At its October 15 work session the Front Royal Town Council got a briefing on the status of a study of providing a backup water line into the Route 522 North Corridor. The Town’s largest water user, the Dominion Power plant off Rockland Road has long pushed for the redundant water line to assure its operations would not be interrupted by a line break in the Town’s lone existing water service line into the county’s north corridor.
Dominion’s operations are highly dependent on water service as an integral part of its cooling system. As noted in a related work session story on the Town’s enterprise fund balances, Dominion estimates annual water usage at 50-million gallons at a cost of about $1 million. Dominion has committed $3.5 million to the new water line project. See Related Story
However that financial commitment made in 2011 now has only $3.1 million of purchasing power, Dominion Plant Director Ray Sommerfeld pointed out to council. A two-year-old project cost estimate of $5.5 million is also obsolete due to rising construction costs, Town Manager Joe Waltz noted.
And while town elected officials have lobbied Dominion to pay more, if not all of the line’s cost dating back to 2011, power company officials have countered that the new line will be designed, not only to service Dominion’s water needs, but also planned future development throughout the county’s north corridor.
Power plant Director Sommerfeld urged council to expedite the long-floundering project – “The reliability of the power station is dependent on this,” he told council and the mayor.
“Cost is the big issue,” Mayor Hollis Tharpe commented of an ongoing council concern that has bogged down progress toward realization of the project through two mayors and several incarnations of council.
Project consultant CHA representative Steve Steele said there is no current total project cost estimate on the table pending a suggested feasibility study he outlined to council at the work session.
At the conclusion of the presentation and council discussion seen on the Royal Examiner video below, council – at least the four members present – DID appear committed to authorizing the requested funding of $43,900 to proceed with CHA’s alternate waterline feasibility study. That corridor water service reliability study is designed to establish the two best waterline route options; the “constructability” of both based on logistical issues; and relative costs as a means of determining a preferred route.
EDA Asset Committee Chairman blasts Town for ‘bad faith’ actions
As part of his Asset Committee Report at Friday’s Front Royal-Warren County EDA Board of Director’s meeting, Greg Harold began a two-phased counterattack on the Town of Front Royal’s recent actions toward the EDA, particularly as they relate to the Town’s refusal to make good on its legal commitment to repay the EDA for $8.4 million spent thus far on the new Front Royal Police Department headquarters across Kendrick Lane.
“The EDA may soon be sponsoring an introductory level class on Municipal Financing and Understanding Loan Commitments,” Harold wrote in his agenda packet Asset Committee Report, referencing “bad debt and shady accounting” from a “community partner known as the Town of Front Royal” which he described as continuing “to act in bad faith”.
And that was just the start – at the meeting’s outset Harold made a motion to add a statement he wanted to make on the above topic to the meeting agenda. That motion passed unanimously. Harold’s statement read into the meeting record following the second of two closed sessions was titled “The Town of Front Royal’s Charade of Partnership”.
In it Harold describes a pre-Thanksgiving meeting he and Board Chairman Ed Daley had with Town officials that was “cordial, respectful and collaborative”. “However, actions speak louder than words he adds before concluding, “Merry Christmas”.
See Harold’s scathing indictment of Town officials’ recent behavior toward the EDA as a newly re-tooled EDA staff and board of directors works to right its situation in the wake of what stands at a $21.3-million dollar financial scandal alleged to have been forged during some portion of the 10-year executive leadership of Jennifer McDonald in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Update: EDA Board grills Tederick on Town’s intent toward this EDA
The gloves came off at Friday morning’s Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority meeting. A hint of things to come was alluded to at the 8 a.m. meeting’s outset when Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold made a motion to add a statement on the status of the Front Royal Police Department construction project and the town government. Harold’s agenda addition passed unanimously.
As Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick completed his report on Town business, EDA Board of Directors Vice Chairman Jeff Browne questioned Tederick on several matters related to the status of negotiations with ITFederal on a drainage line through that property; and the Town’s intent as it builds a “war chest” to fund its civil suit against the EDA and discusses creation of a second EDA while the Town-County one continues to exist.
See that exchange and other EDA board member questions to Interim Town Manager Tederick in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
In response to Browne’s opening question on the Town-ITFederal drainage dispute Tederick reasserted the Town’s stance that it is the owner’s responsibility to install the drainage system across its property, but had no update on that impasse with Tran.
Then Browne asked the interim mayor about his sense of the town council’s attitude in its recent decision to divert scheduled debt service payments to the EDA totaling $282,000 into “the Town’s legal war chest” for its civil suit against the EDA. The Town has filed litigation seeking recovery of “up to $15 million” in allegedly misdirected or promised Town assets from the EDA. The EDA has a civil action against 14 people and business entities for recovery of $21.3 million in misdirected EDA assets at this point.
Browne pointed out that initial statements from Town Attorney Doug Napier at the time the Town suit was filed indicated it was done as a precautionary measure against Statute of Limitations running out on unknown and still unspecified Town assets involved in the EDA financial scandal.
“Do you have a sense where you all are going with all of this?” Browne asked the interim town manager about the Town’s evolving and seemingly more contentious legal stance against the EDA.
“I do have a sense but I’ll have to refer you to our counsel, related to that,” Tederick replied, without elaborating if he was referring to the town attorney or the Alexandria law firm of Damiani & Damiani council authorized payments of up to $200,000 in legal fees to related to its suit against the EDA on November 25. Council also approved $45,000 of those diverted EDA debt service payments to Mitchell & Company for auditing services related to its EDA litigation.
“How do town residents feel about paying double legal fees when the EDA is willing to sit down and figure out the differences with you?” Browne continued – later elaborating that as dual Town and County citizens, town residents’ tax payments to the County are helping fund County financial support of EDA legal expenses, including in defense of the Town civil action against it.
“I can’t speak for town citizens,” Tederick replied.
About this second EDA
“Then finally on another issue, could you explain the reasoning behind your attempt to create a second economic development authority?” Browne asked, this time eliciting a more detailed response.
“The town council I believe, is of the belief that the EDA is going to be insolvent in February or March based on public comments of the EDA members and Mr. Parsons has made based on financial records. So, we want to be in a position that in the event of the … EDA does become insolvent, we want to be able to have an economic development authority to promote business and to get appropriate financing.
“So, there’s been no decision by the Town to do that,” Tederick added, then describing the process chosen on advice of the town attorney to lobby the State General Assembly for a Code change permitting the Town of Front Royal alone, to be able to create a second EDA while the existing one it created with the Warren County Board of Supervisors in the 1960’s, presumably will still exist.
“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,” Napier wrote in his agenda summary of December 2.
“It’s not uncommon, there are a number of towns in the Shenandoah Valley that have Economic Development Authorities,” Tederick continued of the second EDA initiative, adding, “So there hasn’t been a firm decision that we actually are going to get one.”
“How many towns have two economic development authorities?” Browne queried Tederick.
“I don’t think any towns have two, no sir, and neither is the Town of Front Royal going to have two – we’re going to have one,” Tederick asserted.
With the town attorney’s recommendation that the Town maintain its founding co-membership in the existing EDA due to the potential of receipt of half of EDA assets if and when it is dissolved, we asked Tederick about his assertion of only one EDA as he was leaving following his presentation and Q and A with the EDA board.
The interim town manager said he meant the Town would have only one solely-created “Town EDA”, not that it wouldn’t still have its membership in the existing Town-County EDA.
Harold then asked Tederick if the Town was in communications with ITFederal and Tran regarding the drainage impasse.
“I know they’re not communicating with me,” Tederick said. However, he added that he was aware of a recent communication with a staff member whose identity he did not know, regarding whether the Town would contribute to the drainage pipe costs.
“I can find out, I’ll go back and ask,” Tederick told EDA officials.
“I think it would be very helpful, sir, if correspondence between the Town and ITFederal on this thing, if we could be included in that … as part of our negotiations with ITFederal … so we can tell if he’s telling the Town one thing and telling us another, just kind of playing the two off there,” EDA Board Chairman Ed Daley told Tederick of re-opening lines of communication the Town seems to have been pulling back from as it strikes a more aggressive litigious stance.
Afton Inn status
The conversation then concluded as the EDA board and Tederick discussed the physical and ownership status of the Afton Inn. A scheduled post closed meeting two vote on terminating the lease/purchase agreement between the EDA and Afton Inn developer 2 East Main Street LLC was tabled to the January EDA Board meeting.
Following the meeting’s adjournment, EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons said he and the board were holding out hope the redevelopment project, derailed by the civil litigation and the uncertain EDA financial situation, might still be saved.
The developer has not been implicated in any of the alleged financial misdeeds; however, it is alleged that McDonald used the Afton Project to move EDA funds to her personal benefit, including payment of credit card debts and attorney fees.
Following the old Town Hall/Afton swap, circa 2014-ish, the Town transferred ownership of the dilapidated 151-year-old Afton Inn building to the EDA for marketing. Friday there was brief discussion of the process of transferring ownership back to the Town should the EDA/2 East Main redevelopment partnership be terminated.
Warren County Planning Commission considers short-term rentals
The Warren County Planning Commission Meeting of December 11th included a public hearing on a request by property owner Stephen Aaron for a conditional use permit for a short term rental on a property he owns in the River Ridge on the Shenandoah subdivision. Three other residents of the subdivision offered comments on the proposal, which the property owner described as an economic necessity due to the unforeseen cost of renovating the property which he purchased last May.
County planner Matt Wendling outlined some challenges the property owner had faced with the property since its purchase, when he found rotted floors under a bathroom and kitchen requiring complete renovation. In addition to those hidden condition problems, the property had never had a completed building final inspection or a certificate of occupancy. Mr. Wendling then outlined the conditions that would be required of the property owner in order for staff to recommend approval of the Conditional use permit.
Since the property lies within a subdivision with an Owners association, the property owner had submitted a document outlining his proposal to the owners association and received in return a list of issues from the association which he in turn had incorporated into his draft submission to the county.
During the public comment portion of the hearing, Vivian and Jack Paulikonis who are 23-year residents in the subdivision expressed their opinion that, while they were pleased to have a “nice family” as owners of the property, they were concerned about its use as a tourist rental with unknown people coming in and out of the gated community. Mr. Paulikonis indicated that the public hearing had been rushed through and that most owners in the subdivision were unaware of the activities of the planning department. They seemed to have less issue with the property owner or his plan for the actual use of the property than with the county’s approval process. Mr. Paulikonis described it as a “sneak attack”. The Planning staff reiterated that the public notice requirements had been met.
Mr. Pettengill, President of the property owners association and the nearest neighbor to the property in question weighed in by confirming that the property owner had sent the association a copy of his proposed property management plan after the association’s annual meeting in October, but that he had drafted conditions and cleared it with the association board of directors in response to the plan.
The property owner then provided background information indicating his willingness to incorporate all the input from the owners association and the county planning staff into his proposal and to continue to work with the county departments in completing the certificate of occupancy, required in any case prior to Board of Supervisors Approval.
After a few questions from commissioners and responses from Mr. Aaron or County staff, the commission voted unanimously to forward the request for a conditional use permit to the Board of supervisors, subject to the conditions outlined by the planning staff.
After the public hearing portion was closed, the planning staff outlined three additional requests that are preparing for public hearings at the January Commission Meeting.
Brian and Ann Conley, for a conditional Use Permit for short term tourist rental for their Agricultural zoned property at 64 rocky Lane in the South River Magisterial District.
Damon and Robin Feldman, for a conditional use permit for a short term tourist rental at their agricultural zoned property at 53 Crystal River Drive, also in the South River Magisterial District
Randall Parz, for a conditional use permit for an artisan and craftsman trades facility not to exceed 5,000 SF on his agricultural zoned property at 577 Esteppe Rd in the Fork Magisterial District.
Planning staff explained each of these proposals and the commission voted to authorize public hearings at the January 8, 2020 meeting.
Concluding its actions on proposals, the commissioner comments included farewells from three current members, Chairman Scott Stickley, Commissioner Ralph Rinaldi, and Commissioner Lorraine Smelser. Each of the three expressed appreciation for the hard work and professionalism of the commission members and the county planning staff. County planning Director Taryn Logan reminded the commissioners that they had made tough decisions and overseen many significant improvements to the county in their tenure and had plenty to be proud of.
Three new commissioners will be selected by the Board of Supervisors to begin service on the board in January.
Watch the entire Warren County Planning Commission meeting on this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Town of Front Royal Business Forum – December 11, 2019
On December 11, 2019, the Town of Front Royal held its quarterly Business Forum at Town Hall.
The agenda included:
- Community Development/Tourism update – Felicia Hart, Director
- Community Development Block Grant update
- Update on facilitator for Gazebo events – Matt Tederick, Interim Town Manager
- Discussion on parking enforcement
- Chamber update – Nike Foster
Watch the forum in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
County Supervisors approve ‘2nd Amendment Sanctuary’ designation
On a motion by outgoing Supervisor Tom Sayre, seconded by Archie Fox, by a unanimous 5-0 vote the Warren County Board of Supervisors Tuesday night approved a Resolution adding this community to a list statewide declaring itself a “2nd Amendment Sanctuary”. Tony Carter, absent for a family health situation, voted by remote electronic device to reach the unanimous consensus.
However, exactly what that consensus designation might mean for the County legally if a variety of proposed gun control bills in the coming General Assembly session pass, remains to be seen.
The vote came after the board heard from an overflow crowd that packed Warren County High School’s 1,024-seat capacity auditorium for Tuesday night’s public hearing on the Republican-endorsed “2nd Amendment Sanctuary” request. Prevalent among attendees were “Guns Save Lives” stickers.
Of over 45 speakers only two spoke against the statewide initiative. At one point in the almost three-hour public hearing, Warren County Republican Committee Chairman Steve Kurtz read a message of support for the 2nd Amendment Sanctuary designation from first-term Sixth District U.S. Congressional successor to Robert Goodlatte, Ben Cline.
“Your God-given liberties can’t be taken by men,” Kurtz quoted Cline telling those assembled against proposed Democratic General Assembly Bills on a variety of gun control issues.
The first speaker against the 2nd Amendment “Sanctuary” initiative came after 19 pro-guns rights speakers. That speaker was Warren County Democratic Committee Chairman Steve Foreman. He urged caution to the board, warning that Warren County officials could once again be placing themselves in the position of creating a long-standing negative historical legacy involving “massive resistance” as in the 1960’s surrounding Civil Rights legislation mandating racial desegregation of public schools.
“Good!” one person in the crowd shouted.
“Go Home,” another suggested to Foreman.
While Foreman was frequently booed and hooted at for his dissension against the overwhelming majority consensus, not all present appeared to agree with that treatment of a dissenting opinion.
Speaking five spots later, Kenneth Logan apologized for the crowd’s behavior toward Foreman’s dissenting opinion, drawing some scattered, polite applause from a segment of the crowd. Logan then requested the Warren County Supervisors to give him “a way out” of having to face a decision to become a criminal resister to gun control laws on the table of the coming General Assembly session.
It was a sentiment many present addressed, several stating they would become “felons” if proposed gun laws, including a ban on “assault firearms” are enacted. That decision will be made as a matter of conscience and political belief, they noted.
Other speakers called on armed Virginians, particularly those present, to become that “well-regulated militia” referenced in the 2nd Amendment “necessary to the security of a free State”. One such challenge aimed directly at the thousand-plus people in the auditorium drew a huge cheer.
That passion appeared tied to a majority consensus that the new Virginia General Assembly House and Senate Democratic majorities, as well as their out-of-state allies, are out to subjugate Virginia, and eventually all of America into a culturally mongrel, anti-prayer-in-schools or public meeting, and now most alarmingly, an unarmed nation ripe for a takeover by a totalitarian political machine.
And rather from the political right as many on the political left currently appear to believe under way, the 2nd Amendment advocates who spoke characterize such a threat coming from a “liberal-socialist”, “Richmond, Northern Virginia, inside the D.C. Capitol beltway” and “George Soros-funded” political machine.
Of efforts to remove or limit possession of “assault firearms” or military-style rifles converted to semi-automatic (single trigger pull, single shot fired) status, along with other proposed gun control legislation, one speaker surrounded by flag-bearing companions told the crowd, “I’m here to tell you that will not happen, not on my watch. We will not tolerate or sit around while the tyrants in Richmond try to change our way of life …”
His, among other such assertions were met by loud cheers.
Some speakers stressed the necessity of guns for self-defense against potential attackers and the criminal element they believe is coddled by the political left.
“Think of young women like me — no matter how I fought like they teach you… they could break me like a twig. The only equalizer I have is my gun,” Blue Mountain resident Sarah Faber said, drawing cheers.
However, despite that and other sometimes emotional recounts of encounters with suspicious people or criminals on their property where self-defense was at issue, it was the specter of a pending leftist totalitarian takeover of America that seemed the dominant theme of the public hearing speakers.
The other lone anti-sanctuary speaker was Tom Howarth. He said he believed the proposal before the supervisors was “unconstitutional” rather than a constitutional protection.
Of the aspect of having county sheriffs become actively involved in “Sanctuary” community resistance to potential state laws regarding gun control, Howarth observed, “Even sheriffs can’t say what’s constitutional, that’s for the courts to decide.”
Howarth called a move away from the established legal order of the nation, not a move toward democracy, but rather a move toward anarchy.
Howarth, whose presentation was met with silence, also warned against the all-or-nothing divisive level of political discourse, not only in the Warren County High School auditorium that evening, but in the nation at large.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” Howarth warned, citing the localized state “nullification” movement against legally-established laws in the 1850’s in the political run-up to the outbreak of the American Civil War.
Of the legal questions involved in that era culminating with the federal move to abolish slavery, Howarth noted those questions were answered “at the cost of 640,000 American lives”.
A new EDA? Town Council approves resolution seeking state’s blessing
FRONT ROYAL — The Front Royal Town Council on Monday unanimously passed a resolution seeking a change in the Code of Virginia that would allow the Town to create its own Economic Development Authority (EDA) if it sees fit to do so.
Specifically, the Town’s newly approved resolution requests that the Virginia General Assembly amend a portion of the State Code to allow just Front Royal, VA, to establish a new EDA that’s “separate and independent” from the existing Front Royal-Warren County EDA, which is embroiled in a multi-million-dollar financial scandal.
“Upon deliberate and studied consideration,” the Town Council “finds that it is to the benefit and betterment of all the inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and in particular to the inhabitants of the Town of Front Royal,” that the Town be able to form a Front Royal EDA so that it “can forge its own path forward in the future, unencumbered by the tremendous financial, legal, and reputational burdens currently encumbering the Existing EDA,” according to the resolution.
“Here’s the thing,” Meza continued. “Our current EDA — which you could make the easy argument is ineffective — is going to be really difficult to operate through… at least in the next coming year and possibly years.”
Because of that fact, Meza said the Town Council wanted to be sure to submit its approved resolution prior to the start of the General Assembly’s legislative work that begins in January, “essentially hedging our bets that if our EDA becomes ineffective as a joint Town-County operation, then the Town has the ability to establish its own EDA so that we can continue moving forward on Town projects, especially related to property acquisitions and developments.”
If Front Royal were to miss submitting its request now, then the Town would have to wait to submit it in July 2021, said Meza.
“We wanted to get the ball rolling on this so that we have the option and the ability to continue if needed,” he added.
Councilman Gary Gillispie echoed those sentiments on Monday night.
“Please keep in mind, just because we are asking the General Assembly to authorize Front Royal to have an EDA, it does not necessarily mean that we’re going to launch into it,” Gillispie read from a prepared statement. “Once authorized, we can commence the process to determine if it’s in the best interests of the community.”
To avoid a potential legal hurdle, the Town Council seeks the State Code change without withdrawing from its current legal interest in the existing EDA.
“It appears to the Town that as long as there are outstanding and unpaid Existing EDA bonds and indebtedness, the Town cannot even rescind it ordinance co-creating the Existing EDA all, in which case the Town would not even be able to create a separate Town EDA which could fund Town EDA facilities either inside the Town’s corporate boundaries,” the resolution states.
In fact, the current EDA is saddled with outstanding and unpaid bonds and other indebtedness for private and public facilities, including hospitals and schools, states the resolution, which also pointed out that “apparently the Existing EDA likely will become insolvent sometime in the year 2020.”
The Town Council’s resolution also acknowledges, among other items, that if the Town did rescind its ordinance for co-creating the existing EDA, then it would waive its rights to share in one-half of any of the funds and properties held by the existing EDA at the time it was dissolved.
Such action “might well be construed as wastage of Town assets by Town Council, and thereby construed as legal misfeasance on the part of Town officials, which would be unacceptable to the Town,” the resolution.
The Town Council in its resolution also wasn’t shy about laying out reasons for why it wants to form its own EDA.
For instance, the six-page document outlines “the legal and financial troubles” of the existing EDA’s former executive director Jennifer McDonald, who “has been creditably accused and has been indicted in excess of 30 felony charges in connection with criminal charges related to alleged misappropriation of Existing EDA and Town funds.”
Additionally, the resolution says that McDonald — who isn’t named in the document but only referred to as the ‘former executive director’ — “has been civilly sued in the Circuit Court of Warren County, Virginia, by the Existing EDA for over $21 million in damages in relation to said alleged misappropriation of said funds.”
The resolution also makes it clear that the “Town, Town Council, Town officials and Town employees had no role whatsoever in the former executive director’s actions,” and is civilly suing the existing EDA and McDonald in Warren County Circuit Court for $15 million in damages.
The resolution also says that the “brand” of the current EDA “has been so badly damaged as to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the Existing EDA to attract new commerce and industry
into the Town.”
And the Town charges that “there is an inherent conflict of interest” on the part of existing EDA officials and employees who appear to favor attracting new commerce and industry “to benefit the County as opposed to the Town.”
For these and other reasons, the Town Council proposed a change to Virginia Code 15.2-4905 (Powers of authority section) that would grant the Front Royal Town Council the power to create its own industrial development authority (IDA).
“The purpose of an EDA or IDA is to bring economic development to a community where it is authorized,” Gillispie read. “It is also important to give existing businesses support to help them compete and stay profitable.”
Front Royal needs good-paying jobs, the councilman added, and there are several business parks within the Town limits that also need development.
“We just need someone who can market our Town and be able to go to Richmond or wherever it’s needed to get this accomplished,” said Gillispie, who added, if the General Assembly accepts the Town’s request and amends State Code, then Town Council members will work diligently to put safeguards in place that ensure such financial fraud never happens again.
Following Meza’s motion on adoption of the resolution, with a second from Councilman Chris Holloway, the members of the Front Royal Town Council, including Vice Mayor William Sealock and Councilmen Gillispie and Letasha Thompson, all voted yes to approve it.
Watch the Town Council meeting on this Royal Examiner video: