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EDA in Focus

Town endorses Royal Arms Apartments redevelopment plan thru EDA bond

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The entrance to Royal Arms Apartments – Photos/Roger Bianchini

While it was a divided Front Royal Town Council that approved a resolution detailing the discovery of years of overpayments on bond issues though the Economic Development Authority on November 26, council was unanimous in approving a resolution in support of a new EDA bond issue of up to $17-million for the renovation of the Royal Arms Apartments on Criser Road inside the town limits.

Support for the bond issue was recommended to council following a late October EDA public hearing and unanimous project endorsement by the EDA Board of Directors.

During that EDA public hearing, two representatives of a nationwide affordable housing redevelopment company CPP-Housing pitched their plan to purchase and upgrade the Royal Arms Apartments. That plan, as explained by CPP-Housing Senior Project Manager John Fraser, is to upgrade the 144-unit complex, including an existing outdoor pool, but keep it affordable for the existing residents.

“The goal is for there to be no displacement of tenants during the project,” Frazer told the EDA board.

“We are a for-profit but mission-based company,” CPP-Housing Vice President Seth Gellis told the EDA. Of its “mission-based” business model, Gellis told the EDA, “It pays to care – the better you treat residents, the better they take care of the property.”

‘It pays to care – the better you treat residents the better they take care of the property,’ CPP-Housing Vice President Seth Gellis said of his company’s rental property business model. Project Manager John Frazer is partially obscured, seated to Gellis’s right.

CPP Project Manager Frazer told the EDA board and staff that the project’s “main goal” was “to preserve and extend” the lower income, affordable housing aspect of the development over an anticipated 40 to 50-year life of the existing buildings.  Frazer said his company projects additional renovation work on an approximate 15-year cycle.  Responding to a question, Frazer said the plan was to maintain federal “Section 8” housing assistance parameters.

Of working with Frazer and Gellis’ company, Citi Community Capital Managing Director Mike Hemmings is quoted on the CPP website stating, “CPP brings a creative and sophisticated approach to acquiring and developing low-income multifamily communities. Citi values their relationship with CPP because they are true professionals and have always performed as advertised.”

CPP’s Monte Vista Gardens project in San Jose, California – from CPP website

CPP-Housing, with a home office in Irvine, California, and an “Eastern Division” headquarters in Reston, Virginia, is a subsidiary of WNC, described on its website as “a leading provider of investment, asset management and development services to a wide array of partners.”

Those partners range “from for-profit and nonprofit developers and property owners to the nation’s largest corporations and financial institutions” according to the WNC website.  WNC is described as “a family-owned business for more than 47 years” which has “acquired more than 1,375 properties representing $9.3 billion in assets” since its 1971 inception.

“Our success is built on enduring partnerships with our developers and investors. We’ve earned their trust, which is why they choose to work with us time and time again,” parent company WNC’s website states.

As with the Valley Health revenue bond approved earlier by the EDA, Town and County, no liability for payment of the bond is incurred by the EDA or either involved municipality or member thereof.  The bond issue is to a subsidiary entity “Royal Arms Community Partners LP” whose address is CPP’s Irvine, California address.

CPP-Housing Vice President Gellis explained his company’s desire for the revenue bond issued through the local EDA as a means to access federal and state tax credit programs from its resulting work.

The Resolution approved by the town council on November 26 notes that the Town’s endorsement of issuance of the revenue bonds does not obligate the Town, County or EDA “to pay the Bonds or the interest … or other costs” associated with the issuance “except from the revenues and money pledged therefore” which in the Town’s case is nothing, according to the wording of the resolution.

The resolution also notes that 100% of the principal amount of the bond issues will be allocated by the Town, with 0% by the County based on an estimation of “a reasonable relationship to the respective benefits to the Town and the County” from the bond issue.

One of four, three-story buildings totaling 144 units at Royal Arms.

The Royal Arms pool facility is also earmarked for improvements.

