In a weekend press release tied to defense motions filed on Friday, May 17, attorney David Downes alleges retaliatory police and prosecutorial actions against his client Cynthia Atkinson Bailey regarding the investigation into since-resigned Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe. As reported in Royal Examiner’s related story on Bailey defense motions regarding charges of offering sexual services out of an unlicensed massage parlor, Tharpe announced his resignation as mayor effective May 2, on April 19, four days after a Warren County Grand Jury handed down a single count of solicitation of prostitution against him. See Related Story:
While Tharpe has maintained his innocence, he has admitted visiting the massage parlor operated by Bailey at 312 Biggs Drive. The 67-year-old Tharpe told this reporter he visited Biggs Drive for legitimate massages on his aging and aching body. However the criminal complaint attached to warrants against Cynthia Bailey and three other individuals filed May 15, 2019 allege massages of a sexual nature were a prominent part of the services “menu” being offered at the unlicensed massage parlor operating at the business address of Blue Valley Services.
Downes said he has never previously issued this type of public release regarding a client’s prosecution but felt it warranted from the circumstance surrounding Bailey’s initial 2018 prostitution charge, eventual non-prosecution of that charge and subsequent re-prosecution.
The indictment against Tharpe cites an incident believed to have occurred at the Biggs Drive massage parlor on May 31, 2018. Cynthia Atkinson Bailey was first arrested on a prostitution charge from an FRPD undercover operation. That operation occurred at 312 Biggs Drive on June 7, 2018, ending with Bailey’s arrest after a price of $150 was agreed upon for massage services including hand and oral sexual stimulation. That initial charge was “nol prossed” (non-prosecuted) by the Commonwealth on October 2, 2018.
In his press release on his client’s legal situation Downes points to an “unannounced” April 3, 2019, visit to Bailey by Front Royal Police Investigator David Fogle and Tharpe’s Winchester-based Special Prosecutor Heather Hovermale.
“Notwithstanding Ms. Bailey’s continued representation by another attorney on the subject matter she was questioned by the special prosecutor. Fogle and Hovermale were only interested in one suspect, the Mayor of Front Royal, Hollis L. Tharpe, and asked her questions only about him,” Downes writes.
Downes points to Tharpe’s grand jury indictment 12 days later, on April 15 adding, “On the same date, Special Prosecutor Hovermale was placed on written notice that Cynthia Bailey’s representation by counsel was continuing because she was still subject to prosecution for the underlying offense of prostitution. Hovermale was also advised that Bailey intended to exercise her Fifth Amendment privilege (not to self-incriminate) based on threats of multiple criminal charges.”
Those multiple criminal charges came a month later, May 15, when Cynthia Atkinson Bailey, Jesse Thomas Atkinson, Brandy Nicole Atkinson and Joshua Allan Stamper were charged on multiple counts related to the massage parlor operation’s alleged “bawdy house” or prostitution-related services. According to Downes, Jesse Atkinson, Brandy Atkinson and Joshua Stamper are his client’s son, daughter and son-in-law, respectively.
Blue Valley Services was originally licensed as a handyman/landscaping company by Jesse Atkinson at some point after Bailey’s late husband James P. Bailey III purchased 312 Biggs Drive in 2013. However according to the criminal complaint attached to warrants that license expired in 2017 leading to reports of an unlicensed massage parlor operating out of the Front Royal address.
In his concluding paragraph Bailey’s defense attorney asks “Anyone who has further information” against what he terms “retaliatory police prosecution or selective criminal charges” to contact either him or the Special Grand Jury commissioned on May 17, 2019, “to investigate the misconduct of the Warren County EDA.”
Tharpe is former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s cousin. Under increased scrutiny by her board of directors as a result of a forensic audit of EDA finances begun in September 2018 McDonald resigned on December 20, 2018.
Asked at the time about Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden’s August 30, 2018 recusal petition to the court regarding a criminal investigation in which he was named, then-Mayor Tharpe expressed frustration at the lack of information available to him about the nature of the investigation or how he was tied to it.
“It’s just baffling – I’m absolutely clueless,” Tharpe told Royal Examiner at the time, observing, “I haven’t had any dealing with the EDA and Jennifer McDonald – I don’t have any loans with the EDA,” in listing a variety of things he said he did NOT do that might attract police attention, including committing murder, writing bad checks, shoplifting or involvement with drugs. See Related Story:
Tharpe’s early September inclusion of McDonald and EDA business in that list came on the heels of Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson’s discovery of nine years of Town debt service overpayments to the EDA totaling over $291,000. Town officials met with McDonald and then-EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher on August 23, 2018 about the discovery. Dresher resigned as chairman the following day; and the now three-quarters of a million dollar, eight-month-and-counting forensic audit of the EDA by Atlanta-based CPA Cherry Bekaert began the following month, in mid-September 2018.
Royal Examiner sought a response to Downes allegation of a “retaliatory prosecution” regarding his client’s intention not to testify in the Tharpe case from FRPD on Saturday, May 18, and from Special Prosecutor Hovermale on Monday, May 20. But as of publication of this story we had yet to receive those replies. This story will be updated and/or linked to those replies when available.
Warren County Parks and Recreation facilities closed
From the Warren County Office of Emergency Management:
Warren County is taking additional precautionary measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Among these is restricting the use of Warren County’s parks to trails and outdoor spaces only. The Front Royal Golf Club is also open to the general public.
During the use of these areas, individuals must, at all times, maintain social distancing as described in the Governor’s Executive Order 55 (Temporary Stay At Home Order Due To Novel Coronavirus – COVID-19).
Effective immediately, all Warren County parks restrooms, playgrounds, and picnic shelters will be closed to the general public. The Warren County Parks and Recreation community center, indoor and outdoor recreation facilities remain closed. Registration for classes and events is temporarily disabled on our website. Events and organized activities are canceled; this includes use by sports leagues. Equipment rental is not available at this time. The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department offices remain open (but closed to the public) to field your related questions via phone at 540-635-7750 or 540-635-1021 or via email at email@example.com.
This is a rapidly changing situation, and the most current information is available on the following websites: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus or www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. Please consult www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus for the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia.
Additionally, you can find local information on the Warren County COVID-19 website: https://www.warrencountyva.net/coronavirus-latest-information, the County of Warren, VA Facebook page, or the Town of Front Royal COVID-19 website: https://www.frontroyalva.com/645/Covid-19-Local-Response.
What are you looking for in the next Town Manager for Front Royal?
Baker Tilly, a leading local government executive search and advisory firm, is managing the search process for the next Town Manager for Front Royal, Virginia. The position is critical to the functioning of Town operations and the successful candidate will be responsible, under the guidance of the Mayor and the direction of Town Council, to manage Town operations as they collectively endeavor to enhance the quality of life for current and future residents of the Town. The application portal for those interested in applying can be found here, where a brochure is posted describing the organization, the position responsibilities and the leadership opportunities presented by the post. The brochure also describes the desired capabilities, qualifications and experience sought by Town Council for the job.
Additionally, the Town seeks any input that community stakeholders wish to contribute on the experience, management and leadership qualities they would like to see in the Front Royal’s next Town Manager, along with any other issues they may feel are relevant to the selection process. A survey to gather this input has been established online. Citizens and other stakeholders are encouraged by Council to respond to the survey by April 17th, 2020. Results will be tabulated and returned to the Town in order that it be available for candidate screening and selection. When published and returned to the Town, the survey report will be made available by the Town.
The link to the survey will be posted on the Town’s web page. The Mayor and Council encourage as many as possible to respond so that their perspectives may be registered.
For more information, please contact:
Town will waive card-payment fees thru June, undecided on long-term options
Life in municipal government COVID-19 pandemic virtual world continued Monday evening, March 30, as the Front Royal Town Council “gathered” by remote computer hook up for work session discussion of several matters.
Near the meeting’s end, Interim Town Manager and Town Director of pandemic Emergency Management Matt Tederick noted a third confirmed case of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) in Warren County. He also was joined by the mayor and council in thanking staff for helping the town government traverse the unfamiliar territory of continuing to provide services under state-recommended restrictions on public interactions. Those restrictions have led to the locking of municipal building doors to the public, funneling most citizen-government interactions to online, phone or drive-thru options.
Consequently, one of the four topics of conversation Monday was a lifting of the 2.35% fee on payment of Town utility or other fees by credit or debit card. After a somewhat laborious discussion of contractor “technical interface” issues not allowing direct withdrawals from customer bank accounts, which would bypass the need for the plastic money fee on utility account payments, the council agreed to waive the fee for the three-month balance of this fiscal year.
Since the issue is tied to an upswing in credit or debit card payments tied to the restrictions on public interactions and municipal building closures due to the COVID-19 emergency response, Town Attorney Doug Napier told the mayor and council that they simply had to authorize Tederick to move forward on waiving the card-payment fees as part of his duties as the Town’s COVID-19 Director of Emergency Management.
Staff is estimating a $60,000 revenue shortfall over the three-month period, twice the current average of $10,000 monthly in plastic transaction fees. The staff summary noted that the shortfall could possibly be offset by a “reduction of expenditures identified by staff and/or usage of the reserve fund balance.”
It was noted that one of the Town Finance Department’s drive-thru windows remains open for business at the rear of Town Hall, as an option on cash or check payments. And Councilwoman Lori Cockrell wondered if many citizens were aware of the option to set up automatic payments from their bank accounts.
Prior to the consensus to allow Tederick as director of emergency management to move forward with the fee waiver, Councilwoman Thompson worried over the suggestion that Town utility fees be raised in the coming fiscal year as another means of offsetting the revenue shortfall. That led to a discussion in which Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson expressed the opinion that the lost fees, as an “operating expense” of the Town, could not be covered by the use of fund balance reserves.
“We can’t go into reserves to cover an operating expense. So, we’d have to either reduce our expenses or raise our revenues to cover this. But we cannot dip into the reserves,” Wilson told the council.
“That doesn’t make any sense, credit card fees is an operating expense, isn’t it?” Councilman Jacob Meza offered in response.
“Yes, it’s an operating expense, so we have to cover it with our revenues,” Wilson repeated.
Queried further, Wilson explained that in the short term if the funds were not available from the utility departments’ revenues, reserves might have to be used to temporarily plug the gap.
“Well, let there be a shortfall, and cover it with the reserves,” Meza suggested, drawing some laughter from council.
However, the finance director observed such a path could lead the Town into eventual trouble with state financial authorities.
“Obviously that would have to be an option for our current year if it comes down to it. But moving forward … our (utility) revenues are supposed to cover our (utility) operating expenses. And if we continually have a shortfall it could get us into a little trouble with the APA,” Wilson told the council’s cut, spend and reduce majority.
Queried later, Wilson explained “APA” stands for Auditor of Public Accounts, a State financial department that tracks municipal budgetary submissions for irregularities.
As the discussion progressed, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock observed that in the short term the Town could cover the cost of the card fee waiver, but that long-term revenue/expenditure issues in the face of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic response would have to be dealt with in the coming FY-2021 budget starting July 1.
“We can absorb $60k in our reserve. Of course, I also want to talk about saving any dollars in the 2019-2020 (budget) then move on to our new budget, because we’re going to see some significant shortfalls. So, I’m wondering why we’re spending so much time on this thing that you can’t resolve tonight. And why we’re not moving on … I hear everybody say they’re for it for the 90 days. So, we’re not going to resolve anything else about whether it comes out of reserves or we’re rescheduling some work,” Sealock told his colleagues.
“We can discuss this all night and we’re still not going to get anywhere,” Mayor Gene Tewalt concurred, moving council toward its instruction to Tederick to enact the card payment fee waiver as part of his role as director of emergency management for the Town.
In lieu of videotaping a black computer screen with informational boxes popping up here and there, Royal Examiner audio-taped the work session for the later perusal of citizens not linked in to listen live.
In this linked audio recording, hear the above discussion, as well as council and staff’s visiting of how the pandemic response may impact the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding and plans for downtown façade and other improvements; a planned switch of the Town’s employees’ insurance package that would raise the deductible option from $250 to $500, but will not be enacted until FY-2022 after the changes have been fully explained to staff; and evolving budget variables in the current pandemic “non-essential” business closures environment as council moves forward with its locked-in half-cent real estate tax decrease in place for FY-2021.
Here’s the audio from the March 30 Work Session:
‘Don’t get excited’ – but don’t be complacent: Town, County join forces with citizens to stave off COVID-19 threat
At 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon County and Town representatives on the COVID-19 Coronavirus Emergency Management team held a status-report briefing on what they are doing and are preparing to do as the nation, state and community move into the third month of the worldwide pandemic’s arrival on U.S. shores.
And on the heels of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) in Warren County, that message was stay calm, use common sense in maintaining recommended social distancing and cleanliness, reference reliable municipal and other governmental and health agency websites for updated information, while taking social media pronouncements with a cautionary grain of salt – but if you develop respiratory, cold or flu symptoms during the pandemic emergency reach out to your primary care physician or the public health establishment for assistance.
Another important message was that despite social distancing restrictions on direct public access to the Front Royal Town Hall and Warren County Government Center, your town and county government services are there for you by alternate means, including phone and online contacts.
“Don’t get that excited – make sure you follow the rules that are sent over by the governor; make sure you follow those set forth by the County, as well as the Town of Front Royal … the only way we can stop the spread of this virus is to stay away from one another, stay away from places where you come into contact with people. And hopefully, by doing these things that we’ve been asked to do, we can cut down on the cases here in Front Royal and Warren County,” Mayor Eugene Tewalt said in opening the briefing.
Picking up on the theme of the importance of public cooperation in Warren County and Front Royal’s collective response, County Board Chairman Walter Mabe added, “I can only tell you that our county can only be as prepared as its citizenry is prepared. We are going through a crisis that probably nobody in this county has been through before. There are things happening every day and the situation is evolving every day. And being able to make it better, we have to listen to the folks that are trying to give you the information that is going to make it better for you.”
It was noted that even for those younger, healthier and less susceptible to serious symptoms from COVID-19, stopping the spread locally, as well as statewide or nationally, can be crucial to the more vulnerable citizens age and health-wise, including those you or someone you know, loves.
Mabe also noted that contrary to public statements from some optimists, “There is no currently approved vaccine, there’s no magic pill to make this thing go away – it’s all going to be up to the citizenry.”
In addition to the mayor and board of supervisors chairman, included in the COVID-19 Emergency Management briefing on the first of weekly Thursday briefings for the duration of the threat from the newest Coronavirus first identified in the Hunan Province of China three months ago, were County Emergency Services Chief Richard Mabie, County COVID-19 Emergency Manager Rick Farrall, Sheriff Mark Butler, Town Police Chief Kahle Magalis, County Administrator Doug Stanley, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick and County Commonwealth Attorney John Bell.
The latter addressed legal aspects of enforcement of directives from the state government as to public behavior: Education; formal warnings on public behavioral directives; issuing of misdemeanor citations that could carry up to $2500 fines and a year in jail in worst-case scenarios; before arrests are contemplated for refusal to follow legally binding governmental directives, is the planned order of law enforcement response, Bell said. He added that an overstepping of police or governmental authority was not the goal, rather public safety and common-sense compliance to safeguard this community’s population, especially its most vulnerable citizens was.
A special nod was given by several present as to the degree of cooperation that has developed between the County and Town sides of the joint emergency declarations, particularly in the emergency services and law enforcement sectors.
“Yes, the Coronavirus pandemic is unusual – it’s unusual in the duration that we’re potentially facing. But I want the public to know that your community leadership is prepared to meet this head on,” County Administrator Stanley said, referencing annual emergency training sessions involving multiple agencies. “We will be ready for what we can do to arrest the impact on our community.”
Stanley continued to note the role that non-profit and other organizations aimed at public sector assistance can play.
County Board Chair Mabe pointed to the county public school system’s free lunch distribution program that has continued beyond the school closings. Starting out at feeding 61 students out of meals prepared at E/ Wilson Morrison at the outset of the pandemic emergency management school closings, Mabe noted that number had steadily climbed to 125, 250 and over 350.
However, that is just the start, Mabe noted, as the public-school administration is prepared to utilize it school bus system to distribute a thousand and eventually 2500 or more free lunches out to its K-12 student base.
“We have a lot of experience in this room,” Mayor Tewalt observed later, adding, “as mayor I want to encourage the public in Front Royal, especially our citizens, to listen to what’s been said here this evening. It’s important that you pay attention to these things. And if you pay attention to these things it may not be near as bad as we may think it’s going to get.”
Watch the entire COVID-19 Emergency Management briefing in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Mayor gives emergency response update
Town of Front Royal Mayor Eugene Tewalt stopped by Royal Examiner’s studio and provided us with an update report on the emergency response process underway.
Watch this exclusive Royal Examiner video and get the latest update information:
The Mayor also shared this release with us:
As a community, we have entered uncharted territory that is changing rapidly due to the COVID-19 virus. Both the Town and County governments have been meeting daily to discuss the myriad issues pertaining to the COVID-19 virus and our community. Yesterday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order that goes into effect at midnight tonight that closes or modifies the operation of businesses not considered “essential”. This order seeks to contain, control, and prevent infections and unnecessary risks to our citizens.
The Front Royal Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Town of Front Royal and County of Warren governments, Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Warren County Fire & Rescue, Emergency Management, and Valley Health have been working tirelessly to keep our citizens as safe as possible. Our community must adhere to the restrictions put in place to help with this process. The Governor’s emergency powers are derived from VA code 44-146.15. The Governor’s Executive Order Number Fifty-Three (Executive Order #53) describes in detail businesses considered essential, non-essential, or otherwise exempt to closing with restrictions. Gatherings of more than ten people are prohibited rather than simply discouraged. The Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and Front Royal Police Department have coordinated on this issue. We intend to enforce this order through warnings, education, and collaboration with our business partners to comply; however, non-compliance could result in a summons for a Class 1 misdemeanor.
We are calling on all of our friends and neighbors in the Town of Front Royal and Warren County to do their part in this fight. Ask yourself if you have an absolute need to run that errand or leave your safe space or if you want to leave because you are tired of being cooped up. Each time you encounter someone, you run the risk of becoming infected.
In the best interest of our community, we urge you to adhere to Governor Ralph Northam’s most recent executive order. We are collaborating with our local businesses and civic groups to help those that are at high risk or may not have the resources to get essential products or services. We are streamlining this coordinated effort to keep unnecessary risk to a minimum.
We thank you as a community for doing your part to protect our local medical staff, first responders, grocery and pharmacy personnel, and keeping other essential employees healthy and safe to ensure our community service providers remain fully staffed.
The new pandemic response reality – closed, open governmental meetings
After a brief debate with the County powers that be over media access to Tuesday morning’s (March 24) Warren County Board of Supervisors Special Meeting from which the public was barred – and we thank County Board Chairman Walter Mabe for his decision to allow the Royal Examiner’s reporting and camera presence despite a staff legal belief that a March 20th Attorney General’s letter/opinion would allow the exclusion of media in what the governor has defined as an emergency or disaster situation related to the potential spread of COVID-19 in Virginia – we settled in to view the three-pronged meeting.
Those prongs were:
1 – adoption of an ordinance and authorizing resolution related to the conduct of the county government during the statewide and local COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) emergency declarations;
2 – approval of a salary of $77,456.37 for a new Lieutenant’s position in the Warren County Sheriff’s Office who will assist in regaining accreditation for the department, as well as having investigations and internal affairs responsibilities; and
3 – a detailed review of cuts and additions to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget and authorization to advertise a public hearing on the budget and associated tax rates.
The board unanimously approved all matters before it, including the advertisement of a flat tax rate tied to the FY 2021 budget. However, as it did prior to the meeting regarding media access and state FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) law regarding media attendance at the meeting which, as noted above, was closed to the public other than by live video feed, the specter of the spread of COVID-19 and impacts on the local economy of prohibitions on “non-essential” local business activity and limits of 10 people in any one public gathering space, played heavily into the budget discussion led by County Administrator Doug Stanley.
“There is a lot of uncertainty. But I think we as a County can be flexible to respond to that,” Stanley told his board of dealing with unknown variables the COVID-19 pandemic and governmental responses to it, might bring.
“Can we have before our next meeting, depending on where the Coronavirus is, a work session to discuss our thoughts on what we need to look at and budget?” South River Supervisor Cheryl Cullers asked of potential impacts on County revenue generation, including sales, meals and lodging taxes and other peripheral variables that might come into play.
Stanley suggested tacking that discussion onto the scheduled morning meeting of the following week – a meeting he observed could be held by teleconference. The budget and tax rate public hearings are scheduled for April 14, hopefully after some public gathering restrictions are lifted.
At the conclusion of his multi-faceted FY 2021 budget presentation that included comparisons to the County’s position and reactions to the 2008 housing market collapse and consequent recession, Stanley thanked his five-member board for all being present physically for it.
“As I told the chairman, it’s hard for me to run through all this stuff (by remote electronic hook up) – it’s hard to walk through that. It’s good to do it in person at least once, it makes it a little bit easier,” the county administrator observed budget complexities presented at an electronic distance.
Of the additional complexity of facing future crucial budget meetings electronically and without direct public, and perhaps media, in-person attendance, Stanley said, “Obviously we want to make sure the public is with us throughout this process. It’s not something any of us have gone through before. And as Jason (Acting County Attorney Jason Ham) said, we are going to try and make every accommodation that we can to put the information out there …”
See the information put out there the morning of March 24, 2020, on pandemic preparedness, the budget, and the new sheriff’s office position, not to mention portions of this reporter’s pre-meeting discussion with County officials about media access as a defined essential service, in this, fought for and graciously granted exclusive Royal Examiner public meeting video: