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If Public Discussion of ITFederal is Counterproductive – Who is to Blame?

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Readers contribute to the ITFederal discussion

– Our Editorial Board decided to post this portion of an exchange in the “Comments” section to our Story “Council bids Farewells – continues sparring over ITFederal” in our “Opinion” section because of the breadth of issues addressed in this portion of a discussion with local citizen and businessman George McIntyre.  If this portion of what “Comments” participant Michael Graham termed an “informative and spirited discussion” piques your interest, we suggest you visit the story and read the full exchange of “Comments” following it – and if so moved, add your own thoughts to the conversation. – Roger Bianchini

The Public Discussion of ITFederal is counterproductive

Reader’s Comment, George McIntyre

Roger, I feel like the Councilwoman is carrying her concerns too far down the public pike.

In the past process of courting a prospect, most of the information was done quietly and professionally.  Today’s media, of all kinds, carries the information out into the public before the courtship and its results culminate.  In other words, in the past, professional courtesy becomes more important than the sensationalism and public scrutiny that exists today.  Once the EDA has completed their mission on behalf of our community for a new business, the information can be told to the public. – This works, rather than upsets or insults a prospect and forfeit what they may offer our community.  I can say, without hesitation and experience, this works.

The marketing of SHELL BUILDINGS has worked for many years, in Warren County and throughout the country. This approach offers prospects an opportunity to finish an empty warehouse building and move their business in quickly.  Most of our industrial parks have done this with public, as well as private investments, even in the current year.  This is the perfect way to introduce new business into our community.  This is especially true about moving into a condemned property, like we have here.  This also keeps the cost down for our community.

The site plan submitted indicates ITFederal will build its first two buildings just west of the old Avtex Administration building, toward the Old Virginia Plant in the back-ground, where the EDA and several other businesses and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission are now located. Photos/Roger Bianchini

Ask some of the current successful businesses that live, work, employ and play here how much of their private information and contracts were questioned?  Ask the Virginia State Department of Economic Development in Richmond; ask Bryan Schull, former EDA Director; and Stephen Heavener, a very successful EDA Director about this – worst case scenario: we become owners of buildings for the future; best case scenario: successful business, jobs, growth, taxes and a positive image of our community and more move their businesses here.

As we saw in the recent elections, all the sensationalism created by public involvement and done “on behalf of our community” is working against us, as far as separation.  Just like pretending the elimination of cameras at the Gazebo is going to save someone’s rights.  Working on BEHALF of our community and all the residents says NOT.

We want ITFederal here.  If we are upsetting him, then stop and move forward.  As the Branding Committee says, ONWARD!

Thanks for wanting to see Front Royal and Warren County continue to strive forward and remain “A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE”.

Who is to Blame for the Public Discussion of ITFederal?

Writer’s Reply, Roger Bianchini

George, as for the role of “today’s media” carrying information “out into the public before the courtship and its results culminate” – I don’t believe it is the media’s role to suppress available information of public interest to citizens that information impacts.  And I would hope you agree that it is, indeed, the business of elected officials to be informed of the dynamics of economic development being recruited by their own quasi-governmental agencies created to do so – in this case the Town-County Economic Development Authority.

But I also understand the need for privacy in early business negotiations to keep from undermining those deals during their early stages.  My expectation as a Town citizen is that the Town’s elected officials would be informed behind closed doors about those early-stage dynamics that will impact the future of the community they are elected to represent. – As you note, THAT is an important function of Closed Sessions.

Judging from the public discussion, in the case of the Town of Front Royal, the EDA, ITFederal and Royal Phoenix that has NOT happened – not even in the wake of Councilwoman Egger’s publicly voiced questions of October 24.  That vacuum of internally-circulated substantive information surrounds publicly-available information, much of it cited by Egger on October 24.  As we have previously reported, that information revolves around funding sources for the project such as the previously undisclosed EB-5 visa program under the auspices of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services; ITFederal’s contract base and its financial ability to accomplish what has been publicly promised; ITFed CEO Tran’s purchase of other Town land for other business purposes unrelated to the Royal Phoenix plan; and how those peripheral purchases were financed and might impact the plan for 30-acre Lot 6 at Royal Phoenix.

After the first two structures, as many as six more buildings are planned for the 30 acres on ITFed’s Royal Phoenix Lot 6, spreading out behind the EDA headquarters off Kendrick Lane. Everyone hopes the plan leads to business and jobs relocating to a portion of the site that was once the largest private-sector employer in the Town of Front Royal – public questions now persist as to how that plan will be accomplished.

I contend these are legitimate inquiries for a member of Town Council. – Where the fault lies that those questions were not INITIALLY addressed in CLOSED SESSION with the EDA remains to be seen; however, I would suggest the fault lies with Council itself.

I say that because Council discussion since October 24 indicates an apparent 5-member majority does NOT believe it is their responsibility to stay informed in Closed Session or elsewhere about what the EDA is doing on the Town’s behalf.  That stance has been repeated both during and after work session and meeting discussions since Egger went public with her questions.

Should Ms. Egger have first requested a joint Closed Session of Council and the EDA to discuss her and her constituents’ concerns? – Probably.

But if she had, would a Council majority have agreed to such a meeting? – My guess is NOT.  I base that guess not only on the above-referenced Council comments, but also upon the fact NO such Closed Session appears to have occurred in the seven weeks since Egger first publicly confronted the EDA Executive Director about details of the ITFederal project.

After all, Councilman Tewalt has publicly stated he doesn’t believe Avtex redevelopment and EDA marketing of the property, or anything else the EDA now does on the Town’s behalf is any longer any of Council’s business.  And Councilman Hrbek has publicly stated he believes it IS the media’s job, not Council nor perhaps even the EDA’s, to vet a company Council and the EDA immediately loaned $10-million in September 2015; and officially endorsed in November 2015.  That latter act, approving Council’s first Resolution of Support of ITFederal, according to the EDA Executive Director, was made in order to achieve the bank loan of $10-million for the company, so that the Town’s $10-million “bridge” loan would not have to become more than a “bridge” to the bank loan, and be kept and used for the planned ITFederal construction project.

Has there been any other Council voice contesting Tewalt and Hrbek’s lack of interest in seeking details on the EDA’s recruitment of ITFederal to the Royal Phoenix site? – NONE that I have heard; and I’ve been listening pretty closely.

In such a vacuum, one might suggest a malfeasant vacuum, of public responsibility should we be surprised things took the public turn they did?

And once they did, George, what would you suggest is the role of media present when these questions were publicly posed?  Should we join Council’s five-member majority and put our heads in the sand and pretend we didn’t hear them or have no interest in the answers?

I would contend in the perhaps disappearing world of independent, investigative journalism that Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers believed was a cornerstone – “the Fourth Estate” – of the American Republic, it IS media’s responsibility to seek answers to publicly-discussed questions; and use publicly-available information to seek not only those answers, but also pose new questions the answers to which impact the future of the communities they cover.

Perhaps the questions posed by Egger on October 24 would have best been first discussed in Closed Session with the EDA – they weren’t.

And if the resultant public discussion leads Mr. Tran to “take his promised $40-million investment and go home” – or perhaps elsewhere into the Northern Valley – I would suggest the blame most appropriately be placed on ALL those elected Town officials who do NOT believe it is their job, behind closed doors or elsewhere, to seek relevant information on business recruitment and the use of public funds to foster that recruitment.

After all, it’s only recruitment and financing of the business poised to shape development of a large swath of this Town and community’s employment future – what’s to know, right?

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Phil Foster

    December 27, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    here lies the heart of the matter…
    Should Ms. Egger have first requested a joint Closed Session of Council and the EDA to discuss her and her constituents’ concerns? – Probably.
    The answer is DEFINITELY. Ms Egger is the very definition of loose lips sink ships. There are dozens of ways she could have asked the question and obtained the information and kept it confidential until the business was ready to commit and release the information. Her enthusiasm is commendable, but her amateurish methods are not. This is the by product of her not doing enough homework with the packet of information she is given prior to the council meeting. It appears to me she is trying to play catch-up at the meeting itself.

  2. Roger Bianchini

    December 24, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    Let’s go to the dictionary — from the online Webster’s Dictionary site:
    Definition of crony (plural cronies): a close friend especially of long standing: pal; a close friend of someone, especially a friend of someone powerful (such as a politician) who is unfairly given special treatment or favors.
    Example in a sentence: “The president rewarded his cronies with high-paying jobs after he was elected.”

    Definition of cronyism: partiality to cronies especially as evidenced in the appointment of political hangers-on to office without regard to their qualifications.
    Examples of cronyism in a sentence:
    The president has been accused of cronyism.

    BUT Linda, in the modern world of politics & business at ALL levels George may be right — “cronyism” has, or is becoming a norm without the negative connotation … Tho apparently that new developing norm hasn’t gotten to Merriam Webster’s yet … BUT as the great modern cartoon philosophers “Beavis & Butthead” used to say when forced to read aloud in school — “Words; more words …”

  3. Linda J. Allen

    December 23, 2016 at 5:59 am

    Some comments remind me of a cake with too much icing. Makes me wonder, too, when teamwork and cronyism became the same meaning yet my use of the word cronyism makes me negative. Can you have it both ways or was it simply worth a try? Is there any evidence to say that I or others are not willing to help or have not tried to help Council? This is becoming hilarious, like being a teacher knowing we all are teachers yet not all are formally licensed to be educators which does not stop anyone from espousing a personal expertise based upon their own experiences in education or talk about politics or 14,400 stories from personal expertise and later, did we learn what work we need to do to make this the best town? Maybe so yet a new issue has cropped up, to wit, the foregoing run on sentence. Oh my. Here it comes, coals in my Christmas stocking.
    To cut through the chase, in effect, we allow cronyism and several other real games in campaigns and we fail to enforce our own town ordinance about non-partisan elections and the list goes on. It is helping by putting the problems on the table. We are all related; we do need each other; and we do allow cronyism to the point that if ‘we’ like them, the person gets ‘in’; if not, ‘we’ are sitting on the Council and gloss over the fourth runner up according to public voting and ‘we’ say let us select the next person by having an application process. Do we need to vote here? More some other day. Pressing on, there is a possible concern for ITFederal having the money to build, as follows:

    A new federal administration will be installed in January 2017. With the EB5 being in question, and if that is the source of money for the ITFederal project, it may be beyond the control of the CEO to have that funding. Then, too, new administrations give altered foci to both grants and contracts which again may alter whatever the plans are for ITFederal.

  4. George McIntyre

    December 21, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Cronyism is taught in schools and throughout society, sports and businesses. Another term for it, is commonly called “teamwork”. Everyone who owns a business, hires staff, plays on a team of any kind could be deemed your cronies. Whether you turn this into a negative term, as seen here, is up to your mindset. Accomplishing goals, reaching objectives, is done through teamwork.

    What if the sun doesn’t come up tomorrow ? I look forward to it. I’m anxious for the success that is on our LOCAL horizon. The implication that we are in a state of despair, is not on my radar.

    Yes, questions and comments are always appropriate in society, if done courteously, properly and professionally. Yes, it is alright to worry, without impeding positive progress for all citizens.

    No, we will not always agree. That is our freedom, to disagree. Unnecessary conflict is not needed if the majority of the team makes choices in what they feel are in the best interest of all. The key is to make sure the citizens goals and needs are carried out, by our local officials.

    Let’s be HELPFUL in assisting our Town and County, EDA, Chamber and on and on move forward and ONWARD by being POSITIVE !

    Happy New Year to all ! Cheers to 2017

  5. Linda J. Allen

    December 20, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    It seems as if the town’s $10 million had the effect of being the collateral that ITFederal needed to get a loan? What funds does the CEO put up for this venture? What is the cost of project failure to the town and/or county?

    Is EB5, the visa money, supposed to be the financial backing for the project on the former Avtex property? If so, there is serious bipartisan questions about that program with the expectation of revisions to come. How would that affect ITFederal? Weren’t there some local business people who were going to invest in the building or rent space in it yet they aren’t involved in the project now?

    What kind of qualifications will the appointee to Town Council have when Hollis Tharpe assumes the duties of Mayor, therefore, needs to be replaced on the Council? There is currently and certainly the appearance of cronyism at work on the Council as it is. Will that person have the experience or the habits of study to become a questioning member toward serving the best interests of the town? The current fellows on Council have created a frightening perception of willful denial of responsibility by their own remarks (accurately cited in the media) about how our tax money is used. How do we get the Town Council to work for US in developing new businesses? How do we get these elected people to be accountable to us? Call me worried in Front Royal!

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