EDA in Focus

UPDATE: EDA resolves to pay back soaring audit expenses as completion looms

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The EDA Board and its Interim Executive Director John Anzivino, third from left, prepare to go into closed session for additional information on what is now a 5-month, quarter-million-dollar audit of its finances, loan programs and accounting services. Photo/Roger Bianchini. Video/Mark Williams.

FRONT ROYAL – At a specially-called Friday morning, February 8 meeting the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors again resolved to pay back funds forwarded by the county government to cover invoice billings from the confidential accounting consultant contracted to oversee this year’s audit process.

The $60,000 approved for transfer to the EDA by the Warren County Board of Supervisors on February 5 is the second such transfer. The first made on December 21, was for $90,000 for what is believed to have been an invoice for three months of completed work. The audit began in mid-September.

The Friday-morning motion to accept and utilize the most recent allotment from the County to pay the consultant’s latest invoice was made by Mark Baker and approved by a 6-0 vote, Ron Llewellyn absent.

The motion included a promise “to make every effort possible” to pay the money back as soon as the finances were in place to do so. Most EDA assets outside its operating budget or loans for specific capital improvement projects are tied up in real estate, as opposed to readily available cash. A similar intent-to-pay-back resolution was made upon acceptance of the first $90,000 forwarded to the EDA by the county supervisors to meet the consultant’s earlier invoice.

As reported upon the board of supervisor’s authorization of moving the $60,000 to EDA control on February 5, coupled with raising the allotment for audit-related legal services from the Richmond law firm of Sands-Anderson from $50,000 to “up to $100,000”, the county government has spent or authorized expenditure of a quarter million dollars ($250,000) in addition to the base auditor’s fee of $17,500 on this year’s EDA audit.

Financial alarm bells were raised when the Town of Front Royal notified then EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher, former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and EDA/County Attorney Dan Whitten on August 23, 2018, that its finance director had uncovered an eight-year history of Town bond issue over-payments to the EDA totaling over $291,000.

Friday’s closed session of 48 minutes was limited to matters requiring legal advice regarding discussion of “EDA loan programs and accounting services.” EDA Board Chairman Gray Blanton read the same statement explaining the closed session exclusion of all but EDA board, certain staff and auditing participants as he did on January 30.

That statement indicated the board would be hearing information from its consultant providing “a direction of how we will need to proceed as a Board as we work toward better understanding the actions of our former Director in operating the Authority” and that at this point the EDA board felt it best that it and designated staff – counsel and interim executive director – alone would be receiving that information.

Consequently, Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe and Town Manager Joe Waltz, present without offering input or being asked any questions Friday, were ushered out of the meeting room with the media prior to the 8:20 a.m. start of the closed session. Both soon left the premise.

Discussion following the closed session indicated a belief the audit could be completed by February 19, leading to another special EDA board meeting being called to accept the auditor’s report. Some urgency was expressed in completing the audit process so that the county government can include the EDA report in preparing its own audit as the coming fiscal year budget process progresses.

In a related matter, a press release from the county administrator’s office issued shortly after 10 a.m. Friday morning (Feb. 8) announced the hiring of Winchester-based attorney Robert T. Mitchell to represent the County in EDA-related matters where Dan Whitten, the county attorney who also serves as EDA attorney, could have a conflict of interest regarding information revealed by the audit.

Mitchell hiring press release

Stanley’s statement on Mitchell’s hiring states, ”We have retained Mr. Mitchell’s services to provide legal counsel to represent the Board of Supervisors on the accounting and debt service issues regarding the EDA. Mr. Mitchell has decades of experience in local government law including representing Clarke County and we value his knowledge and experience. Time will tell how much his services will be needed on this matter.”

With a possible completion date for the now quarter-million-dollar EDA audit cited just 12 days away it would seem that “time” to realize how much Mitchell’s services might be required by the County, will be soon at hand.

Perhaps ironically, though dated February 7 the press release from County Administrator Doug Stanley’s office announcing Mitchell’s retention was distributed just 26 minutes (10:16 a.m.) after Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw sent an email (9:50 a.m.) to EDA board members, Whitten and Stanley Friday morning questioning potential attorney conflicts of interest for Whitten in the audit process.

Shaw Letter to EDA Board

Shaw previously questioned Whitten on the potential of such a legal dilemma in his dual County-EDA attorneys’ roles in a January 9 e-mail.

The Royal Examiner’s camera was there to capture the special meeting:

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EDA in Focus

County raises cap on additional EDA audit expenses to $250,000

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The EDA audit team prepares its report for the board’s closed session – not really. Actually members of the James Wood Chapter of The Sons of the American Revolution present a copy of the Declaration of Independence to the county supervisors at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting – and also a check for $4400 to place plaques in the public schools commemorating Joseph Warren for whom the county is named. Photos/Roger Bianchini

The annual audit to verify and balance the books of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) became significantly more expensive on Tuesday morning, February 5. Following a closed session, the Warren County Board of Supervisors authorized additional payments of up to $110,000 related to the audit of EDA finances and debt service payments.

The authorizations passed unanimously on motions by Vice-Chairman Tom Sayre and seconds by Linda Glavis, increase expenses incurred by additional contracted legal and accounting entities involved in the EDA audit from $140,000 to a new cap of $250,000.

The first motion authorized raising the cap on payments to Richmond law firm Sands-Anderson from $50,000 to $100,000; the second motion authorized the transfer of $60,000 to an EDA account in order to pay the audit consultant for invoices submitted for work done.

The initial authorization of an invoice payment of $90,000 to the auditing consultant for three months work done was made by the supervisors on December 21. The initial $50,000 cap on payments to Sands-Anderson was authorized by the supervisors on January 8.

The audit, begun in mid-September 2018 and now continuing into early February 2019, involves the two additionally-contracted entities, Sands-Anderson and the anonymous accounting consultant, in addition to the EDA’s traditionally-contracted auditor Yount-Hyde-Barbour. The accounting consultant’s identity has not been revealed due to a claim of attorney-client privilege by EDA counsel.

Simpler times – from left, former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, Sands-Anderson bond counsel Dan Siegel and former EDA Board Chair Greg Drescher mull over Valley Health bond issue paperwork last May.

This year the EDA audit coincided with the Town of Front Royal Finance Director’s discovery that over an eight-year period the Town had overpaid more than $291,000 in debt service payments related to three projects to the EDA. It remains unknown whether additional Town over-payments have been discovered or whether a similar situation exists on the County’s side of EDA debt service payments.

At its monthly meeting of January 30, the EDA Board of Directors appointed newest member Ed Daley to assist EDA Interim Executive Director John Anzivino to a “task force” to act as the EDA’s liaison to those contracted consultants in “the ongoing investigation” of EDA finances.

Also on January 30 in closed session the EDA board got a report from its auditing consultant from which Town and County official present were excluded.

EDA Board Chairman Gray Blanton explained the exclusion in a statement stating that the EDA was receiving new information that would “provide us a direction of how we will need to proceed as a board as we work toward better understanding the actions of our former Director in operating the Authority …”

Blanton added that once the EDA had “all the information and answered all our questions” regarding the audit it would seek meetings with the full town council and full board of supervisors “to brief them and present our plan for moving forward.”

EDA Board Chair Gray Blanton speaks with the media following Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s resignation on Dec. 20.

Former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald submitted her resignation to the board by e-mail shortly before a scheduled December 20 closed session at which her job performance was to be discussed for the second time within a week.

EDA Director McDonald submits a resignation by email prior to Thursday meeting

Following a lengthy closed session on December 14 that included a review of McDonald’s job performance the EDA board passed two resolutions removing its executive director from contract and check-writing authority and from administrative authority over the EDA’s bank accounts.

EDA board removes executive director’s authority to sign checks, contracts

A town council resolution tracing a timeline of the town government’s discovery of debt service payment irregularities involving a trio of capital improvement projects cites an August 23 meeting between town officials, the town attorney and auditors and McDonald, then EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten.

Resolution commends Town staff for uncovering over-payments to EDA

The next day Drescher announced he would step down as chairman of the EDA board, citing his work load as superintendent of public schools. Other EDA turnovers in recent months include the retirement of long-time EDA board member and Treasurer Billy Biggs on October 8, due to health and age-related issues; and the early fall retirement announcement of bookkeeper Josie Rickard, effective in December. Following Rickard’s announcement, in October the EDA announced the hiring of the accounting firm of Hottel & Willis.

Following adjournment of the Dec. 20 EDA Board meeting, EDA Attorney Dan Whitten oversees county staff locking remote access off to the former executive director’s computer. As of early February the office appears to remain in lockdown.

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EDA in Focus

EDA revisits costs surrounding Main Street Market site in old Stokes Mart

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As Ron Llewellyn listens, Main Street Market owner Ginny Lesser explains her perspective on basic vs. structural maintenance of the EDA-owned building her business occupies. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

At its regular monthly meeting of January, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority revisited discussion at a special meeting a week earlier about the authority’s ongoing ownership of the old Stokes Mart building now housing the Main Street Market.

At the January 30 regular board meeting, Main Street Market owner Ginny Lesser was present to explain her perspective on normal maintenance costs she is responsible for versus major structural repairs to the building she hopes the EDA will foot the bill for.

As EDA Secretary Missy Henry reported on January 23, Lesser is willing to pay for heating and air-conditioning (HVAC) maintenance in an attempt to reduce what has been an average $1500-plus monthly utility bill over the past two billing cycles, if the EDA will cover a minimally-estimated $51,000 roof repair expense. The HVAC repair has been estimated at around $14,000. The $51,000 roof repair is for a shingled roof, compared to a $144,000 estimate for a metal roof replacement, EDA staff explained.

Board member Ed Daley suggested that with potential contractor inspections and bids anticipated in that price range on the roof work in coming weeks that the EDA should have a structural engineer involved to represent its interests in getting the best deal possible. Interim Executive Director John Anzivino agreed, observing that the EDA should have a substantial overview of what it is taking on in costs and maintenance responsibilities for the building – “It is an EDA-owned building, we have a responsibility to fix it,” he told the board.

A roof in need of repair – the EDA-owned former Stokes Mart building now housing the Main Street Market catering to downtown Front Royal shopping needs.

Lesser told the EDA Board of Directors the office portion of the building has been closed off but the heating-related utility bills remain what she called “shockingly high”.

Board member Ron Llewellyn, who took the point on January 23 in wondering if the EDA should consider a sale of what he observed has become a money pit for the authority, pointed at a lack of insulation in the building that once housed Stokes Mart.

“There is no insulation in the building – I worked there about 40 years ago when I was in high school,” Llewellyn told his colleagues of what is apparently not a new issue of structural maintenance.

EDA Attorney Dan Whitten pointed out that like the previous tenant, B&G Goods that went out of business within two years, Lesser has a lease with an option to buy on the property.

Asked what the purchase price of her option to buy was, Lesser replied the remaining principal on the EDA’s purchase loan. Whitten verified that lease-to-buy price in Lesser’s contract.

The Main Street Market owner also said it was her understanding that her monthly rental covered the EDA’s mortgage payment. EDA Secretary Henry pointed to a recent rise in that payment, noting Lesser’s rental payment still came close but no longer entirely covered the EDA’s mortgage payment.

Llewellyn has cited a $440,000 number in questioning what he has termed a “too-high” EDA investment in the property at the intersection of East Main and Water Streets in downtown Front Royal, with an additional $50,000 or more expense looming. He has questioned the authority’s ability to recoup its investment through a sale.

