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OPINION: Warren County failing on opiod crisis management, EDA oversight

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RE: Our County’s opioid crisis

Dear Mr. Stanley and the Members of the Board of Supervisors:

About a month and a half ago, possibly two months ago, I wrote to you and enclosed a copy of an article I reviewed while I was in a European airport. I believe I was coming back from Greece when I read the article. At that time, I requested that you all investigate taking action against certain pharmaceutical companies as many localities across the United States have done associated with heroin and opioid deaths. Apparently, the County has done nothing with respect to that. I have also learned that the County is continuing to take active steps in spending taxpayer money to supply NARCAN® and training costs associated with the administration of such. I am told that there is continuing pattern of such purchases because of the amount that is being consumed. I would like to know the cost of such. I find it unconscionable that you continue to demand that I and other law abiding taxpayers, are forced to pay for felons who decide to commit a felony, and voluntarily administer to themselves an illegal drug that is known to lead to an overdose and possibly kill themselves. I would like to know why these people are not being billed and forced to pay for such medications and why I as a taxpayer am forced to pay for their self-indulgence and selfishness. Bill their insurance or Medicaid for the medication like any hospital would. I would like a strong public policy argument as to why I should have to continue to pay for such. Can you provide such?

I find it rather shocking that the County still has not done something to start to recover the costs associated with the opioid crisis. Why you think the taxpayer should continue to fund such is baffling. Please explain to me why the taxpayers of Warren County should continue to have to fund this opioid crisis and treatment program which only encourages more use of such opioids. Your policy is wrongheaded. Your policy will only continue to encourage people to use illegal drugs that could result in an overdose knowing full well they maybe be brought back or saved.


Further, the County should be suing those that are selling the illegal drugs to pay for the mess they, have created. We know who some of the distributors are, they are those charged with distribution. Sue them. Not just pharmaceutical companies, but these felons. Make them pay civilly too, not just criminally.

Both the Town and County continue to allow certain businesses to operate in the Town and County that permit and maybe encourage such activity to occur. If the County and its EDA really wanted to improve our economic potential, they would get rid of all these crappy hotels that rent rooms by the week to opiate addicts. Buy the properties with the power of eminent domain and tear them down for redevelopment rather than building the most expensive “workforce housing” ever dreamt up. If you remove the ability and cheap place for these addicts to stay, hopefully they will move on and out of our community. Don’t you think it is high time that you re-evaluate your current game plan on how to address this crisis? I mean, clearly your current plan is an abject failure.

Your current EDA director absolutely is terrible. And at best several on the EDA board are ineffective at best since they retain her and elect as its chairman someone who hasn’t worked in the private sector for at least 15 years, if ever, and never in industry. You have an executive director that clearly does not understand the appearance of impropriety in dealing with family members and who has pushed an absolutely absurd position on “workforce housing.”

The County has continued to appoint people who have no idea what is going on outside of the Warren County economic area. I dare say, anyone, save Messers. Biggs, Blanton and Llewellyn know how to and have actually made “real” money and to work with large domestic and international entities on striking good business deals. At least three on the Board either do or did work for governmental bodies or a not-for-profit. How on earth does this make them the proper people to seek privately invested industrial and economic growth or as to what it takes to attract such? I very much doubt that most on the EDA are aware that just two counties away, in Loudoun, that their economic development team brought into their county in fiscal 2017 (ending June 30, 2017) $3.3 billion in business development. It shattered all previous records, not just in the Commonwealth, but for all counties the size of Loudoun in America. (See enclosure.) I wonder how many in our county actually how much “good” growth is occurring in counties immediately adjoining us as well as two or three counties away and of their marketing activities. These counties have done away with these crappy hotels that encourage criminal behavior and conduct and have developed plans to increase the quality of life to attract major investment. They get “business friendly.” It is a term that Front Royal really needs to learn.

Rather than continue to fund an ill-functioning EDA that creates taxpayer black holes, you should insist that the EDA develop a two, five, and ten year plan for our community and actually share it with the community. The secrecy associated with the EDA, which you all have by silence encouraged, is a problem. There is zero accountability of the EDA executive director and it seems that you all do not wish for there to be any accountability which is also a problem. The fact that our EDA is excited that a new fast food operation is opening up is telling. When Stephen Heavener was the director of the local EDA we had much more investment in our community. Maybe it is time to hire someone who has real world experience in such and has a track record of actual success.

I am sorry that I have to address this letter to you. I wish I felt pleased with progress in our community, but I do not. Rather than only being someone that criticizes, I am also someone who is willing to help, if called upon. However, I doubt that the leadership of the County has that capability to admit they need help.

Respectfully Yours,

David W. Silek, Esq.

Editor’s Note:  The above letter was mailed to Warren County Administrator Douglas P. Stanley and each member of the Warren County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 27, 2017. A copy was also mailed to the Royal Examiner.

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County Supervisors change November meeting date – stay mum on Closed Session EDA litigation discussion

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The only open session action taking by the Warren County Board of Supervisors at a Special Meeting of Tuesday, October 26, was authorization to change the date of a November Supervisors meeting from the 16th to the 18th. That item was a late addition to the agenda made and acted on prior to a scheduled closed session.

The bulk of the 5 p.m. meeting, about an hour-and-a-quarter, was taken up by a Closed/Executive Session to discuss Economic Development Authority litigation. As Royal Examiner readers know, that is an oft-behind closed doors topic over the last two-plus years in the wake of the $26-million to $62 million FR-WC EDA financial scandal that began unravelling in mid-2018. No announcement or action regarding that litigation was offered during the brief open session to adjournment shortly after 6:20 p.m.

As has been previously reported, the EDA financial scandal involves civil and criminal cases, the latter now handled at the federal level by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Virginia headquartered in Harrisonburg. Before criminal indictments were dropped by the Special Prosecutor at the state level due to speedy trial concerns surrounding the mountain of documented evidence, estimated at over a million pages, there were as many as 23 co-defendants alleged as co-conspirators of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. The federal prosecutor launched action on August 31, filing a 34-count indictment against McDonald, including 16 counts of money laundering, 10 for bank fraud, 7 for wire fraud, and 1 count of aggravated identity theft regarding someone identified as “T.T.” (ITFederal principal Truc Tran perhaps?)

In related civil litigation, McDonald and the EDA reached an agreement in which $9-million-dollars of assets were ruled out of McDonald’s bankruptcy court filing as owed to the EDA, though without any admission of fault by McDonald. As part of that agreement the EDA recently announced assumption of ownership of McDonald Real Estate LLC MoveOn8’s undeveloped 41-acre Happy Creek parcel valued at over a million dollars.


The EDA and Town of Front Royal are also engaged in dueling civil countersuits initiated by the Town, claiming disputed lost assets related to the financial scandal. During the tenure of Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick, other than then-Mayor Eugene Tewalt, the town council chose to ignore EDA offers to sit down in a non-litigious, good faith effort to determine exactly what was owed to the Town related to the alleged misdirected EDA assets involved in Town and County capital improvement and economic development projects financed through the EDA. The Town has since initiated an effort to create its own unilateral Front Royal EDA (FREDA) operating independently of the over half-century-old Town-County EDA, which technically the Town is still a legal, if now silent, partner in.

That independent EDA effort has become a political hot potato in the coming Town Special Election to fill resigned member Jacob Meza’s seat. In recent years the County had fully funded EDA operational costs, with each municipality covering its own debt service related to EDA financing of projects. Independent conservative council candidate Bruce Rappaport has made the unilateral Front Royal EDA a major target of his campaign, citing it as a waste of town taxpayer money and destructive wrench in the cog of Town-County relations.

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‘Ghosts of EDA Loans Past’ come back to haunt county supervisors

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The most interesting part of Tuesday evening’s Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting was likely behind closed doors after the board adjourned to Closed/Executive Session for a legal-based answer to North River Supervisor Delores Oates question as to what benefit to the County and its taxpayers there was in approval of a Resolution admitting a “moral obligation” to continue to pay the debt service on bank loans made by the EDA during its developing financial scandal, circa 2016 or so. There was one of three loans at issue of particular interest – the $10-million-dollar loan to Truc “Curt” Tran’s ITFederal company poised to jumpstart commercial redevelopment at the 149-acre portion of the former Avtex Superfund site known as the Royal Phoenix Business Park.

North River Supervisor Delores Oates particularly wondered why it remains in the County’s interest to continue covering debt service on the Town/EDA-sponsored ITFederal loan. Anxious to see commercial redevelopment begin on a portion of the former Avtex Superfund site in town, the Front Royal Town Council made a one-month, which grew to three-months, ‘bridge loan’ of $10-million to the ITFederal project to illustrate Town support of that project to a skeptical bank targeted to finance the project. Below, five-plus years later an unoccupied, un-permitted building constructed at an estimated cost of $2 million or less memorializes the entire debacle. Further below, I guess the building looks kind of like what ITFederal presented back in 2016 – at least the first floor. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Of particular interest, because the “moral obligation” for that loan was initially believed covered by the Town of Front Royal, whose elected officials agreed to provide a $10-million-dollar “bridge loan” requested by then EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald to indicate to First Bank and Trust that “the community” stood behind the loan and proposed project it supported. That request for and Town show of financial support for the ITFed project came despite the fact the company showed virtually no assets other than the three acres at the Royal Phoenix/Avtex site valued at slightly over $2-million-dollars that was “gifted” to the company by the EDA behind closed doors for one dollar.

A clue to what the county supervisors heard over about 15 minutes in Closed Session may have been offered by the board’s action out of it. After some hesitancy in response to the Chair’s call for a motion on the Resolution, Oates’ motion for approval of the “EDA First Bank and Trust Support Agreement”, seconded by Walt Mabe, passed by a unanimous roll call vote. The vote commits the County to continue to absorb those “moral obligation” payments through the Fiscal Year 2021-22 at an estimated cost of $214,000.


In open session, responding to questions about the Resolution in support of the “EDA First Bank and Trust Support Agreement”, County Administrator Ed Daley mentioned consolidation of three loans, including the above-mentioned ITFederal loan (at $9,551,500), as well as a First Bank and Trust Line of Credit ($8,691,600), and a First Bank of Strasburg loan ($3,450,000). Contacted later, Daley cited one condition that would bring the EDA’s payments to the bank on the ITFederal loan in line with what ITFederal pays the EDA monthly at about $42,000. Before the EDA payments fluctuated to more or less than the ITFed payments, sometimes as much as $7,000 a month more.

After County Administrator Ed Daley, left, summarized the proposed ‘First Bank and Trust Support Agreement’ and Supervisor Oates asked ‘Why?’ the County should continue to assume moral obligation payments it may not be responsible for, Interim County Attorney Jason Ham, right, suggested a Closed Session might be most appropriate to answer that question.

Despite the commitment to an estimated $214,000 in payments through this fiscal year, the board’s unanimous vote in support of its moral obligation payments likely reflects negative consequences were the County to bail on covering an EDA debt mid-fiscal year. But again, the agreement is only to the end of the current fiscal year, June 30, 2022. What might the future of “moral obligations” related to the “Ghost of EDA Loans Past” bring in FY-2022-23? – Stay tuned for another seasonal episode of “A Front Royal-Warren County EDA Carol”.

Thermal Shelter bathrooms

County Administrator Daley was also prominent in responding to another matter raised by three speakers during Public Comments about things, not on the meeting agenda. That was the elimination of two bathrooms in the Health and Human Services Complex at the old 15th Street middle school utilized by the County and involved churches and civic organizations to house the community’s homeless indoors at night during the winter. Opening that discussion was First Baptist Church Pastor Christy McMillin-Goodwin, followed by Aneita Bryant and Jim Bunce.

First Baptist Church Pastor Christy McMillin-Goodwin opened Public Comments discussion of how communications broke down between involved Thermal Shelter parties on the removal and delayed replacement of indoor bathrooms nearest the winter homeless shelter.

That trio said an alternate plan for mobile outdoor restrooms was unadvisable due to security and additional personnel to monitor out-of-building night trips, as well as potential severe weather issues. Noting a replacement plan that would not have new indoor facilities in place in time for this winter’s thermal shelter setup, these speakers wondered how the removal plan had been initiated without notice to those involved in helping the County operate the thermal shelter. Bryant suggested allowing access to the next closest indoor facilities.

In responding, Daley said he had been at point for the County in initiating the bathroom removal due to failing pipes that caused toilet backup issues. He said he had envisioned a much quicker turnaround in replacing the removed indoor facilities in that section of the building than ended up being the case. He promised to work proactively with those involved to see that an adequate alternate overnight option was available when the thermal shelter opens as winter arrives.

Public Hearings

Also Tuesday following public hearings, the board unanimously approved three Conditional Use Permit applications, two for short-term tourist rentals and one for a private use campground. Following application summaries by Planning Department Deputy Director Matt Wendling the first two CUP applications, Charles and Lou Ann Dotson’s for the Private Use Campground on their property on Burma Road in the Man-Da-Lay Subdivision; and Jacob W. Lott Jr. and Sandra J. Kiepfer for a short-term tourist rental on their 1.6-acre lot on Little Indian Road in the Blue Mountain Subdivision in Linden went to a vote with no public hearing speakers. Wendling did note that a letter from the chairman of the Blue Mountain Property Owners Association had been received, expressing “no problem” with Lott and Kiepfer’s short-term tourist rental application.

Up last were Nicole and Sean McMinn with a short-term tourist rental permit application for their 2.42-acre property on Sagar Drive in the Highland Estates Subdivision in the Fork District. Again, there were no public speakers after the applicants responded to the board chair’s offer to summarize their request. The D.C.-based couple told the board they had run into little opposition from neighbors, and what opposition there had been from neighbors was not from those closest, but with property over a thousand feet from theirs.

Nicole McMinn and her husband Sean marshaled neighbor and tourism-related business support for their short-term tourist rental permit application.

And while there were no public speakers, the McMinns noted a number of letters to the board from supporters of their short-term tourist rental CUP application, which they asked to be read into the meeting record. Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi then read nine letters of support, including one with “25 to 30” signatures. Several of the letters, including one from the owner of the Downriver Canoe Company, noted positive impacts on tourism-related businesses from short-term renters. One letter noted, “They come; they spend; they leave”.

The board then made its final unanimous vote of approval on a motion by Archie Fox in whose district the applicant’s property lies, seconded by Walt Mabe.

Following that vote, Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter noted a “Bless you” included in one of the letters read by the clerk that was well-timed to a sneeze by someone present in the government center meeting room.

Approaching an election he chose not to be a part of two days after Halloween this year, Tony Carter was on a comic roll Tuesday evening suggesting politician as perhaps the scariest costume for the Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 window.

In fact, facing a future out of the public eye politically – Carter did not file to be on the ballot for reelection to his Happy Creek seat in November – Carter appeared at times Tuesday to be auditioning for Comedy Club spots during his member report and at various other times during the meeting. In fact, his coming local election, Halloween costume advice during his member report led three of his four colleagues to decline to try and “follow that act”.

See all the fun, business, and other public perspectives, including opening Public Comments speaker Michael Williams question as to whether a recent church-sponsored candidates forum in which the moderator was shown prior to the forum to have contributed to one church-associated candidate’s campaign could threaten that church’s tax-exempt status on U.S. Constitutional separation of church and state guidelines, in the County video:

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EDA gets McDonald company property as part of settlement agreement

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On Wednesday, October 20, Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne verified the EDA’s acquisition of the 41-acre “Happy Creek Road” parcel owned by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s Moveon8 real estate LLC. Acquisition of the undeveloped property assessed at just over a million dollars according to county court records is part of the $9-million-dollar no-fault settlement agreement reached between the EDA, McDonald, and the Harrisonburg Bankruptcy Court handling McDonald’s 2020 bankruptcy filing. The EDA will now be able to market the property as a developable EDA asset. It is located near the intersection of Happy Creek Road and Leach Run Parkway.

Browne said that in addition to receiving full value on the Happy Creek parcel, the EDA was in line to receive a percentage of the sale price of other McDonald assets distributed through the bankruptcy court proceeding. Exactly how close those percentages might get the EDA to the $9-million-dollar settlement figure remains to be seen. It was not immediately clear as to whether the EDA will have an outright full value claim to any other McDonald-held properties or assets.

The FBI and VSP were both involved in the April 2019 search of McDonald’s former office; below, being locked down after her resignation under mounting investigatory pressure by her board on Dec. 20, 2018. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

McDonald is the central figure in the EDA financial scandal that began unravelling in mid-to-late 2018. She resigned in December 2018 under mounting pressure from her board of directors. She has been accused in civil and criminal court of utilizing her EDA position to misdirect EDA assets to her and others personal benefit. Western District of Virginia federal authorities have taken over the criminal side of the EDA case after a state special prosecutor’s office in Harrisonburg dropped criminal charges against McDonald and as many as 23 co-defendants due to speedy trial concerns as it wrestled with the volume of evidentiary material – estimated at 800,000 to over a million pages at the time. With charges against some defendants originating with the county commonwealth attorney’s office that initially handled the criminal investigation during Brian Madden’s tenure heading the department, failure to meet speedy trial timelines could have led to defense motions for dismissal of criminal charges against the defendants.


Jennifer McDonald booked during state criminal prosecution process in 2019.

On August 31, 2021, federal prosecutors made their initial move, handing down a 34-count indictment against McDonald. Of those 34 counts, 16 were for money laundering, 10 for bank fraud, 7 for wire fraud, and 1 count of aggravated identity theft regarding someone identified as “T.T.” – ITFederal principal Truc Tran perhaps?

ITFederal principal Truc ‘Curt’ Tran on site at EDA parking lot, adjacent to his now floundering construction project, on Dec. 20, 2018, the day Jennifer McDonald resigned as executive director of EDA. Tran expressed distress at the potential of McDonald’s departure at the time. Could Tran, whose $10-million loan for the Royal Phoenix project was the largest single item listed in the initial EDA civil litigation, have now accused McDonald of ‘aggravated identity theft’ regarding EDA financial dealings with him and his company?

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EDA completes audits for 2018 and 2019; 2020 audit is next

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The Board of Directors of the Front Royal and Warren County Economic Development Authority accepted its audited financial statements for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, today, October 5, 2021. The audit of the financial statements was conducted by the firm of Brown Edwards, CPAs of Harrisonburg, VA.

“We have received the final outside audits conducted for 2018 and 2019,” said EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne.  “This was a huge effort on the part of Brown Edwards, and they have done very good work in challenging circumstances. Getting these two financial audits completed is a major step forward in putting the EDA’s past difficulties behind us. Now we can better focus on economic development issues to benefit the community.”

“The auditors’ letter points to three areas for improvement of internal controls,” Browne said. “It was important to make each improvement recommended by the CPAs, and we have done just that. The Warren County staff now administer the check-writing duties, collection of rents, and have layers of approvals for expenses within EDA and the County administration that were not there three years ago.”

The audited financial statements show that, at the end of the fiscal year 2019, the EDA’s total net assets were $38,036,737, and its net liabilities were $44,575,435, resulting in a deficit net position of $6,538,698. The EDA will work with Warren County’s auditors starting with the fiscal year 2020, which audit can now be undertaken.


Final Financial Statement 10-5-21

Final Letter to governance

 The EDA Board of Directors will have their next regular monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, October 29, 2021, at 9 a.m.

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EDA reminds rental tenants, Small Business Loan Program clients to now send payments to WCGC

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Starting October 1, 2021, the Warren County Finance Department will take over and manage payments made to the EDA for rents and the Small Business Loan Program (RBEL and IRP). The EDA will no longer be accepting payments at their office or office address.

Please continue to make your check or money order to the EDA. You must hand-carry or send your payments to:

Warren County Government
ATTN: Finance Department
220 N. Commerce Ave.
Front Royal, VA 22630

Any payments sent to the EDA will be returned. As a result, you may incur fees for late payment. We appreciate your cooperation. Thank you for your attention to this matter.


(Press Release)

 

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EDA briefed on structural and legal options in closed session; gets open session updates on committee work during transition phases

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The EDA Board of Directors met Friday, September 24, for their regular monthly meeting. The Board went into closed session for approximately 90 minutes to discuss transition, personnel, 2018- 2019 draft audits, loan restructuring, and disposition of property. The Board returned to open session at approximately 10:20 a.m. Jeff Browne, EDA Chair, opened the session with an overview of the transition. Browne asked each board member to report on their assigned transition project.

EDA Board Chair Jeff Browne, red shirt at the head of the EDA ‘roundtable’, prepares to get committee chair reports on their work as the EDA transitions toward new staff and possibly a new administrative structure under consideration by the County Supervisors. Supervisors Chair Cheryl Cullers and Walt Mabe were present for the briefings. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Search Committee-Transition: Dr. Tom Patteson, reported the committee met and reviewed applications. Three applications were submitted to the county administrator. The county and EDA will work together in selecting replacements for the Administrative Assistant and Executive Director.

Finance Committee-Transition: Jim Wolfe reported the “numbers” on the 2108 and 2019 audits are final. Jim Wolfe stated the management letter will be revised and recommended a special meeting for next week to finalize and accept the audits for 2018 and 2019. The Board agreed and the date of the meeting will be announced. Mr. Wolfe will also be meeting with the finance personnel at the county in the next several weeks.


Marketing Committee-Transition: Scott Jenkins, Chair reported the 38-page PowerPoint presentation is complete. The marketing material can be tailored to specific clients. The marketing is targeted on the Core Industries: Advance Manufacturing, Transportation and Logistics, Information Technologies, and Food Processing. Scott reviewed documents and key data. The marketing material is organized and stored on the EDA network. The September Marketing Committee report included other updates and visions including Small Business opportunities, focus on the Strategic Plan, and marketing opportunities with VEDP, Site Selector Guild, and Trade shows in 2022.

Administration Committee-Transition: Jorie Martin reported Gretchen Henderson prepared an Operation Manual for future reference. The manual is detailed in all the operations of the office including resources to use. The new administrative assistant as well as the EDA Board are well prepared to transition smoothly. Mrs. Martin reported The EDA now has the capability to update portions of the website in-house. This week a meeting section was added so the public can go to the site and see upcoming meetings.

Jorie Martin launches into her Administration Committee report, noting that departed Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson had prepared what she termed ‘a bible’ for EDA administrative operations for her successor, wherever they are located, to work from. Below, Asset Committee Chair Greg Harold reported the development of ‘The Stage Gate’, a comprehensive document standardizing the process for disposition of EDA-held property.

Asset Committee: Greg Harold reported the transition and updates on the assets of the EDA were complete. Doug Parsons worked closely to make sure all projects are up to date.

Greg Harold presented the Project Management – Stage-Gate: The Stage-Gate is a comprehensive document standardizing the process for disposition of property. The document will be reviewed and discussed at length at the October board meeting.

Motions coming out of Closed Session: The Board approved the technical revisions to the EDA By-Laws adopted at the August meeting. The Board approved the Board Chair, and Secretary to sign documents for the restructuring of the EDA debt with First Bank and Trust. All documents will be reviewed by legal counsel.

Other items that the Board of Directors addressed included an expression of gratitude for all the work done by Executive Director, Doug Parsons. Jeff Browne expressed and the boards’ appreciation for all the hard work and effort to bring the EDA where it is today. Through Doug’s efforts, the EDA has sold property, expanded business, and brought new business to the town and county.

The next monthly EDA Board Meeting is scheduled for October 22, 2021.

 

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