In a December 2nd telephone interview Interim Front Royal Town Manager Matt Tederick dismissed questions about seeming gaps in his State-required “Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council STATE AND LOCAL STATEMENT OF ECONOMIC INTERESTS” form submitted to the Town for his Interim Mayor’s appointment as the work of political enemies.
“I’m a political figure and politics is what it is … and political enemies will get their pound of flesh. I’m used to it,” Tederick said of increased public scrutiny of his business interests during his tenure as, first Interim Mayor and now Interim Town Manager. Much of that scrutiny has come in two Letters to the Editor of Royal Examiner by Simon Mays.
The former Warren County supervisor and long-time county Republican Committee chairman said his perception of those letters published under the titles “Words Do Matter” and “Matthew Tederick’s Peyton Places”, the latter a reference to the 100 Peyton Street Front Royal address of some businesses with apparent Tederick ties, as an attempt to drag him or those businesses entities “into the EDA thing”. Tederick explained some of those business ties as simply being the landlord and picking up mail for absent tenants, leading to some “Registered Agent” designations.
We told Tederick we didn’t read Mays’ letters as an attempt to tie anyone, including him, to the EDA financial scandal, but rather as a call for an over-abundance of care in both public statements and due diligence regarding such financial disclosure filings by any municipal official at this point in time while public mistrust of municipal leadership is at such a peak due to the EDA financial scandal.
Of the appearance of David Damiani of the Damiani & Damiani law firm as the Registered Agent of not only the Alexandria law firm bearing his family name, but for 1839 Capital LLC which lists Tederick as “President”, Tederick said that if not in his financial disclosure and conflict of interest statement where 1839 Capital is not listed, the connection – in addition to Damiani’s Registered Agent designation the two companies share the same 604 Cameron Street address in Alexandria – was extensively discussed with the Town Attorney and Council as the law firm was considered to help represent the Town in its civil suit against the EDA.
On November 25, Damiani & Damiani PC was approved by Council for up to $200,000 in legal fees related to the Town’s civil suit against the EDA. In fact, Tederick said that while still serving as Interim Mayor in October, he recalled handing the mayor’s gavel over to Vice Mayor Bill Sealock when the hiring of Damiani & Damiani was discussed.
As for 1839 Capital’s exclusion from his financial disclosure form, Tederick explained that as a new start-up company – its website indicates an “active” SEC filing process stretching from May 17 to August 9 while Tederick was emerging as a candidate for, and then serving as Interim Front Royal Mayor – the company has yet to generate any income. That lack of income precluded the company needing to be added to Tederick’s State financial disclosure and conflict of interest form, he said in the December 2 phone interview.
In fact, Tederick said he contacted the State’s Ethics and Advisory Council to help in his preparation of the financial disclosure and conflict of interest form. He cited Ethics Committee staffer Stuart Petoe as the person who helped “walk me through” that preparation – “I’ve disclosed everything I get income from,” Tederick said.
And Tederick added that he had conversations with Town Attorney Doug Napier regarding the potential hiring of Damiani & Damiani to assist in the Town civil action against the EDA. In fact, Tederick said he had asked David Damiani, whom he had recently met, if he could recommend a law firm that was experienced in handling civil municipal litigation as the Town was looking for such a company regarding its EDA civil suit.
“You don’t know what we do,” was Damiani’s reply Tederick said. Damiani then informed Tederick of the company’s background in “class action lawsuits for and against municipal entities”.
Tederick took that information to Town Attorney Napier, who participated in the vetting process and agreed that Damiani & Damiani “was absolutely the right law firm” to assist in the Town’s civil case against the EDA seeking recovery of an as-yet-to-be-determined amount of Town financial assets.
Tederick said he was able to negotiate a favorable rate with Damiani & Damiani related to travel expenses because one of its members had moved out this way.
As reported in our story “Town skirts EDA request for FRPD construction back payments”, up to $200,000 in legal expenses was authorized for payment to Damiani & Damiani in one of three November 25th motions related to the Town litigation against the EDA. In addition to the $200,000 in legal expenses, council authorized $45,000 to Mitchell & Company PC for “auditing services to support litigation in the Town’s civil lawsuit against …the EDA”.