The 2014 Deed of Transfer to the EDA/IDA (Industrial Development Authority) cites a purchase price of $398,218.85 and an assessment of $477,000. Whitten said the deed of purchase indicates the $398,000-and-change price covers both the Stokes Mart building and the residential rental building at the corner of East Main and Water Streets.

“I’m concerned where we’re going to end up – we should be cautious,” Daley told his colleagues of coming expenses to maintain the property as either a viable source of rental income or an attractive purchase option.

“We should explore interest in a sale,” Llewellyn reiterated of the point he made a week earlier. And on the topic of sales, Llewellyn told the board he had explored the EDA purchase of the building and discovered that despite the in-town location the town government had not been a catalyst in pushing the EDA toward that purchase.

“That is correct,” Town Manager Joe Waltz said of his exploration of the Town role, if any, at the time the building was purchased from former county supervisor Bernie Stokes’ trust in 2014. Stokes owned and operated the downtown business for decades before his retirement due to age and failing health.

Interim Executive Director John Anzivino was given direction to explore coming maintenance bids and oversee that the EDA interest in repairs at a reasonable price is maintained in conjunction with Lesser’s interest in her business on the site.

“I think we’ve given John enough on this,” board Chairman Blanton observed.

That discussion segued into Anzivino’s report on recent conversations regarding setting up electrical service at the EDA office complex through solar panels installed in the roof of the of the old American Viscose Admin building.

“I met with Green Technologies yesterday,” Anzivino reported. He explained that software was still being installed to allow the power to be shifted to the building’s internal systems to facilitate individual EDA and tenant controls of their electricity through the solar panel system.

Contacted about the potential of a solar power aspect to repairs at the Main Street Market while roof and HVAC repairs are being explored, EDA Attorney Whitten said there was no plan to install solar panels in the old Stokes Mart building as a potential alternative energy source.

In addition to the general store building, the property contains an apartment building to the far right behind the Main Street Market sign. Then there is the history of the site – Lane’s Tavern, where the county’s first justices met to hold court circa 1836.

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EDA in Focus

WATCH: EDA Board of Director’s Meeting – January 30th

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Interim Executive Director John Anzivino outlines his plan to find a permanent replacement for former Director Jennifer McDonald. Royal Examiner Photo/Mark Williams

Here’s the latest EDA Board Meeting. Watch your EDA at work:

Includes reports from County Administrator Doug Stanley and Town Manager Joe Waltz.

The Board went into closed session at the end of their meeting to discuss the following:

Section 2.2-3711.A.5: Discussion concerning a prospective business or industry or expansion of an existing business or industry where no previous announcement has been made of the business’s or industry’s interest in locating or expanding its facilities in the community. Such business to be located on the Avtex site, Stephens Industrial Park, Main Street, and Happy Creek Area.

Section 2.2-3711.A.8: Consultation with legal counsel employed or retained by a public body regarding specific legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice by such counsel. I further move that discussion be limited to the discussion of EDA loan programs, accounting and debt service issues and related matters. Also, termination of contract for property located in Shenandoah Magisterial District.

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EDA in Focus

Interim Director outlines search process for a permanent EDA executive

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Interim Executive Director John Anzivino outlines his plan to find a permanent replacement for former Director Jennifer McDonald. /Royal Examiner Photo by Roger Bianchini

John Anzivino, right, is greeted by EDA Board Treasurer Tom Patteson at the Jan. 10 meeting at which his contract as interim executive director was approved. Royal Examiner File Photo/Roger Bianchini
Front Royal-Warren County Interim Executive Director John Anzivino presented an outline and timeframe for finding a permanent replacement for departed EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald at the January 30 EDA Board meeting. Anzivino’s schedule would see new executive leadership in place by the second week of May “or sooner” and an announcement and introduction of that new leadership the first week of April.

Anzivino’s outline included an overview of the job responsibilities in recruiting and promoting economic development in the community and recommended levels of experience and qualifications for applicants. Anzivino noted that he was working with fairly-recently retired Warren County Finance Director Carolyn Stimmel and current County Human Resources Director Jodi Saffelle in developing the application process.

Anzivino suggested posting the job through multiple economic development agencies and their websites, in addition to the County website. In addition to the County, the recommended job availability distribution network would include the Virginia Economic Development Association (VEDA), the Virginia Municipal League (VML), Virginia Association of Counties (VACO) and possibly the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). He also suggested the board consider an economic development agency posting across state lines in North Carolina, which he observed has municipal areas similar developmentally to the Northern Shenandoah Valley and Warren County.

After noting that a salary range was not included in his proposed job posting in order to give the board leeway in negotiations, the interim executive director suggested the EDA Board consider a range between $90,000 and $115,000 for qualified applicants.  He also described the target group of applicants as being “younger professionals and some mid-range folks” experience-wise.

EDA Board Chairman Gray Blanton listens as Interim Executive Director John Anzivino outlines his plan to find a permanent replacement for former Director Jennifer McDonald. Royal Examiner Photo/Roger Bianchini

EDA Board member Mark Baker questioned the absence of a professional recruitment consultant in Anzivino’s proposal. Anzivino pointed to his own experience in job recruitment noted in his proposal: “The job specifications have been developed from my observations and short-term knowledge of the Authority and its needs, my knowledge of similar positions and my experience as a professional recruiter for a variety of positions, including those in the economic development field,” Anzivino wrote in the introduction of his proposal in the meeting agenda packet.

“So you’re our recruiter,” Baker responded.

“I guess so,” Anzivino said.

As noted in the press release announcing approval of his contract for the interim position, Anzivino brings a wealth of municipal experience to his interim assignment.

“He was most recently the interim Town Manager in the Town of Purcellville after working for Springsted Incorporated for 16 years. He has over 30 years of experience in local government including such chief executive roles as the Town Manager of the Town of Warrenton, the County Administrator for Caroline County and the County Administrator for Amelia County,” the press release stated of Anzivino’s qualifications to head the EDA through this transition period.

Anzivino was upbeat in assessing the board’s ability to attract qualified candidates. He said that he had been impressed at a distance as he worked around Virginia in seeing Warren County’s success in attracting new business and expanding its commercial tax base.

“So there’s success here and people want to be a part of that,” he told the EDA Board of Directors.

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EDA in Focus

EDA ‘Task Force’ appointed to liaison with audit investigators – Town, County reps excluded from closed session audit report

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EDA Board member Ed Daley, hand a flashing blur at right, may have been volunteering to join the EDA ‘Task Force’ with Interim Executive Director John Anzivino, brown jacket at top right. The 2-man task force will liaison with accounting consultant and legal counsel in preparing a report on the long-brewing audit of EDA finances. Photo/Roger Bianchini

After an hour-and-thirty-eight minutes behind closed doors – much of it devoted to an initial report from the confidential accounting consultant hired to help with the four-month-and-counting audit of EDA finances – the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors’ newest member Ed Daley was appointed to assist Interim Executive Director John Anzivino in working with those contracted consultants in “the ongoing investigation” of EDA finances.

“And the task force is set,” EDA Board Chairman Gray Blanton said after Daley’s appointment was approved by a 5-0 vote on a motion by Ron Llewellyn, seconded by Vice-Chairman Bruce Drummond, with Greg Drescher absent and Daley abstaining.

With the term “task force” raising the specter of multi-jurisdictional governmental probes so much in the national consciousness these days, following adjournment of the nearly three-hour January 30 monthly meeting we asked EDA Attorney Dan Whitten exactly what the newly formed, two-man EDA Task Force’s role would be.

“The task force’s work is (with) the consultant working with our outside legal counsel to basically complete any investigation that’s necessary,” Whitten told media present.

That outside legal counsel is Richmond law firm Sands-Anderson. Sands-Anderson attorney Dan Siegel has long served as a bond consultant to the EDA and Warren County. Accompanying Siegel at Wednesday’s meeting, including the closed session, was Sands-Anderson attorney Cullen Seltzer. Sands-Anderson was contracted on January 8 by the county supervisors at a rate of “up to $50,000” to provide an ongoing legal presence in the now three-pronged EDA audit.

Those three prongs are the EDA’s traditional auditor Yount-Hyde-Barbour; the accounting consultant referenced in the motion to go into closed session whose identity has not been revealed due to a claim of attorney-client privilege and which was authorized for a payment of $90,000 by the County on December 21 for three months work already done; and Sands-Anderson.

Of Sands-Anderson role in the audit Whitten elaborated, “They’re representing the EDA’s interests in providing legal services … they’re helping me out so I can go back to representing the County full time.” The county attorney also serves as EDA attorney.

There had been some hope expressed by EDA Board Chairman Blanton in recent weeks that the audit might be completed by the board’s January meeting. However in the wake of the closed session report from the still-redacted auditing consultant, Whitten says February is now the target for completion of the audit.

“It could be the first or second week of February but definitely by the end of February,” Whitten said of completion of the audit, as well as any additional reporting on the audit the consultant deems necessary.

“Our financial consultant is working with our regular auditor on finishing up the audit so the EDA board can approve it,” Whitten said of the now multi-faceted review of EDA finances. That review began in the wake of the May 2018 discovery of eight years of capital improvement debt service overpayments by the Town of Front Royal to the EDA. Board Chairman Blanton has previously told the media that when asked about the Town overpayments, McDonald assured him, “Yes, we have the money.”

Of the work of the auditing consultant, Whitten said in December, “Basically it’s an outside eye coming in outside of your normal accountant and normal auditor … they do fact-finding, intrinsic review – that type of thing. It’s just basically they’re looking for indicia of any improper activities.”

Prior to asking for a motion to adjourn the 8 a.m. open meeting to closed session at 9:09 a.m., Board Chairman Blanton read a statement explaining why County and Town representatives present – including County Supervisor Tony Carter and Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe – would be excluded from the closed session.

“Today, we will receive information from our consultants which we, as a board, will hear for the first time. The information will provide us a direction of how we will need to proceed as a board as we work toward better understanding the actions of our former Director in operating the Authority. To ensure that we, as a board, have a clear understanding of the information and make the best decisions going forward we will be including only the board, designated staff and our outside counsel in our closed session.

“We will, in the near future, and when we are certain that we have all the information and answered all our questions, be requesting time with the full Town Council and the Board of Supervisors to brief them and present our plan for moving forward.”

Former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald submitted her resignation to the board by e-mail shortly before a scheduled December 20 closed session at which her job performance was to be discussed for the second time within a week.

As Royal Examiner’s Norma Jean Shaw first reported, during an internal review of town finances last August Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson discovered over $291,000 in capital improvement debt services overpayments to the EDA over an eight-year period.

Of the accounting discrepancies discovered on the Town side last year, McDonald told this reporter on November 27, one day after a divided town council approved by a 4-2 vote a resolution detailing what had been discovered concerning Town-EDA financing irregularities, “We have acknowledged the issue and are working on it and are committed to making it right.”

As reported above, three weeks later, her job performance under continued scrutiny McDonald resigned; and within another three weeks the County had authorized the expenditure of up to $140,000 to bring additional accounting and legal eyes to bear in what board member Ron Llewellyn termed in his “task force” appointment motion Wednesday morning, “the ongoing investigation” of EDA finances.

Could it be “much ado about nothing” or something “rotten in the state of Denmark” to double quote the Bard of Avon. Tune in next month for the EDA audit report in what has become Warren County’s own little Shakespearean drama.

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