Summer Art Week for children is designed for students who love art and want to go beyond what they have experienced in the school setting, while meeting the Virginia Standards of Art. Recommended ages for these classes are 8-12.
The students will expand their creative side with drawing, painting and constructing, using various mediums such as acrylic, pastels, watercolor and 3D materials. Composition, color theory, form, line, shape and texture will be discussed and applied to their projects. They will also explore the style and techniques of famous artists while creating their own art work.
Each session is $150, and materials are included. Projects will be different for each session. Recommended ages for these classes are 8-12. Sign up early! Limit of 8 students per session.
Session 1: June 17-21, from 10 am – 12:30 pm. Classes are located at 205 E. Main Street, Front Royal, UPSTAIRS in Suite 4.
A snack will be provided, so please let us know if there are any food allergies we should know about.
About the instructor: Laura Corebello is a licensed art teacher who has taught art in the public schools of New Jersey and Virginia for the past 30 years. She has written curriculums for New Jersey and Virginia private and public schools.
Laura can recognize the unlimited potentials of creative expression through the eyes of children and nurtures this in all her students. Some of Laura’s students have been stimulated to follow careers in art, have earned awards, and have had art shows at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.
Class policies: We understand that scheduling conflicts do happen. You may cancel your class for a full refund up to 48 hours before the class, by phone or in person. No refunds will be issued after this time.
In case of inclement weather, we will reschedule the class. Please check our Facebook page for class schedule changes due to weather.
Samuels Public Library’s own mini Comic-Con celebrates reading and technology literacy at the library, in our community, and beyond through comics, graphic novels, manga, anime, gaming, and computer technology. This is the culminating event of Library Card Sign-up month.
This year’s theme was Lord of the Rings! Cosplayers, programs gaming, crafts, maker space, scavenger hunt, inside vendor fair, local talent, costume contest – there was something for everybody.
The Royal Examiner was there too. Watch as we traveled around the Library and spoke to vendors, cosplayers and don’t miss the costume contest at the end. Congratulations to Kelly Clark for First Place in the costume contest.
The community came out and supported this event. To name a few:
Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum
Boy Scout Troop 53
Samuels Library S.T.E.M.
C & C Frozen Treats
Mama Lucie’s Kitchen
Batman & Friends
Front Royal Joker & Harley Quinn
BattleGrounds Fitness / Crossfit Front Royal
Digital Bookmobile by OverDrive
Front Royal / Warren County Tree Stewards
Historical Miniature Gaming Society
The Kiln Doctor
Northern Virginia Academy of Ballet
River & Peak Outfitter
Simply Stitched Crochet
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Steven Reinagel, Author & Game Designer
Strokes of Creativity
Warren County Fire & Rescue
Wild World Designs
County Building Code Appeals Board reduces Atwood violations to five
A second Warren County Building Code violations appeal go-round between local builder Buracker Construction and disgruntled home construction client Kristie Atwood on Tuesday, September 10, resulted in a similar result to a first appeal go round in 2018.
That result was a reduction from six to five determined code violations on the Atwood home construction project; as well as a promised appeal to the state review level by Buracker attorney T. Joel Francis on those five Warren County Building Code Appeals Board violations rulings. Atwood had claimed 60 violations based on an independent contractor inspection 12 to 14 months after she moved in to the new home.
The dispute revolves around Buracker Construction’s 2016 building of Atwood’s replacement home on Pilgrim’s Way in Bentonville. Atwood lost her previous home to fire.
In 2016 the County Building Code Department inspected the home upon completion, found no violations and a Certificate of Occupancy was issued on July 19, 2016. Fourteen months later after having moved in Atwood contracted a home inspection company not licensed in Warren County which reported 60 alleged code violations. Upon its first review the County Building Code Appeals Board initially cited 12 potential code violations, a number eventually reduced to six and Tuesday down to five.
A first appeal to the state level of that ruling resulted in the case being returned due to a conflict of interest determination. David Buracker, principal of Buracker Construction is on the county appeals board but recused himself from the case. The conflict was alleged by Atwood with Appeals Board member George Cline Jr. Buracker had sub-contracted Cline to fix those initial code violation determinations when Atwood refused to let Buracker to do the work. She claimed the Buracker Construction company wasn’t licensed in the county.
That led to a somewhat convoluted back and forth during a July hearing in which County Building Code Official David Beahm noted that Buracker himself and a related contracting LLC run by Martha Buracker were licensed. Beahm claimed the state typically allowed such licensing arrangements leading to his approval of Buracker to build in Warren County. Atwood disagreed and would not allow Buracker to engage in repair work or subcontract the repair work out to Cline.
When Cline participated in the 2018 county appeals board review, the conflict of interest claim was lodged by Atwood, leading to Tuesday’s board review of its initial ruling when Cline participated. Only appeals board members Arthur Saffelle, Dan Hotek and Wendell Hatcher participated in Tuesday’s hearing.
Buracker attorney Francis questioned Atwood’s motivation. He noted that the appeals board’s authority came down to ruling on violations and authorizing fixes of those violations.
“What’s the remedy – a violation is determined and has to be fixed or the responsible party has to pay to have it fixed,” Francis told the board, adding that he believed Atwood “is not looking for a fix, she is looking for a windfall – and that’s not coming from this board … That’s why we have judges … and I don’t think any of you want to be judges,” Francis told the board, drawing some smiles.
“I am not looking for a windfall,” Atwood responded during her rebuttal to the Buracker case. She pointed to the licensing issue which she said left her with no remedy from the state level, adding, “I’m screwed all the way around.”
She then attacked County Building Official Beahm – “I’m calling him out, he’s not doing his job … the board of supervisors should have fired him; it’s not just me. What if someone’s house burns down and kills them all? There are lives on the line and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.”
The three-person board quorum then launched into discussion of its authority and perception of the building issues under review. Hotek and Hatcher agreed to uphold the board’s earlier ruling on five of the six violations found with Cline participating. So it would seem Atwood did better with the allegedly conflicted board member than without.
Board Chairman Saffelle dissented on the violations, stating he felt the determinations fell beyond the board’s authority.
A 10-minute recess was called to allow appeals board attorney Jason Ham to craft a Resolution reflecting the board decision. That decision by the 2-1 majority was that items referred to as numbers 3, 4, 7, 10 and 12 remained code violations as they stood by the 2009 Uniform State Building Code. Two related to work around a fireplace, the other four outside deck support.
The Royal Examiner’s camera was there:
EDA Reform Committee receives audit update; reviews properties
FRONT ROYAL — The Reform Committee of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) learned during its September 12 meeting that the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 audit of the authority’s financials — which currently are at the center of a major fraud and embezzlement scandal — should be ready by year’s end.
EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons told committee members that in-house accountants are finished reviewing the proposed adjusted journal entries on the asset side of the balance sheet done by investigative public accounting firm Cherry Bekaert, and now are working to finish the adjusted entries for debt on the capital side of the balance sheet.
“It’s going to be their best effort to represent what has happened,” Parsons said. “We are hopeful by September 27 that they’ll have everything ready to go … for the audit,” which will be completed by the EDA’s auditing firm, Yount Hyde and Barbour (YHB).
The EDA Board of Directors first will need to sign off on what gets submitted by the accountants to YHB, which will conduct the audit and inform the EDA about its current financial standing.
Fork District Supervisor and EDA Reform Committee Chairman Archie Fox asked whether, at the end of the audit, the members would know if the EDA was solvent. “Is that a fair question?” he asked.
“We have cash,” answered EDA Board Chairman Ed Daley, “but we’re like the federal government. If somebody called the federal government and said, ‘We want you to pay all of your bills today,’ the federal government’s in trouble; they can’t do it. We’re in that type of a position where what we owe, our liabilities, exceed our assets, but we have cash.”
In fact, according to Parsons, the EDA is $41.9 million in debt with roughly $1.8 million in the bank.
Front Royal Town Councilman Jacob Meza, another reform committee member, asked what the plan is for getting the EDA back to a normal operating level.
Parsons said EDA properties will be sold in order to recover as much taxpayer money as possible, and funds should be recouped through lawsuits. He said most of the EDA’s debt is covered.
“The First Bank and Trust IT Federal Loan, for example, is covered by Mr. Tran’s payment. From cash flow we’re covered on that loan and that’s big; that’s a pretty good-sized loan and that’s a huge payment. Thank goodness he’s making his payments faithfully,” said Parsons.
Going forward, Daley said that one of the future conversations to be had by the EDA Reform Committee must regard the role the EDA should play in the acquisition of properties “and how speculative, if you will, we should be.”
He suggested that the EDA, Town Council and Warren County Board of Supervisors come up with a recommendation around that idea.
During his updates, Parsons also provided committee members the status of several EDA properties, including 404 Fairground Road.
“We’ve been marketing that property and we have a fully signed and executed letter of intent to sell that property and we’re working with the client on a sales contract,” Parsons said, adding that the buyer wishes to remain anonymous until the contract and subsequent sale are finalized.
A potential buyer also exists for the EDA’s warehouse at 426 Baugh Drive, where Parsons said, “We have a very interested party that we are in negotiations with at this time.”
It’s an entirely different situation for the EDA’s properties at 506 and 514 E. Main Street, which are the old Stokes Mart and nearby apartment building, which remain on the market.
“We thought we had a buyer, but they backed out,” said Parsons. “We will continue to market those two properties.”
Meza asked if there’s a strategy that the EDA has adopted to select certain properties for sale and for what reasons.
“If I had a magic wand,” Parsons said, “the ones I’d want to sell first and foremost would be Stokes Mart and the apartment building, which the EDA has no business owning, in my opinion.”
And while 404 Fairground Road is a fine property, Parsons explained it also isn’t in the realm “of what EDA should be owning and marketing in an effort to create new jobs and bring in a new tax base.”
Comparatively, Parsons said that the EDA’s 426 Baugh Drive is “exactly the kind of property the EDA should own and I’m glad that we do; of course the idea there is to bring in a major employer to make a significant contribution to the tax base so we’re actively marketing that property. We have the ability to be a little discerning about who we sell it to and make sure we get the most bang for our buck.”
Daley added that it’s very important to the EDA Board that the Baugh Drive property is bought for its intended use, which should be “some type that’s going to develop jobs and the tax base.”
Meza said it seems that the EDA has put its properties into two categories — to get rid of the ones that it shouldn’t hold on to and to identify the most strategic properties to market to companies. He also asked if there’s another category, like one that’s designed to maintain EDA solvency by just selling off properties and keeping the monies.
While that is part of the overall strategy, Parsons said “it’s not a desperate fire sale for all of the properties.” Instead, there’s a “sliding scale” of priorities or more of a willingness to be more discerning about who buys the properties. “You can only sell them once,” he said.
Other EDA Reform Committee members present Thursday were Town Attorney Doug Napier, County and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten, County Administrator Doug Stanley and Council Clerk Jennifer Berry.
Watch the Royal Examiner video to hear the discussion between Whitten and Meza about whether the EDA can be dissolved or file for bankruptcy. Hint: Bankruptcy for such an authority as the EDA isn’t legally permitted, according to Whitten.
Exploring Warren County’s EDA financial scandal – How did it happen?
As the final weeks of the summer of 2019 arrive in the northwestern Shenandoah Valley, one small-town, rural community remains conflicted, perhaps even collectively traumatized by a financial scandal that has carried the names Front Royal and Warren County across Virginia and occasionally beyond into major media markets across the country.
In September, less than six months after civil litigation was filed seeking recovery of millions of dollars of allegedly misdirected economic development assets there have been:
– forty-one criminal indictments served against five defendants related to alleged financial fraud within the local Economic Development Authority;
– a long-time, generally well-thought-of sheriff is dead, possibly on the eve of himself being criminally indicted after being named one of the EDA civil suit defendants;
– the Town of Front Royal has filed a civil suit against the EDA and its former executive director that has climbed from an initial $3 million figure to as much as $15 million;
– a Special Grand Jury looking into potential criminality surrounding all of this has asked for a six-month extension to March 31, 2020, to continue its work begun in early April.
We must remember that everyone who has been charged civilly and/or criminally will have their day in court with an opportunity to give their side of the story and claim misunderstanding or innocence. But human nature being what it is, fingers have been pointed – sometimes rationally, sometimes not – and an ongoing, collective query remains on the lips of a community – whoever and however, how and why did it happen?
“We’re here tonight because there was a catastrophic failure that allowed criminal embezzlement and rampant mismanagement to flourish,” recently-elected EDA Board of Directors Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne said on behalf of the EDA to open the August 27 joint meeting of County, Town and EDA boards and staffs.
That is the short answer.
“None of us ever want to see that happen again. The failures can be grouped into two categories … failed procedures and failed oversight,” Browne added of the outline for a path forward.
What led to those catastrophic failures of people and processes will take a bit longer to unravel.
While ultimate legal responsibility will be the province of the civil and criminal court systems, likely even at the federal level on the criminal side, there can be little doubt that large amounts of money designated for public use related to economic development in Front Royal and Warren County were moved haphazardly with little, if any consideration to due diligence. LINK-Criminal and non-criminal dereliction of public duty: Where might they apply in the EDA financial scandal?
One can only wonder where the pertinent question that might have prevented it all was from a total of 19 elected and appointed board members from the Town, County and EDA over the past five-plus years. It wasn’t a difficult question – “Is what I’ve been told to justify a large investment of public funding, let’s say $10 million, verifiably true?”
Oh, that’s right – that question WAS asked three years ago.
However when first posed in mid-2016 by a lone municipal voice, Town Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger, as well as the Royal Examiner news staff, it was initially ignored and/or vilified by every other involved public official.
The vilification was that “negative press” was threatening the successful conduct of EDA business, particularly ITFederal business. It is a business now asserted in court filings as having fraudulently received the largest single chunk, $10 million, of EDA assets being sought for recovery in the EDA civil litigation.
But three years ago then Councilman Bret Hrbek, a recent if unsuccessful applicant for a seat on the EDA board of directors, seemed to speak for a distinct town council majority of five and the mayor when he suggested that the question about the truth of what was being presented to this community about ITFederal was counterproductive.
Because that “negative press” being generated by Bébhinn Egger and Royal Examiner about the ability of Truc “Curt” Tran and his ITFederal LLC to live up to the promised $40 million investment creating 600 high-paying tech industry jobs in this community had led the ITFed CEO to consider taking his ball and going home – or rather to take his LLC trumpeted as the first commercial redevelopment client at the Avtex Brownfield site, and go elsewhere.
But would that have been such a tragedy – particularly before the Town offered its initial one-month, twice-extended $10-million “bridge loan” that enabled the EDA to finalize its $10-million
loan to ITFederal through First Bank & Trust?
According to documentation in the Cherry Bekaert EDA financial fraud investigation, Tran listed ITFederal assets of $2,020,000 as collateral for the $10-million bank loan facilitated through the EDA. But $2,000,000 of that amount was the value of the 30-acre property at the Avtex site/Royal Phoenix Business Park which the EDA “gifted” behind closed doors to Tran for $1 – yes, one dollar American – after public discussion of a $2-million dollar sale price.
Royal Examiner thought so in its first month of existence when it broke the news of that one-dollar, 30-acre gift to ITFederal leading to a year’s delay in approving the transaction by federal oversight authorities.
As noted in the linked October 27, 2016, Royal Examiner story, approval from the U.S. Justice Department to remove the ITFederal parcel from a bankruptcy court-ordered $2.06 million lien on the Royal Phoenix/Avtex property came on September 23, 2016. That was just over a year after the request to allow the one-dollar sale was sent out by then EDA/County Attorney Blair Mitchell on September 18, 2015. The stated rationale was that facilitating the ITFederal project with a give-away of land valued at $67,000 an acre would jump start other full-price purchases at the site.
“This 30 acres has been sold for $1.00 in order to get a developer to come in and begin the process of other buyers,” Mitchell wrote, adding, “The EDA already has a buyer for a 3-acre parcel to sell at $67,000 per acre, so selling this parcel as a way of breaking the ice will pay off in the long run. While the $1 will not be used to pay down the $2,060,000 lien, sales proceeds from future sales will be applied toward the paydown of the secured debt.”
Three years later we see how that plan worked out:
1/ no three-acre sale to CBM Mortgage at Royal Phoenix;
2/ no other land sales at Royal Phoenix;
3/ no $40 million investment or any jobs created by ITFed at the Royal Phoenix site.
In fact per the ongoing sweetheart agreements he was dealt by the EDA, it appears Tran may invest about $2 million to create an unoccupied 10,000 s.f. building at his “get the redevelopment ball rolling” gifted acreage with no further obligations other than that he have a certificate of occupancy issued by the middle of 2020 and continue to make monthly payments for the balance of 30 years on that $10 million bank loan through the EDA.
And the Cherry Bekaert investigation verifies what Royal Examiner and Bébhinn Egger were saying at the time – that there was no evidence the $140-million dollar federal government contract ballyhooed by Tran, his D.C. political sponsor Robert Goodlatte and EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald as the basis for ITFederal’s investment here ever existed.
How did it happen – not just the ITFederal and Workforce Housing debacles that first attracted this media outlet and Councilwoman Egger’s attention – but all of it, the 16 specific project allegations cited in the Cherry Bekaert working papers report and summary?
Those projects in order of their listing in the Cherry Bekaert summary are: Workforce Housing Project/Royal Lane Property; Afton Inn Property Improvements; Criminal Justice Training Academy; Bargain Land Sale and Issuance of $10,000,000 Loan to ITFederal; Payments to or on Behalf of ITFederal; Payments to Earth Right Energy; New Market Tax Credit Projects; Leach Run Parkway Easements; Wetland Credits; New Hope Bible Church; 999 Shenandoah Shores Road; Payments to (McDonald) Relatives; USDA Intermediary Relending Program; Stokes Mart/B&G Goods; Payments to Known and Suspected (McDonald) Business Partners; USDA Rural Business Enterprise Loans.
How could personal and procedural checks and balances collapse so catastrophically for such a length of time, in so many directions?
“I had no reason not to trust her,”
“I had no reason not to trust her,” is a comment offered by more than one EDA or municipal official in explanation of the lack of due diligence performed on project proposals and financing or the purchase and sale of properties through the EDA on the word of its former executive director. LINK-Hitting it BIG at Charles Town’s Hollywood Casino – a local success story
Perhaps it is that personal comfort and familiarity – “I had no reason not to trust her” – born of long-time social, professional and organizational ties that gives us a clue at a root cause of that “catastrophic failure” of procedures and oversight cited at this story’s outset.
It is a familiarity born of business and legal transactions, organizational memberships, not to mention in many cases political party affiliations. In Warren County those political affiliations are almost exclusively on the Republican side of the political aisle, from local to state and federal levels. And that is not to point a finger at one party or the other, but rather just to acknowledge the local political landscape.
Were there to be only Democrats in electoral and judicial office here, the situation would be the same – “I know you; we have common interest and cause, why would I not trust you?”
It is such personal or professional familiarity that has forced the eventual recusal of all the county’s circuit court judges from hearing EDA legal matters at an evidentiary level. Chief 26th Judicial District Judge Bruce D. Albertson, now hearing EDA civil and criminal cases in place of Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr., has indicated he will soon appoint another judge from outside the county to take over the EDA Special Grand Jury bench as Athey heads to the Virginia State Appeals Court.
It is that small town “everyone knows everyone” personally, organizationally, professionally and politically that can contribute to that apathy toward fundamental organizational due diligence, if not worse.
Why would anyone in local elected or appointed office here not trust then-U.S. Sixth District of Virginia Republican Congressman Robert Goodlatte’s 2014-15 assertion that ITFederal would invest $40 million dollars and create 600-plus high-paying jobs here based on a $140-million federal government contract there was no evidence existed?
Mental health: a crucial aspect of farm safety
Mental health is a growing concern for American farmers. These workers are at an increased risk of developing stress-related health issues, and they’re also more likely to commit suicide than the average citizen. In honor of this year’s National Farm Safety and Health Week (September 15 to 21), here’s some important information about the issue.
Mental health issues increase the likelihood of injuries and fatal accidents in an already dangerous workplace. Here are some of the factors that put farmers at risk.
• Long hours. Farmers are often forced to work long hours, leading to poor sleep hygiene. Lack of rest often exacerbates stress in addition to disrupting the ability to focus.
• Uncertainty. Farmers are at the mercy of increasingly unpredictable weather. In addition, fluctuating commodity prices mean that even a strong harvest doesn’t guarantee a profit will be made.
Financial uncertainty is becoming a big problem. The USDA reports that the U.S. farm debt relative to income is the highest it’s been in three decades.
• Lack of resources. Farmers need help, but there’s a lack of accessible resources. In addition, they’re unlikely to seek out the help they need, in part because of the stigma attached to mental health issues in the farming community.
While there are resources available like Farm Aid’s hotline — it saw a 109 percent increase in call volume in 2018 — there isn’t enough funding to provide concrete help to farmers.
What can be done
Awareness campaigns have sought to change the mindset around mental health in farming communities. Eliminating the stigma attached to asking for help is an important step in improving the situation. Public education about the challenges farmers face could also help raise awareness about the importance of this issue.
If you or someone you know is facing a crisis, visit the National Farmers Union Crisis Center at farmcrisis.nfu.org.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you or someone you know is in distress, call 1-800-273-8255.
A brief introduction to canning
Do you have more produce on hand than you know what to do with? If so, canning is a great way to make sure your food keeps all winter long.
Preparing food for canning
Here are some ways of preparing produce before it goes bad.
• Cooking. Turn your fruit into jam, make tomato sauce or blanch your vegetables before canning them.
• Pickling. Vinegar helps produce become acidic enough to be canned in a water bath. Try cucumbers, carrots, green beans or even peaches in a brine of vinegar and water.
Methods of canning
Home canning involves using sealed glass jars to conserve your food. There are a couple of ways to do this.
• Water bath canning. This method uses boiling water to heat jars and seal them. Only foods with high acidity like berries, pickles and tomatoes can be safely canned this way.
• Pressure canning. This technique involves using high temperatures to can meat and vegetables that aren’t acidic enough to be safely water canned. You’ll need a pressure canner, which is similar to a pressure cooker.
No matter what canning method you use, make sure to sterilize your jars and always use rings that are free of rust and lids that are brand new.