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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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EDA settles civil claim against McEathron estate for $90,000

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Following an hour-and-thirty-five-minute closed session on a variety of topics that opened its monthly meeting of October 23, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors approved a motion agreeing to a settlement with the estate of late Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron.

The settlement amount agreed upon between the EDA and McEathron’s widow and two adult children is $90,000. McEathron was linked to the EDA financial scandal due to his partnership in former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s DaBoyz LLC real estate company. In the EDA’s civil litigation initially filed in March 2019, McDonald is accused, among other things, of unauthorized moving of EDA assets to her own benefit through her real estate companies DaBoyz and MoveOn8. Still Sheriff at the time, McEathron along with McDonald and the two real estate companies, were on the initial list of civil case defendants.

Sheriff Daniel McEathron – File Photo/WCSO website

After taking early retirement effective May 1, 2019, just over a month after being named a co-defendant in the EDA civil litigation, the county’s long-time sheriff was found dead on his Bentonville property 28 days later, May 28, from an apparent suicide. Some questions about the death arose after Sheriff’s Office personnel, ostensibly alerted by McEathron to his planned suicide by phone, removed the body from the scene where it was discovered in proximity to an expended firearm before the Virginia State Police, the EDA criminal case investigating agency, was notified of the death.

On Friday, EDA Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, who made the motion to approve, addressed the McEathron Estate settlement prior to the vote.

“Mr. Chairman, I want the community to know that the EDA has negotiated in good faith for this settlement for a long time. This is something that we’ve taken very seriously; this is something that we have called back and forth with, with our attorneys and the estate’s attorneys. While we feel there are certain risks and rewards with these situations, I think the EDA is comfortable at this time that we have done the best that we can for the community and that it’s time to put this matter behind us as the motion is written,” Harold said.

EDA Asset Committee Chair Greg Harold, pictured during Friday’s ZOOM meeting, recounted the process leading to the settlement with the estate of late Sheriff Daniel McEathron. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Thank you for that,” Board Chairman Jeff Browne responded. There was no other comment prior to the vote on Harold’s motion, seconded by James Wolfe, which then passed by a 4-0 margin of the members remaining after the closed session, the above three and Tom Pattison. Jorie Martin and Melissa Gordon were present for the 8 a.m. convening of the meeting into closed session but had left to other commitments prior to the closed session’s 9:45 a.m. conclusion.

The motion on approval of the settlement read into the record by EDA Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson states in part, “Whereas the Front Royal-Warren County EDA has certain claims against Daniel McEathron; Whereas the EDA and McEathron’s heirs desire to resolve any claims that may exist between them; Now therefore be it resolved the chairman and the secretary of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA Board are authorized to enter into an agreement … (with those heirs) for the purposes set forth in this resolution which agreement shall provide for the payment of $90,000 dollars to the EDA …”

The motion adds that if any FOIA request are received by the EDA related to the settlement, McEathron’s widow or her attorneys will receive notice of those requests having been made.

As initially reported by former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw, McEathron and McDonald’s first transaction in DaBoyz dated to October 2016 and the pair purchased a total of $2.8 million of real estate between then and 2019. The LLC was involved in a number of transactions cited in the EDA civil litigation filed to recover allegedly misdirected assets, including a mysterious one in which a property was bought and sold back to the owner a month later at a loss of $600,000.

January 2018 Royal Examiner file photo of Jennifer McDonald in her EDA office displaying tax receipts she said indicated winnings at Charles Town’s Hollywood Casino. Coincidentally, the blue star on her chair is the logo of her favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys from whom the real estate LLC ‘DaBoyz’ name was taken.

A number of McDonald and her two LLC’s existing properties were frozen by the court early in the civil case process. However, civil claims against McDonald assets have been complicated by her recent filing of bankruptcy, which put her assets under control of the Harrisonburg-based bankruptcy court.

The EDA civil litigation has grown to 24 human and business entity co-defendants, with total claims, actual and punitive, of about $25 million dollars. And as previously reported, the Harrisonburg Special Prosecutor’s Office has turned the criminal investigation into the EDA financial scandal over to the U.S. Western District of Virginia federal prosecutor’s office.

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EDA approves short-term lease on Baugh Drive during Strategic Planning weekend meeting

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The EDA Board of Directors met, via Zoom, Friday, and Saturday, October 9-10. There was one item of new business before the board. On a motion by Jorie Martin and seconded by Greg Harold, the Board of Directors unanimously approved a short-term storage lease with ECOMNET for use of 426 Baugh Drive warehouse building.

File photo from October 2019 building tour with EDA.

The remainder of the evening, as well as the full-day Saturday, was devoted to the process of updating the EDA Strategic Plan. The board, along with EDA staff, invited members of the community and Board of Supervisors to share their insights on the role the EDA can play in improving the economic health of and shaping the economic direction of the Front Royal Warren County community.

Attendees included Walt Mabe and Delores Oates, Warren County Board of Supervisors; Ed Daley, Interim County Administrator; Melissa Chapman, President, Ninth Way Solutions; Jeanian Clark, Vice President of Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education, Lord Fairfax Community College; Scott Jenkins, owner of Mountain Home B&B; Chris Laurence, Realtor; Dee Sparger, Outreach Coordinator, Front Royal Presbyterian Church; and Kelly Sprague, owner/manager Blue Wing Frog restaurant.

EDA Board Director Jim Wolfe facilitated the program. The goals of this event were to begin to articulate a vision and mission statement for the EDA, plus develop a list of objectives that the EDA can accomplish within the next five years. While the EDA Board, staff, and participants represented diverse professional backgrounds, all involved share a common passion for this community and a hopeful outlook for the future.

Chair Jeff Browne stated, “A lot of good ideas came out of the sessions that give us terrific ideas to consider as we move forward. There was a strong consensus on important ideas, like Town-County cooperation on a common vision for our community.”

The Board of Directors is proud to have begun this community conversation and look forward to fine-tuning the plan in the coming weeks.

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‘This is BIG’ – EDA Chairman reacts to news feds handling EDA criminal investigations

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At 12:03 p.m., Thursday, October 8, Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson forwarded a press release from Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst to the media regarding the status of her office’s investigation of potential criminal charges related to the EDA financial scandal and resultant civil litigation.

As stated in that release posted on the Royal Examiner website earlier this afternoon, Garst and her appointed EDA prosecutor Michael Parker, a specialist in white-collar crime, came to a decision to hand their investigation over to the Western District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s office in Harrisonburg in late February of this year.

Both FBI and VSP were on hand for April 16, 2019, removal of evidence from the EDA office regarding alleged embezzlement and asset misdirection by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and thus far civilly accused co-conspirators. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

“Our primary goal with the prosecution is to assure a just outcome. Mr. Parker did an excellent job of assessing the case and putting the evidence together. In doing so, it became apparent that federal prosecutors would be able to gain the best outcome,” Garst wrote in her release dated October 7, continuing to note the late February turnover of the case to the federal prosecutor’s office in Harrisonburg.

“It was explained that my office cannot comment on the case further or jeopardize any potential federal prosecution. I want to assure the citizens of Warren County that my office is dedicated to seeing justice done. In light of an ongoing criminal action, I cannot provide any further information,” Garst concluded, referencing further inquiries to Western District U.S. Attorney’s Office Public Affairs Specialist Brian McGinn.

While anticipating a similar reply to Garst’s “no further information” qualifier, Royal Examiner did reach out to the federal prosecutor’s office to see if there were any clues on timelines on decisions that might be made public. And in a very quick reply to our emailed query, McGinn noted as we predicted, “As per DOJ policy, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.”

Perhaps the judicial system is running silent, but deep on the EDA criminal front, like a submarine tracking its prey above the surface.

Garst’s release acknowledging the change in prosecutors from the state to the federal level in the EDA financial scandal criminal investigation over seven months ago comes just nine days after the Front Royal Town Council’s aggressively worded September 28th Resolution “demanding justice” condemning the lack of action on the EDA criminal prosecution front by the Rockingham prosecutor’s office, and Parker in particular.

We contacted the author of that Resolution, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick who coming out of a meeting had not seen the Garst press release. Informed of its content, Tederick said, “Good news – mission accomplished,” in that a response containing some new information on the EDA criminal investigation’s status had been received.

“I’m sure there’s a rationale and a reason,” he added of the previous silence from the state special prosecutor’s office. “But when the public trust has been violated to this degree, the public deserves some assurance that they are still pursuing the case.”

Tederick noted that confidential information was not being sought in the Town resolution approved by a 5-1 vote, Thompson dissenting, on September 28, just that the case had not gone cold and been abandoned.

As a masked Matt Tederick listens, Lori Athey Cockrell reads a statement into the Sept. 28 council meeting record regarding her perspective on the EDA business at hand.

But as noted in our story “Town targets Special Prosecutor’s Office over EDA prosecution delays” it appears the Town pursued its Resolution initiative without any prior communications with the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.

That apparently was not the case with an inquiry launched by the EDA, according to Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne.

Having received Garst’s press release through the EDA, we contacted Browne about it. Browne indicated an EDA inquiry about the criminal case status through the EDA’s civil litigation attorneys was begun about a week before the Town resolution was publicly approved.

Browne said he believed local attorney and “B.E.E.R. Party” principal David Downes launched a separate inquiry to Garst’s office as well. Downes publicly criticized the Town Resolution’s message and tone in public comments at the September 28 council meeting prior to the vote on its approval.

Local defense attorney David Downes was critical of the message delivered by the proposed Town resolution on the pace of EDA criminal prosecutions at the Sept. 28 meeting. He then undertook a different path toward seeking information on the EDA criminal case status.

Contacted about the County’s knowledge of the origins of Garst’s press release, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley said the County had inquired about the status of the Rockingham prosecutor’s EDA investigation through State Senator Mark Obenshain’s office. It was through Obenshain’s office Daley indicated County officials became aware yesterday of Garst’s press release that may have first been circulated locally in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area.

Regardless of who, how, or why – the consensus is that the information that the case is active and in federal prosecutors’ hands is welcome.

“This is big – from our standpoint, it is really good news,” EDA Board Chair Browne enthused. “This shows that it is still on prosecutors’ radar. The people of Warren County deserve justice. And we want to see anyone there is evidence of involvement prosecuted for it.”

Of the EDA inquiry, Brown observed that he kept hearing that nothing was going to be done regarding criminal accountability for the at-this-point still alleged criminal misdirection of EDA, County and Town assets – “It made me mad and I wanted to let people know we’re still interested in achieving justice,” Browne said of the impetus for the EDA’s inquiry through its legal counsel to the Rockingham prosecutor’s office.

Some people have been working toward cooperation on the EDA legal front longer than the final weeks before Election Day. Here, newly elected Mayor Tewalt promises cooperation on his part in December 2019, as Jeff Brown, standing in the red shirt, Ed Daley, dark shirt seated left, Supervisors Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, behind Tewalt, among others listen. Ten months later have Tewalt’s council colleagues caught up to the idea?

And while the nature of the inquiries may have been different, Browne said he looked at it as a positive that both involved municipalities and the EDA were on the same page in seeking assurances that criminal accountability was still on the legal table at this point.

“We’re in this together, we should be working together,” he said of the Town, County, and EDA.

Perhaps another small step toward increased cooperation, as opposed to increased hostility and litigation, as this community moves forward toward an outcome, if slowly in a complex legal setting.

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Rockingham Prosecutor’s Office turned EDA criminal investigation over to U.S. Attorney’s Office

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The Front Royal Warren County EDA and Warren County officials, through the EDA’s attorney in the civil case, approached the Rockingham attorney two weeks ago to urge that office to reinstate the criminal charges in the EDA embezzlement case. The attached response is a press release from Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst.

My office was appointed to prosecute potential crimes occurring in Warren County. I authorized one of my most skilled prosecutors who specializes in white collar crimes, Michael Parker, to assist with the case. Our primary goal with prosecution is to assure a just outcome. Mr. Parker did an excellent job assessing the case and putting the evidence together. In doing so, it became apparent that federal prosecutors would be able to gain the best outcome.

Accordingly, working with our federal partners, we referred the matter to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia in late February of 2020. It was explained that my office cannot comment on the case further or jeopardize any potential federal prosecution. I want to assure the citizens of Warren County that my office is dedicated to seeing justice done. In light of an ongoing criminal action, I cannot provide any further information.

Any further questions in this case should be referred to Brian P. McGinn, Public Affairs Specialist, of the Western District United States Attorney’s Office at (434) 295-8672.

Thank you,
Marsha L. Garst

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EDA unveils new logo featuring sunrise, logistical and transportation advantages

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The Board of Directors and Executive Director Doug Parsons are pleased to introduce the new Front Royal Warren County EDA logo.

Chair Jeff Browne and EDA staff worked with Mike Shotton, of Shotton Design, for several months on the design. The sunrise on the horizon is a feature which reflects a positive belief in the future of the Front Royal and Warren County area. Included are three of the many industry sectors that are important components of our community’s economic engine. Additionally, Front Royal and Warren County are uniquely situated, geographically, to offer businesses and industries the advantage of the I-81 business gateway, the Virginia Inland Port, as well as the I-66/Northern Virginia/metro D.C. corridors.

This new look goes along with the new Board of Directors, new staff, and a new commitment to encouraging business and industry growth and development in the Front Royal Warren County area.

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Update: County responds to Town announcement of FRPD financing

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This story has been updated. Here is the complete release. Page 2 of the release was missed and left out of the original post.

Warren County released the following press release on Friday, September 25, 2020:

The press conference held on September 23, 2020, announcing that the Town of Front Royal has secured permanent financing for the Front Royal Police Department building is great news for the citizens of our community! It closes a chapter on one aspect of the lawsuit the Town of Front Royal filed against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) and ends months of dispute between the EDA, the Town, and the County. It should be viewed as a path forward to a working relationship between the Town of Front Royal, Warren County, and the EDA.

As Warren County citizens, we were brokenhearted by the EDA scandal. The breach by those who were entrusted with our tax dollars and economic development is one that will take years to restore. Efforts taken by the Warren County Board of Supervisors to restore faith and oversight of the new EDA Board of Directors are well documented. Both the Board of Supervisors and the EDA Board of Directors have worked diligently to clean up the mess and recover the stolen assets for taxpayers.

The portrayal by some Town leadership that the County was unwilling to work with the Town to resolve the EDA issues could not be farther from the truth. The County has had every incentive to work with the Town to resolve the Police Station debt owed by the Town and has repeatedly approached the Town to work together on economic development issues critical to the success of our community.

Town and County residents expect us to resolve our differences and focus on big issues affecting our community. Rampant drug overdoses and deaths in our community, families on the margins suffering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers struggling to educate our children remotely, first responders working double overtimes…these are the type of issues we should be working together to resolve.

Our government needs to DO BETTER. We need to stop blaming one another and start focusing on what will better the lives of our citizens. The residents of our community deserve leaders who spend their tax dollars wisely. That includes streamlining our efforts to reduce duplication of the same services and waste of resources. THE CITIZENS of the Town/County are footing the bill for these lawsuits that are equivalent to suing ourselves. And in the case of Town residents, they are paying for lawyers and court costs on both sides.

The citizens of this community want their leaders to find ways to work together. They deserve it. We encourage the Town leadership to work with the County and the EDA to secure a better community!

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all-day WCHS Band Annual Fruit Sale @ ONLINE STORE
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Please show your support by purchasing fresh fruit for you, your family and friends to enjoy over the holidays! To place your order online, simply click here. Navel, Grapefruit, Juice Oranges — Whole Box $40, Half[...]
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During Fall Farm Days History Weekend, step back in time and see history come to life. Stroll through the Historic Area buildings, interact with our living historians and take a tour of Mount Bleak House[...]
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Dear Job Seeker, We are delighted that you are participating in our Virtual Hiring Event sponsored by the Virginia Employment Commission and the Virginia Career Works Centers. I am mindful that many of the citizens[...]
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