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High drama on day two of Sayre defamation suit against McDonald

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The Warren County Courthouse continues to be ground zero for EDA-related activity. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

As Royal Examiner reported on September 11, that day Shenandoah District Supervisor Tom Sayre was awarded $20,000 of $25,000 in damages he was seeking in a General District Court defamation civil suit against former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

Sayre awarded $20,000 in defamation suit against former EDA director

While an overview of the case and Judge Ian Williams’ decision and damages ruling was presented in that linked story, there was quite a bit of courtroom drama that led up to that decision that went unreported due to time constraints. We will endeavor to fill in some of that detail now. And with neither side in the case requesting a court reporter for day two of the trial, this is the best you’re going to get.

As Sayre took the stand to open day two of his defamation lawsuit against McDonald there soon were tears from the plaintiff upon recalling the moment he discovered he had been implicated in a series of alleged criminal incidents targeting McDonald and the EDA headquarters.


Sayre based his $25,000 General District Court claim of defamation of character upon the presence of his office cell phone number and the instruction “Do not call Tom during business hours” on a crumpled note McDonald pointed out to Warren County Sheriff’s Office responders to her June 15, 2017 report of an act of vandalism at her home.

Sayre contended that the typed note, as well as the alleged criminal incidents to which it appeared linked, was fabricated either by McDonald or at her direction as a means to deflect attention from her activities as the EDA’s chief executive that led to her December 2018 resignation and current civil and criminal legal problems. Those problems include being a primary defendant in civil suits brought by the EDA and Town of Front Royal seeking recovery of as much as $20 million and $15 million, respectively; as well as 28 felony criminal indictments stemming from the EDA financial fraud investigation launched in September 2018.

Backdoor men – on April 16 it was not an illegal entry with no signs of forced entry when the FBI and VSP searched the EDA office complex, including the former executive director’s office which was locked down since her Dec. 20 resignation.

Though you might think it would be the defendant crying in this circumstance, it was the plaintiff’s tears that began shortly into direct examination by his attorney Tim Bosson. Asked how he found out he had been implicated in criminal activity targeting McDonald and the EDA, Sayre began to recall an August 2017 phone call from former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw telling him he needed “to protect” himself due to the above-cited references in the vandalism scene note.

“I was in the kitchen,” Sayre began haltingly, as he glanced over his shoulder from the witness chair toward his wife seated behind press row. Sayre’s testimony halted for several minutes as he tried to regain control of his emotions, sobbing gently at times.

Those tears eventually evolved into sometimes confrontational cross examination exchanges with McDonald attorney Lee Berlik that led to admonitions from the bench to Sayre not to critique Berlik’s questions to him: “These are yes and no answers – you were doing real well there for about eight seconds,” Judge Williams told Sayre at one point during the plaintiff’s nearly two-and-a-half hours on the stand.

The eight seconds of court-approved exchange between Berlik and Sayre referenced by Williams was Sayre’s reply to the question, “Did you ever tell the police that Mr. Bianchini (yes, this one) was suspected of cutting the brake wires on your car?”

After a slight pause Sayre replied, “I’m going to answer no,” elaborating that he had three suspects to what he testified was discovered to be sliced brake wires causing warning lights to come on and the vehicle not to start as his wife attempted to leave their property in their Chevy Traverse several years ago.

It would not be the only reference to your humble reporter during the day’s testimony and closing arguments. That is due to Bianchini’s (I hate referring to myself in the third person) day one testimony that McDonald told him details of the vandalism the afternoon of June 15, 2017, during a lengthy meeting at her office. It turned out that conversation came five to six hours before McDonald reported the stone-throwing vandalism of her home at 9:02 p.m. that evening. Also drawing attention to this reporter were the plaintiff’s day one introduction of a series of texts and emails between him and McDonald regarding the vandalism event at her home and her private investigator’s research into the incident.

They were messages largely concerning a potential suspect supposedly connected to Sayre as a past criminal client, who was approached about wearing a wire to draw an admission from Sayre to his involvement. McDonald’s Private Investigator Ken Pullen testified there was neither an ID’ed suspect nor any plan for wiring a suspect during his day one testimony on August 2.

Sayre – McDonald defamation suit continued to September 11

Asked by Berlik during cross examination if he had feared for his safety or that he might be murdered, Sayre explained that he feared McDonald or associates might kill him for crossing the then EDA executive director concerning the Workforce Housing Project. During a June 2017 county board-EDA work session Sayre and fellow county supervisor Archie Fox had questioned McDonald and EDA board Chairman Greg Drescher about the process of that project.

Archie Fox and Tom Sayre were skeptical of some answers given by McDonald and EDA board Chair Greg Drescher concerning the rationale and process of the EDA Workforce Housing project at a June 6, 2017, work session. However, such questions had been on table from media and one council source for eight months.

It was a project that bore questioning, as it evolved from a reported 2014 $10 “gift” from McDonald’s aunt and uncle for whom the EDA executive director maintained a real estate broker’s license and job, to a $445,000 “moral obligation” purchase of 3-1/2 acres by the EDA upon disclosure a previously unmentioned federal tax credit deadline had not been met in 2017. Of course Sayre and Fox weren’t the first to question that and other recent EDA projects. Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger and Royal Examiner had begun asking questions, particularly about Workforce Housing and the ITFederal project over the previous year.

First impression of EDA reply: 383 pages later what have we learned?

“There are people who get knocked off if they know too much,” Sayre explained, referencing the 1983 murder of Front Royal Police Sgt. Dennis Smedley, and another apparently fatal incident involving a local physician he identified as “Doctor Lind”.

“She talked about killing me … that she missed an opportunity to ‘take me out’,” Sayre told Berlik, adding of the still unsolved Smedley murder, “There is a theory he knew too much about drugs in the community.”

The give and take between McDonald’s attorney and Sayre led to Berlik’s closing argument that because the plaintiff believed something in his mind did not mean it was true, or that his client had caused those beliefs to formulate.

Berlik argued that Sayre’s fears were stoked more by Shaw’s phrasing of her warning phone call to him, the recollection of which led to Sayre’ initial battle with his emotions on the stand, more so than the actual presence of his number and the instruction “don’t call Tom during business hours” on the typed note pointed out by McDonald to first responders at the home vandalism scene.

This social media photo of Tom Sayre and Jennifer McDonald during the ITFederal ground breaking ceremony was referenced by Sayre during his testimony – he said it illustrated what he perceived to be a good working relationship with McDonald at the time.

Berlik also questioned whether Sayre had suffered any actual damage from the note and its contents. While Sayre testified he had gone from full-time legal practice to part-time in the wake of the note’s discovery, Berlik elicited the information that his salary at job he took upon cutting back his legal practice, as Human Resources Director at Seton Home School, paid him $93,000 to $95,000 with subsequent Cost Of Living (COLA) increases. However Sayre insisted he had taken about a $10,000 loss of income hit due to his employment shift.

Berlik also referenced previous testimony from witnesses who all indicated they did not believe Sayre’s reputation had been impacted in the community by the alleged conspiracy note.

Sayre countered that he had run into a woman during his current campaign for re-election who said she would not vote for him because of a belief he had been involved in the alleged incidents targeting McDonald. Asked her name by Berlik, Sayre could say only that she lived “up on Freezeland Road”.

Sayre also testified that he had a perhaps unexpected opponent in his run for re-election to the Shenandoah District Supervisors seat. Berlik asked if that opponent, identified as Walter Mabe, was running against him because he believed Sayre had been involved in a criminal targeting of McDonald.

“Where is he? … Where is the woman on Freezeland Road?” Berlik asked during closing arguments. His point to the court was that if either could provide evidence of the plaintiff’s assertion of damage to his reputation, why hadn’t they been produced as plaintiff witnesses.

“I don’t believe it happened,” Berlik said of the Freezeland Road encounter.

Sayre testified that Bianchini was just one of several he suspected might be involved in a brake line cutting incident on one of his vehicles several years ago. He also testified he had worked to repair the relationship with the reporter.

Berlik also questioned Sayre’s claim of emotional damage. The plaintiff said he suffered a great deal of stress and anxiety about his personal, professional and political future in the wake of information about the note circulating in the community. Sayre said he had talked to a priest, among others, though not in professional clinical treatment settings.

Defense counsel also cited a number of examples involving personal disputes with a variety of people to illustrate that the plaintiff was exceptionally thin-skinned and might take offense where others wouldn’t. Berlik pointed out that others implicated in the note, including Shaw and Michael Graham, had not filed defamation actions as a result.

Sayre attorney Bosson countered by saying the defense “eggshell” ego argument didn’t matter – that if his client was negatively impacted, as he asserted the plaintiff had illustrated he was, that was the bottom line in a defamation case.

“She was trying to destroy me – I called the BAR about it,” Sayre told Bosson on direct examination about fears for his professional future.

Noting his client has never been proved to have been the author of the vandalism scene conspiracy note, defense counsel Berlik pointed to others in the community who might have motive to attempt to set Sayre up for criminal acts out of various personal or professional conflicts with him.

Wait, what – WHO?!?

“We’re not saying Mr. Bianchini threw the rock – but they have a negative history. He had as much motive as anyone,” Berlik told the judge of testimony of past conflicts between the reporter and plaintiff including Sayre’s brake wire cutting suspicion of Bianchini and Bianchini’s filing of a 2011 stalking report involving Sayre around the time of the multi-million dollar SolAVerde tortious interference in a business contract lawsuit against Sayre and then fellow councilmen Chris Holloway and Carson Lauder.

However in his closing argument Sayre attorney Bosson pointed to the past tensions between the reporter and his client brought out by the defense as a positive for the plaintiff’s case. “In a way Mr. Berlik is our best witness – he’s gone out of his way to show Mr. Bianchini doesn’t like Mr. Sayre; so his (Bianchini’s) bias is in the opposite direction.”

Defense counsel Berlik argued that it was Sayre himself, upon being informed of the note and its contents by Shaw in August 2017, who had done the most to spread the information he was implicated throughout the community.

However plaintiff counsel countered that McDonald had played Bianchini with the “off the record” information about the note and investigation in order to get the information spread into the community.

Sayre was asked on the stand about Bianchini’s testimony that he only told four “close associates”, three professional and his long-time girlfriend, in confidence about the information he had gotten from McDonald about her PI’s investigation into the vandalism situation.

“I think he may have forgotten how many people he told,” Sayre replied. (Why is everybody picking on my memory?!? – What were we writing about?)

Bianchini reflective, perhaps pondering suing everyone who has ever questioned his memory due to all the existential emotional angst it has caused him over the years …

In the end the case revolved around two primary arguments – who was a likely author or architect of the note and the reported crimes against McDonald and the EDA offices; and were there actual damages involved, or just Mr. Sayre’s perception of damage where none actually existed.

In closing Bosson said the plaintiff didn’t have to prove McDonald herself wrote the note or threw the rock through her front door window.

“She told Mr. Bianchini that afternoon – how does she know about a crime that hasn’t happened? We are not saying she threw the brick or that she wrote the note. What we are saying is Ms. McDonald knows who threw the brick; what we are saying is Ms. McDonald knows what was in the draft note – she was the one behind it …

“This was all a scam by her to deflect attention off of herself – she may have thought it was for kicks to implicate Tom Sayre in a crime,” Bosson told the court, referencing both the home vandalism and McDonald’s report in May 2017 of a break in at the EDA headquarters.

On the stand Sayre expressed distress at being tied to racial slurs on one of the photos of McDonald and family members discovered at the EDA office after McDonald reported a break-in there on May 17, 2017, about a month before the reported vandalism at her home. The vandalism scene note referenced “Norma Jean” and “the Examiner” waiting for information supposedly taken from the EDA office that day.

At the time Shaw was exploring the large amounts of cash McDonald was using in her real estate business transactions, as well as the presence of the Sheriff as an agent on one of McDonald’s two real estate companies.

McDonald approached this reporter in January 2018 concerning his interest in a story about what she said was a three-year lucky streak at the Hollywood Casino slot machines netting her around $2 million in winnings. State Police report a different outcome, about $750,000 in losses, including what she won over that period.

“This is far from a simple case,” Judge Williams said after a 10 minute recess to formulate his ruling. He cited four elements of defamation: 1/ publication, or perhaps in this case dissemination; 2/ an actionable statement; 3/ recklessness; 4/ false and defamatory information.

Noting that both parties were public figures constantly under public scrutiny, the judge observed, “They must be thick skinned about such things – but they don’t need to be thick skinned about malice.”

Williams said the evidence must be viewed in its totality, rather than compartmentalized.

“The plaintiff has evidence that the defendant had compelling reasons to use the plaintiff as a dupe in this,” the judge said referencing EDA/County Attorney Dan Whitten’s testimony that “things were falling apart” at the time and that “the defendant had reason to keep a lid on it … She had a reckless disregard for truth” and “reason to shift attention from herself to another public figure,” Judge Williams observed.

What, me worry? Why would municipal and EDA officials worry over McDonald’s suddenly publicly-admitted gambling habit – if she’s winning, it’s not a problem, right?

Conflicting resolutions

Judge Williams then referenced the different outcome he was about to render to the not guilty verdict in McDonald’s criminal misdemeanor false police report case last October 31. Judge W. Dale Houff dismissed the case against McDonald regarding her reported vandalism of June 15, 2017, at her home. That case was initially developed by FRPD investigators based on information supplied by this reporter during a police interview  the morning of June 16, 2017. After nearly a year the warrant was brought forward by the Virginia State Police on June 13, 2018.

Judge Williams said it was unfortunate the outcomes were conflicting, adding of a key witness in both trials, “Mr. Bianchini’s memory seem to have been rehabilitated.”

The reference was to McDonald criminal attorney David Crump’s October 31, 2018 cross examination question to this witness about a notation on EDA Administrative Assistant Missy Henry’s 2017 calendar about an alleged meeting Bianchini had scheduled with McDonald at 9:30 a.m. Friday morning, June 16. It was then that McDonald and her attorney asserted Bianchini was told about the vandalism of the previous evening at her home, rather than the previous afternoon as he claimed.

Like McDonald, Henry has since been indicted on criminal felony charges related to the EDA financial fraud investigation, though in Henry’s case only two indictments related to disbursement of EDA assets related to the EDA-financed B&G Goods operation in the old Stokes Mart building.

But as Bianchini testified in this defamation trial, if he admitted to an “imperfect memory” and expressed confusion on the stand last October, it was confusion about whether he had scheduled a meeting with McDonald for that Friday morning 16 months earlier, rather than confusion about the Thursday meeting.

And Judge Williams noted that two witnesses called in this defamation trial corroborated key aspects of Bianchini’s testimony. Those witnesses were former EDA Marketing Director Marla Jones and FRPD Investigator Landin Waller. Neither was called as a witness by the prosecution in McDonald’s 2018 false police report trial.

On August 2, 2019, Jones testified that Bianchini was in McDonald’s EDA office for an extended period of time behind closed doors on Thursday afternoon, June 15, 2017, around 3 p.m. She also testified that she did not see Bianchini in the office the following morning. It was that Friday morning that Jones told FRPD investigators that McDonald had told her about the vandalism; and that the two talked for much of the morning.

Also on day one of the defamation trial last month Investigator Waller confirmed that Bianchini had informed him and Captain Crystal Cline in an interview the morning of June 16, 2017, between 10:40 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. about receiving the information about the vandalism from McDonald the previous afternoon.

And as Bianchini testified on day one of this defamation trial, had he been told about the vandalism at a meeting with McDonald within an hour of arriving for his interview at FRPD’s investigative headquarters, he would not have forgotten that – “I probably would have had to go straight from the EDA office to police headquarters,” Bianchini observed on the stand during his August 2 testimony.

And as Bianchini told fellow reporter Josh Gully during a phone interview for his story on the defamation trial, “Anyone can write anything on a calendar at any time”; and that if a meeting had once been scheduled with McDonald for June 16, 2017, it had previously been cancelled.

But without the corroborating witness testimony and no redirect examination to explain his hesitancy in response to the June 16, 2017 morning meeting question posed by the McDonald defense on October 31, 2018, Judge Houff dismissed the criminal case against McDonald without the defense even having to present its case.

However 10-1/2 months later the civil litigation surrounding McDonald’s vandalism report would have a different outcome.

As previously reported, after hearing nearly 3-1/2 hours of testimony and arguments on day two of the trial, Judge Williams awarded Sayre $5,000 in damages, $15,000 in punitive damages, and $676 in court filing costs. McDonald has 10 days from the judgment to file an appeal to Circuit Court.

Settle down boys

In another ruling, Williams declined to impose sanctions on either attorney for their conduct in or out of court during this case.

“There has been some hostility in this case … at times moderate to heavy … about what a dog the opponent was,” Williams said of the attorneys, describing “braggadocio” from both sides on how tough they were going to be in seeking a successful resolution for their clients.

In fact as Bosson and Berlik argued a motions point during last Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Williams admonished them at one point, “Now both of you, sit down.”

Despite the theatrics and contentious nature of the case, Williams said, “I am not inclined to sanction either side in this case.”

Bosson argued for some sanction against Berlik for attempting to bury the plaintiff in motions filing in the case’s earlier days. In fact during a March hearing the number of motions filings and legal hours spent on the case led the judge to question how much money the two sides were spending in a case with a maximum recovery cap of $25,000.

“It’s very curious – but I’m giving you more time to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Williams famously observed of the hours and expense of the case on March 30 when he put a lid on further motions hearings.

In fact costs were a point of testimony during Sayre’s lengthy cross examination last week. Berlik asked the plaintiff if his legal costs had reached $77,000. Sayre replied, “No, they are much less than that,” estimating them at $6,000.

Following the trial’s adjournment outside the courthouse Bosson explained to the media that he had taken a flat up-front fee of $6,000, with a percentage of the award granted by the court. Typical percentage arrangements could add another $6,000 to Sayre’s legal fees.

While Bosson indicated he and his office had actually put $77,000 worth of legal time into the case, he said he had taken the reduced fee arrangement because he thought it was the right thing to do for his client in this particular legal circumstance.

Tom Sayre, left, and attorney Tim Bosson outside the courthouse following awarding of $20,000 in Sayre’s $25,000 defamation suit against Jennifer McDonald. How much did you say you were making at that human resources director’s job, Bosson may be have been thinking.

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Crime/Court

Judge ponders rulings in multiple defense motions to overturn civil case jury finding of liability in EDA financial scandal cases

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After over five hours of arguments surrounding five EDA civil case defendants’ motions to overturn jury liability verdicts totaling over $14-million, Judge Bruce D. Albertson took those arguments under advisement Wednesday afternoon, November 30th. Some court officials anticipate rulings at some point in the coming week in the cases of April Petty ($125,000 compensatory judgement liability); William Lambert ($296,555.34 compensatory, punitive, & interest liabilities); Donald “Donnie” Poe ($604,973.12 compensatory, punitive, interest); Truc “Curt” Tran ($1,821,192.01 compensatory, interest); and Samuel “Sammy” North (approximately $893,000 compensatory, punitive, interest, & statutory conspiracy).

In addition to the above personal liabilities, Poe’s EarthRight Energy (ERE) company ($948,646.25 in compensatory, punitive, interest) and Tran’s ITFederal ($10,419,327.38 compensatory) were also handed down by Warren County Circuit Court civil case juries in recent months.

Five civil case defendants plus two companies, plaintiff EDA, and a community, await the court’s ruling on motions to overturn verdicts of liability in the EDA financial scandal trials. Below, a chart of EDA civil liability jury findings – Royal Examiner File Photos

All but North’s trial were heard in July. North’s, also originally scheduled for July, was delayed to October by a later withdrawn bankruptcy filing. This week on the final day of November, attorneys for the defendants echoed arguments sometimes heard at trial during earlier motions for dismissal of cases or claims against their clients due to what defense attorneys asserted both then and now, was a lack of substantive evidence of collusion with EDA financial scandal central figure and former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald. Rather, some defense attorneys claimed their clients were unwitting victims of McDonald’s from various business or personal connections.


Those personal connections include North’s marriage to McDonald; Lambert’s former personal relationship with McDonald’s sister; what attorney William Schmidheiser called Petty’s casual acquaintance McDonald, acting as his client’s real estate agent in the sale of her home. On the business side, Poe’s ERE company was contracted through McDonald to perform various solar  energy and energy maintenance projects for the EDA under what plaintiff EDA attorneys contended were false pretenses McDonald presented to her board of directors; and Tran’s ITFederal was recruited through the joint effort of McDonald and then Virginia Sixth District U.S. House Representative Bob Goodlatte to become the first commercial redevelopment client at the former Avtex Superfund site, also with what plaintiff counsel said were false contractual and asset information concerning ITFederal alleged to have been presented to the EDA board.

Several attorneys, most prominently Tran attorney David Jones Jr., also argued that several claims categories should not have applied to their clients at trial. Prominent among those were the “ultra vires” claim of profiting off the actions of an official acting outside the range of their legal authority, and associated claims of “conversion” and “unjust enrichment” being applied to their clients for actions of then EDA Executive Director McDonald. Consequently, Jones for Tran particularly and other defense attorneys argued that some jury instructions submitted were improper, creating an incorrect evidentiary scenario for those juries to deliberate on. So, procedural errors on bench rulings on evidence admissibility or jury instructions were claimed as grounds to overturn jury verdicts.

In Poe and ERE’s case, defense counsel William Ashwell also noted that some of the contracted work had been successfully completed by Poe’s company. He told the court that when payments were made by the EDA board to his client’s company: “The EDA eventually adopts her (McDonald’s) actions by their actions” and consequently his client is not the one who should be held liable for the return of money for work accomplished. Ashwell also sought to overturn any personal liability of Poe for payments made to his company.

In opening his arguments to overturn or limit Tran and ITFederal’s liability, Jones noted that he was “in the somewhat unenviable position of not being the trial attorney – Am I in the position of fresh eyes or of where fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” Jones wondered as he launched what would be an approximate hour of argument on his client’s behalf. During that hour Jones questioned the liability finding on a number of grounds and questioned whether ITFederal was, in fact, in breach of contract as claimed by the EDA in seeking recovery of the balance of the $10-million loan the EDA gave ITFederal for development at the former Avtex site.

Plaintiff counsel Cullen Seltzer and Karissa Kaseorg countered, as they had at trial, that McDonald’s assertions to her board about the source of funding for the ERE energy and electrical work being through grants that would compensate the EDA for its payments to ERE; or alleged government contracts held by Tran’s ITFederal company that were non-existent created the path for those payments, and a $10-million loan in ITFederal’s case, substantiating the juries findings of liability on ultra vires, conversion, and unjust enrichment, among other plaintiff claims.

In response to some of Jones’ arguments for reduction or dismissal of his clients’ liability, Kaseorg told Judge Albertson that the motions to overturn hearings should not be an opportunity for defense counsel to retry the case with a “what we wish we had done” at trial. Of Jones’ argument to dismiss based on the inclusion of the plaintiff’s “conversion” jury instruction, plaintiff counsel noted that the defense had agreed to the conversion jury instruction at trial.

In conclusion plaintiff EDA counsel asserted the judicial decisions from the bench at trial had been proper as to both evidence admissibility and jury instructions, and that those jury verdicts of financial liability based on both sides cases as presented at trial should stand as handed down by those five juries. And now we are awaiting a decision on how the court will rate its own performance at those trials based on the defendants’ challenges and the plaintiff’s counter-arguments in support of the judicial rulings made at trial.

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EDA in Focus

EDA welcomes C-CAP into office complex, reports on operational reviews, prospects, budget, and civil case results

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The Front Royal-Warren County EDA held their monthly meeting on Friday, October 28, 2022, at 8 a.m. at the Warren County Government Center. All five Board members, legal counsel, and the County Director of Economic Development were present.

As part of the Executive Committee Report, Board Chair Jeff Browne provided an update on the recent civil court cases and actions up to the present time. He also noted the FR-WC EDA’s building at 400 Kendrick Lane has a new tenant, as C-CAP recently moved into Suite B.

The EDA office complex on Kendrick Ln. has a new tenant, as C-CAP has moved into Suite B at the eastern side of the old Avtex Admin building. – Royal Examiner file photo

Treasurer, Jim Wolfe, presented an update on monthly financial statements and the reestablishment of the small business loan committee. The Board will provide feedback on their Fiscal Year-2023/24 budget request and plans to hold a special meeting in November to prioritize the request.


The Warren County Director of Economic Development, Joe Petty, provided an update on current activities related to prospects, small business loan, annual audit, upcoming programs, and marketing. Mr. Petty also mentioned that he had recently attended the VIED (Virginia Institute of Economic Development) training and is working with the County and Town staff on various projects. Additionally, the FR-WC EDA Board and Mr. Petty will continue to explore and complete items to provide greater awareness and attraction to development sites.

The Board approved three documents related to incentive and grant opportunities for the Nature’s Touch expansion located on Toray Drive. The Board also approved the release of a property once owned by the FR-WC EDA at 280 Kelley Drive in order to be compliant with the development’s covenants and restrictions.

Royal Examiner file photo of the current FR-WC EDA board and the County’s EDA Director Joe Petty, at lower left, at work at recent meeting at WCGC.

As part of a review of the Board’s action items from the October Strategic Plan Meeting, the Board prioritized the list and determined which items may require funding obligations. In an effort to assist small businesses, the Board is reactivating its United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan programs and will be seeking qualified citizens to serve on its USDA Microloan and IRP loan committee. These loans provide financial assistance to help business owners with operating capital and other expenses.

The next regular monthly Board meeting will be held on Friday, December 2, 2022, at 8 a.m. at the Warren County Government Center Caucus Room.

The Board concluded the meeting with a closed session to discuss business opportunities and legal consultation, with no new business following the closed session.


(From a release by the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, also known as the Warren County EDA in the wake of the Town of Front Royal’s circa 2020/21 decision to withdraw from involvement in post-financial scandal reform-restructuring of the half-century old joint-municipality EDA.)

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Crime/Court

Jury takes less than hour to find ‘Sammy’ North liable in wife’s ‘scheme’ to move $110,000 from EDA to real estate transaction for personal gain

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After just over five hours of testimony, evidence, and opening and closing arguments by plaintiff and defense counsel Tuesday, a seven-person Warren County Circuit Court civil case jury found former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s husband Samuel ‘Sammy’ North liable on all of its claims regarding his part in a 2015 real estate purchase on a parcel at 1309 Robinhood Lane achieved with the transfer of $110,000 in EDA funds. Those EDA claims included (i) fraud, (ii) unjust enrichment, (iii) conversion, (iv) conspiracy, (v) ultra vires (related to his wife’s exceeding her authority as an EDA official), and (vi) punitive damages.

Financially, North was found liable for the base compensatory claim of $110,000, as well as $165,000 on a finding of Statutory Conspiracy, another $350,000 in Punitive Damages on a ruling of Malicious Intent, bringing liability to $625,000. With interest, estimated at $268,000 added, North’s total liability is approximately $893,000.

Defense attorney Frank Reynolds indicated he would file a motion to overturn the verdict as unsubstantiated by civil case law just as counsel for four other EDA financial scandal civil defendants tried and found liable in July have done. Hearings on those defense motions are scheduled to be heard by Judge Bruce D. Albertson on November 30. A schedule for defense filings and plaintiff responses to facilitate the North case’s inclusion in that late November hearing was discussed prior to adjournment around 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, October 25. North’s civil liability trial was originally scheduled for July but was continued in the wake of a bankruptcy filing by North, which according to plaintiff counsel was later withdrawn.

Asked about the verdict, current FR-WC EDA Board of Directors Chairmen Jeff Browne, present for the trial as he was for the July cases, told Royal Examiner, “Well, it’s another win. It shows that we’ve got a good legal team and we had a good case. And it makes a real difference for the people of Warren County.”


EDA lead counsel Cullen Seltzer and assistant Kimberly Paulsrud, the latter who handled the projected graphic presentations in support of the plaintiff’s case at trial Tuesday. Royal Examiner file photos

Asked if he was concerned when alerted that the jury had reached a verdict so quickly – about 45 minutes, Browne said, “No, not really. My sense was that, that was a good sign.”

It might be noted that in closing arguments both sides’ counsel had called the evidence presented to the jury as “simple” in its nature, though disagreeing on the substance of that evidence as to the defendant’s knowledge or lack thereof on McDonald’s use of EDA assets.

“And the jury listened to that evidence and made a decision,” Browne noted of the verdict and the time taken to reach it. He noted that more civil cases will be coming to court in March to April of 2023. Of the November hearing on the recent defendant motions to overturn jury verdicts, Browne added, “I don’t think there will be any changes in November, I hope not. And we’ll have the opportunity to start gathering assets.”

With the North verdict and liability ruled by the jury added to the four made in July, pending no reversal of verdicts on November 30, the EDA is poised to recover over $15 million in assets on these five cases. Coupled with an out-of-court “no-fault” settlement with McDonald, on paper at least, involved civil case defendants have been ruled or offered liability for about $24 million of the estimated $26-million EDA “financial scandal” circa 2014-2018.

Trial debate

As with the July civil trials of April Petty, William Lambert, Donald Poe and Earthright Energy, and Truc “Curt” Tran and ITFederal related to the EDA financial scandal uncovered in 2018, plaintiff and defense arguments in the EDA versus North case revolved, at least in part, around what the defendant knew or didn’t know about Jennifer McDonald’s lack of unilateral authority to move EDA assets related to the defendant’s use of those assets in what plaintiff counsel referred to as “a scheme”.

Defense counsel Reynolds argued that plaintiff council had failed to present any evidence proving his client knew his wife did not have the authority to transfer $110,000 of EDA funds for his purchase of a townhouse at 1309 Robinhood Lane in September 2015. In fact, defense counsel argued that the $110,000 transfer to facilitate the $107,500 purchase, plus closing costs, by her husband could have been authorized by an EDA Asset Committee. Reynolds pointed to his client’s and Settlement Title staff’s recollection of the presence of then-EDA Board Chair Patty Wines, since diseased, at the Robinhood Lane property closing, to argue that it could have been an authorized transfer related to the EDA’s efforts to develop affordable workforce housing for young professionals.

However, EDA lead attorney Cullen Seltzer countered those arguments with one of the three witnesses he called, former Warren County and EDA attorney Dan Whitten. In fact, Tuesday’s trial was accomplished in one day with the calling of a total of only four witnesses: Closing company Service Title’s Records Custodian Kelly Shaney, Whitten, and Jennifer McDonald by the plaintiff, and defendant Samuel North by the defense.

Under direct examination Whitten pointed out that any transfer of over $50,000 of EDA funds for acquisitions would have to be approved by the full EDA Board of Directors in an open session vote. Whitten testified that McDonald’s 2015 transfer of $110,000 for her husband’s purchase of 1309 Robinhood Lane had never been discussed in open or closed session, and never approved by the EDA board. EDA counsel Seltzer also pointed to North’s invocation of his 5th Amendment right not to self-incriminate when asked at deposition why the Robinhood Lane parcel had been purchased.

Jeff Browne, left, and Dan Whitten at EDA Board of Directors meeting prior to Whitten’s departure to another county attorney role.

On cross examination, Whitten expressed no knowledge of an EDA Asset Committee in 2015 that might have discussed or forwarded the transaction. Also on cross examination by the defense, McDonald testified that the EDA’s Asset Committee predated her 2008 to 2018 tenure as EDA executive director. During defense closing argument, Reynolds hammered at Whitten’s lack of knowledge of and absence from any EDA Asset Committee meetings to indicate a gap in the plaintiff’s case alleging the $110,000 transfer was unauthorized. But in his rebuttal closing argument, EDA attorney Seltzer countered that no EDA committee, likely comprised of two board members, could have authorized a transfer of $110,000 per the EDA policy on full-board approval of such transfers over $50,000.

Financial difficulty or not

In opening arguments and some evidentiary submissions, EDA counsel presented a scenario of financial difficulty by North and his wife in 2015 leading to the decision to move EDA assets to facilitate North’s purchase of 1309 Robinhood Lane. Seltzer presented records indicating that North’s plumbing business had lost over $71,000 between 2013 to 2016, while the couple was claiming gambling income/losses totaling $1.125-million over the same four-year period. Defense counsel countered that the “income/losses” tax claims actually indicated a break-even gambling scenario, rather than a high loss one of over $500,000 creating financial difficulty for the couple.

In closing, Reynolds told the jury that the plaintiff had failed to show “one bit of information here other than they were married to each other” to implicate his client in a conspiracy to defraud the EDA. North had testified on direct examination that his wife handled the couple’s taxes and financial affairs, and he had been unaware of the large gambling claims until shown them at deposition. In response to a question from his attorney, North estimated the most he’d ever lost gambling in a year was $2,000. Queried by EDA counsel about his signing off on tax returns he had not reviewed, North said he trusted his wife on such matters, adding that, “Finances were never my niche.”

Implication of 5th Amendment responses

One key piece of plaintiff evidence that opened their evidentiary case was a video excerpt of the above-referenced deposition given by the defendant to EDA counsel on March 30, 2021. During questioning on details of the Robinhood Lane purchase, North invoked his 5th Amendment right not to self-incriminate what Seltzer later told the jury was a total of 45 times. Called as the plaintiff’s final witness, questioned about her transfer of the $110,000 for her husband’s September 2015 purchase of the 1309 Robinhood Lane parcel, a parcel EDA counsel noted North would gift to his wife in November of that year, McDonald invoked her 5th Amendment right not to self incriminate about 11 times before Seltzer ended his direct examination.

‘Sammy’ North’s arrest on criminal charges – later dropped along with others facing speedy trial statute violations – related to the EDA financial scandal swirling around his wife’s tenure as EDA executive director, is a reminder of the potential criminal liability around the EDA civil litigations surrounding alleged co-conspirators of Jennifer McDonald related to her movement of EDA assets over a several year period. Since the criminal aspect was turned over to federal authorities from a state special prosecutor’s office, only McDonald has been re-indicted on criminal charges.

During closing arguments plaintiff and defense counsel debated the implication of those 5th Amendment responses by both North at deposition and McDonald on the stand. Reynolds noted simple care in the face of possible criminal indictments on related matters, while Seltzer for the EDA stressed to the jury that the 5th Amendment is invoked specifically in support of one’s Constitutional right not “to self-incriminate” regarding potential criminal charges.

It would appear from its quick finding of civil liability that the latter plaintiff argument held the most weight for the seven jurors during their deliberations.

The Warren County Courthouse has seen a flurry of EDA civil case activity in recent months resulting in 5 of 5 verdicts of personal liability, 7 of 7 including 2 related company liability findings in 2 of those cases.

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EDA in Focus

Supervisors explore budget carryover process and new software prior to light meeting agenda – THEN there was the closed session

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A Tuesday evening, October 18, work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors began with Finance Director Matt Robertson’s explanation of his recommendation for a change in how annual budget carryover funds can be handled. The recommendation comes on the heels of some confusion expressed by supervisors in how carryover funds are handled by various departments, particularly in the county public schools budget. However, it did seem that once a Supervisors-School Board Liaison Committee was established to run thru the school system’s budget proposals or requests prior to supervisor meetings, things went smoother in the last weeks of the FY-2022/23 budget process.

But from whichever angle you approach the issue, Robertson hopes the recommended adjustments will answer any questions and pin down a process this board has approved for future carryover funding transfers between fiscal year budgets for departmental and outside agency operational uses. Robertson’s October 18th work session presentation relates directly to the necessity of a public hearing and subsequent board approval of a pending transfer of $2.05 million from the County’s Fiscal Year-2021/22 budget to its current FY-2022/23 budget. Robertson explained those funds were part of a $3.3-million surplus of revenues over expenditures in the FY-2021/22 County budget year.

County Finance Director Matt Robertson explains the proposed budget carryover and use proposal authorization to be put into play next week.

As Robertson told the board, state codes require that budget amendments exceeding 1% of the total projected expenditures in the currently approved budget year require a public hearing allowing citizen input prior to final board action. That public hearing is targeted for October 25.


The balance of the work session was a briefing on use of the County’s new software and the laptop computers supervisors and staff have to access that software.

Other than board and staff reports, the regular meeting convened at 7 p.m. consisted of a seven-item Consent Agenda and an Executive/Closed Session. The Consent Agenda, which included authorization to advertise the above-cited October 25th public hearing on the $2.05-million budget-year transfer, was approved as presented by a unanimous vote. That Special Meeting is slated to begin at 6 p.m. at the Warren County Government Center (WCGC) main meeting room.

“New and exciting information”

When Board Chair Cheryl Cullers asked if the scheduled Closed Session remained necessary, County Administrator Ed Daley responded, “Yes, we (staff) have new and exciting information to present to you.”

‘New and exciting information’ on FR-WC EDA legal affairs was promised by County Administrator Ed Daley, below, when Board Chair Cheryl Cullers, above center, asked if the scheduled Executive/Closed Session was still necessary. But the rest of us will just have to wait to find out exactly HOW ‘new and exciting’ it really was.

The Closed Session topics were: “… the provision of legal advice” regarding the FR-WC EDA and all its various litigations, including its civil suits “vs. Jennifer McDonald et al.” and the dueling civil litigations between “the Town of Front Royal vs. the EDA, et al.” and “the EDA vs. the Town of Front Royal, and other potential claims and litigation relating to other possible liabilities of the EDA, the recovery of EDA funds and assets, and the outstanding indebtedness of the EDA.”

As has been reported by Royal Examiner, in four civil asset-recovery cases tried in July, juries awarded the FR-WC EDA a total of about $14 million. July civil case defendants included Truc “Curt” Tran and ITFederal, Donald Poe and Earth Right Energy, William Lambert, and April Petty. Coupled with an out-of-court civil “no-fault” settlement with former FR-WC EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald in which the EDA was awarded an estimated $9 million in real estate assets, among other settlements, the now unilaterally County-directed FR-WC EDA has been awarded, on paper thus far, approximately $23 million of the estimated $26-million allegedly misdirected to personal gain by McDonald and co-conspirators named in the EDA civil litigations related to the 2014/15 to 2018 FR-WC EDA financial scandal. There are several more civil trials looming. Attorneys for the six above-named civil case defendants (including the companies) have all filed motions to overturn the civil case jury verdicts as unsubstantiated by technicalities within civil code law.

On the “outstanding indebtedness” side, as mentioned during the joint Front Royal Town Council/Front Royal EDA (FREDA) meeting on Monday, United Bank has a $10-million claim against the FR-WC EDA. However, questioned about that claim on Wednesday, FR-WC EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne explained that there has been no litigation between the FR-WC EDA and any of the three banks it has dealt with in recent years. So, any bank claim has been a mutually agreed upon one involving bank financing of EDA-overseen projects undertaken on behalf of the Town and County governments in recent years.

Among those bank-financed projects was the ITFederal one in town, for which the Town Council authorized provision of a four-month, $10-million “bridge” loan at the request of then EDA Executive Director McDonald. McDonald explained to the then mayor and council, circa 2017/18, that the bank wanted such a gesture to assure that “the community was behind the project” before it agreed to the loan. From information Royal Examiner later obtained by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, concerns about a lack of ITFederal assets to accomplish what it presented may have created the bank’s hesitancy to authorize a $10-million loan for the project. As this reporter recalls, Tran and ITFederal listed assets of about $2,130,000 in its loan application. However, $2.1 million of that number was the publicly estimated value of the 30-acre Royal Phoenix parcel the EDA Board had “sold” to ITFederal for one dollar, ostensibly to “jump start” development at the federally overseen “brownfield” and former Superfund environmental reclamation site.

Another EDA-bank financed project was the $7-million-plus construction loan for the new Front Royal Police Headquarters, across Kendrick Lane from the FR-WC EDA office complex and the Royal Phoenix Business Park, where a lonely, unoccupied building marks the site of the aborted ITFederal project.

Artists rendering of the proposed initial ITFederal bldg. on its 30-acre Avtex lot parcel. Below the finished product with no Town occupancy permit, alone and abandoned as a final resolution of the July civil liability case verdict, and a defense motion to overturn that verdict is awaited.

But as to any “new and exciting information” regarding any of these situations, it is known only to those supervisors and staff behind the closed doors of Tuesday evening’s Executive Session. And they, not even that fly on the WCGC wall I’ve been trying to catch, are talking.

So, while we can’t offer video of that Executive/Closed Session discussion of new developments on the FR-WC EDA legal front, see the two-pronged work session and subsequent regular meeting open session discussions in the County video.

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EDA in Focus

Council schedules joint meeting with its EDA as it ponders the costs of FREDA’s continued existence

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“To be or not to be” – that seems to be a Shakespearean question looming regarding the continued existence of the unilateral Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA). At its work session of Tuesday, October 11, under the watchful eye of FREDA Board of Directors Vice-Chairman Mark Tapsak, the Front Royal Town Council discussed implications of a yet-to-be established FREDA budget, among other procedural issues. The staff agenda summary even noted the ability of towns to control development, including economic development, through zoning parameters and central utility extension decisions, without the assistance of an EDA.

Now Interim Town Manager Kathleen Leidich summarized the staff report on issues raised by council during August and September work sessions, leading to Tuesday’s October 11th discussion. Following that presentation and discussion, a joint meeting of council and the FREDA Board of Directors was tentatively set for Monday, October 17, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

As noted in the staff agenda summary of October 11:

“The Town, as enabled by the Code of Virginia and governed by the Town Code, has control of its land use, water, sewer, and electric utilities. As such, it has the means to guide community development, including economic development, within its boundaries.


“The Town’s ability to guide, control or encourage development within its boundaries is not reliant on the establishment of an economic development authority. In 2021, the Town began the process of establishing an economic development authority. As a result, the Front Royal Economic Development Authority was established and began meeting in January 2022.

“Current concerns with the Town’s EDA include:

  • “Setup is incomplete – No Federal Tax ID established; accounts not set up
  • “Differences between EDA Bylaws and Chapter 16 of the Town Code-Role of Executive Director not established or defined; staff support for meetings; Legal review
  • “Staff Support – staff is currently providing support for six boards and commissions in addition to the EDA. This includes preparing agenda packets, advertisements, minutes, and video for each meeting, in addition to related work products generated by each board or commission.

“Recent events provide Council the opportunity to review its concerns and establish consensus regarding the Town’s Economic Development Authority.”

And finally, “Staff Recommendation: – Staff requests Town Council direction regarding the set up/support of the Town’s EDA.”

FREDA Vice-Chairman Mark Tapsak, seated top left in blue shirt, listens on Oct. 11 as council discusses operational issues surrounding the Town’s unilateral EDA created early this year. A joint Town Council-FREDA meeting is being called for Monday, Oct. 17, at Town Hall at 7 p.m. to discuss the ‘powers, duties, and limitations’ of FREDA moving forward.

Background

It might be noted that as reported by Royal Examiner in February 2021 (After year-and-a-half gap, town council catches up on EDA activity, in and out of town), after initial joint meetings targeting corrections to processes that allowed the FR-WC EDA financial scandal to fester between 2014/15 and 2018 “… over the objection of then Mayor Gene Tewalt, who unsuccessfully recommended a policy of cooperation and rebuilding with the EDA and County, as opposed to a litigious one supported by council and pushed forward through the office of the former interim mayor and interim town manager” council began moving toward the hostile civil litigation path. That path was chosen despite offers from then FR-WC EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons for “good-faith negotiations to see exactly who is owed what” related to what is said to have been the unauthorized movement of EDA, County, and Town assets by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

It is a path that continues to rack up contract attorney costs to the Damiani-Damiani law firm of Alexandria recommended to council by the former Interim Town Manager/Mayor as the Town sues the Front Royal-Warren County EDA and the County over disputed losses and liabilities. And with its launch of civil litigation claims the Town withdrew from participation in the re-building of the half-century-old joint municipal EDA. It is an EDA for which by mutual agreement in recent years the Town had no operational cost responsibilities for, only payment of its debt service for EDA-overseen Town projects like construction of the new police headquarters.

Back to the Future

Which brings us back to today as the current council ponders the cost of the economic development path it and its predecessors have chosen. Following Acting Town Manager Leidich’s summary of the above-cited issues, Councilwoman Letasha Thompson questioned the FREDA board’s awareness of council’s concerns moving forward. Leidich replied that FREDA Board Chairman Rick Novak had been informed of the scheduled discussion that evening, but was unavailable, leading to Vice-Chairman Tapsak’s presence.

Mayor Holloway then suggested a joint meeting with the FREDA board, “So we can all get together and discuss our options,” adding, “It took some time to set this up. I’d hate to just sort of do away with it.”

A council consensus was quickly reached and with turnaround time on advertising a Special Joint Meeting and scheduling availability “as soon as possible” as Councilman Gary Gillispie suggested, as noted above a tentative joint meeting date of Monday evening, October 17, at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall main meeting room was set.

Councilwoman Amber Morris cited past closed session council discussion of FREDA’s future, noting that the discussion was now a matter of open session, public record – “It’s out there,” she observed, adding, “The set-up of FREDA is incomplete, or wasn’t completed, and we began operating. FREDA pre-dates my time on council. I’m excited for them, I was excited for them and I think they’ll bring forward great opportunities to the community for economic development within the town – it’s been not developed for over a decade. All the development goes into the county,” Morris asserted of a perhaps perceived past economic development imbalance. However, whether such larger scale commercial or industrial development flowing outside established town limits reflects a developmental imbalance or a natural outcome of the relative availability of undeveloped stretches of somewhat isolated land, is certainly debatable. And one might note that the one 147-acre space earmarked for commercial economic redevelopment inside the town limits, the former Avtex, federal Superfund, Royal Phoenix Business Park, “Brownfield” site, is owned for that redevelopment by the FR-WC EDA, more commonly referenced as the WC EDA since the Town’s withdrawal from participation circa 2020/21.

Morris continued, reviewing above-cited staff concerns in the agenda summary including the lack of a federal tax ID and a lack of accounts being set up: “And the huge concern that applies to that is that we voted to allocate money to FREDA and a budget. We had discussions … We literally cannot fund them to let them run,” Morris said. She compared the situation to the initial experience with the joint Town-County Tourism Committee’s work to create a 501-C6 organization to run that promotional operation, of which she pointed out, “We hired them, then held them hostage” for some time as parameters and details were ironed out.

Morris also noted the Chapter 16 Town Code/FREDA Bylaw conflict with an Executive Director’s position not being established or defined. That despite recently terminated Town Manager Steven Hicks having been appointed by council to fill that EDA staff role prior to his August 8 departure.

It seems council and its new FREDA Board of Directors will have a lot to talk about on Monday in the hope of establishing a workable path forward with all necessary legal parameters and financing in place. Or upon further exploration of the numbers, might council choose as Mayor Holloway said, “to just sort of do away with it” and rely on “control of its land use, water, sewer, and electric utilities … as the means to guide community development, including economic development, within its boundaries.”

It might be noted that one of two topics on the agenda of a Closed Meeting at the work session’s conclusion was discussion with legal counsel regarding “the establishment, powers, duties and limitations of the Front Royal EDA, pursuant to §2.2-3711(A)(8) of the Code of Virginia” with the additional notation that “Council may take further action in open session.” No action was taken following the closed session. But that might not be the case this coming Monday. Stay tuned as this process moves forward. The other closed meeting topic was the status of the Town Manager, Town Attorney, and Council Clerk’s positions.

Planning Director Lauren Kopishke, standing upper right, addresses citizen feedback on the Comp Plan review. Below, closer look at White Board summary of Comprehensive Plan Review feedback utilized by Planning Director Kopishke during her update on citizen feedback on the Comp Plan update process.

The FREDA discussion begins at the 42:00-minute mark of the Town video, concluding at the 52:24 mark. See that, and other topics including staff updates on other key projects, including the Town Comprehensive Plan review; pending ordinance amendments including residential snow and ice removal on Town right of ways in front of those properties; Special Use Permitting requests; and Redundant North Corridor Water Line financing variables. As noted at the end of our related story on the vacant(?) council seat appointment of Skip Rogers, financial variables on that latter topic among others, has reduced the Town reserve funds to six budgetary months, just three months above the code-mandated three-month minimum. Also, at the outset of the Special Meeting preceding the work session, see council approve a Resolution committing to fund-sharing projects with VDOT, and granting signature authority on VDOT projects in town to Interim Town Manager Leidich.

Click here to watch the meeting.

Local military veterans advocate Skip Rogers edges out vet Joe McFadden for next year of McFadden’s vacated(?) council seat – But is that the story’s end?

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EDA in Focus

As County-directed EDA develops detailed Strategic Plan for the future, it moves toward joint meeting with Town counterpart

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The still legally named Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA, more commonly now referenced as the WC EDA in the wake of the Front Royal Town Council’s circa 2019/20 withdrawal from participation*) held its regular monthly meeting for September, Monday afternoon the 26th, at the Warren County Government Center. With no action items on the agenda, the focus of County EDA Director Joe Petty and the five EDA Board of Director members were committee reports concerning discussion of a cooperative path forward and procedural adjustments surrounding a reworked Strategic Plan.

Asked about the EDA’s direction in the wake of the meeting, now full-time County EDA Director Petty said, “The meeting was productive in getting the Board of Directors thinking about assigned tasks for the upcoming Strategic Planning Session. There has been a lot of positive movement in the past few months and the Board is looking forward to continuing that momentum into the session by planning for the future. This includes having a cooperative relationship with the Town, FREDA, and County for economic development initiatives.”

The now County overseen EDA works toward clarity on a long-range Strategic Plan as it continues to move forward out of the cloud of the 2014-18 financial scandal and its legal and economic consequences. Below, a chart summarizing the July civil case awards the EDA achieved. The bottom lines are at center in yellow-highlighted column on ‘Total Verdict Damages’ awarded to EDA totaling $13,472,913.10 and the far-right, green column with Interest added, bringing the total to $14,215,694.10. With former executive director Jennifer McDonald’s out-of-court, no-fault settlement amount of about $9 million in real estate assets, the EDA has recovered $23 million – at least on paper – of the estimated $26 million in assets alleged to have been moved into private-sector hands without EDA board authority. However, all those July civil jury liability verdicts are facing defense motions to be overturned.

Board Chairman Jeff Browne launched the cooperative tone during his opening Executive Committee Report. He sought input on a preferred date for, and legal advice regarding, a largely social “get-to-know” each other meeting with the newly created Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA) Board of Directors. With the meeting planned chiefly as a “getting to know each other” session with no business or action items scheduled, Browne inquired of EDA attorney Sharon Pandak, present remotely, if it would require the same legal notification as regular board meetings. Pandak said that with the intent that the two full boards be present, yes, published public notice of the date and time of the meeting would be required as usual.


Later Browne noted a recent meeting with Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell to discuss cooperative efforts between the now divided Town and County EDAs. And with Mayor Chris Holloway’s announced retirement from politics Cockrell is also essentially the Mayor-in-Waiting as the only person on the ballot for the mayor’s seat in the coming November Election.

Cooperative movement to a mutually agreeable end was also evident in discussion of a utility easement across WC EDA property at the Avtex site to allow Town crews to perform storm-water management work on existing infrastructure as needed in the future. A consensus was reached to put approval of at least a short-term agreement outlining what work and access is anticipated to eventually be on the table, on the EDA’s next regular monthly meeting agenda in October.

Also, during his Executive Committee Report, Browne noted an upcoming meeting with a senior member of the Council for Competitiveness regarding American companies, particularly supply chain businesses, planning to relocate from overseas seeking favorable locations in the U.S. “It seems like we’d be a really great location for them,” Browne said of the county with its Interstate Highway system crossroads location, as well as the Inland Port connection to the Norfolk Port Authority system.

After a brief discussion of some EDA properties insurance coverage issues forwarded by Jorie Martin, Jim Wolfe summarized work towards establishing goals for an upcoming Strategic Planning meeting slated for 8 a.m., potentially thru lunch time, on Friday, October 14. Chairman Browne pointed to a preparatory meeting envisioned for the previous Friday, October 7, where individually assigned tasks for board members related to the Strategic Plan update, budgetary and marketing matters would be reviewed to give the following week’s meeting a stronger jumping off point. Of the two-pronged October assault on the evolving Strategic Plan, Browne described a strategical perspective: “Focusing ultimately on the big picture – how do we assess competing priorities and reconnoiter them in terms of importance and their immediacy.”

That discussion segued into the Asset Committee Report of Greg Harold, who led off with the good news that with the Baugh Drive warehouse sale being finalized, that property was no longer on the EDA’s asset list. As to its remaining land assets, Harold pointed to the EDA’s recruitment of ULI (the Urban Land Institute) for assistance, particularly as to developmental and marketing issues with the redevelop-able 150 acres of the old 467-acre Avtex “Brownfield” site looming behind the EDA office complex on Kendrick Lane.

Queried later about ULI, County EDA Director Petty explained that “ULI is the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world.” Of ULI and its membership, Petty pointed to a goal of “delivering the mission, shaping the future of the (real estate/land use) industry, and creating thriving communities around the globe.”

County EDA Director Joe Petty, near left, addresses the EDA Board, from Petty’s left, Scott Jenkins, Jorie Martin, Jeff Browne, Greg Harold, and Jim Wolfe.

During his presentation Harold noted that ULI’s team of professional land developers could help the EDA determine, not only a highest or best-use of a given property like the aforementioned “Brownfield” Avtex site, but also “the most realistic” and achievable uses.

“It’s not free – it costs money,” Harold pointed out to his colleagues. But with a worldwide track record of success for its members, it could be money well-spent in jump-starting the long floundering Avtex/Royal Phoenix site redevelopment, Harold noted. “I’ve come to the realization that for me Avtex is too big for me to try to figure out what to do with,” the Asset Committee chairman observed of the gorilla in the room of EDA property assets.

“What you’re talking about, is where needed bringing a level of additional professionalism into it, to help make us make good decisions and avoid things that we may not, just from a lack of experience, know about,” Browne observed of the benefit of ULI input.

The Future, if not NOW – flashing back to coach George Allen’s “The Future is Now” slogan for his Washington NFL team – certainly appears to be on the horizon for the WC EDA.


*FOOTNOTE – Against the advice of then-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, during the term of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick, circa 2019/20, the Town Council elected to ignore offered “good-faith negotiations” to determine who was owed exactly what in the wake of the estimated $26-million joint-Town-County EDA financial scandal, in favor of hostile civil litigation over the Town’s unilaterally claimed losses.

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Historic Area Journey back in time and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a Civil War Encampment during the holidays. Interact with the 10th VA Infantry, also known as the Valley Guards,[...]
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Dec 21 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Dec
28
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Dec 28 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
Jan
1
Sun
5:30 am First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
Jan 1 @ 5:30 am – 3:00 pm
First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. While the American tradition of celebrating the New Year occurs at midnight on New Year’s Eve, other cultures celebrate by enjoying the sunrise on New Year’s Day. As part of the continuing American[...]
Jan
4
Wed
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Jan 4 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]