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Season’s Greetings from Front Royal’s Town Hall & the WC Courthouse

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A seasonal welcome to Town Hall, with office windows carrying on that theme – Photos/Roger Bianchini

Local Government

Council questioned about IT contract and Crooked Run West

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Councilman Eugene Tewalt responds. Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

At the April 22nd Town Council meeting, Vice-May Bill Sealock, in the Mayor’s seat, received his first earful from Paul Gabbert when spoke about the IT contract that was on the agenda and also when he brought up the Crooked Run West request for water to the residential development. Surprisingly there were comments from the Council.

The Town Manager reports that the new Police Department was ready and staff was moving into the building and a ribbon cutting will be sometime in May. The Royal Examiner has scheduled time with Chief Kahle Magalis to discuss the move. He told us that boxes are everywhere and to give him a few days to unpack. That’s understandable.

Now, watch the discussion.

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EDA in Focus

Tran credited McDonald with saving ITFederal project – but what was saved?

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The end of the road: Part One of Phase One of the ITFederal construction plan appears to be nearing completion, as does the Town’s West Main Street connector road project – what’s next? Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Contacted by phone on April 20, ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran said he was limited in what he could say about his plans for his 30-acre parcel at the Royal Phoenix Business Park in Front Royal.

“On the advice of my attorney, no comment,” Tran said in reply to a question about how being named a defendant in EDA civil litigation filed March 26 might impact his plans as the first commercial tenant recruited to the former Avtex Superfund site.

However Tran did reply briefly when asked if he would continue to attempt to market the nearly completed, one story, 10,000 square-foot Phase One building as a rental space despite reports he no longer plans to re-locate his ITFederal tech company here from Northern Virginia.

“When did I say that?” Tran replied, seeming to focus on the ITFederal aspect of the question. Told it has been a general topic of conversation since both Royal Examiner and the Northern Virginia Daily reported an altered ITFederal plan on March 14, Tran added, “There is so much misquote and rumor.”

And while this paper’s source was protected Daily reporter Josh Gully cited Tran himself as the source of the information in a March 12 phone conversation. Pressed about his current plan for the property Tran returned to his attorney-instructed “no comment”.

But when this reporter and Gully encountered Tran in the EDA parking lot during a December 20, 2018, EDA Board of Directors closed session he was upbeat about the Front Royal project.

During a Dec. 20, 2018 Royal Phoenix/EDA site visit ‘Curt’ Tran spoke with media about the history of his project – now lawyers are advising ‘no comment’ after Tran and ITFederal were cited among nine defendants in EDA civil litigation.

“You know every project on a brown field (environmental remediation site) has issues, okay, so we were very hesitant but here we are. So the building is going up, the road is coming in, business is coming in. And so I just met the governor on Monday (Dec. 16) and I try to tell him about the project out here – local, state, federal we all work together – we sing ‘Gumbaya’ and we make it happen because this is a beautiful piece of land and we try to market it,” Tran said.

“The EDA has been very supportive – we’ve had some glitch, some challenge, like the road issue – that was a mistake,” Trans said of a dispute with the Town over drainage issues tied to construction of the West Main Street connector road through the Royal Phoenix Business Park property.

Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe and Tran discuss development status behind pick up truck during ITFederal principal’s Dec. 20 site visit.

We asked Tran if he was aware that EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald was under closed session board scrutiny for the second time within a week during that day’s EDA meeting. Tran replied, “I heard about this and it’s blowing my mind.”

Told there were suspicions McDonald might be terminated or asked to resign when the meeting re-adjourned to open session, Tran said, “Oh that would be sad. She’s done so much for this area of the county and the town to redevelop, and even me – I was just about to move on and she,” Tran hesitated before adding of the prospect of a turnover at the top of the EDA, “So, so we have to go do this with the next guy’s ideas or something?”

As Tran punctuated his question with a glance southward what he saw was a 30-acre property he acquired for one dollar from the EDA in a stated effort to jump start commercial redevelopment at the former Superfund site that from 1941 to 1989 housed a synthetic fibers manufacturing plant that though three ownerships was this community’s largest employer.

It is a property 3-1/2 years down the road from an October 2015 ribbon cutting with a one-story, 10,000 square-foot building nearing completion out of three buildings promised to total 67,000 s.f. and house hundreds of new jobs. As early as a June 2015 press release, Sixth District Congressman Robert Goodlatte lauded the coming of ITFederal as a $40-million investment in this community that would create 600-plus jobs, primarily high paying tech jobs brought here by ITFederal’s relocation from Northern Virginia.

Happy Day: Tom Sayre and Jennifer McDonald at Oct 26, 2015 ITFederal groundbreaking – a lot has changed since then. Social Media Photo

Recently acquired FOIA material also indicates that it was Goodlatte that pushed the Town of Front Royal and the EDA toward facilitating a $10-million loan to ITFederal eventually accomplished through First Bank and Trust with the 147-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park property used as collateral.

”When we did the EDA to ITFederal closing in mid-September, things got a little confused because of Curt Tran’s changing of things and the added $10,000,000 loan that Congressman Goodlatte asked for,” then EDA and County Attorney Blair Mitchell wrote McDonald and a TLC Settlements staffer named “Lucy” on November 19, 2015.

Mitchell referenced bank questions about how the loan would be secured. “Was the 410 million (apparent typo for $10 million) just unsecured because we expect Curt to repay it from his other investor and financing?” Mitchell’s email concludes.

Due to delays in achieving the bank loan the Town of Front Royal gave ITFederal a $10-million “bridge” loan through the EDA to facilitate the project until the bank loan was agreed upon.

File photo of a Bob Goodlatte visit to Warren County – Goodlatte was center stage in presenting ITFederal as the impetus for Royal Phoenix/Avtex site economic redevelopment.

Despite Goodlatte’s promotion of ITFederal as an economic development opportunity for this community and his involvement in securing a $10-million loan now being sought for recovery as part of the $17.6-million EDA civil suit, on December 20 Tran downplayed Goodlatte’s involvement in bringing him to Front Royal and Warren County.

“And so initially it’s not Congressman Goodlatte – a lot of people think Congressman Goodlatte got me out here – in fact it was Frank Wolf,” Tran said of the former 10th District Congressman. Warren County was redistricted out of Wolf’s 10th and into Goodlatte’s 6th District in a 2012 Republican-led redrawing of the commonwealth’s legislative map.

“So I was talking to their (Wolf’s) office and they say, ‘Hey Curt, come out here and help because Warren County is a rural area and they need kind of investment support.’ I went out here and the next thing I know they were redistricted, and that’s why Congressman Wolf’s office hand me over to Goodlatte.

“Front Royal, Warren County – they need help developing, so that’s why we start looking at this place. And then there was all kind of challenge with the federal government running the program – that this is not rural (designation)… they have a separate one and the housing; so it’s really messy.

“So then they told me it was rural and is why I went out here… and then it’s NOT… so that was another crazy challenge,” Tran said of discrepancies in how the federal government classified Warren County regarding economic and demographic variables qualifying his project for access to federal program funding sources.

“So we were about to move out of Warren County because it’s hard to get federal grants and support for programs. So then fortunately enough it wound up Jennifer (McDonald) was around to help bridge it and then I think the congressman (Goodlatte).”

That “bridge” appears to have been the $10-million bridge loan from the Town of Front Royal to help the EDA secure the $10-million First Bank and Trust loan. And from information being circulated about the ITFederal project as late as 2017 a $10-million Town “bridge” – since repaid – to a $40-million investment producing 600, largely high-paying jobs doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

As explained to Royal Examiner by former EDA Executive Director McDonald in a January 2017 interview (See Related Story), Tran’s originally-presented plan for his 30-acre ITFederal site was multi-phased, three-building project including a total of 67,000 square feet of construction in three structures, one of which would include 20,000 s.f. of rental space, 10,000 s.f. on each of two floors; 37,000 s.f. for an ITFederal office building and another 10,000 s.f. for an ITFederal cloud data center.

Artist’s renderings of the planned three-building ITFederal complex: above, the ITFederal office and cloud data center slated for the western side of the property toward the Old Virginia Plant; below the two-story retail center, one story of which is nearing completion.

“As for job creation you can see from the table below what the anticipated ITF jobs will be salary wise and a total of jobs for the entire ITF operation,” McDonald told Royal Examiner in early 2017, noting that delays in the start of the project would result in year one numbers “a little lower” but adding that the below chart were “strictly ITF jobs and not related to the retail component” of the project.

However 27 months later, year one of the ITFederal plan has yet to begin.