In a third motion council authorized a budget amendment transferring $282,000 in scheduled debt service payments to the EDA to cover legal and auditing expenses in its EDA civil action. Contacted later in the week, Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson confirmed that those transfers do relate to the Town debt service overpayments he discovered in the spring of 2018. It was that discovery and a subsequent August 23 confrontation between Town staff and auditors and then EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and then EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher that began the dominoes of the EDA financial scandal tumbling into motion.
All motions were approved by 5-0 votes with now Mayor Tewalt’s council seat vacant.
COVID-19 Emergency Management Team briefing number 2: Community, patience with restrictions, and expanded Schools free-lunch program
At the second of weekly briefings, the joint Warren County-Town of Front Royal COVID-19 pandemic Emergency Management Team was joined by Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD) Director Dr. Colin Greene and Warren County Public Schools Acting Superintendent Melody Sheppard.
County Board and Management Team Chairman Walter Mabe opened the 3:30 p.m., Thursday afternoon, April 2nd roundtable discussion and question and answer media session with a brief review of public and personal health do’s and don’ts and online sources of information, as well as a call for a community response to the threat of the pandemic.
“The other thing we’re asking you to do is to help others. Not everybody that you know has access to the Internet … They are people who are your neighbors, they’re your friends and associates that may not have the Internet. They need to be spoken to … and told what they need to do, especially for just the simple things that we’re trying to do,” Mabe said of neighbors helping neighbors at a time when social distancing is a pandemic response key phrase.
But whether it’s at the suggested 6-foot face-to-face distance, or by phone, Mabe said we can maintain our sense of community through the pandemic response period, however long it may last.
And how long, among other medical and statistical variables, were among topics touched on by Dr. Greene. The doctor pointed out that the basic recommendations of frequent hand washing and other precautionary tactics will be worth keeping beyond the first wave of COVID-19 in the nation and localities across the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Dr. Greene said there have now been four confirmed COVID-19 cases among Warren County residents, though he added that they may not have all been identified by testing at Valley Health’s station at its Commerce Avenue site in Front Royal. He also said the number of confirmed cases in the six-municipality LFHD has risen to 43, with a nearly even split between men and women.
Most of that number has been between the ages of 40 and 70, with a spectrum from “under 20 to over 80”. Thus far, none of Virginia’s 41 fatalities have been in our health district that includes the City of Winchester, Clarke, Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah and Page Counties.
Dr. Greene declined to speculate on how many actual cases in the health district or commonwealth there may be. As the State Health Department website notes, only 17,589 of Virginia’s 8.62 million population have been tested.
He also updated national statistics, including about 225,000 confirmed cases and 5200 deaths in the U.S. – about a 2% fatality rate. It is a rate the mandated restrictions many states and cities are implementing are hoped to maintain or decrease from higher numbers seen elsewhere, including Europe. Greene noted death rates from 6% to 11% in Western Europe, with Italy holding that high number, followed by Spain’s 9% fatality rate. Only Germany at about 1.2% has a lower fatality rate among western European nations than the U.S. currently has, Greene said.
Free Lunch Program expanding
Following Dr. Greene’s question-and-answer with the media, Public School Acting Superintendent Sheppard traced the free lunch distribution program schedule, stops and times. The school system is expanding its free lunch program available to most students under the age of 18, out into the community through the state-mandated school closings. She also explained that while the doors are closed to the County’s bricks and mortar educational sites, education continues through online and other methods to see the county’s students are not robbed of this school semester or year.
If you missed the live stream video, or even if you didn’t, see the full COVID-19 Emergency Management Team briefing in this Royal Examiner video – there is information included that you, and your neighbors, need to know:
Town Notice: Fairground tank rehab project
The Fairground Tank will be removed from service beginning April 13th, 2020 for full rehabilitation. The telecommunication antennas on the tank have been relocated to temporary poles on the property adjacent to the tank site. The antennas will remain on the temporary poles until the tank work is complete which is planned to last for 45-60 days.
The Town has prepared a plan to provide continued water service throughout the duration of the project. The work planned for the tank will include repainting the interior and exterior of the tank. The Town requests that any fire flow testing related to business insurance purposes be planned for after the tank project is completed.
Please contact Mike Kisner at 540-636-7474 or Robert Boyer at 540-635-7819 if you have any questions.
Council poised for decision on CDBG pavilion project despite added costs
After technical difficulties with the remote hook up of Gallagher representative, Cheri Herschman knocked the employee insurance plan presentation off the top of the Monday virtual work session agenda list, the Front Royal Town Council heard from Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick on issues with the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program’s revitalization of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District.
“Needless to say, we’ve had some challenges with the CDBG in general, and now with the Coronavirus hitting our community it’s been even more of a challenge,” Tederick told the council to begin the March 30th work session discussion.
Among those challenges needing to be addressed almost immediately, Tederick explained were approval of amendments to bylaws to address personnel changes in the Façade Advisory Board and acknowledgment of the decision to move to the “materials only” option on financing downtown business façade improvements due to unexpectedly high bids on work and materials through the federal-state grant process.
“Several members got off the board; we have to add new members to the board,” Tederick said of the necessity of bylaw updates regarding program staffing.
As the agenda packet noted, those several “members who got off the board” included two, former Town Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp and Tourism and Community Development Director Felicia Hart, whom Tederick terminated as part of his January 27 municipal downsizing initiative tied to his FY-2021 budget proposal. Also on the list was former Town Manager Joe Waltz, whom many observers of Town Hall believe resigned several months earlier to avoid being asked to implement then-Interim Mayor Tederick’s staff and departmental cutback plan.
The bylaw amendment would acknowledge Tederick’s replacement of Waltz as the program’s Grant Administrator, Director of Finance B. J. Wilson’s stepping into Hart’s role as “Assistant Project Manager” and the addition of Interim Planning-Zoning Director Chris Brock as “Project Manager”.
To build or not to build
Also on the table for movement toward quick council action, as in its first meeting of April, was a decision on whether or not to proceed with construction of the new Village Commons-Gazebo area Pavilion building aspect of the CDBG plan. Staff noted in the agenda packet that project estimates have added $143,349 to the $140,000 the Town has available for that major new downtown revitalization construction project now estimated at a total cost of $283,349.
Staff’s recommendation should the council decide to proceed with this new construction aspect of the CDBG program, which was to request a CDBG budget amendment that would allow a 50/50 Town-CDBG Program split of the additional costs.
“We just need to get some guidance from council whether to continue down the path of staff trying to find the $75,000 dollars – in the packet we have various line items that I’ve been able to identify in the current budget in order to fund the $75,000 dollars. So, I just need to know … if that’s what you want to do,” Tederick told the council.
The line items Tederick identified to raise the Town’s half of the needed additional revenue should the State Grant administrators agree to the budget amendment for the project, came from departmental budgets whose staffs were impacted by Tederick’s late January terminations. They include a total of $39,079 from the Community Development Department; $25,000 from former Council Clerk Jennifer Berry’s budget; and $10,921 from the remaining staff salary allotment for the Horticulture Department.
First, Councilman Jacob Meza questioned whether the Town could commit the money to this project while so many revenues and timeframe on business closing variables from the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response remain unknown.
“We’re still kind of structuring our budget for next year. But I still think there might be decisions to be made on the dollars that’ll be spent out of our budget considering the financial impact that we’re going to sustain with the all the preparation and the work keeping the COVID-19 down,” Meza said, adding, “All I’m saying is I think I’m okay with tonight deciding that we’re going to put the $75,000 in the budget with the line items that you’ve put in our packet that went out. But I’m still not a hundred percent sure that some things will be financially feasible depending on the financial impact of the COVID – does that make sense?”
While replying that he understood Meza’s concerns, Tederick noted that the line item funds he had identified were out of the existing budget, not next year’s where the Town will see the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and response on Town revenue streams and expenditures. The interim town manager pointed out staff needed a direction from council in the short term on whether they wanted to pursue a major aspect of the CDBG project in this budget year, or leave it to an uncertain budget-year future.
“So, you’re saying take it out of this year’s budget, but I thought we originally talked about having to set aside additional funds because the cost overage was unexpected, and you’re saying not take it out of the next year’s budget,” Meza replied.
Tederick reiterated that the additional $75,000 he had identified to try and move the pavilion project forward with a requested CDBG budget amendment was, indeed, out of the Town’s current FY-2020 budget.
Noting that due to project changes some funds committed to the façade aspect of the downtown revitalization project might end up coming available to other CDBG projects like the pavilion, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock suggested council seize the moment if funding was now available, rather than wait facing an uncertain budgetary future.
“So, I’m thinking looking forward instead of looking backward with this epidemic or pandemic, that we need to think about going forward in a positive manner,” Sealock told his colleagues.
Tederick then told council he did not feel there was great time pressure, and that the matter could be forwarded to another work session “to give you time to process … and have another round of discussion on whether to move forward or not”.
However, Finance Director B. J. Wilson noted that the building contractor on the project had been holding the price now on the table for some time. He pointed out that work session discussion of the matter had been on council’s schedule several weeks earlier; and that it was currently an unknown how much longer the price estimate at the root of the March 30 discussion might hold in what has been a builder’s market.
After the mayor polled a somewhat nervous council, a majority consensus was established to move the matter forward for a decision at the council’s next meeting.
Hear, if not see, council and staff’s discussion in the linked Royal Examiner audio recording:
Warren County Parks and Recreation facilities closed
From the Warren County Office of Emergency Management:
Warren County is taking additional precautionary measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Among these is restricting the use of Warren County’s parks to trails and outdoor spaces only. The Front Royal Golf Club is also open to the general public.
During the use of these areas, individuals must, at all times, maintain social distancing as described in the Governor’s Executive Order 55 (Temporary Stay At Home Order Due To Novel Coronavirus – COVID-19).
Effective immediately, all Warren County parks restrooms, playgrounds, and picnic shelters will be closed to the general public. The Warren County Parks and Recreation community center, indoor and outdoor recreation facilities remain closed. Registration for classes and events is temporarily disabled on our website. Events and organized activities are canceled; this includes use by sports leagues. Equipment rental is not available at this time. The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department offices remain open (but closed to the public) to field your related questions via phone at 540-635-7750 or 540-635-1021 or via email at email@example.com.
This is a rapidly changing situation, and the most current information is available on the following websites: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus or www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. Please consult www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus for the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia.
Additionally, you can find local information on the Warren County COVID-19 website: https://www.warrencountyva.net/coronavirus-latest-information, the County of Warren, VA Facebook page, or the Town of Front Royal COVID-19 website: https://www.frontroyalva.com/645/Covid-19-Local-Response.
What are you looking for in the next Town Manager for Front Royal?
Baker Tilly, a leading local government executive search and advisory firm, is managing the search process for the next Town Manager for Front Royal, Virginia. The position is critical to the functioning of Town operations and the successful candidate will be responsible, under the guidance of the Mayor and the direction of Town Council, to manage Town operations as they collectively endeavor to enhance the quality of life for current and future residents of the Town. The application portal for those interested in applying can be found here, where a brochure is posted describing the organization, the position responsibilities and the leadership opportunities presented by the post. The brochure also describes the desired capabilities, qualifications and experience sought by Town Council for the job.
Additionally, the Town seeks any input that community stakeholders wish to contribute on the experience, management and leadership qualities they would like to see in the Front Royal’s next Town Manager, along with any other issues they may feel are relevant to the selection process. A survey to gather this input has been established online. Citizens and other stakeholders are encouraged by Council to respond to the survey by April 17th, 2020. Results will be tabulated and returned to the Town in order that it be available for candidate screening and selection. When published and returned to the Town, the survey report will be made available by the Town.
The link to the survey will be posted on the Town’s web page. The Mayor and Council encourage as many as possible to respond so that their perspectives may be registered.
For more information, please contact:
Town will waive card-payment fees thru June, undecided on long-term options
Life in municipal government COVID-19 pandemic virtual world continued Monday evening, March 30, as the Front Royal Town Council “gathered” by remote computer hook up for work session discussion of several matters.
Near the meeting’s end, Interim Town Manager and Town Director of pandemic Emergency Management Matt Tederick noted a third confirmed case of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) in Warren County. He also was joined by the mayor and council in thanking staff for helping the town government traverse the unfamiliar territory of continuing to provide services under state-recommended restrictions on public interactions. Those restrictions have led to the locking of municipal building doors to the public, funneling most citizen-government interactions to online, phone or drive-thru options.
Consequently, one of the four topics of conversation Monday was a lifting of the 2.35% fee on payment of Town utility or other fees by credit or debit card. After a somewhat laborious discussion of contractor “technical interface” issues not allowing direct withdrawals from customer bank accounts, which would bypass the need for the plastic money fee on utility account payments, the council agreed to waive the fee for the three-month balance of this fiscal year.
Since the issue is tied to an upswing in credit or debit card payments tied to the restrictions on public interactions and municipal building closures due to the COVID-19 emergency response, Town Attorney Doug Napier told the mayor and council that they simply had to authorize Tederick to move forward on waiving the card-payment fees as part of his duties as the Town’s COVID-19 Director of Emergency Management.
Staff is estimating a $60,000 revenue shortfall over the three-month period, twice the current average of $10,000 monthly in plastic transaction fees. The staff summary noted that the shortfall could possibly be offset by a “reduction of expenditures identified by staff and/or usage of the reserve fund balance.”
It was noted that one of the Town Finance Department’s drive-thru windows remains open for business at the rear of Town Hall, as an option on cash or check payments. And Councilwoman Lori Cockrell wondered if many citizens were aware of the option to set up automatic payments from their bank accounts.
Prior to the consensus to allow Tederick as director of emergency management to move forward with the fee waiver, Councilwoman Thompson worried over the suggestion that Town utility fees be raised in the coming fiscal year as another means of offsetting the revenue shortfall. That led to a discussion in which Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson expressed the opinion that the lost fees, as an “operating expense” of the Town, could not be covered by the use of fund balance reserves.
“We can’t go into reserves to cover an operating expense. So, we’d have to either reduce our expenses or raise our revenues to cover this. But we cannot dip into the reserves,” Wilson told the council.
“That doesn’t make any sense, credit card fees is an operating expense, isn’t it?” Councilman Jacob Meza offered in response.
“Yes, it’s an operating expense, so we have to cover it with our revenues,” Wilson repeated.
Queried further, Wilson explained that in the short term if the funds were not available from the utility departments’ revenues, reserves might have to be used to temporarily plug the gap.
“Well, let there be a shortfall, and cover it with the reserves,” Meza suggested, drawing some laughter from council.
However, the finance director observed such a path could lead the Town into eventual trouble with state financial authorities.
“Obviously that would have to be an option for our current year if it comes down to it. But moving forward … our (utility) revenues are supposed to cover our (utility) operating expenses. And if we continually have a shortfall it could get us into a little trouble with the APA,” Wilson told the council’s cut, spend and reduce majority.
Queried later, Wilson explained “APA” stands for Auditor of Public Accounts, a State financial department that tracks municipal budgetary submissions for irregularities.
As the discussion progressed, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock observed that in the short term the Town could cover the cost of the card fee waiver, but that long-term revenue/expenditure issues in the face of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic response would have to be dealt with in the coming FY-2021 budget starting July 1.
“We can absorb $60k in our reserve. Of course, I also want to talk about saving any dollars in the 2019-2020 (budget) then move on to our new budget, because we’re going to see some significant shortfalls. So, I’m wondering why we’re spending so much time on this thing that you can’t resolve tonight. And why we’re not moving on … I hear everybody say they’re for it for the 90 days. So, we’re not going to resolve anything else about whether it comes out of reserves or we’re rescheduling some work,” Sealock told his colleagues.
“We can discuss this all night and we’re still not going to get anywhere,” Mayor Gene Tewalt concurred, moving council toward its instruction to Tederick to enact the card payment fee waiver as part of his role as director of emergency management for the Town.
In lieu of videotaping a black computer screen with informational boxes popping up here and there, Royal Examiner audio-taped the work session for the later perusal of citizens not linked in to listen live.
In this linked audio recording, hear the above discussion, as well as council and staff’s visiting of how the pandemic response may impact the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding and plans for downtown façade and other improvements; a planned switch of the Town’s employees’ insurance package that would raise the deductible option from $250 to $500, but will not be enacted until FY-2022 after the changes have been fully explained to staff; and evolving budget variables in the current pandemic “non-essential” business closures environment as council moves forward with its locked-in half-cent real estate tax decrease in place for FY-2021.
Here’s the audio from the March 30 Work Session: