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How’d graduation go? Decreasing COVID deaths? And removal petition expense draw supervisors attention

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Board comments and questions revolving around a variety of financial issues were heard at the August 4th Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting, as was one apology concerning a previous complaint about pandemic-altered high school graduation plans.

“When I’m wrong I’ll admit I was wrong – and I was wrong on graduation,” North River Supervisor Delores Oates said during her member’s report after attending the Skyline High School graduation the morning of Saturday, August 1st, one day after Warren County High’s somewhat wetter one.

Oates said the football stadium parking lot-centered event utilizing the new Hawk tunnel and allowing family members to accompany their graduates for photographs was a rousing success and would likely lead to some permanent changes in the future, post-pandemic graduations – changes she called in some ways an improvement over traditional graduation ceremonies.

Delores Oates gave a shout out to Warren County Public Schools for their pandemic-altered graduation plan – ‘I was wrong’ she said of earlier complaints about a plan she was pleasantly surprised by. Royal Examiner Photos and Video/Mark Williams

“I have a senior. And I was disappointed that we were going to do drive-in graduation. I had no idea, however, of what they had planned to accommodate our family so that we could get up-close and personal graduation with our senior,” Oates began, adding, “In fact, it was better than conventional graduation. And I have to take my hat off to everybody involved with the planning and execution of the graduation.”

She then observed, “The irony of COVID is that through social distancing, we were able to get closer to our graduate. And, so I agree with Ms. Cullers that graduation likely will change because parents enjoy close-up and personal graduation. So, I would like to thank the school system for what they did to make it a memorable day.”

GO Public School Administrators – let’s give them a run through that Hawk tunnel too.

Have they risen?

Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter then began with a question revolving around another COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) impact on the community, an apparent statistical anomaly indicating a reduction in the reported number of COVID-19 deaths in Warren County.

“One of the questions I’ve seen – why have the numbers kind of gone down? I think at one point there were 8 deaths, then it was 7 and now it’s 6,” Carter noted of a decrease in fatality numbers.

And while Carter directed his question at Deputy County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall, present for a number of COVID-19 related agenda item reports, Board Chairman and
County Pandemic Emergency Response Team Chair Walt Mabe stepped in.

Board and Pandemic Emergency Management Team Chair Walt Mabe explained the county’s decreasing COVID-19 death totals. – No, it is not a supernatural phenomenon, just a point-of-residence statistical adjustment.

“I can do that,” Mabe said of shedding light on the reverse trend in fatalities. “When we have a death that’s actually reported, that death is reported in Warren County. After a period of time, we come to find out that, that person that died is really from Shenandoah County or from Page County or wherever. And when that’s found out, we adjust the numbers – ours goes down, theirs go up.
And it could work the opposite way,” Mabe explained of the nation’s nearly 160,000 pandemic deaths being tabulated by the home community, not the place where the pandemic victim died.

Queried by Mabe, Farrall concurred with this explanation.

We are still seated – at what cost?

Carter then segued into another item of personal and political interest to him, the June 23rd court order of dismissal of all portions of the grassroots citizen county board Removal Petition spearheaded by Bonnie Gabbert and others against the supervisors seated through 2019. Carter and Fork District incumbent Archie Fox, whose seats were not up for re-election in 2019, are the only two targeted supervisors over the EDA financial scandal still seated after the 2019 election.

Two of the targeted supervisors, former Chairman Dan Murray and South River’s Linda Glavis did not run for reelection in 2019, and a third, Shenandoah District’s Tom Sayre was defeated by new Chairman Walt Mabe.

During his member report Tuesday morning, Carter queried Interim County Attorney Jason Ham on the case status and total costs to the County and its taxpayers of defending board members against that recall petition. That cost was $48,500, Ham replied.

And as he explained in a June 24th letter informing the current and past board members of the court action of the previous day, Ham noted that the portion of the suit against the no-longer seated members had been “dismissed with prejudice” meaning it could not be re-filed. And while the “Order of non-suit” and “Dismissal without Prejudice” against Carter and Fox would allow it to be re-filed in six months, Ham wrote that from the conversation with Harrisonburg Special Prosecutor Michael Parker, “I don’t think that is very likely.”

Carter noted that such a removal petition based around what is thus far considered unintentional lapses of oversight allowing alleged criminal behavior of others has rarely if ever been upheld in Virginia. The courts have indicated a preference to let such non-criminal legislative matters be resolved by impacted citizens at the ballot box, rather in another governmental branch’s courtroom.

Supervisor Carter noted that he and colleague Archie Fox are no longer under the gun of a citizen Recall Petition, though at some cost to the county’s taxpayers.

Somewhat playfully perhaps, Carter wondered if a bill for the County Recall Petition legal defense expenses could be added up to be divided among the citizens who signed it seeking a judicial removal of local legislators for non-criminal behavior.

“And I assume there’s not a way … that the people who signed the petition, to send them a bill for 50 dollars each?” Carter asked.

Ham’s answer appeared to be that such a plan was not currently under consideration by him or his co-counsel on the matter.

“Anyway, I just thought I’d pass that information on,” Carter said in concluding that little legal-budgetary foray and notice of ALL those targeted by the Recall Petition’s survival of it.

View the Board of Supervisor meeting of August 4, 2020, in this related story.

Rockland area residents seek shooting ban for their neighborhood

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EDA in Focus

Town press release says it was working on FRPD financing when EDA suit filed

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In a press release issued at 3:15 p.m., Friday afternoon, from the office of Town of Front Royal Information Technology and Communications Director Todd Jones, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick responds with astonishment, and some astonishing news, in reaction to the EDA filing of a lawsuit Thursday to recover the nearly $9 million cost of the new FRPD headquarters.

That news is that the Town was in the process of acquiring bank financing to pay the principal amount, if not interest, on the new town police headquarters this week.

As previously reported, at Monday’s Front Royal Town Council meeting, Councilman and mayoral candidate Chris Holloway read a three-page prepared statement into the record on the Town’s stance on its lack of obligation “legal, moral or otherwise … to repay these unlawful debts” to cover what was termed “a fraudulent, unauthorized loan” acquired by the EDA to finance the FRPD headquarters construction project for the Town.

Chris Holloway reading the Town’s stance on FRPD financing into the council meeting record Monday, September 14. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Holloway confirmed that the statement was prepared by the Town’s contracted Damiani & Damiani law firm that is handling its $20-million-plus lawsuit against the EDA, in response to his inquiry on the matter.

The statement also states that the Town “has explored other means of resolving the issue” and “is willing to make payments to the EDA for the Police Department Headquarters that are equal to the payments that Town Council authorized, which include the entire principal debt at the authorized interest rate.”

It would seem somewhere along the negotiating lines between the Town, County, and EDA, there has been a failure to communicate essential information.

Here is the Town press release and Tederick’s statement in its entirety:

The EDA Sues the Town of Front Royal on the Verge of Obtaining a Loan

24 Hours After the Town Receiving Bank Term Sheet, EDA Sues. Coincidence?

The Town of Front Royal filed a $20,226,153 lawsuit against the Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) in an effort to recover money fraudulently obtained by the ex-Executive Director, Jennifer McDonald, and perhaps others under the failed oversight of the Economic Development Board of Directors.

Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick commented, “This lawsuit is really bizarre, less than twenty-four hours after I received a formal Term Sheet from a lending institution to pay the principle balance which the County, the EDA, and the Town do not dispute, the EDA calls a Special Meeting, one day before it’s normal meeting date, and decides to file a Complaint and Writ of Mandamus against the Town, effectively preventing the Town from obtaining the very financing being demanded. Coincidence?

Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick revealed some astonishing news late Friday afternoon, in reaction to the EDA civil suit over FRPD headquarters financing.

“Just yesterday I received a call from Ed Daley, Interim County Administrator, who asked me if the EDA’s Finance Director could meet with the Town’s Finance Director to reconcile Leach Run Parkway accounting. Of course, I eagerly and happily agreed. Then, 24 hours later, the EDA sues the Town. Coincidence?

“As much as I would personally like to litigate this matter in the court of public opinion, as the EDA has done, I will not. This much I will say, the EDA has caused great harm to the citizens of the Town of Front Royal, and yet, no one has been brought to justice and the EDA continually claims to be the victim. The EDA is responsible for the negative consequences flowing from the actions of its ex Executive Director. The Town is trying to assist in dealing with the economic fallout, but ultimate responsibility remains with the EDA. The Town intends to continue its efforts to finance the Police Department Headquarters.”

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Acting EDA Chairman reflects on September 17th legal action against Town

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Following Thursday morning’s announcement of the filing of civil litigation against the Town of Front Royal to recover nearly $9-million dollars spent to construct the new town police headquarters, Acting Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne told Royal Examiner that United Bank officials, holders of the EDA’s FRPD loan, were aware of the developing situation that could see those debt service payments stop next month.

As reported in our lead story, September’s payment will be the last made by either the EDA or Warren County in support of the EDA debt service on the police station project. Town officials have been informed of this situation, Browne told us. So, as noted in our companion story unless the Front Royal Town Council authorizes assumption of that United Bank debt service, payments on the new town police station will go into default by mid-October. Those payments come due 10 days after receipt of monthly payment-due notices at the beginning of the month.

It is the TOWN police station, right? EDA acting board chairman calls Town stance on FRPD debt service ‘disingenuous’. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Of the Town’s stance in previous direct negotiations on the matter, Browne said, “The only thing that they consistently said is that ‘we believe you guaranteed us a one-and-a-half percent interest rate.’ Okay, you can state that, and we can get to deciding that. But that would mean that you would go ahead and pay the principal off; you pay the one-and-a-half percent – none of which is there is any question about.

“The new wrinkle was this week when the argument was made that the loan, I’m not sure what, is fraudulent. Therefore the Town doesn’t need to pay it,” Browne said again referencing Councilman Chris Holloway’s September 14 reading of a contract attorney-prepared statement into the council meeting record about why the Town has no obligation to pay for its police station. – Though it sure makes it easier to accomplish capital improvements while promising to never raise taxes, as Holloway did during the recent County Republican Committee Candidates Forum.

“But again, disingenuous that your police force is sitting in a building that’s been approved, and they approved it,” Browne observed.

Queried about that approval, Browne continued, “They actually have several resolutions, in the lawsuit you’ll see we hung our hat on the last one, which increased the amount to $12 million dollars. And again a resolution, no indication of what the interest rate was or anything regarding it.”

He added that the EDA was in possession of correspondences from the town finance department acknowledging approval of various aspects of the construction project and payment of those aspects.

Jeff Browne and contract attorney Rosalie Fessier go over some last second proofing of EDA lawsuit against Town over FRPD headquarters debt.

“The lawsuit is very clearly written – it isn’t 500 different contentions. It’s just a simple story and then alternate legal theories as to why we ought to get it,” Browne said, revisiting a perceived difference in the new EDA litigation and the Town’s now amended litigation that has grown from an initial estimated $2 million amount to “over $20 million” at this point.

As our post-meeting conversation was winding down, Browne said, “What I would leave you with, is when you direct someone to build something for you; you approve all the construction invoices; and then you occupy the place, to have an argument for any real reason that you don’t owe that sum of money seems to me to be disingenuous. And it’s time that the Town pay its bill,” Browne said.

“We’re sad that it’s come to this – but we had no choice. I didn’t get into the EDA to fight with the Town,” Browne said in wrapping up. “I loathe that we have to be doing this when we should be concentrating on economic development. If the Town wanted to help resolve all this they would help work on our lawsuit (against McDonald and her co-defendants).

“I hope they come to their senses, get financing and we can begin all working together. We are one community,” Browne concluded.

Mayor Tewalt at December 2019 EDA meeting where he said he would urge cooperation rather than litigation with the EDA. Maybe council should have listened as nine months later things escalate with a community’s financial credit rating at stake.

Whether it is one community on the up or down side of future economic development will apparently be decided over the next 23 days or so as the deadline on payment of the October FRPD debt service, the final interest only payment of $21,000-plus to United Bank, approaches.

The ball, to use a sports metaphor, has landed with a thud on the Town side of this legal and financial court (pun intended).

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EDA in Focus

No more Mr. Nice Guy – EDA files suit to recover FRPD costs from Town

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Following a 50-minute Special Meeting closed session on Thursday morning, September 17, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors unanimously authorized attorney Rosalie Fessier of the Timberlake-Smith law firm to file suit against the Town of Front Royal to recover the current approximate $9-million cost of construction of the new Front Royal Police headquarters.

Fessier is Staunton-based Timberlake-Smith’s lead counsel representing the EDA in the Town of Front Royal’s $20-million-plus civil litigation against the half-century-old Town-County EDA.

The motion, made by Tom Pattison, seconded by Greg Harold, passed by a 6-0 vote with all board members virtually present. Chairman Ed Daley’s seat remains vacant in the wake of his appointment as Warren County’s interim county administrator. The plan is for him to return to his EDA board seat following the hiring of a permanent successor to Doug Stanley.

In Daley’s absence, Vice-Chairman Jeff Browne chaired the virtually conducted ZOOM meeting from the EDA’s Kendrick Lane headquarters. In the wake of the 8:55 a.m. adjournment of the special meeting this reporter met Browne at the EDA office complex about a half block from the police station.

Above, the new FRPD headquarters is visible through the EDA office complex fence at Monroe Ave. In October EDA/County payments on the police station debt service will stop. Below, Jeff Browne and EDA attorney Rosalie Fessier go over paperwork before filing of the EDA suit to recover $9 million it spent on the town police station construction project. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

When we arrived, Browne was still going over paperwork on the civil litigation with Fessier. Following her departure, Browne said the attorney was going to the Warren County Courthouse to file the lawsuit, after which copies would be made available to the media.

Browne explained that the suit is for principal and interest at the rate of the actual United Bank loan, initially 4% then adjusted to the current 3% rate, for a total of just under $9 million dollars. He elaborated that the suit is for money due to the EDA that is in no way impacted by the alleged embezzlements, misdirection of assets or other financial misdeeds attributed to former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

“There isn’t any question about that,” Browne said flatly. “And I’ll say this, on anything that we’re asking the Town payment for, we would not ever include anything that was not a legitimate bill. We’re not trying to get them to pay for illegal activities we believe other people did, it’s not going to happen.”

In addition to the EDA-Town legal fireworks inside the EDA office, there was a flurry of activity out back as work on a disputed drainage system was being done at ITFederal expense on its property as an occupancy permit deadline approaches next week.

We asked the acting EDA chairman what led to this decision.

“Well, I think the EDA and the County have paid on the Town’s obligation for over a year. And the goal there was to give the Town time to get the financing that it needed and to do the right thing. And they kept promising this in meetings that we had with them.

“So, in good faith we went ahead and did that even though there’s no obligations to pay anything on the police station. So, between just the lack of forward progress on the negotiations, and more recently what came out of town council this week suggested that the timing was something that we had to do to get them to focus on this,” Browne said.

His “this week” reference was to the Town’s EDA civil litigation contract attorney-prepared statement on the Town’s legal stance on the FRPD financial situation read into the record by Councilman and mayoral candidate Chris Holloway on Monday, September 14.

Light agenda or groundwork for a community legal-economic EXPLOSION?

On September 14, Chris Holloway, right, read an attorney-drafted Town statement calling the EDA’s FRPD United Bank loan ‘fraudulent’ for having a higher than 1.5% interest rate attached to it. Consequently, the Town stance is it has no legal or moral obligation to assume that debt service. To Holloway’s right Jake Meza, who championed holding out for the NMTC 1.5% financing despite contrary recommendations from Town staff and the NMTC Program administrator, listens.

As previously reported, as of November 1 debt service payments on the FRPD project go from interest only in the $21,000 range to principal and interest to around $50,000 monthly.

“And we’re not going to be paying October either, neither is the County,” Browne said of the FRPD debt service coming due in two weeks that the EDA is no longer in a position to cover financially. “The County informed us, we’ve informed the Town that we’re not going to be paying any more on the police station.”

Truth or dare?

As to a timeline other than the litigation being immediately filed at the courthouse, Browne said, “We waived a jury trial, jury trials are going to take a long time given the COVID circumstances.” As a note, the Town is seeking a civil jury trial in its suit against the EDA.

“It’s a very clean case, when you read it, it describes: here’s the facts; they’re all very well documented; and here’s our arguments about why we should get the money,” Browne said of what was on its way to the Warren County Courthouse as we spoke.

Browne elaborated that the EDA case documentation is based in real documents, signed by town officials among others, as opposed to revolving around alleged verbal promises of the former EDA executive director that contradicted known, verified facts about FRPD project financing options. It was a none-to-subtle poke at the foundation of the Town civil action against the EDA.

“And to call them verbal promises even, is perhaps too much,” Browne said of the Town litigation, litigation justified in the above-mentioned attorney-prepared three-page statement read into the Front Royal Town Council meeting record four days earlier by Councilman Holloway.

The EDA hopes to have its civil litigation against Front Royal proceed at a more rapid pace than the Town’s suit against it has. At issue on the EDA side is whose responsibility is paying for the town police station, pictured below.

“When you say you anticipate one-and-a-half percent (interest), it’s like me going fishing and saying I anticipate I’ll catch fish – I sure hope to. But in this case the Town bet and lost. It thought it could get the one-and-a-half percent, was hoping it would get it but knew full well it wasn’t a guaranteed thing. And it turned out it wasn’t,” Browne commented of the underlying Town litigation logic.

Clean or not, the odds are short in “Vegas” that the EDA civil litigation against the Town will be heard within the next month when payments on the police station will stop being made if the Town does not pick them up.

And if they don’t, the Front Royal Town Council is perhaps staking an entire community’s ability to finance future projects on a new “gamble”. That gamble is that it will be judged legally and financially immune from the consequences of its own lack of due diligence, oversight or verification that the 30-year, 1.5% interest rate it hoped for based on verbal “promises” of a now-discredited EDA executive director was even available to it, much less a done deal.

Council listens as Holloway reads their collective legal position into the Sept. 14 town meeting record. Who wants to roll the dice on letting the FRPD debt service go into default next month? Below, Mayor Tewalt, here with Ed Daley and Jeff Browne in December 2019 after saying he would urge council away from litigation in favor of ‘good faith’ negotiations to resolve any financial situations between the Town and EDA. It didn’t work.

It seems a steep gamble in that those verbal promises flew in the face of what Browne says are signed documents, as well as information from the New Market Tax Credit program administrator, and information and recommendations from its own administrative and financial staff at the time.

If you want to see the consequence of those kinds of gambles, I have been told an exploration of the experience of the Virginia community of Buena Vista, also known colloquially as “Una-Vista”, went some 10 years ago when it declined to meet a financial moral obligation debt service. Spoiler alert – they have not been able to acquire public or private financing for anything since.

Now officials in two municipalities here are left to ponder whether that is a gamble worth taking on the strength their relative civil legal filings, directly or indirectly through their half-century old joint EDA.

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Town Planning Commission approves EDA rezoning request

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The Front Royal Planning Commission held its regular meeting September 16th at the Warren County Government Center. There were no public presentations, and the commission had only one item to consider and solicit public input for. The commission reviewed a proposed rezoning of approximately 62.7 acres at the end of Progress Drive, adjacent to the Happy Creek Technology Park. The proposed rezoning, from Residential (R-1) to Industrial Employment (I-2) is a preliminary step to potential future development. Any development would require permits and approvals separately from the rezoning request. The purpose of the EDA action is to improve the site status from Tier 1 to Tier 2 of the Virginia Business Ready Sites Program and possible future expansion of the adjacent Technology Park.

The proposal contained several proffers, or terms and conditions, that enhance the proposal’s value to the town. The proffers are:

  1. A 25-foot landscaping buffer for visual screening, to preserve existing woodland and add trees and shrubs along the border of the non-wooded areas.
  2. A By-Right land use will not be restricted, but business and professional offices, technology businesses including data centers, veterinary hospitals, pharmaceutical and/or medical schools, public facilities and special childcare services will be preferred.
  3. A dedicated Right-of-way of 60 ft for the continuation of Progress Drive will be provided to meet all town and Virginia Dept of transportation standards when a final site plan is developed for future use.
  4. A Traffic Impact analysis was estimated at a peak hourly rate of 124 trips, but a new analysis will be provided upon any development in the future.

Chairman Douglas Jones opened the floor for public comment, but there was none.

A motion to approve the proposal was made by Commissioner Merchant, Seconded by Vice Chairman McFadden. Brief discussion ensued regarding whether the acceptance of the proffers should be made part of the motion to approve. An Amended motion including the proffers was unanimously approved.

The Planning Department Staff announced the new Director of Community Development and Planning, Timothy Wilson. Commissioner Merchant asked if there was progress on recruiting new planning commission members. Director Wilson indicated that action was underway by Town Council.

There being no other business, the commission adjourned at 7:15.

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EDA in Focus

EDA releases statement on litigation over police station debt

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At a Special Board meeting this morning, the EDA Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution to sue the Town of Front Royal for the recovery of $8,946,742 in principal and interest on the loans the EDA obtained on behalf of the Town to build the new Front Royal Police Station. Rosalie Fessier with the firm of Timberlake Smith was retained to represent the EDA in this matter.

The EDA initiated negotiations multiple times over the last year to get the Town Council to honor its obligations to pay for the Town’s Police Station. Despite promises to secure financing, the Town Council has not paid any principal or interest on the loan.

As a result of the Town’s failure to pay for its own building, the EDA and Warren County have been paying monthly construction loans to build the Police Station to give the Town Council time to secure its own loan. That will no longer continue. The Town Council needs to find its own funding on its Police Station.

We urge the Town Council to take immediate action to secure a loan to cover the costs it has incurred on the Police Station and other projects it has run through EDA. While litigation appears to be the only recourse for the EDA, litigation will only hurt Town taxpayers who must fund those costs.

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EDA in Focus

EDA authorizes litigation against Town of Front Royal

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The EDA Board of Directors met today for a Special board meeting. Following a 1-hour Closed meeting, the Directors passed a resolution approving a settlement with Crystel Smith and Sheri Yoder of Optimum Impact, LLC for a delinquent Rural Business Enterprise Loan (RBEL). The resolution also approved payment of fees to Daniel Pond of Pond Law Group, PC for assistance in negotiations and collection of funds.

The board also passed a resolution engaging Rosalie Pemberton Fessier of Timberlake Smith Attorneys at Law, and authorizing her to take legal action to collect monies due the EDA from the Town of Front Royal. The Directors issued a separate statement to address this decision:

EDA releases statement on litigation over police station debt

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