Personnel Plan Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5
Executive Staff $180,000 $298,000 $317,800 $400,000 $500,000
Executive Assistance $45,000 $74,000 $64,800 $77,760 $93,312
Operation $90,000 $94,500 $99,225 $104,186 $109,396
SG&A Staff $180,000 $848,062 $1,122,093 $1,346,499 $1,750,449
Overhead Staff $330,000 $941,180 $1,246,770 $1,496,110 $2,468,550
NRC Contract Staff $2,249,724 $5,155,900 $6,233,850 $7,480,550 $8,228,500
Other Contracts Staff $889,000 $1,778,000 $2,667,000 $4,000,500 $6,000,750
NRC Subcontractors Staff $642,779 $1,187,400 $1,781,100 $2,137,300 $2,351,000
Other Subcontractors Staff $254,000 $508,000 $762,000 $1,143,000 $1,714,500
Other Government Staff $0 $225,000 $337,500 $675,000 $1,012,500
Commercial Business Staff $67,500 $525,000 $1,050,000 $2,100,000 $4,200,000
Office Assistance $41,392 $49,136 $49,163 $49,259 $49,385
Total People 168 366 465 525 616

As for the current status of ITFederal’s promised jump start of economic redevelopment at the former federal Superfund site, it seems there can only be unanswered questions amidst a flurry of attorney-instructed “no comments” from all sides – so much for “Gumbaya” and timely movement on that $40-million, job-creating economic investment in this community with a 2020 deadline for completion.

Was it all a pipe dream from the start, as former Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger warned in 2016-17 from her research into ITFederal, its contract history and possible reliance on EB-5 Visa Program money – a reliance later verified by FOIA’ed communications between Tran and McDonald dated October 24, 2014*.

Somewhere over the rainbow – there is a rainbow out there, isn’t there?…

Or could it be something worse, or more promisingly a project like its site’s name that might rise like a phoenix from the ashes of current civil litigation, criminal investigations, public finger-pointing and municipal scurrying for explanations?

Stay tuned for the next chapter of “As the EDA forensic audit turns.”


*Footnote: In Tran’s October 24, 2014 email to McDonald stating acceptance of an IDA/EDA offer on “Lot 6 of the Royal Phoenix Park” Tran writes, “Once ACRC (Tran’s American Commonwealth Regional Center) has received final approval from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), it can immediately start raising the EB-5 investments to provide loan financing to ITFederal to development (sic) the property and to perform work on the $140 million NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) contract.”

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Town/County Liaison Committee Meeting – April 18, 2019

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Photo and Video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

The Town/County Liaison Committee meeting on April 18th was headed up by Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock.

Royal Examiner’s camera was there. A summary of the meeting follows below the video.

On the agenda was the following:

1) IT Federal-Main Street Project – Joe Waltz

  • Recent Progress: All minor grading was completed, and the entire project site was top soiled, seeded and strawed. There were 47 of 57 bid items completed, approximately 90% complete overall. The surface asphalt/striping and the bio-retention unit are the only items left to complete.
  • Royal Phoenix North Pump Station: The gravel access road from the end of Transcend Drive down to the pump station was completed. The recent heavy rains washed gullies across the road, so drainage may need to be improved under the road. The pumps were set in their final place on top of the wet well and they were plumbed in. The electrical subcontractor who is in charge of wiring in the pump station seems to be behind in applying for permits from the county. There were 17 of 21 bid items completed, approximately 80% complete overall. Remaining items include running electric lines from Main Street to the pump station, installing electrical controls, and getting the pump station certified for operation.

2) Route 522 Corridor Water Upgrade Project – Joe Waltz

  • CHA has completed their PER to address the water reliability and upgrade along the 522 Corridor as part of the water contract with Dominion Resources. They evaluated four options in which Dominion Resources only approved the one design which included parallel water lines through the corridor. Total cost of the preferred option of a new parallel water line presented to the Town about a year ago is currently $5.5 million. The project will be funded by Dominion ($3.5 million) and the Town having to commit $2 million to the project. Dominion’s interest in seeing a backup waterline constructed is based on cooling needs for its massive electrical generating facility.
  • To determine the precise status of the Town’s existing water lines in the north corridor and how the proposed new 12-inch waterline could be connected into the system, the Town has completed a hydraulics study model. Staff discussed the results of the hydraulic study with Town Council and it was decided the next step in the process is a feasibility study.
  • The feasibility study will identify the best route and connection to the existing water network. The study will investigate constructability through VDOT, DEQ, VDH, Railroad, river crossing, and all other easement acquisitions. The feasibility study to be completed in late April with discussion with Town Council on May 6th to determine the next steps.

3) Crooked Run Water Request – Doug Stanley

  • The Town has officially received the request from Warren County and the developer for water and sewer services for the development of Crooked Run West. They are currently proposing a combination of commercial and residential units which is a change in the Town’s comprehensive plan. They are requesting a change in the voluntary settle agreement in the Corridor to include the residential units in Crooked Run West. The agreement states only commercial water/sewer service for Crooked Run West.

4) Phase II & III Happy Creek Road Project Update – Joe Waltz

  • VDOT has released all the previous remaining funds from Happy Creek Phase I and has been transferred to Phase II. Currently there is $1,316,594 in VDOT funding available for this project. The EDA has committed another $2,500,000 toward the project for a total project funding of $3,816,594. The new cost estimate with both phases included is $16.9 M. A potential 2026 start date.
  • Town staff has submitted funding requests for Happy Creek Phase II and III through the smart scale funding but scored low and received no funding. The project will be submitted in the next revenue sharing program through VDOT.

5) Property Maintenance Code/Blighted and Derelict Structures in the Town – Joe Waltz

  • To enforce the recently adopted Maintenance Code, the Town is required to 1) appoint a qualified Maintenance Code Official, and 2) appoint a Board of Maintenance Code Appeals. Both the Maintenance Code Official and Board of Maintenance Code members must meet certain qualification requirements. Direction from Town Council was to explore cost-effective (low cost) approaches to accomplish these prerequisites. Town Council input was also received to start the program small and focus primarily on complaints and derelict buildings.
  • Maintenance Code Official – The Town staff has researched outsourcing options for staffing the Maintenance Code Official position. Options are very limited for this type of consulting work. The only business firm found within the region that provides these services is the Berkley Group (Bridgewater, VA). Town Staff met with the Town of Strasburg and with the Berkley Group created a draft proposal where the Town of Front Royal would employ the professional through the Berkley Group for 60% of the week (.6 FTE) and the Town of Strasburg would employ the professional for the remaining 40% (.4FTE). Unfortunately, the Town of Strasburg pulled out of the proposal due to budget limitations. Following this action by Strasburg, the Berkley Group made it known that the Town of Front Royal would need to employ the professional for 1 FTE for it to be cost feasible for them to offer the service. This would be a cost equivalent of $80,400 per year.
  • Board of Maintenance Code Appeals – The Town staff met with the Warren County Board of Supervisors in a work session and discussed if it would be feasible for the Town to utilize the County’s Board of Building Code Appeals (BOBCA). Using the County’s Board of Building Code Appeals for the Town’s Maintenance Code would be more efficient in terms of time to establish and cost. During the Work Session with the Board of Supervisors, they wanted to get input from the members of their Board of Building Code Appeals on this request.

6) WWTP Septage Receiving Station Issues Update – Joe Waltz

  • On April 30, 2018 the Town held a public information meeting with septage haulers to discuss issues with the new receiving station. Town and County staff heard from First Choice Septic about their issues with the facility. The following is a summary of the issues and solutions:
    • 1) Issue with truck pads and the drainage pipe – Hauler claims the pipe is too high causing drainage back to the truck and on haulers. The Town installed values on both units to eliminate the back flow of sewage on the operators.
    • 2) Pads are slippery – hand rails needed. The Town maintenance shop fabricated and installed hand rails.
    • 3) No bathrooms. The Town has no provisions or plans at this point on installing a restroom facility.
    • 4) No trash receptacles. The Town installed a small dumpster at site to handle any waste or trash.

7) Development Review Committee – Doug Stanley

  • The Development Review Committee met on March 27, 2019.
  • The Committee discussed projects in the County including:
    • Christendom College Chapel – preconstruction is beginning.
    • Existing lots for home construction on Catlett Mountain Road.
    • Proposed Crooked Run West development – PC public hearing on April 10th.
  • The Committee also discussed Town projects including:
    • A potential daycare on South Commerce Avenue.
    • Ice Vendor business on South Royal Avenue.
    • Interior Alterations to A.S. Rhodes Elementary School.
    • Possible Sheetz gas station on Shenandoah Avenue.
  • The Committee will meet again on April 24th, 2019

8) Building Inspections Software – Doug Stanley

  • The EnerGov software system went live on November 14th, 2017. After the Warren/Front Royal Project Team compiled all of the required information to have the Customer Self Service (CSS) configured in a way to be presented in a “friendly” manner, it was found that keeping the necessary fields in place would in fact not provide the public a friendly experience. While the staff was given the CSS Test side to experience how the customer would see the system, staff found that leaving all of County’s required Back-Office information made this experience less than desirable. Staff specifically found that the required information was not something that made the system usable or pleasant for the user. The solution for this is available, but until the CSS Test environment was available, this fact was not known or contemplated.
  • The solution for this involves creating a mirror of the County’s database for the CSS presence, but it is not as simple as a cut and paste scenario. Each page of the Back-Office needs to be manually recreated for the CSS presence. While County staff can and would be able to accomplish this task, it could take two to three times as long as having Tyler staff perform that function. Additionally, if they task the County’s in-house staff with this, the County would still incur additional costs from technical support. It could be as long as six to eight months for County staff to complete the work with their existing workload still needing to be addressed.
  • The other option is to have Tyler perform this task, which would still take input from County staff, but it would be far less than the first option. Currently staff is waiting to have a dialogue with Tyler representatives to determine what their time frame would be and an approximate cost on implementing this service. Staff is currently attempting to schedule a call with the appropriate Tyler staff to get this information so that they can determine the best path forward. While staff knows that Tyler will have to schedule this into their existing workload, staff would not anticipate it being as long as it would for County staff to complete the task.

9) Warren County’s In-Town Projects – Doug Stanley

  • Council had requested an update of the County’s in-town construction projects. The following is an update of current projects:
    • Ressie Jeffries Elementary School – Roof/Addition/Parking Lot Project/ Playground Project – Completed. In November, County staff installed two pieces of equipment associated with Phase III of the playground.
    • Health and Human Services Complex – The Board of Supervisors, at its meeting on April 3, 2018, awarded a contract to Juniper Construction for improvements to portions of the building to accommodate the Registrar’s Office and the Brighter Futures alternative school program. The contractor began work the week of June 4th. The school portion of the project was completed in November and the Registrar Office moved in on April 1, 2019. County staff is currently working with the contractor on the punch list.
    • Lions and Burrell Brooks Parks – Music Park Project – The County received a commitment from Lorraine Hultquist to donate funding to purchase music park components at both parks. The Lions Park equipment was installed in December. We hope to order and install the equipment at Burrell Brooks Park in spring 2019.
    • Marshall Property – In October the County announced the donation of 10.6436 acres of property from Tannis Warren and Patricia Bonner in the Happy Creek area of Warren County. This property is the site of the former Happy Creek Manor which was the home of James Markham Marshall, brother of the fourth United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. The County intends to eventually use the property for passive recreational uses (trails) and to work with the Warren Heritage Society to interpret the rich history of the site and the Marshall family, which made such a lasting impact on the country and the County. County staff have been working the past couple weeks to clean up the site including bush hogging and scrub tree clearance.

10) Joint Towing Board – Joe Waltz / Doug Stanley

  • The Tow Board held a special meeting on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 and established the Tow List, effective through June 30, 2020, with the following businesses which submitted all necessary information, were up-to-date on taxes, and passed all inspections:
    • Keen’s Towing & Hauling, LLC
    • Midway Service Center, LLC
    • Nate & Son Wrecker Service
    • Shenandoah Towing, LLC
    • Tharpe’s Garage & Towing, Inc.
  • The Tow Board held a regular meeting on Wednesday, April 3, 2019 where attention was brought to various complaints regarding alleged exorbitant costs for tow services. The Board has yet to receive any complaints directly, so it was encouraged for the tow representatives to urge citizens to file the complaint form, which is available online.
  • The Tow Board is waiting to hear word from the County Attorney regarding two proposed amendments to the Warren County Code related to the towing ordinance.
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Mayor tenders resignation effective May 2nd

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Mayor Hollis Tharpe sent a letter to Town Council on Friday tendering his resignation effective May 2, 2019. Here is the letter:

To whom it may concern:

Due to the potential of distraction to the important business of the citizens and residents of the Town of Front Royal and Town Council which may possibly arise as a result of a pending charge against me, which I think it is without merit and from which I believe I ultimately will be exonerated, it is with great reluctance and sadness I hereby tender my resignation as Mayor of the Town of Front Royal, effective at 12:01 A.M., May 2, 2019.

Being elected and serving as Mayor of the Town of Front Royal is the greatest honor that I or anyone can ever be granted by the wonderful citizens of this beautiful community. I have greatly appreciated the confidence the citizens of Front Royal have bestowed in me by offering me the opportunity to serve in this important responsibility. I look forward to being able to return to community service at the earliest opportunity.

I sincerely wish the very best future successes to Town Council, and most of all, to the citizens and residents of this most wonderful Town.

Very sincerely yours,
Hollis L. Tharpe

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Local Government

West Main Street Extension Funding

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Photo and video by Mark Williams, Royal Examiner.

Funding for West Main Street is in question. Due to the recent EDA problems, the Town of Front Royal may be holding the bag. Town Engineer Robert Brown briefed the Council at the April 15th work session.

Here’s the background:

  • 2016 – At the suggestion of the EDA, the town agreed to build the first phase of the Main Street extension as an access road to the IT Federal lot and applied for an Economic Development Access Grant through VDOT. The grant, in the amount of $650,000 was awarded on the basis of IT Federal’s proposed $40 million-dollar investment and their creation of 600 jobs. The estimated cost of construction for the first phase of Main Street was approximately $800,000. In exchange for the Town also constructing the sewer pump station to serve the northern end of the Royal Phoenix site, IT Federal agreed to pay the Town $150,000, essentially covering the remaining cost of the road construction.
  • 2018 – Bids for the construction of Main Street came in higher than estimated, with the low bid coming in at nearly $1.1 million. Subtracting the expected funding from VDOT and contribution from IT Federal, the Town expected to pay approximately $300,000 toward the construction of the roadway.
  • 2019 – Given the current uncertainty around IT Federal’s construction plans and their public statements which seem to indicate a drastic reduction in their proposed investment, it is equally uncertain whether the Town will qualify for any reimbursement from VDOT or receive compensation from IT Federal.

Royal Examiner’s camera was there. Watch the discussion:

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EDA in Focus

Town, County officials tread lightly around the elephant in the room

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As Liaison Chair Bill Sealock listens, Council Clerk Jennifer Berry records and Councilwoman Letasha Thompson jots notes, Town Manager Joe Waltz, center right, takes his turn updating county officials across the table on the status of a variety of town projects. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

With a rising tide of critical public scrutiny of past failures of municipal oversight of the Town-County Economic Development Authority resulting in civil litigation involving an attempt to recover nearly $20 million in misdirected assets at a cost of over three-quarters-of-a-million dollars of taxpayer money; and concurrent criminal investigations stretching to the federal level, one might think a quarterly Town-County Liaison Committee meeting might be rife with discussion of that topic.

However both the town and county governments conduct other business – and as they say on Broadway, “the show must go on”.

So the first 20 minutes of a brief 30 minutes or less Front Royal-Warren County Liaison Committee meeting of Thursday, April 18, was devoted to summary briefings of that other business. Town Manager Joe Waltz and County Administrator Doug Stanley handled presentation of those summaries offered to committee members Bill Sealock and Letasha Thompson on the town side and Dan Murray and Tony Carter representing the County.

With the Town taking on the rotating hosting duties, Vice-Mayor Sealock chaired his second meeting during Mayor Hollis Tharpe’s self-imposed administrative leave pending resolution of a misdemeanor criminal charge involving a massage parlor visit. See Related Story:

As press releases fly, plot thickens in Tharpe sex solicitation case

Topics on the Town side included:

  1. the status of Phase One of the West Main Street Extended Project into the ITFederal portion of the Royal Phoenix Business Park from Kendrick Lane – 90% complete to the first building constructed on site;
  2. construction of a parallel central water utility line into the Route 522/340 North Commercial-Industrial Corridor – a May 6 submission for updated plan evaluation and cost estimates;
  3. the Town’s halting movement toward enforcement of a property maintenance code that will initially target only blighted and derelict structures – awaiting County feedback on a request to utilize the County’s Board of Building Code Appeals as a more cost efficient method of that implementation;
  4. resolution of infrastructure issues at a new wastewater treatment plant septage receiving station – accomplished and backflow issues resolved;
  5. and the status of Phases 2 and 3 of the Happy Creek Road Project – $1.3 million in carryover VDOT funds transferred for use on Phase 2; another $2.5 million committed by the EDA for the project, with a total cost estimate of $16.9 million for both phases and a projected 2026 start date.

On the County side topics included:

As Tony Carter, center left, listens and Dan Murray’s hand, bottom left, occupies, County Administrator Doug Stanley takes his turn updating town officials on county projects, some within the town limits.

  1. the Crooked Run West developer request for Town central water service extension into the County’s North Corridor – County Planning Commission recommendation of denial of necessary zoning changes to facilitate a 1000-plus residential unit mixed development project that is contrary to both county and town comprehensive plan guidelines; recent receipt of a VDOT traffic study; and June as the earliest estimate of county board of supervisors discussion of whether or not to adhere to its planning commission recommendation of denial of the project;
  2. Development Review Committee projects – met on March 27 to discuss the Crooked Run West proposal, as well as construction of a new Christendom College chapel, Catlett Mountain Road home construction on existing lots; and in-town projects including an ice vendor business on South Royal Avenue; a daycare on South Commerce Avenue; a proposed Sheetz Gas Station on Shenandoah Avenue; and interior work on A. S. Rhodes Elementary School. The committee’s next meeting is slated for April 24;
  3. the status of the EnerGov building inspection software upgrades designed to make online self service a customer friendly experience. The status of that software system that initially went live on November 14, 2017, is continued issues to resolve what was discovered to “not provide the public a friendly experience” and discussion with an outside contractor to correct the situation in more timely manner than county staff could accomplish it;
  4. the County’s project inside the town limits, including Ressie Jeffries Elementary School renovations – completed; upgrades to the Health and Human Services building on 15th Street to accommodate occupancy by the County Registrar’s Office – moved in April 1; and the public school system’s Brighter Futures alternative school program – completed in November; punch list review with contractor under way;
  5. implementation of the joint town-county tow board – establishment of a tow list of qualified companies on February 6 that will be in effect through June 30, 2020. Citizen complaints were heard about exorbitant tow costs, a main issue surrounding creation of the town board, at an April 3 tow board meeting. However, such complaints have apparently not been officially submitted to the tow board in writing. So, Stanley’s summary indicated “tow representatives” are urging citizens to file official complaint forms which are available online. Contact the county administrator’s office for further detail on accessing those forms.

The elephant in the room

With the above agenda discussion completed by 6:20 p.m., Vice-Mayor Sealock asked if there was any other business to be brought forward. County Board Supervisor Carter noted that the county had agreed to take over as fiscal agent for the EDA, effective August 1.

County Board Chairman Murray noted that the County’s assumption of that role will provide “multiple layers of checks and balances” of EDA financial workings. On the EDA side their board has created redundancies in requiring the signatures of two board members on financial transactions, as well as increased board involvement in the development of those transactions.

From left, EDA Board Chairman Gray Blanton, EDA Board member Ron Llewellyn, term expired and since resigned, and then-Executive Director Jennifer McDonald at a November 2018 town council work session; the following month McDonald resigned amidst a mounting EDA financial crisis. Royal Examiner File Photo

As for the increased checks and balances provided by putting the EDA under the fiscal agent auspices of county government, a previous county staff presentation cited direct involvement of the County Finance Department and Treasurer’s Office in procurement policy, bookkeeping and recordkeeping of EDA business. The down side acknowledged is the additional demand on county staff to assume those additional responsibilities for another agency.

But in the current and still evolving legal and political environment it appears that additional demand will be a necessary consequence to assist in putting the EDA’s house back in order; not to mention a step in regaining the trust of what is becoming an increasingly suspicious, and according to Dan Murray, aggressively hostile public. As noted in a related Royal Examiner  video, at Tuesday’s county board meeting Murray described being physically pushed Sunday at a diner he regularly frequents by a customer angry about the EDA situation.

And so things progress this spring of 2019, as municipal and EDA officials wrestle with how they allowed what is alleged to have happened within the EDA in recent years happen; and how they will respond to what appears to be a growing social media-fed negative public reaction of a sometimes less than constructive nature.

County Board Chairman Dan Murray at April 17 capital improvements bond issue signing with EDA officials; EDA Board Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond, standing, waits for the paperwork to slide his way.

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