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Town files suit against EDA, McDonald to recover $3 million of Town assets

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Jennifer McDonald and then-Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger square off in October 2016 over the substance of public representations about EDA projects, most prominently ITFederal and Workforce Housing. Unfortunately none of her colleagues were listening – several, then Mayor Tharpe and Councilmen Meza and Tewalt, have since apologized for that lapse. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

After months of unsuccessful efforts to be included with the EDA and County in information gathered on Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial improprieties as it applies directly to money that it may be owed, the Town of Front Royal has filed suit to recover an estimated $3 million dollars of Town assets from the EDA and its former executive director, Jennifer McDonald.

The civil action for lost Town taxpayer assets was filed at 9:04 a.m. on June 21, just minutes after the opening of the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Served as agents of the EDA were EDA/County Attorney Dan Whitten, at his Warren County Government Center office, and newly-hired EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons, at his EDA Kendrick Lane EDA office. McDonald was served at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center where she is now housed without bond on four related felony criminal charges. Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. has deemed McDonald a flight risk was she to be released on bond.

The aggressively-worded complaint targets, not only McDonald for believed fraud, but the EDA Board of Directors and legal staff for “inexplicable” lapses of oversight in allowing the possible continuation of fraud against Town interests for at least three months beyond a confrontational August 2018 meeting between Town and EDA officials.


The Town complaint demands a jury trial to recover assets it admits it does not yet have a completely accurate estimate of due to the EDA legal counsel’s rejection of multiple FOIA inquiries about the result of the Cherry Bekaert investigation of indicators of fraud in EDA financial operations.

Town Attorney Doug Napier has been at the center of unsuccessful efforts to have the Town included with the EDA and County in information distribution from the EDA fraud investigation.

Of course the Town now has access to those almost 3,000 pages of documentation and its 100-page working paper summary on file in the EDA civil litigation court file. An initial exploration of those documents by Town staff perhaps led to the upping of its estimated losses from the $291,000 of debt service overpayments discovered by Town Finance Director B.J. Wilson in May 2018, to the $3 million dollars now cited as of June 21, the first day of summer 2019.

In addition to its own independent, contracted auditor’s confirmation of Wilson’s May 2018 discovery of years of debt service overpayments, the Town Complaint cites a subsequent August meeting with McDonald, then EDA Board of Directors Chairman Greg Drescher and EDA/County Attorney Dan Whitten at which, “It was Town employees and agents who, on August 23, 2018, caused McDonald to admit, in person and while in the presence of the EDA/County Attorney and in the presence of the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the EDA, that McDonald had personally submitted false, and thereby knowingly and fraudulently, billing invoices to the Town for payment.”

Citing his public schools administrator’s work schedule, Drescher announced he was stepping down as EDA board chairman the following day. He has since resigned from the EDA board. Drescher and Ron Llewellyn submitted their resignations on March 22, effective the following day as the Cherry Bekaert investigation was winding down.

Who could have known? Then EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher and McDonald field Workforce Housing questions from Supervisors Sayre and Fox during sometimes contentious June 2017 county board-EDA work session.

Also on the day following the apparently volatile August 23 Town-EDA staff meeting, or very close to it, the Town Complaint notes its contact of the Virginia State Police requesting “a complete law enforcement investigation of the EDA and McDonald” which it adds was begun “immediately” and continues “to this day.”

It was VSP that arrested McDonald on May 24 in the wake of Special Grand Jury indictments handed down from the investigation into potential criminality related to EDA financial activities and the EDA civil litigation filed March 26.

It is here on page seven of its nine-page complaint, where the August 23 meeting is addressed, that the Town zeroes in on what it characterizes as an ongoing pattern of “inexplicable” negligence by the EDA Board of Directors.

“Notwithstanding the events of August 23, 2018, the EDA Board of Directors, inexplicably, allowed McDonald to retain her position as Executive Director of the EDA with all of her rights, privileges and duties as before, with no known restrictions as such,” the Complaint begins in paragraph 18, subsection D, adding the word “inexplicably” three more times to describe the EDA board’s lack of disciplinary action or even the implementation of increased oversight of its executive director in the subsection D paragraph.

“The EDA Board of Directors inexplicably did not immediately fire or otherwise discipline McDonald … inexplicably did not restrict McDonald’s access to the EDA offices or her duties … inexplicably did not immediately call law enforcement to investigate McDonald or her activities … not withstanding that the Town’s auditor on that date rightfully and appropriately personally called out McDonald for committing fraud upon the Town in the presence of McDonald … the EDA’s Chairman of its Board of Directors and in the presence of the EDA’s attorney,” paragraph 18-D reads, adding a fifth and final “inexplicably” to describe the failure to place their executive director on administrative leave pending a resolution of the fraud allegation made by the Town auditor on August 23, 2018.

VSP and the FBI descended on the EDA headquarters to search for potentially criminally-related materials regarding EDA financial operations on April 16, 2019. Five weeks later the EDA’s former executive director was arrested by VSP following four felony criminal indictments being handed down by a Special Grand Jury.

Of that series of “inexplicable” EDA board lapses the longest paragraph in the complaint – at one-and-a-half pages – concludes of the period between August 23 and December 2018, “…McDonald was able to continue to and did in fact misappropriate and embezzle EDA’s moneys and taxpayers’ moneys. In fact, according to widely published accounts, on November 28, 2018, McDonald as Executive Director was able to convince the EDA’s Chairman of the Board of Directors to sign a deed of conveyance to a highly publicized and controversial workforce housing project property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to a third party for a consideration of only ten dollars, concerning which the Chairman was publicly quoted in the press as saying that he had no reason not to trust McDonald when she handed him the deed to sign without him reading the deed, even though at the time she was under State Police investigation, federal government law enforcement investigation, and the EDA and McDonald were under the aforementioned Financial Study for this very same misappropriation and embezzlement of moneys.”

Former EDA Chairman Drescher, back to camera, and Attorney Whitten oversee a lockdown of the executive director’s office, including remote computer access, on Dec. 20, 2018, the day McDonald resigned.

Paragraph 10 of the complaint states that, “As a result of the incorrect and incomplete documentation the Town has received to date from the EDA and McDonald, it is unknown to the Town when the moneys were misappropriated by the EDA and McDonald; or who are the identities of all the persons or entities who might have been involved … or where the moneys misappropriated are now located or if it is now in the United States of America, or if it is even now recoverable.” The following paragraph cites the potential of a statute of limitations kicking on some of the longer misdirected Town money.

The outset of the civil complaint notes that it is currently the Warren County Board of Supervisors that “solely appoints the Board of Directors of the EDA”; and that with the EDA it is the County that funds the EDA’s operational budget, with the Town playing no current role in either. In the wake of the County’s assumption several years ago of the Town’s portion of the EDA’s operational budget as part of the continuing Route 340/522 Corridor agreement compensation negotiations, the Town does continue to contribute to portions of the EDA debt service payments, as illustrated by the discovered years of debt service overpayments continuing into 2018. The Town also contributes by way of a fair-funding formula split for projects of mutual town-county interest.

In March former County Board Chairman Tony Carter and County Administrator Doug Stanley await an EDA Board Closed Session discussion of the Cherry Bekaert financial fraud investigation of the EDA. Carter and Stanley have both caught public meeting expressions of ire over a perceived lack of County oversight of EDA operations allowing questionable transactions to occur over a period of years.

In what may flirt with an editorial observation, it would appear to this long-time local municipal reporter that the Town voluntarily withdrew from EDA oversight and board appointment authority, rather than being compelled to do so by the County’s assumption of its EDA operational funding. That is because that assumption was done as part of negotiated County compensation to the Town for the extension of Town central water-sewer utility into the county to facilitate corridor commercial-industrial development. So if not in the filed civil complaint or open court, behind closed doors town officials might want to whack themselves on the back of the hand for not maintaining more operational oversight of how the EDA was functioning, particularly as much of that functioning continued and continues to involve in-town projects.

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EDA ups ante in civil litigation versus McDonald – without defense objection

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Could the Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) and its former executive director, Jennifer McDonald, be headed toward a settlement of the EDA’s multi-million dollar civil litigation against her and her two real estate LLCs, MoveOn8 and DaBoyz? That would appear to be a possibility in the wake of a “Stipulations” agreement hearing Friday morning, April 9, in Warren County Circuit Courtroom A.

Then EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald speaking at a 2017 town council work session – might she and her attorney soon be talking to EDA attorneys about a mutually agreeable settlement of the civil litigation against her? Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

After the adjournment of the 9 a.m. docket hearing to deal with remote phone connection issues for other defendants’ attorneys not present for the two-pronged April 9 hearing, Judge Bruce D. Albertson reentered the courtroom at 9:25 a.m. with the remote connection issues resolved. EDA lead civil attorney Cullen Seltzer of the Richmond law firm of Sands Anderson then read the five-point “Stipulations” submission to the court as McDonald and her attorney Peter Greenspun listened at the defense table.

The first of those stipulations set an amount of $62,315,315.51 as the EDA’s claimed damages in the civil case against McDonald and her two real estate companies alleged to have been used to move EDA assets to her or co-defendants’ personal benefit. It is worth noting that the original EDA civil litigation filing was in the $21-million range, later being amended with added defendants to near $28 million.


The second and third stipulations note that the McDonald-LLC defendants “take no position on the basis for” that plaintiff-claimed amount; nor do they admit to “any wrongdoing” regarding the EDA’s claim of damages.

It is the wording of the final two stipulations approved by the court that may hint at negotiation between the plaintiff and defendant:

“The Defaulted Defendants (McDonald, MoveOn8, and DaBoyz) have endorsed an order providing money damages judgment in the amount of $62,315,315.51 in favor of the plaintiff (the ‘Money Judgment Order’),” Stipulation 4 reads, followed by this:

“No sooner than 60 days from April 9, 2021, Plaintiff’s counsel may tender to the Court the Money Judgment Order if the Defaulted Defendants and the Plaintiff do not sooner enter into an agreement satisfactory to the parties. The Defaulted Defendants do not oppose the Court’s entry of the Money Judgment Order once tendered pursuant to this paragraph.”

Did Friday’s EDA civil litigation hearing indicate signs of progress toward an out-of-court resolution of, at least a portion of that litigation?

Defense attorney Greenspun and his client left the courtroom after the five minutes it took for the “Stipulations” submission to be read to the court by EDA counsel and for Judge Albertson to accept them, as indicated above, without objection from the defendant or her counsel, as the second part of the morning’s hearing began. That hearing was on a “Protective Order” request by defendant April Petty’s attorney Bill Shmidheiser to prevent volumes of his client’s bank records not relevant to the EDA case against Petty being posted on a secured database accessible by all the associated defendants, 15 in the first amended complaint and nine more added later.

Shmidheiser cited 3 pages related to a $41,000 check deposit regarding one real estate transaction as relevant to the case out of an estimated one thousand pages of Petty’s bank records from at least six accounts reviewed by the plaintiff attorneys and posted to the database.

EDA co-counsel Sean Hutson argued that the defendant should not be the one to determine the relevance of her own documents, that other defendants’ counsel should. After he polled four defense attorneys connected to the hearing remotely and getting four “no objections” to Petty’s counsel’s request, Judge Albertson granted Petty’s requested exclusion of apparently unrelated bank records from the case database.

Following adjournment after that 20-minute hearing, we asked EDA lead counsel Seltzer about the implications of the Money Judgment Order “Stipulations” agreement approved by the court earlier. However, he declined to discuss details of the status of an active case on the record.

Pictured virtually hosting recent EDA Board meeting, Chairman Jeff Browne is hopeful discussion can lead to out-of-court agreements on at least parts of EDA efforts to recoup alleged miss-directed assets.

So, we soon tried EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne with whom we’d briefly discussed the morning’s hearing following adjournment of an 8 a.m. Emergency Meeting of the EDA Board earlier that morning. No action followed a 50-minute closed session. During the brief open session, Browne explained the “emergency” designation simply meant the meeting had been called within 24 hours of its convening.

While also reluctant to discuss the still-active EDA civil litigation, Browne did observe that the entering of a signed agreement by the involved parties citing a 60-day window to reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion was a positive sign that discussion would take place. Of the potential of such discussion, Browne observed, “If we can avoid trial and save tons of money by coming to an agreement it would be a positive development. I hope it works out.”

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County updating equipment, rewriting IT software in wake of system ‘intrusion’

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During his update on County business at the virtual meeting of the Warren County-Front Royal Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Friday morning, March 26, Interim County Administrator Ed Daley addressed the status of the County’s software situation in the wake of the early March discovery of what has been termed an “intrusion” of that system. Daley has fallen short of calling the incident a “hack” due to an absence of discovered consequences such as stolen files or manipulation of existing files or systems.

However, the consequences which began with a nearly three-week halt in use of all county officials and staff emails due to the County server being taken down as a security precautionary measure, continues to be felt. As previously reported, the local IT system intrusion was part of a larger “intrusion” of software at various unspecified locations across the country. It’s source and purpose continues to be a matter of investigation from the federal level down.

A day prior to Daley’s report at the EDA’s monthly meeting, Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall’s March 25 County “Situation Report” also began with an update on the post software “intrusion” consequences:

COMMUNITY INFORMATION


  1. Warren County Email Update
    1. Warren County, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services are still experiencing significant computer/email issues.  The County is working diligently to restore full computer and email service to all personnel.
    2. Please note that any emails sent to County personnel at warrencountva.net, warrencountysheriff.org, or warrencountyfire.com may not be received until all email services are fully restored.

File photo of County Emergency Services vehicle in front of WCGC in March 2020. A year later the on-site emergency services have revolved around software protection and clean up. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

A clue to that restored service came Friday during the interim county administrator’s report to the EDA. Daley told the EDA board that 150 new laptop computers were slated to arrive Tuesday (March 30). Contacted late Friday afternoon, Daley told Royal Examiner by phone that it was anticipated all County emails would be back online at the beginning of the coming week, possibly coinciding with the arrival of the new computers and a rewrite of the County IT network. The system overhaul is to assure whoever was behind the intrusion no longer has access to the system, Daley explained. In a late update Monday morning, Daley said it now appeared the computers would not arrive until Thursday, delaying the restored email use until later in the week.

“We’re just busy buying computers and throwing computers out and wondering why we still have 2007 computers… – It’s a new experience every day,” Daley began his report to the EDA board Friday morning.

“Well, we wish the County well – it’s a horrible problem,” EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne told his former fellow EDA Board member and chairman. EDA officials later told Royal Examiner the separate EDA server had not been impacted by the County intrusion, though a downed 10-year-old router had temporarily taken the EDA system offline for about a day this past week.

As noted in our original story on the hack – “A new municipal ‘normal’ – large scale software ‘intrusions’ and targeting an international human organ harvesting business?!?” – Daley said that while the beginning date of the intrusion hadn’t been established, it was verified it did not involve or impact election data from last November.

Interim County Administrator Ed Daley at early March county supervisors meeting. A portion of his recent reports, regardless of to whom, has traced the impact of and reaction to the county software intrusion discovered earlier this month.

Daley told us that discussion of acquiring upgraded technology for the County was already underway when the intrusion was discovered March 7 to 12. In fact, the old County Information Technology was only capable of support of Windows 7, which will soon be non-serviceable as Window 10 and beyond continue development.

“So this gave us a reason to upgrade now,” Daley told Royal Examiner of the County IT software intrusion. One sign of the upgrade will be an eventual switch from .net to .gov in the County network, including staff and other official emails.

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EDA authorizes escrow fund use to help cover FY-21 debt service

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Following a multi-faceted hour-and-a-half closed session Friday morning the 26th at its regular board meeting of March, the Warren County-Front Royal Economic Development Authority Board of Directors authorized use of a portion of the $158,598.31 balance of an escrow account related to the Leach Run Parkway loan to make regularly scheduled loan payments for the Avtex loan and the Leach Run Parkway loan for April, May and June 2021. It was pointed out this will provide some relief to the County’s financial burden in covering the EDA’s debts for the remainder of Fiscal Year-2021 in the wake of the EDA financial scandal predating the current board and staff.

EDA attorney Sharon Pandak prefaced the motion by reviewing circumstances surrounding the Leach Run Parkway Loan escrow account, which also predates the current board and executive director’s tenure, and its recent reimbursement in part by United Bank following the bank’s finally closing with the Town of Front Royal on the assumption of responsibility for a loan to pay off the balance of the $8,440,797 FRPD headquarters construction project.|

The clouds have begun to clear from the FPRD headquarters financing situation – but about that $640k in previously paid interest … – Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Contacted later, EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons explained the original balance of the Leach Run Parkway Loan escrow account was $250,000 that had never been accessed. However, United Bank elected to draw on that Leach Run Parkway Loan escrow account for the interest and principal payments on the FRPD construction loan during the four months – November 2020 to February 2021 – it was awaiting finalization of the Town’s FRPD loan. The delay, as explained by both Town and EDA officials, was due to the discovery of a needed partial release of the deed of trust of the former Avtex Superfund site, for the 5.24-acre parcel upon which the FRPD headquarters is situated at 900 Monroe Avenue, had never been realized.



The Warren County Board of Supervisors chose to stop covering the EDA’s original FRPD loan payments that the Front Royal Town Council refused to accept moral responsibility for in the wake of the EDA financial scandal during the tenure of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, after the October 2020 payment. That was when the EDA FRPD loan payments went from 3% interest-only in the $21,000 monthly range to over $50,000 in principal and interest monthly payments.

Parsons cited the United Bank Leach Run Parkway Loan reimbursed escrow account amount based on fluctuating monthly principal payments at $116,246.84, as noted above bringing the escrow account balance to $158,598.31. With a virtual ZOOM meeting torrent of numbers dancing through our heads, we asked Parsons for a rundown of exactly what was approved regarding the use of the escrow funds.

File photo of Doug Parsons, speaking center, dating to Feb. 2020, pre-pandemic and virtual ZOOM meeting world days.

“In an effort to help the County service our debt, the Board of Directors voted this morning to apply $53,953.29 toward the loan payments of the Leach Run Parkway loan and the Avtex loan for the remaining three months of FY-21 – April, May, June 2021,” he began, breaking that number down further: Avtex loan monthly payments of $14,021.80 and Leach Run monthly of $3,962.63 totals $17,984.43 x 3 = $53,953.29.

With the FRPD loan future principal and interest payments finally assumed by the Town, as had always been anticipated by the EDA upon completion of the project it financed for the Town, the lone remaining sticking point on the FRPD financing situation between the Town and EDA appears to be reimbursement of the approximately $640,000 of construction loan interest previously covered by the EDA and the County. And it is likely that number was part of a closed session discussion of the EDA’s countersuit against the Town, the second of three closed session topics adjourned from open session to at 8:06 a.m. Friday.

 

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Supervisors try to absorb County budget numbers: past, present and future

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Early Tuesday evening, March 9, the Warren County Board of Supervisors, particularly its three newest, first-term, second-year trio of Chair Cheryl Cullers, Delores Oates and Walt Mabe, tried to get a handle on the County’s finances. First up on the work session agenda starting at 6 p.m. in the main meeting room of the Warren County Government Center was an Audit Report from Robinson, Farmer, Cox Associates’ Michael Lupton. That was followed by Deputy County Administrator Taryn Logan’s report on the status of a two-decade-old joint County-Town Wayfinding Sign project aimed at directing tourists toward the county’s myriad natural and historical attractions on both sides of the town-county line. And batting cleanup were Interim County Administrator Ed Daley and new Finance Director Keith McLiverty for an update on the Fiscal Year 2022 County Budget process.

Audit Report and Budget time – everyone’s favorite time of the year: the county supervisors, minus 1, prepare to get the numbers – lots of numbers. Below, Audit company rep Michael Lupton opens with a report on County finances for completed FY-2020. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Audit company representative Lupton gave an overall positive report, with some gaps in financial reporting. Lupton cited those gaps as a likely result of a high turnover among upper-level staff, most prominently at the head of the County Finance Department. Stabilization in that area with the arrival of County Finance Director McLiverty, who with Interim County Administrator Daley, helped guide the board through some of their logistical questions on the audit report summary, was cited as a positive turn for the future. Also acknowledged was interim help from former Finance Director Andre Fletcher, as well as Carolyn Stimmel, the latter mostly on the EDA side of the equation.

Some board questions revolved around what Lupton called “finicky numbers” related to asset versus debt ratios that are impacted by market fluctuations. Of particular attention were debt service numbers between $147 million and $155 million. It was explained that the $8 million discrepancy related to the County’s pension fund, which unlike past Capitol Improvement Project (CIP) debt, is not liable to a bank call, unless as Daley observed, the entire County staff hit retirement age at the same time.


As the actual numbers stand, Cullers cited an annual debt service of $953,000 to be covered. So, the supervisors are likely to be encouraging bond consultant Davenport & Company to be keeping a close eye on the approaching market numbers impacting potential savings on a group re-financing of a large portion of the CIP debt related to past public school and other construction projects.

Variables related to the aftermath of the Town-County Economic Development Authority (EDA) financial scandal, including still being prepared 2018 and 2019 EDA audits, as well as legal expenses were also prominent on the supervisors’ radar. Replying to a question from the chairwoman, Interim County Administrator Daley noted that the audit report “does not include EDA debt” but “did include County expenditures” on the EDA’s legal and operational expenses. There also was a $1-million discrepancy in EDA legal fees that seemed to be floating as an unresolved number.

Chair Cullers, above, and North River’s Oates, below, absorb the numbers – lots of numbers.

Overwhelmed by “finicky numbers”, floating numbers, and delayed reporting of some budget variables during the past year, Board Chair Cullers commented several times, “It’s clear as mud” to which North River Supervisor Oates added, “Now, I’m really confused.”

Perhaps trying to cheer the supervisors up after their emersion into the depths of municipal finances, Daley suggested next year’s process would be easier after their “training” with this year’s budget and all its staffing and emerging post-EDA financial scandal variables.

Which way to tourism dollars?

On the Wayfinding Sign front, long-time County Planning Director and new Deputy County Administrator Logan reviewed the 20-year joint Town-County effort and new signage planned on both sides of the town-county line. She explained an urgency on the Town side related to new signage that would be paid for through the Town Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that carries a spending deadline approaching at the end of the month.

She said that an MOA (Memorandum Of Agreement) between the municipalities was anticipated to be presented to the Board at its March 16 meeting.

Recently elevated to Deputy County Administrator, Taryn Logan explains the latest chapter in a 20-year joint County-Town effort to direct visitors to the myriad tourism destinations on both sides of the town-county line.

Responding to a question from Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox, Logan explained that Wayfinding sign guidelines on the State side prevented Wayfinding Signs directing motorists to specific private business locations like motels, restaurants etc. However, she noted that other types of municipally developed signage, particularly in town, could be utilized outside the Wayfinding Sign Project to alert tourists to those types of amenities available in the town and county.

Logan also reviewed how the changes from a Town Tourism Department and move to outside private-sector contracted marketers advised by the Joint Town-County Tourism Committee were impacting Tourism promotion on both sides of the town-county line.

Approaching the two-hour mark, Daley and Finance Director McLiverty’s report was fairly brief, with Daley telling the supervisors, minus absent Happy Creek Supervisor Tony Carter, that they would return at the end of the following week with the FY-2022 Budget summary.

One down, empty table at right, three pictured including the back of one head, and one, Walt Mabe, out of frame, the supervisors listen to the audit report for completed FY-20. Below, Interim Administrator Ed Daley, left, and Finance Director Keith McLiverty try to make the numbers and the process resulting in them as understandable as possible.

It was noted near the work session’s end that the planned Joint Meeting, Retreat or “Advance” as it is now being referenced, with the Front Royal Town Council is targeted for May, though no date has yet been established.

For more detail on all these discussions watch the linked County meeting video and/or view the linked PowerPoint presentations.

VIDEO HERE

  1. Warren County Audit Presentation – FY2020
  2. Wayfinding Sign Report – March 2021
  3. Warren Comp Annual Finance Report – 2020
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EDA welcomes Town Manager Steven Hicks to meeting & gets good news from McDonald bankruptcy hearing

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Things appear to continue to be turning in a positive direction for the Warren County Economic Development Authority (WC-EDA) in the wake of the recent sale of the Afton Inn for redevelopment by the 2 East Main LLC investment group. On the heels of that sale, authorized at a Special Meeting of February 12 and finalized a week later, the WC-EDA held its monthly meeting by way of the now familiar virtually connected ZOOM format the morning of Friday, February 26.

Two things stood out during the open session sandwiching a 57-minute closed session. The first was the welcoming of Town Manager Steven Hicks shortly after the 8 a.m. meeting start. It was the first appearance of a town manager with an accompanying update on Town business at an EDA Board of Directors meeting in about 18 months.

Beginning with the Afton Inn sale, it appears a newly thawed relationship between Town Hall, at right, and the WC-EDA has begun. It continued with Town Manager Steven Hicks presence at the Friday, Feb. 26, EDA Board meeting. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

That traditional line of communications was terminated during the tenure of former Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick as the town government took on an increasingly adversarial and litigious stance with the EDA as a revamped EDA board worked to right its ship in the wake of the $21-million-plus financial scandal alleged to have developed during the tenure of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.


EDA civil litigation gets reboot

The second positive note came post closed session during Board Chairman Jeff Browne’s Executive Committee Report. Browne acknowledged a decision by Harrisonburg-based U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Rebecca B. Connelly returning consideration of exactly what assets Jennifer McDonald can claim as part of her bankruptcy filing to the state court level.

“The bankruptcy court has remanded her particular case to state court to assess damages, at which point damages are assessed it will go back to the bankruptcy court to decide whether or not it should go back to the state courts or be handled in the bankruptcy court,” Browne told his board.

Contacted after the meeting, Browne elaborated on the implications of Judge Connelly’s ruling. He explained it will allow the EDA’s civil litigation against McDonald to re-start to determine exactly what EDA assets McDonald may have misappropriated and how they may have been used to purchase properties or other tangible assets. Her surviving real estate company MoveOn8 is also part of her bankruptcy filing, he noted.

The EDA’s civil litigation against Jennifer McDonald, on the job in December 2016 as the late Patty Wines, right, chairs meeting, and other co-defendants not in bankruptcy court, can once again proceed at the state level in the Warren County Courthouse.

When the state court findings are returned to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Harrisonburg, Judge Connelly will determine what assets McDonald can legitimately claim as her own that are subject to bankruptcy claims and asset distribution, versus what assets held by her or her real estate company the EDA would have civil claim to as restitution for her alleged criminal acts of embezzlement and misappropriation of EDA funds to her own use.

A virtual Town-EDA ‘lovefest’

Back on the Town-EDA relations front, EDA Board Chairman Browne welcomed Hicks by virtual connection, offering him the opportunity to give his report prior to adjournment to the closed session. And while an opening portion of that report was acknowledgment of the town council’s decision to move forward with creation of its own EDA with Hicks as executive director, that there was a renewed sense of Town-EDA cooperation was soon apparent.

“As town manager I’m here to help in any way I can,” Hicks told Browne and the four-member EDA Board quorum present virtually (Browne, Harold, Pattison, Wolfe), before reporting on the status of the Town’s FY-2022 Budget process.

“I just want to congratulate you on your new position. You must have found the secret to a 48-hour day,” Browne told Hicks at the conclusion of the town manager’s report. “I just want to tell you for our board, that anything we can do to help in the areas you’re focused on: redevelopment, tourism, retention of businesses are all good things that we look forward to working with FREDA (Front Royal Economic Development Authority) on.

EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne, above virtually at Friday’s EDA Board meeting, and Front Royal Town Manager Steven Hicks, below in file photo of recent council meeting, seem to be on the same page on cooperation between now separate County and Town EDAs.

“We would like to work with you and coordinate with the Town. I think that we can do a lot to help economic development for the entire area. So, we appreciate you’re stepping up and taking on what will be a challenging task,” Browne added of Hicks new dual role.

“Will do – I’ll definitely stay in contact and share everything as much as I can with you and Doug (EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons) and Ed (Warren County Interim County Administrator Ed Daley). So yea, sounds great,” Hicks replied.

At that point EDA Board member Jim Wolfe, who has taken point in his board’s work on development of short and long-term Strategic Planning on economic development and job creation, joined the conversation. Wolfe offered to get a copy of what the WC-EDA has done on that front recently to Hicks by Monday.

“Then you and I can sit down and talk about it at some point. And if any other board members want to join me … So, I want to make sure that the … Town has our plan and use that for a touch point for how you coordinate on different projects,” Wolfe said of developing a unified plan of action community wide.

EDA Board member Jim Wolfe jumped on the Town-County EDA cooperative bandwagon with an offer of added assistance from himself and other EDA board members, to Hicks in his new role as FREDA executive director.

“I’d appreciate that,” Hicks replied, perhaps seeing his “48-hour days” reduced in some measure by that level of County EDA involvement with his work on the Town side. Continuing in that vein of cooperation, Hicks added, “Again, I just wanted to call in (on ZOOM) and touch base with you all and be as transparent as I can. And always reach out to me when you need anything, and I’ll do the same.”

“Good, thank you so much,” Browne replied to the new attitude being reflected out of Front Royal Town Hall as Hicks signed off from the meeting.

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EDA in Focus

Summary of the Warren County EDA Board meeting of Friday, February 26

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The EDA Board of Directors conducted their regular monthly board meeting this morning, February 26, via Zoom. The Board welcomed Front Royal Town Manager Steven Hicks prior to going into Closed Session. Mr. Hicks noted that the Town’s budget proposal for the fiscal year 2022 was being prepared. A summary overview was included in the board packet and digital copies of the 32-page presentation are available from the EDA office. Please contact Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson at 635-2182.

Board Chair Jeff Browne congratulated Mr. Hicks on his appointment to Executive Director of the Front Royal EDA and stated that the Board of the Front Royal Warren County EDA is looking for working with him.

Following an approximately 30-minuted Closed Meeting, the Board approved a motion on the disposition of McKay Springs. In order to facilitate and expedite the sale of parcels at the McKay Springs location, the Board approved transferring the parcels deeded in the name of the EDA to Warren County.

Continuing in Open Session, Jeff Browne gave a report from the Executive Committee. He advised the Board and the public that Warren County will be designated as a Spotted Lanternfly quarantine locality in mid-March, along with Clarke and Frederick counties, and the City of Winchester. This will impact businesses located in and doing business in Warren County. For more information please visit www.vdacs.virginia.gov/plan-industry-services.shtml


Director Jim Wolfe shared information on the progress of the EDA Strategic Plan updates. He’s looking forward to feedback on the working document and completing a final draft for review.

Asset Committee Chair Greg Harold discussed a new development that will have an impact on the EDA-owned property on Royal Lane. He shared the news that the Town of Front Royal is considering updating the Town Code to allow a Conditional Use Permit to be bonded with the property rather than the owner. With this change, Harold expects to improve the successful marketing of this property for a developer of multi-family workforce housing. The EDA is very interested in selling this property and supports the Town Planning Department in its efforts.

EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons had several items of interest to share, including the launch of the renovated EDA website at www.wceda.com, and that the auditors are finalizing their report. Additionally, he reported that the proceeds of $323,179.18 from the sale of the Afton Inn have paid down the principal on the First Bank & Trust Line of Credit. This lowered the payment, saving the taxpayers $1,242.70 per month, or $14,912.40 per year.

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Upcoming Events

Apr
20
Tue
all-day Mad Science Kit @ Warren County Community Center
Mad Science Kit @ Warren County Community Center
Apr 20 – Apr 23 all-day
Mad Science Kit @ Warren County Community Center
The Warren County Parks and Recreation Department Mad Science Kit contains experiments that focus on fun, interactivity, and entertainment. Participants ages 6-12 will be able to perform four (4) experiments, including Dyed Carnations, Lava Lamps,[...]
Apr
24
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10:00 am Earth Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Earth Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 24 @ 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Earth Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
On this Earth Day, celebrate safely by doing your part to restore our earth and joining the Great Global Cleanup. Stop by one of our tables at the Explorer Outpost, Picnic Area, or Lost Mountain[...]
12:00 pm Empty Bowl Supper “To Go” @ Downtown Market
Empty Bowl Supper “To Go” @ Downtown Market
Apr 24 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Empty Bowl Supper “To Go” @ Downtown Market
Come out to enjoy our favorite fundraiser to benefit the House of Hope, the Empty Bowl Supper “TO GO”! DATE: Saturday, April 24 from 12noon-3pm Ticket Link: eventbrite.com/empty-bowl-supper LOCATION: Main Street & Downtown Market Check in near the[...]
12:00 pm SHS Band Golf Tournament @ Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club
SHS Band Golf Tournament @ Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club
Apr 24 @ 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
SHS Band Golf Tournament @ Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club
Join us for an afternoon of golf at Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club in Front Royal! 1 pm Shotgun, Registration from 12pm – 12:45pm. $85/Player $340/Team Help us celebrate Skyline High School Band’s success while[...]
12:30 pm Color Run Fundraiser @ Warren County Department of Social Services
Color Run Fundraiser @ Warren County Department of Social Services
Apr 24 @ 12:30 pm – 3:00 pm
Color Run Fundraiser @ Warren County Department of Social Services
Save Our Children Front Royal is hosting a Color Run/Walk to raise money for The Child Safe Center, located in Winchester, Virginia. The Child Safe Center is a local non-profit who supports sexually abused victims[...]
Apr
25
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4:00 pm Paint with a Superhero @ Downtown Market
Paint with a Superhero @ Downtown Market
Apr 25 @ 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Paint with a Superhero @ Downtown Market
$30 per painter or 4 painters for $100. Bring the whole family and save! Join us for a special Paint with a Superhero event! Be sure to dress up as your favorite hero or villain[...]
Apr
27
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10:00 am Mah Jongg “Players Club” @ Warren County Community Center
Mah Jongg “Players Club” @ Warren County Community Center
Apr 27 @ 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Mah Jongg “Players Club” @ Warren County Community Center
Players will enjoy several hands of Mah Jongg against skilled opponents. This club meets on Tuesdays from April 6, 2021 through April 27, 2021 from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Warren County Community[...]
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Apr 27 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
May
1
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8:00 am 2021 Apple Blossom Wine & Hard C... @ Sky Meadows State Park
2021 Apple Blossom Wine & Hard C... @ Sky Meadows State Park
May 1 @ 8:00 am – 12:30 pm
2021 Apple Blossom Wine & Hard Cider Challenge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Come enjoy the challenging routes at Sky Meadows State Park and Valley View Farm, home of the Gnarled Orchard. These courses are knotty, knot nice at the farm as they are a mix of cross[...]
12:00 pm The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
May 1 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Blacksmith Shop in the Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work in the Historic Area. Members of the Blacksmith Guild of the Potomac have set up shop and[...]