petitioners
VERIFICATION BY REPRESENTATIVE PETITIONERS
- I, Bonnie Gabbert, a resident of the North River District within Warren County, have reviewed the allegations in the Petition for Removal of Elected Officials, and affirm under penalty of perjury that such allegations are true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.
- I, Kristina C. Nelson, a resident of the Shenandoah District within Warren County, have reviewed the allegations in the Petition for Removal of Elected Officials, and affirm under penalty of perjury that such allegations are true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.
- I, Mark Hajduk, a resident of the Fork District within Warren County, have reviewed the allegations in the Petition for Removal of Elected Officials, and affirm under penalty of perjury that such allegations are true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.
- I, Maureen Schofield, a resident of the Happy Creek District within Warren County, have reviewed the allegations in the Petition for Removal of Elected Officials, and affirm under penalty of perjury that such allegations are true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.
- I, Jean M. Stanley, a resident of the South River District within Warren County, have reviewed the allegations in the Petition for Removal of Elected Officials, and affirm under penalty of perjury that such allegations are true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.
Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Meeting – January 24, 2019
The Economic Development Authority held their monthly Board of Directors meeting on January 24, 2020.
One of the topics was the sale of the Stokes Market (most recent the Main Street Market) to William Huck, owner of C&C Frozen Treats on Main Street in Front Royal. Huck has been trying to remodel the property he owns adjacent to C&C but because of costs higher than anticipated and issues with zoning and permitting, he has been exploring other options to open his newest business known as My Lagniappe – it’s a Louisiana expression that means ‘An extra or unexpected gift or benefit, such as that given to customers when they purchase something.’ If you know Huck, you know he always offers his customers a little lagniappe.
The solar panels on the roof of the EDA office building was also a point of discussions. The EDA is advertising for any party interested in purchasing the solar electric system currently stationed on top of the EDA Building at 400 Kendrick Lane, Front Royal.
The RSW Jail has said they are not interested in the solar panels. The cost of installation and unknown purchase price makes the project not cost effective.
Discussion also included workforce housing, the 2018 audit, Afton Inn renovations and the big one, running out of money by March.
Watch the EDA Board at work in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Town given okay to amend its civil suit against EDA, with some explanation
Following a conference call with involved attorneys at their respective offices at 8:45 a.m., Friday morning, January 24, Judge Bruce D. Albertson granted the Town of Front Royal leave to amend its current $15 million civil filing against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority. The Town has 30 days to file an amended suit and the EDA will have the option of filing a demur to dismiss the amended suit as not factually supported legally.
The Town initially filed its suit seeking the return of $3 million of its assets believed to have been misappropriated as part of the EDA financial scandal, on June 21, 2019. That filing was described by Town Attorney Doug Napier at the time as largely precautionary to prevent any statute of limitations deadlines from being passed on yet-to-be-determined fraudulent EDA transactions utilizing Town assets.
Just over three weeks later on July 12, the suit was amended to $15 million, as previously reported, still without any elaboration on the sources of that number.
Of the January 24 judicial okay to again amend its suit, Town Attorney Napier said any coming amendment would “have to be legally cognizable” – or accompanied by legally supportable documentation. Napier said the Town had a scheduled meeting with its contracted auditor, Mitchell and Company, next week. That meeting may shed light on which direction, and how far in either, the Town’s amended civil suit against the EDA will next go.
The EDA’s civil litigation against what has grown to a total of 14 human and business entity defendants currently stands at $21.3 million. And despite his being dropped from the list of EDA civil case defendants in the wake of his death last spring from a possibly self-inflicted gunshot wound, electronic computer and phone records of former Sheriff Daniel McEathron have recently been subpoenaed from his estate in the EDA civil suit.
The initial amendment to the original Town claim against the EDA coincided with the Town’s pulling back from participation in the “EDA Reform Committee” and three-way EDA-Town-County joint meeting efforts geared toward fixing what had gone wrong to allow the alleged misappropriations and embezzlements circling the former EDA executive director, Jennifer McDonald, to happen over a number of years.
At the helm of the EDA for a decade prior to her December 20, 2018 resignation, McDonald has been the central figure in both the civil and criminal cases brought as a result of the Cherry Bekaert investigation of EDA finances begun in September 2018. She currently faces 34 financial felony charges brought by the special grand jury empaneled to investigate potential criminality tied to EDA finances in recent years.
Stated justification for one publicly voiced Town financial dispute with the EDA, the 4% bond interest rate the Town has been asked to cover on construction of the new Front Royal Police Department headquarters, has pointed heavily at “promises” made by McDonald. Those promises revolved around anticipation the FRPD project would qualify for the New Market Tax Credit Program offered municipalities for economic growth capital improvement projects.
However, as a non-job creating project the FRPD construction did not qualify for what would have been a 1.5% interest rate over the 30-year life of the bond issue with funding through the NMTC Program. As that dispute festers on the edge of Town-EDA litigation, the Town has refused to pay what appears to be an undisputed $8.4-million in principal payments bill the EDA has submitted to the Town on the FRPD project.
Written references in a Memorandum of Agreement and Resolutions of support of the NMTC funding cite “anticipation” of the program’s funding and support of that funding being pursued.
Despite late 2017, early 2018 recommendations of then Town Manager Joe Waltz, Finance Director B. J. Wilson and People Inc. NMTC Program Administrator Bryan Phipps that a guaranteed bank-offered 2.65%, 30-year interest rate would be preferable to competing with multiple municipalities for limited NMTC funds, a council majority chose to hold out for the NMTC financing the FRPD project ultimately did not qualify for.
However, some Town officials have pointed to verbal promises made by McDonald that the funding was in place, as a basis for the Town claim it should not pay more than 1.5% interest rate tied to those promises.
A “legally cognizable” argument on one Town claim against the EDA?
Time will tell.
EDA sells 404 Fairgrounds Road property
The Front Royal/Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) has announced the sale of its 404 Fairground Road property to Excelsior Enterprises.
Warren County businessmen Jack Donohue and Dan Beller are the new owners and will immediately begin converting it into state-of-the-art rental office space, complete with a kitchenette, printer, conference room, WiFi, coffee, and other amenities. This renovated space will be available by spring for small businesses and entrepreneurs. All parties interested in renting office space at this location are encouraged to call 540-692-0697.
The additional acreage at the site will also be developed into a new facility for Timber Works, Mr. Donohue’s expanding Warren County company. For nearly a decade, they have been serving the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia regions, offering tree trimming and removal, land clearing, stump grinding and forestry mulching. Timber Works prides itself on quality, safety, and customer service. The company is highly rated on Google and Yelp and has received the Angie’s List Super Service Award 3 years in a row. Their website is https://timberworksva.com and they can be found on all major social media platforms. Timberworks has five employees and plans to add another crew in 2020.
“We’re excited to sell this property to Excelsior Enterprises and look forward to seeing this property develop into new space for start-up and small business and expanded operations for Timber Works”, said Doug Parsons, Executive Director of the WCEDA. “We’re working hard to sell our properties and shore up our financial situation”, Parsons said. “On behalf of the EDA’s Board of Directors, we want to thank Mr. Donohue and Mr. Beller for their investment in this property and in Warren County.”
All proceeds of this sale will go toward paying down the EDA’s debt.
Supervisors ponder EDA financial needs as the ‘Ides of March’ approaches
The full Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Board of Directors was present Tuesday night, January 14, in support of its officers’ presentation of its financial status to four of five Warren County Supervisors, Tony Carter absent. That status, as reported during the EDA’s January 10 Board meeting, is the likelihood of an inability to continue meeting monthly debt service payments and operational expenses at some point in March.
Might that date be the mid-month “Ides of March” that laid Caesar low in 44 B.C.? It would be fitting as online research indicated that March 15 “Ides” date was also notable as the ancient Roman calendar “deadline for settling debts”.
However, legal variables impacting EDA operations and debt service obligations cited by County Attorney Jason Ham indicated that EDA’s cannot declare bankruptcy and must remain operational until their bond issues and debts are resolved. Other information presented at the Tuesday Supervisors work session indicated that were the EDA to remain unfunded when it hits its financial wall in March, the debt service obligation would fall to its controlling municipality, in this case, primarily at least, Warren County. The total EDA debt on past loans and credit lines on projects for the Town and County was cited at $41 million.
Parsons later told Royal Examiner that the County has already been subsidizing the EDA’s debt service payment on the Baugh Drive warehouse property. And as reported Tuesday, Truc “Curt” Tran continues to cover $42,160 monthly on the EDA’s $10 million ITFederal bank loan.
So, it would appear the County will end up paying much of that EDA debt one way or the other. EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons later verified those net monthly expenses at $90,038.27 in unsubsidized debt service payments and approximately $40,000 in operational costs, for a total pending monthly EDA budget need of just over $130,000.
Of course, as EDA Board Vice Chairman Jeff Browne told the supervisors Tuesday evening, the above “Ides of March” EDA insolvency scenario will occur “if nothing changes” in the EDA’s financial situation.
Things that could push that financial wall back are the sale of a number of properties the EDA is currently marketing – some prospects have been cited – or the Town of Front Royal beginning to settle its unpaid and undisputed debt of nearly $8.8 million to the EDA for construction of the Front Royal Police Headquarters.
Several EDA board members, primarily Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, have publicly accused the Town government of acting in bad faith in withholding scheduled FRPD construction invoice payments from the EDA which oversaw and financed that project. The Town is disputing the interest rate on the FRPD project but not the amount due in principal.
In the audience Tuesday night were three Town officials, Mayor Eugene Tewalt, Councilman Gary Gillespie and Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick. Tewalt has publicly called for good faith negotiations on the Town-EDA financial situation rather than the increasingly hostile and expensive litigation the Town Council has turned to in recent months.
While the Town of Front Royal withdrew from EDA board appointment authority when the County assumed its share of Town operational funding several years ago as part of its North Corridor Agreement compensation arrangement with the Town, Front Royal continues to share in debt service payment obligations regarding its EDA projects.
However, in its current budget and projected in the FY 2021 budget summary presented to the town council on Monday, annual debt service payments of about $141,000 to the EDA have been re-budgeted to pay for Town legal and auditing fees regarding its civil litigation against the EDA.
Town officials have yet to provide any documentation on the Town’s civil claim of “up to $15 million” in alleged assets lost or misdirected as part of the EDA financial scandal under previous EDA executive and board leadership.
If the Town Council’s intent toward the EDA remains hostile and litigious, newly-elected Shenandoah District Supervisor and newly-appointed Board Chairman Walter Mabe gave a glimpse into his perspective when he said, “To turn our backs on our EDA is ludicrous.”
Following the first of its newly-scheduled second Tuesday work sessions, the Board of Supervisors took the looming EDA funding needs, as well as a request for reimbursement of $36,827 in legal fees to several past and two remaining (Blanton and Patteson) EDA board members regarding dismissed misdemeanor charges related to the special grand jury investigation into the EDA financial scandal.
Several board members said they were torn on how to approach the request. It was noted that EDA board members serve without compensation. And it was observed that a precedent was indicated when the board agreed to compensate its own members served on the same now-dismissed misdemeanor misfeasance and nonfeasance charges.
Several options were discussed, including covering a portion of the request or making the County’s contribution to those EDA legal fees a loan, that the EDA would pay back when able.
See these discussions and public comments about the EDA in the exclusive Royal Examiner video:
McDonald has bad day in civil court – how bad remains to be seen
Former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald remains free on bond.
On Friday afternoon, January 10, former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald was found guilty of civil contempt regarding the movement of a piece of property frozen by the court during earlier EDA civil litigation hearings; and had a default judgment regarding a failure to respond to civil court orders for information on her two real estate companies, go against her as well.
McDonald was fined $375 to cover County-EDA legal costs pursuing the civil contempt judgement, and ordered not to repeat what she and her sister Gail Addison into whose name the frozen real estate parcel was moved, testified was a simple mistake. Those two sanctions were all EDA attorneys were seeking in the way of punishment on the civil contempt ruling.
As for the default judgement for failing to heed court-requested documentation on her two real estate companies, DaBoyz and MoveOn8 named along with her as three of 14 defendants in the amended EDA civil litigation, a date of April 17 was set for attorneys to argue McDonald’s liability on that ruling.
Judge Bruce D. Albertson will hear, not only those civil case arguments on April 17, but further motions arguments from a number of EDA-related criminal case defendants who were in court on the 1 p.m. docket.
On Friday afternoon Judge Albertson also granted the Commonwealth’s request to nolle prossed (drop) all current EDA-related criminal charges against Earth Right Energy principal Donald F. Poe.
Prosecutor Michael Parker restated the reasons cited in his written submission of the previous day, regarding the amount of material recently received concerning the Poe prosecutions and gaps in that material and a lack of time available with Poe’s first criminal trial on a count of perjury slated to begin January 22.
Poe attorney William Ashwell did not object to the prosecution’s request.
“We could jump up and down and say we want (the charges) out altogether now … but functionally this is a great example of the State acting as gatekeeper (of legal processes),” Ashwell told the court.
The amount of material involved in the EDA civil and criminal litigation – cited as approaching a million pages – played into many of the motions arguments heard Friday. Like Special Prosecutor Parker of the Harrisonburg Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office before him, EDA civil counsel Cullen Seltzer told the court that the amount of involved material and documentation was in issue in their respective cases.
Seltzer said the volume of material made it impractical and prohibitive cost-wise to reproduce traditionally in hard copy. He said a data base was being created with portions flagged to different defendants’ names to ease the online search process.
In arguing against the civil contempt charge against his client, McDonald attorney Peter Greenspun, pushed into dual criminal and civil case duties due to McDonald’s financial problems that led her initial civil case attorneys to withdraw, pointed out once the real estate movement mistake was discovered, the sisters’ corrected their mistake.
“When the attorney said, ‘wait, can we do this,’ she did everything to restore the situation without court intervention,” Greenspun told the court.
Greenspun argued that the involvement of local attorney David Crump in the transaction indicated it was, in fact, a mistake rather than an act of contempt of a court order installed by initial EDA Judge Clifford “Clay” Athey Jr.
“This was not done in a parking lot or a jail cell – her conduct was not contemptuous; it was a mistake that was corrected,” Greenspun told the court.
However, EDA co-counsel Lee Byrd pointed to Addison’s own testimony to argue that deceit was a motivation in the transfer. Addison said the move was made so she, a former real estate agent, could market the parcel in her name rather than her sister’s due to “the bad name” McDonald had developed as a result of the EDA litigation.
And while Greenspun pointed out the jailed McDonald was not present for any of the three-day hearing at the end of which Athey froze some McDonald real estate assets, EDA counsel pointed to the courthouse documentation on the court order freezing McDonald assets and scoffed at the idea the experienced real estate agent wouldn’t know how to find out which of her assets had been frozen by the court.
“Their only excuse is ‘I wasn’t aware’ – they can’t say the order didn’t exist,” Byrd told the court.
And it was the plaintiff argument that held sway with the judge.
EDA faces looming cash-flow crisis as Town treads water on $8-million debt
A summary of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s financial situation was presented by its Finance Committee Chairman Marjorie “Jorie” Martin at the Authority’s Friday, January 10, board meeting.
That situation includes a net of $481,995 in cash assets in banks when coming debt service and operating payments are deducted, with five months left in Fiscal Year 2019/2020. Martin told her board the EDA’s monthly operating expenses was $45,000 – a number she called “not bad”.
However, with all debt service variables considered Martin said the EDA faced running “out of money in the middle of March”. That projection would appear to assume the Town of Front Royal will not have paid the $8.77 million dollars it owes the EDA in undisputed, but thus far withheld principal payments on construction of the Front Royal Police Headquarters now in use across Kendrick Lane from EDA headquarters.
A copy of a letter sent to Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson detailing that Town debt to the EDA was also included in Martin’s Finance Committee Report.
“I would have thought the police department situation would have been settled long before now, but at the rate we’re going I left it in (as bad debt) till they (the Town of Front Royal) figure out what they’re doing,” Martin explained during her presentation of an FY 2020/2021 draft EDA budget to the board.
Interested observers at Friday morning’s meeting were newly-installed Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Walt Mabe and North River District Supervisor Delores Oates. No one from the Town of Front Royal was present.
The EDA adjourned to closed session after an hour-and-10-minute open meeting. Mabe and Oates were invited to stay and remained to attend the closed session. EDA staff said the only anticipated action after the closed session was approval of a motion to present a summary of the EDA’s financial situation and proposed FY 2021 Budget to the full County Board at the Supervisors’ upcoming, January 21 meeting.
While the County and Town pay their respective shares of the EDA’s debt service accumulated on their behalf, the County alone now funds the EDA’s operational budget. That arrangement was reached several years ago as part of the County’s continued negotiation on compensation to the Town for central water sewer extension into the Route 522/340 North Corridor.
So, it appears the operational fate of the existing Town-County EDA after March will rest in the board of supervisors’ fiscal hands. Unless the Front Royal Town Council agrees to make good on at least portions of its $8.77-million debt to the EDA on the FRPD construction project.
Other EDA-Town finances
Two interesting asides to EDA-Town finances were also discussed during Friday’s meeting. One was the discovery that the EDA has been billed and paid for Town sewer service to its building at 404 Fairgrounds Road since 2002. EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons told the board during his Executive Director’s Update that it has been discovered the building is not, and apparently has never been connected to the Town sewer system extension into the North Corridor. A $4,000 adjustment to a pending purchase contract on the building was suggested to account for the condition and anticipated repairs to the property’s septic system.
During discussion of what the EDA has paid for that unprovided sewer service it was not receiving over an 18-year period, Harold asked, “Does anyone know what the (banking) interest rate was during those years?” to which it was replied, “Pretty high,” drawing some laughter. The question-answer appeared to be a reference to the Town claim it was promised a 1.5% interest rate on construction of the FRPD headquarters, a rate never achieved. The EDA is currently paying 4%, down from an initial 4.75% rate.
And the EDA has informed the Town of winterization costs for the Afton Inn building as a resolution to that redevelopment situation is explored. Harold told his board that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the EDA and Town of Front Royal on the EDA marketing and redevelopment of the Afton Inn property for the Town includes the Town’s agreement to be responsible for such necessary expenses. Harold told the board the winterization bid was $15,700.
It was also noted during the Asset Committee Report that a response from Afton Inn developer 2 East Main Street LLC was expected within days on whether it hopes to continue with the project or file a Notice of Intent to Terminate its redevelopment agreement with the EDA, current owner of the property on behalf of the Town.
Workforce Housing parcel
A positive Asset Committee development is a scheduled meeting with the Cornerstone LLC group which somehow purchased the 3.5-acre Royal Lane Workforce Housing property from the EDA in late November 2018 for $10. The property was originally “gifted” to the EDA for $10 by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Campbell in 2014-15. However, due to unmet developmental deadlines qualifying the Campbells for tax credits for their gift, the parcel was eventually purchased from them by the EDA at a cost of $445,000 in 2017. Due to forensic audit questioned post-purchase expenditures it is written off as a $640,000 loss in the Cherry Bekaert Report on EDA finances during McDonald’s executive tenure.
Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold told his board he was optimistic about the upcoming meeting with Cornerstone LLC representatives to determine an equitable resolution to the Royal Lane property situation. That situation arose when the Deed of Sale was sent to Cornerstone as the buyer with no price on it after then-Chairman Gray Blanton’s signature was acquired on the deed’s signature page. Local Real Estate attorney Joe Silek Jr. was filling in on the transaction for then-EDA attorney Dan Whitten. Whitten had recused himself from the transaction due to a perceived conflict of interest as County Attorney.
See details of these EDA Board discussions and all Friday’s business in this exclusive Royal Examiner video: