According to the Virginia State Police on Friday, September 20, the Warren County Special Grand Jury investigating potential criminality related to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial fraud investigation and civil litigation, handed down a total of 42 misdemeanor indictments against a wide range Warren County government and Economic Development officials.
Thirteen of the 14 County and EDA officials presented themselves at the Magistrate’s Office at the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail (RSW Jail) Tuesday morning, September 24, to be arraigned and then released on their own recognizance. The fourteenth, former County-EDA Attorney Dan Whitten, who just took a job in Prince George County, is scheduled to appear at the Magistrate’s Office on Wednesday.
Royal Examiner encountered six of the 14 between 11:30 am and 1 p.m. leaving or entering the Magistrate’s Office. All of the six, including County Supervisors Dan Murray, Tony Carter, Archie Fox, County Administrator Doug Stanley and former EDA Board members Ron Llewellyn and Bruce Drummond, declined comment.
According to VSP those six, as well as Whitten, Supervisors Tom Sayre and Linda Glavis, current EDA Board members Mark Baker, Tom Patteson, Gray Blanton, and former EDA Board members Greg Drescher and William “Billy” Biggs were all charged on two counts of Misfeasance and one count of Nonfeasance “based on the individuals’ knowledge of and inaction of the EDA’s mismanagement of funds” (I guess we were wrong about only malfeasance being a criminal offense in Virginia).
As Royal Examiner reported two week ago, misfeasance is defined as “failing to act with diligence that is due and appropriate for the situation” or “irresponsibility in performing tasks” by those in public office or employment. It is considered accidental rather than an intentional act, but nonetheless “blameworthy as falling short of fulfilling an official responsibility”.
Nonfeasance is defined as “the omission of an act that should be done” or “the failure to act according to one’s responsibility” of public trust. Interestingly, the definition of nonfeasance includes the description of an intentional act as “when operational procedures of an organization are circumvented for a direct or an implied assurance of personal profit.”
However none of the 14 charged Friday and turning themselves in this week were charged with the most serious “feasance” offense – malfeasance. Malfeasance is defined as intentional conduct that is wrongful or unlawful by public officials or employees.
The VSP release notes that the investigation into past Front Royal-Warren County EDA finances and projects remains ongoing. The Special Grand Jury that began meeting in early April recently requested and received a six-month extension to the end of March 2020.
Prior to this flurry of misdemeanor charges against public officials, five people had been indicted on felony financial fraud or embezzlement charges revolving around alleged activities of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. VSP notes that McDonald has been served with 28 sealed grand jury felony indictments. Others facing two to five financial felony indictments include McDonald’s husband Samuel North; her former EDA Administrative Assistant Michelle Henry, business associate Donald Poe, and EDA small business loan recipient William Lambert.
VSP has been the arresting law enforcement agency on all EDA Special Grand Jury sealed indictments. The VSP release notes that the charges brought by the EDA grand jury “stem from an investigation the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office initiated in August 2018 related to the business practices of the EDA. The investigation was at the request of Front Royal Police Department.”
There is also a federal grand jury empanelled in Harrisonburg looking into the EDA situation here.
As he left the Magistrate’s Office County Board Chairman Murray appeared to be the most agitated at the circumstance of being charged criminally for neglect of municipal due diligence in oversight of the EDA in recent years. After silently passing the two reporters on the scene as he approached another paper’s photographer, Murray said loudly, “How am I doing? – I’m (FX-pletive deleted)” with an added “Don’t print that” to the scribbling reporters over his shoulder.
Former EDA Board member Ron Llewellyn also seemed a bit flustered as he emerged from the Magistrate’s Office into the focus of two media cameras, commenting, “What is this a perk walk?” – a reference to the tradition of law enforcement walking high profile suspects in custody through a media crowd of reporters and photographers.
RSW Superintendent Russ Gilkison later explained the absence of those processed on EDA-related misdemeanor charges from the jail website’s Inmate Locator function. He said that people processed on misdemeanors released on their own recognizance as all 13 and eventually 14 of these EDA defendants will be, are not actually booked into the jail, so do not show up as inmates on the website.
While they are fingerprinted for the record, mug shots are not taken since they are never brought into the jail’s housing facility.
“That’s just the way the law is written and it works that way for everybody,” Gilkison told Royal Examiner.
All County supervisors now have attorneys and motions dates set
Three Warren County Supervisors who had not yet retained legal counsel during an initial September 27 court appearance of County and EDA officials charged with misdemeanor misfeasance and nonfeasance regarding an absence of due diligent oversight of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald were back in court Monday morning, October 21.
Those supervisors, Tony Carter, Linda Glavis and Archie Fox appeared either with counsel or with letters to the court from their attorney. The 9 a.m. Warren County Circuit Court docket of Judge William Sharp was adjourned at 10 a.m. to allow Judge Bruce Albertson to record the trio of supervisors’ legal representation and set motions hearings dates. Albertson appeared by video hookup from his Harrisonburg Courtroom. Sharpe has recused himself from hearing all EDA related matters.
Glavis and Fox were slated for the Monday, October 28, 9 a.m. docket when a preponderance of the 14 County and EDA board members motions to quash the three misdemeanor charges against them will be heard, along with Discovery Motions should the effort to have the charges dropped fail.
Due to a scheduling conflict of Carter’s attorney Caleb Kershner, the Happy Creek Supervisors Motions Hearing date was scheduled for November 21, at 4 p.m. It was noted that another attorney scheduling conflict had Supervisor Tom Sayre’s Motions Hearing date set for November 19, though that date did not work for Carter’s Leesburg-based attorney either.
Fox is represented by John Swerling, out of Alexandria, and Glavis by Bruce Blanchard of Reston.
Next Monday will be a busy and crucial day for EDA related hearings. In addition to motions to quash the criminal misdemeanor charges against the bulk of the 14 current or past public officials charged with failing to provide adequate oversight of Jennifer McDonald’s actions as EDA chief executive, the first hearing date on the Removal Petition of all five County supervisors filed on Friday is also slated for that day’s morning docket. That petition is seeking to immediately suspend the supervisors “from performing their duties in office until the Show Cause hearing is held”.
Removal Petition attorney Timothy Johnson said that while technically the Show Cause (as to why the supervisors should not be removed) Hearing could be held on that initial court date, experience says that additional Respondent motions may push the hearing date out.
Should that happen and were the judge predisposed to grant the motion to immediately suspend the supervisors from their duties pending the Show Cause hearing it remains to be seen how the County government would function as to any necessary board votes on appropriations or budgetary matters, etc. Johnson said the court could appoint people to fill the roles of supervisors, though the more likely path would be that the motion for immediate suspension would not be granted to allow the uninterrupted function of County government to continue.
County Supervisors removal petition filed with 941 signatures
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.
Supervisor decries public harassment of family; BOS chairman calls for consolidation
In the wake of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) financial scandal, the two leaders of the Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS) this week individually made two very different requests of their constituents.
BOS Chairman Daniel Murray called for consolidation of the Town of Front Royal and Warren County governments, while BOS Vice Chairman Thomas Sayre denounced the public harassment of his family members.
Both supervisors, along with the other three supervisors and several other local individuals, were indicted last month by a special grand jury that’s investigating potential criminality related to the EDA financial fraud investigation and civil litigation.
Subsequently, some enraged area taxpayers have written negative comments online about Sayre’s family, he said during the board members’ report portion of the BOS meeting on October 15.
“I have a statement to make,” began Sayre, shaking his head back and forth. “I have seen on Facebook and other posts attacking my daughter, my son and my wife. I find that conduct outrageous.”
Looking out into the audience Sayre said: “To those doing this, please leave my family alone.”
Without naming names, Sayre said the treatment started roughly two weeks ago, shortly after all five BOS members were indicted on Sept. 20 by the Warren County Special Grand Jury. The supervisors then were among the total of 14 indicted individuals who presented themselves at the Magistrate’s Office at the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail on September 24 and 25, to be arraigned and then released on their own recognizance.
Sayre told the audience on Tuesday that they probably knew who was posting the disparaging remarks online about his family, but said, “I’m not going to give anybody the notoriety they’re seeking. It’s sick.”
Noting that new posts appeared online this week further slamming his family, Sayre said, “It’s stuff that’s just mind boggling and it’s not even close to being true.
“So, please, leave my family alone will ya?” he said, putting emphasis on the last two words.
Murray then made his statement, saying he’s challenging the new BOS in January to research and implement a plan for consolidation.
“We should be one government for all,” Murray said. “This will stop finger-pointing and put a lot of things at rest.”
The BOS chairman added that too many falsehoods are floating around the community, though he didn’t elaborate on them.
“And remember, Facebook is a publication and what’s put on Facebook could be handled legally,” he said.
The Royal Examiner camera was there. Watch the Board of Supervisors reports and public comments in this exclusive video:
Town Manager announcement steals thunder from tap fee reduction debate
Prior to the end-of-meeting announcement of Interim Mayor Matt Tederick’s pending appointment to fill the position of town manager on an interim basis during the search for a permanent replacement for departing Joe Waltz, public and council attention had been focused on the public hearing and scheduled first vote on some dramatic reductions to water and sewer tap fees.
In fact the lone vote against Tederick’s appointment to be interim town manager came from Gene Tewalt, who had butted heads with Tederick earlier Tuesday night over the tap fee reduction initiative the mayor has propelled forward.
And while Tewalt declined comment on his vote in opposition to the interim town manager appointment, the two long-time local political figures have often butted heads over Town-County issues.
And that was again apparent in the discussion of the proposed water-sewer tap fee reductions that was the central focus of council and public discussion at the Tuesday, October 15, Town Council meeting at the Villa Avenue Community Center.
Tederick had put approval on a fast track to be completed before his interim mayor’s tenure is up in early November in the hope of being positioned to cast a potential tiebreaking vote in favor of the cuts if necessary.
Tewalt led opposition to that fast track and a final council decision pending receipt of more information related to coming water-sewer utility costs that he said could quickly melt a significant portion, if not all, of a $12 million Enterprise Fund reserve.
In fact as recounted in our related story, Tederick caught some friendly, if pointed criticism from former Front Royal Mayor and Councilman Stan Brooks during public comments Tuesday for referring to Town reserves as a “slush fund”. Brooks noted the term implied hidden money used for illegal purposes.
An impeachment ‘sidebar’
Another citizen urging caution on the tap fee issue, Fern Vasquez, noted that having lived through the Nixon “plumbers” and impeachment era of the early 1970’s she was well versed in the illegal ramifications Brooks referred to regarding “slush funds”.
And while she didn’t elaborate, having those same first-hand memories of another impeachment era, one might add that the “CREEP” (Committee to Re-Elect the President) Nixon “slush fund” at issue was used to finance such 1972 campaign dirty tricks as slipping LSD into the drink of a leading Democratic candidate, Ed Muskie while he was in the midst of a railroad whistle-stop campaign stump; and of course the Watergate break in of the National Democratic Headquarters, the cover up of which proved fatal to the Nixon presidency among Democrats and Republicans alike.
And as also reported in our related story, contacted about Tederick’s pending appointment as interim town manager, Brooks quipped, “I guess now Matt will be managing the Town’s ‘slush fund’.”
Tap fee cuts on hold
Be that political history as it may – ancient and national or local and developing – in the face of a majority of public comment and public hearing criticism regarding the importance of maintaining a healthy reserve fund balance and not making a tap fee rush to judgment, the scheduled first council vote on the tap fee proposal was tabled. That tabling was so that council could seek additional information on costs versus reserves as related to the redundant corridor water line system expansion on the table after eight years of discussion; as well as the perhaps soon to be state or federally mandated Intake and Inflow (I&I) improvements to the sewer system that are under consultant’s study at this time.
Tederick to move from interim mayor to interim town manager
Following a Tuesday evening (October 15) closed session to discuss personnel matters and the Town lawsuit against the EDA, in a surprise move a 4-1 town council majority, Tewalt dissenting and Meza absent, approved appointment of Interim Mayor Matt Tederick as Interim Town Manager to succeed Joe Waltz. Waltz’s last day is November 8. Tederick’s appointment will take effect November 9. He will have to resign as interim mayor prior to that.
Exactly when the winner of the two-man race to finish the final year of Hollis Tharpe’s resigned term will be sworn in following the November 5 Mayoral Special Election remains to be seen. The electoral result will have to be certified by a Circuit Court judge.
That mayor’s race is between Tharpe, the man Tederick succeeded upon Tharpe’s resignation effective May 2 while facing a criminal charge of solicitation of prostitution at a local massage parlor, and Eugene Tewalt, who as noted above cast the lone dissenting vote Tuesday night against Tederick’s interim town manager appointment. So Tederick is facing an undetermined tenure as interim town manager under the mayoral leadership of one of two people who do not appear to be big supporters.
To add to the soap opera flavor of the situation, Tederick was foreman of the grand jury that indicted Tharpe on the solicitation charge on April 15, four days before Tharpe announced his pending resignation to fight the legal charge and keep the Town government out of that legal crosshair. That solicitation charge was later dropped by Special Prosecutor Heather Hovermale due to the massage parlor’s proprietor’s invocation of her Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate due to related charges against her.
The motion to appoint Tederick Interim Town Manager was made by Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock. However the vote was called by Tederick, leaving some concern that he should have recused himself from direct participation at even that level on appointment to a six-figure salaried Town job. Other legal concerns were later expressed due to a Town Charter prohibiting “council members” from appointments while serving in their elected office. Tederick was appointed interim mayor by a 4-2 council majority, Tewalt and Thompson dissenting, on May 28.
Attempts to reach Town Attorney Doug Napier for comment on the legal dynamics at play in the appointment prior to publication were unsuccessful. However the fact the appointment won’t take effect until Tederick has resigned the interim mayor’s position to assume the interim town manager’s post may accommodate any Town Charter issues.
As for his chairing the open meeting and vote following the closed session, reached Wednesday afternoon Tederick promised he would not have broken an unlikely tie vote – only five council members were present in Jacob Meza’s absence – in his favor.
“I wouldn’t have done that,” Tederick laughed over the phone.
Tederick said the idea of his again filling an interim role in a key Town position, this time a high-paying administrative staff position, was first broached to him on Saturday by a councilman he declined to identify.
Tederick also revealed that at a meeting the day following Waltz’s October 9 resignation notification, the town manager had informed him and Vice-Mayor Sealock that the in-house staffer he thought most suited to serve in an interim town manager’s role indicated he was not interested in the job.
“We went into Executive Session last night under personnel matters and the issue was broached – it was, what do we do? The same councilman threw out my name. And I said I’m not comfortable being in this room,” Tederick said of his reaction to closed session discussion of his appointment.
The interim mayor said he has expressed a belief that whoever was a candidate for the interim job should begin “shadowing Joe Waltz as soon as possible. We have a $47-million dollar corporation to run – we can’t have no CEO,” Tederick observed, adding, “I can’t imagine ever in my life being interim in either of these positions. The Town is in a challenging position. I am just trying to do my part to fill gaps and stabilize the ship.”
Asked if unlike the mayor’s position, he might seek the slightly better paying town manager’s job on a permanent basis, Tederick quickly replied, “No! No! No!”
Asked if that was three “no’s” with three exclamation points, Tederick said, “Yes, you can write it that way.” He added that he has personal business interests he wants to get back to and would make a primary priority the search for and hiring of a permanent town manager. It is a process he said from discussion with one Town staffer in a position to know, a process that could take three months on a fast track and up to six months if that fast track fails.
Tederick credited Administrative Assistant Tina Pressley in the Town Manager’s Office for that estimate, noting that Pressley has served with eight town managers here and seen the process and timeframe between each hire.
After that first priority of finding a permanent replacement for Waltz, Tederick said his second priority as town manager would be to help guide the Town into its next fiscal year budget process; followed by an already begun initiative to improve the Town’s communications network and public information dissemination to its citizens – “I think everyone recognizes the need for that,” Front Royal’s own “Interim Man” observed.
We asked Tederick about the coincidence of the vote on his appointment as interim town manager coming the same night that across town at the Warren County Government Center, County
Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Murray was re-raising the idea of consolidation of the two governments.
The Interim Front Royal Mayor said that while he supports the idea of public consideration of consolidation of the two municipal governments into one elected countywide governmental apparatus, he has stayed on the sidelines of the debate.
During Tuesday’s Town Council meeting at the Villa Avenue Community Center Tederick had caught criticism for his attempted fast tracking of votes on a slashing of water-sewer utility tap fees.
In fact Tederick caught some friendly, if pointed criticism from former Front Royal Mayor and Councilman Stan Brooks during public comments for referring to Town reserves as a “slush fund”. Brooks noted the term implied hidden money used for illegal purposes.
Tederick apologized, replying that he did not realize the criminal implication of the term.
Contacted about Tuesday’s end of meeting development regarding Tederick’s pending appointment as interim town manager, Brooks quipped, “I guess now Matt will be managing the Town’s ‘slush fund’.”
As noted in our related tap fee story, Councilman Tewalt declined to elaborate on the reason for his vote against Tederick’s second interim Town appointment.
Hollis Tharpe, Tewalt’s opponent in the upcoming mayoral special election, was also initially hesitant to go on the record when contacted about it. However, Tharpe quickly turned his focus toward the process leading up to the council vote approving the appointment.
“I don’t think any citizen knew this was coming – again in closed session council has chosen to hide from the public. They have shunned the public in making a decision without public input or involvement. Just like they did with the interim mayor’s appointment they have put their own self-serving interest over the wishes of our 14,000 citizens,” Tharpe said.
Asked about his mayoral opponent’s vote against the appointment, Tharpe replied, “Gene and I agree on quite a few things, and have over the last 14 years I think the record will show.”
We also asked Tharpe about the mention of Town-County governmental consolidation across town at Tuesday night’s Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting.
“It is good material for a conspiracy theorist – things were running along good under Hollis; then you go back to the grand jury he (Tederick) volunteered to be foreman of; then Matt is mayor; and next town manager; and suddenly there is consolidation talk again,” Tharpe replied.
But as one conspiracy theorist once lamented, “What’s the point of having a conspiracy theory if everyone is going to conspire against it?”
Supervisors OK audit of County’s most-recent financials without EDA info
The Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS) on Tuesday unanimously approved the County’s fiscal year (FY) 2017-2018 financial audit, despite a public plea to hold off on action until an audit of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s (EDA) financials also could be included.
But information on the EDA’s financials — which currently are at the center of a major fraud and embezzlement scandal — may not be available until the end of the year.
The audit is of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the County of Warren for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 2018, which was prepared by Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley and the County’s Finance Department. The audit of the report was conducted by Robinson, Farmer, Cox Associates, which is the County’s auditing firm.
Stanley, the entire BOS, and several other local individuals were indicted on September 20 by the Warren County Special Grand Jury that’s investigating potential criminality related to the EDA financial fraud investigation and civil litigation.
One Front Royal, Va., resident took issue with that fact.
“I contend that you folks cannot approve the 2017-2018 audit as it’s currently written,” said Jim Bond during the public comment period at the start of the BOS October 15 meeting. “I think that there is a well-known material witness in the internal controls of Warren County and that needs to be recognized in the audit report. In the unlikely event that you get a clean audit report on the EDA between now and the time you approve this audit, you might have an argument. Otherwise you can’t approve it.”
Stanley and members of the BOS attempted to provide some clarity.
“As you know, we had been holding off [audit approval] pending a receipt of the EDA’s audit for the same time period,” Stanley told BOS members during the unfinished business portion of their meeting. “The EDA audit is a component unit of our audit. I reject the assertion that the county’s controls aren’t in place. The county’s processes and controls that are under the finance director and the treasurer are in place.”
For instance, as preparers of the County’s annual financial report, the Finance Department has responsibility for establishing and maintaining an internal control structure to ensure that the County’s assets are protected, according to a Dec. 21 2018 letter written by Stanley and County Finance Director Andre Fletcher that’s included in the report.
“In developing and evaluating the County’s accounting system, consideration is given to the adequacy of internal accounting controls, which are designed to provide reasonable, but not absolute, assurance regarding: (1) the safeguarding of assets against loss from unauthorized use or disposition; and (2) the reliability of financial records for preparing financial statement and maintaining accountability for assets,” Stanley and Fletcher wrote.
Additionally, the County also has budgetary controls in place to ensure compliance with provisions in the annual appropriated budget that’s approved by the BOS, and “adequate controls” also exist to guarantee and document the County’s compliance with federal and state laws and regulations, according to their letter.
“Responsibility for both the accuracy of the presented data and the completeness and fairness of the presentation, including all disclosures, rests with the County,” Stanley and Fletcher wrote. “We believe the data, as presented, is accurate in all material respects.”
While BOS members received a copy of the audit just a few days prior to their Tuesday night meeting, Stanley said, “Hopefully, you’ve had time to digest it.”
“At the end of the day, the audit is what it is,” Stanley said. “It’s a statement of our finances as of June 30, 2018.”
Seemingly to support Stanley’s statement, BOS Chairman Daniel Murray read a portion of the audit known as a “disclaimer of opinion,” in which the auditing firm basically said that since it couldn’t obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence from other auditors on the EDA, it didn’t provide an opinion on the authority’s financial statements in its audit of the County’s financials.
“So, I hope that clears up some concerns,” Murray told the audience.
Supervisor Tom Sayre, vice chairman of the BOS, pointed out that the independent auditors also reported the County’s financials to be “neutral, consistent and clear.” And he asked Stanley to explain in laymen’s terms how the EDA budget held up the audit of the County’s FY 2017-18 financials.
Stanley said the EDA isn’t technically part of the County’s budget operations, per se, “it is a separate discrete unit,” although the County does fund a portion of its operations.
Supervisor Tony Carter asked Stanley what happens when the EDA auditors come back with their report, and Stanley said that that information would be included in next year’s audit.
“We wouldn’t come back and amend this one,” said Stanley.
Sayre motioned to accept the audit and Supervisor Linda Glavis seconded it before the full board approved the audit as presented.
Watch the discussion on this exclusive Royal Examiner video: