Less than a week after its September 23 press conference during which the County and EDA boards were vilified as obstructions to good-faith negotiations in resolving the year-and-a-half debt service impasse on the new town police headquarters, the Front Royal Town Council took a strategic turn in its EDA bad guys play.
In a familiarly aggressively worded resolution the Front Royal Town Council took aim at a new target; and asked past targets, the County and EDA’s, cooperation in that targeting. As reported in Royal Examiner’s lead story on the September 28 council meeting, that target is Harrisonburg-based EDA criminal case Special Prosecutor Michael Parker.
Queried on the resolution’s author, co-sponsor Lori Cockrell said she had turned the inquiry over to the interim town manager who “took it from there”. Tederick told Royal Examiner that once handed the issue by Cockrell, in the absence of town legal staff at the end of last week he had drafted the resolution which was given an eventual okay from the legal department to proceed with.
The goal of getting answers and explanations on delays to potential criminal prosecutions related to the EDA financial scandal is a desirable and understandable one. However, is the negative language peppering the resolution appearing to suggest some level of prosecutorial ineptitude tied to a political mandate to “expeditiously proceed to trial on these matters” really necessary or a desirable strategy?
From the resolution’s language it appears to have been written without Town representative discussion with the prosecutor’s office on the legal dynamics of the situation. And without fundamental information from the prosecutor’s office on its process in the EDA criminal investigation is it wise to become publicly aggressive with someone you need and want in your corner as that legal situation progresses?
Okay, it’s been a long time – a little over nine months as the resolution notes since the Harrisonburg Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office was handed the job of criminally prosecuting those believed involved in aiding in and/or benefitting from former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s alleged embezzlements and misdirection of EDA assets to her own purposes.
However, Special Prosecutor and Harrisonburg Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Parker explained at the time he dropped all criminal indictments filed by the EDA Special Grand Jury under the direction of original prosecutors Brian Madden and Bryan Layton to avoid running into speedy trial issues that could have seen those charges dismissed on defense motions and never re-filed, he would do things differently than had been done previously with the EDA Special Grand Jury.
The primary difference, he explained, would be what he called a more normal process, perhaps one without political pressures for immediate legal gratification at play, where no indictments would be filed until the grand jury had completed its investigation into all potential defendants. That strategy would prevent the kind of looming speedy trial issues Parker inherited after newly elected Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell and his staff recused themselves from the EDA prosecution due to personal, social and/or professional ties to many of the defendants.
Parker also inherited a voluminous amount of evidence cited at over a million pages of documentation that even got the attention of the State Supreme Court as to filing and Discovery motions issues.
So, is the silence from the Special Prosecutor’s Office ominous as in a failure to proceed with a workable case, or perhaps “golden” in that it implies that sufficient time is being taken to assemble and coordinate evidence to facilitate successful prosecutions once the grand jury has completed its work and indictments are forthcoming?
On Monday, September 28, a five-person, partisan Republican political majority of the Front Royal Town Council, with independent and “Beer Party” endorsed Letasha Thompson dissenting, answered that question on prosecutorial silence from its perspective.
“WHEREAS, the Special Prosecutor, Michael Parker, who was designated by Marsha Garst, Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Commonwealth Attorney, to prosecute these matters, moved to dismiss all of the True Bills returned by the Special Grand Jury based upon his professed inability to provide discovery to the defendants and his lack of preparation to competently prosecute (emphasis added) the over seventy-five True Bills, previously issued against McDonald and other defendants,” paragraph four of the resolution brought to council by Council members Cockrell and Chris Holloway reads as it moves past three background introductory paragraphs to target council’s newest EDA villain for a lack of criminal results, or even at this point, action.
The resolution’s final paragraph asks last week’s EDA villains, the Warren County Board of Supervisors and Economic Development Authority Board of Directors, to join the Town in approving the resolution “on behalf of Town and County residents demanding justice on behalf of our mutual constituents”.
But will the resolution which seeks the reconvening of the EDA special grand jury within 60 days of approval of the Town Resolution work to the benefit of town residents seeking justice in the EDA situation?
Politics and the Law: Do they mix?
According to local defense attorney, Virginia Beer Museum proprietor and “Beer Party” founder David Downes, that remains to be seen. Apparently having seen the resolution text in the agenda posted on the Town’s website prior to the meeting, Downes came to Monday’s meeting with prepared remarks on the proposed resolution and its legal versus political contexts.
With the resolution’s sponsors Holloway and Cockrell seeking election this November, Holloway to mayor and Cockrell to her appointed council seat with County Republican Committee endorsements, Downes wondered at the level of partisan politicking that might be involved in the pair bringing this resolution forward at this time.
“Why are councilmen running for office the only councilmen ‘seeking justice for citizens of Front Royal as a result of the EDA scandal’,” Downes asked in opening his critique of the Cockrell-Holloway introduced, Tederick-drafted resolution.
Having noted his 33-year career as a criminal defense attorney in this community, Downes wondered at the advisability of what he saw as a mix of political posturing and critical legal analysis of complex and still pending criminal cases.
Why, he asked, hadn’t council simply resolved to ask its mayor “our Town representative to simply call” Harrisonburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Marcia Garst or her appointed EDA Special Prosecutor Parker to inform them of the Town’s concerns and desire for an explanation on causes for delays in resurrecting criminal EDA financial scandal prosecutions.
“Why wait two months,” Downes asked of the resolution referenced 60-day demand for reconvening of the EDA Special Grand Jury.
However, the attorney also wondered at the legal advisability of the Town Resolution’s demand “to expeditiously proceed to trial on these matters”.
“This is exactly the kind of resolution I would want if my client was involved in the EDA scandal,” Downes told council, explaining, “I would want the prosecutor to feel rushed and not read all one million documents – which works out to reviewing over a thousand documents per day for three solid years – because they will not be prepared for trial and double jeopardy will preclude my client’s prosecution.
“Please be careful what you wish for and end the political grandstanding a month before the election,” Downes concluded to council and the resolution’s sponsors.
Over an hour after Downes remarks as the resolution came before council as the agenda’s final open meeting item, Holloway denied a political motive.
“Earlier we were accused of political grandstanding – No, it’s called demanding justice and that’s what we’re here for, the citizens of Front Royal, not for a political party,” Holloway asserted. “Our citizens demand justice and they deserve justice and I think this is a step in the right direction,” Holloway added of a resolution seeming to suggest EDA criminal prosecutor ineptitude and perhaps unwillingness to bring charges forward in what Downes had also noted is a court system slowed considerably, particularly as to jury trials, due to COVID-19 pandemic social distancing precautions.
“Are we taking into account that the Virginia Supreme Court has stayed virtually all jury trials between … April 17, 2020, and today? … In other words, Warren County is not currently prepared to try ANY jury trials due to COVID-19,” Downes told council during his public concerns comments.
Cockrell read a prepared statement explaining her support in introducing the resolution with Holloway into the meeting record. She cited door-to-door campaigning during which “hundreds of town citizens have asked me why those who embezzled money from the EDA have not been brought to justice. It is obviously first and foremost on their minds,” Cockrell said in opening.
“This request is based upon my many conversations with citizens on their front porch, walking down the street, or just this past weekend at my class reunion. I believe the community wants us to work together to bring the criminals to justice first, and then leave for another day how any monies recovered should be distributed as a result of these crimes,” Cockrell added with a somewhat surprising turn in that the proposed resolution said nothing about ending the Town suit against the EDA.
That Town civil suit is seeking virtually all the alleged $21.3 million in misdirected or embezzled assets cited in the EDA’s initial civil filing against what has climbed to 15 defendants. A second EDA civil action added nine defendants and $4.45 million in alleged misdirected EDA assets. Cockrell cited McDonald’s recent bankruptcy filing, suggesting that criminal liability and restitution could present an alternate method of recovering McDonald assets now under bankruptcy court control.
Cockrell’s statement indicated a desire to see that justice is done on the EDA situation to the benefit and will of her constituency and seeks the resolution as a means of achieving Town-County-EDA cooperation. However, the career educator’s perspective is not a legal one from which she might have been able to answer some of her constituent questions about reasons for delays in the EDA criminal prosecutions referenced in prosecutor Parker’s initial explanation of his grand jury strategy or attorney Downes’ observations on the legal obstacle course the prosecutor is facing.
So hopefully a council majority has not jumped the gun in seeking to force prosecutorial movement as November 3rd approaches before approaching the prosecutor’s office about the status of their investigation. Perhaps someone on the County side might initiate such a conversation with the Harrisonburg prosecutor’s office prior to a decision on joining the Town in approving the resolution as currently crafted.
Watch the video in this related Town Council story:
EDA approves grant agreement with Backroom Brewery
The EDA Board of Directors convened a Special Meeting Thursday morning, October 29. Following a one-and-a-half-hour Closed Session, the Board approved a resolution to approve the Master Agreement between Warren County, the EDA, and Backroom Brewery for an Incentive Grant and Tourism Grant to Backroom Brewery as financial assistance to expand its operations.
The Backroom Brewery is the first farm brewery operation in the state of Virginia and boasts more than 25 unique approved recipes. The EDA is proud to work with Warren County and support this local business. Congratulations to proprietor Billie Clifton and we wish them continued success.
Take our books, audit us now – Please! POSF officials urge supervisors
Seven members of the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF), including three newer ones, made their case that they are not crooks, thieves or otherwise scheming and conniving people out to self-enrich or fleece the residents of the sprawling Sanitary District during a lengthy work session of the Warren County Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening, October 27th.
The two-hour-and-forty-minute explanation and defense of their management and advisory role to the supervisors came in response to a recent escalation in criticism of their role. That escalation has primarily come from Nancy Winn and her husband, Dale Orlowske, most recently at the October 20th supervisors’ meeting.
Perhaps surprisingly, none of the four primary critics cited, though not by name, by those involved in the POSF’s work, or any other Farms residents were present for Tuesday’s explanation of the POSF side of the story. That was particularly surprising to this reporter whose paper received an inquiry from Winn following her public presentation targeting POSF and the supervisor’s oversight at last week’s board meeting, requesting information on the meetings whereabouts, time, and format for public participation.
In response to her query wondering if it was a “secretive meeting” which would not allow Farms “taxpayers to be present”, following a quick call to the County Administration Office to acquire the requested information, this reporter/editor informed her by email of the time, whereabouts and formatting of the meeting, including Board Chairman Mabe’s prerogative to grant observing members of the public input to the meeting.
POSF Co-Chairman Ralph Rinaldi introduced the voluntary property owners association representatives present to the supervisors, excluding the absent Tony Carter, and outlined the areas each would be addressing. Those representatives were in the order of speaking: Joe Longo (History of the Farms including a video presentation of that history), Bruce Boyle (Financial Overview), Jonathan Oaks (Misconceptions, Main Points, Current Allegations), Sara Saber (Excessive Spending due to multiple FOIA requests), Patrick Skelley (BOS involvement, guidance and communications, and Sanitary District size and population variables). POSF Office Manager Lisa Blansett was also present to respond to inquiries on documentation, at least one of which she provided for copying to the supervisors during the work session. Rinaldi and others responded to questions as they arose during and after their presentations.
Noting the complicated nature of the POSF relationship to Sanitary District management and finances – it was pointed out there were multiple accounts some containing public county funds and others POSF-raised money, each spent on different things they said – the group complemented the board’s three new members for their tackling of the issues brought to them.
“It is confusing, it took me a few years to figure it out … and you’ve only been here 10 months,” Rinaldi told the board’s new majority of Chairman Walt Mabe, Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, and North River representative Delores Oates.
Addressing the POSF and Sanitary District finances, Boyle, who noted he was a newer member of the board like Oaks and Saber, said he had been pleased to find out that the financial organization made it difficult for anyone to misappropriate money.
“I don’t want to be confrontational and I don’t want to challenge you, but if you believe the money is not being spent where it’s supposed to be spent, we would as a board wholeheartedly like you to appoint someone to investigate NOW – and not over a course of a couple of years. We have nothing to hide,” Boyle told the supervisors, adding, “The Sanitary District money is money we’ve agreed to tax ourselves to improve our community with your oversight. And we have been doing that.”
Speaking to past County oversight of Sanitary District operations, Boyle noted that when he became involved, “All my questions were answered by Bob Childress at my first meeting before I had a chance to speak … This is one of the best-run counties in Virginia,” he asserted. Childress is the recently retired Deputy County Administrator and Sanitary District manager.
Perhaps ironically, part of the Farms Historical video presentation as part of Joe Longo’s opening overview contained interview excerpts with former County Administrator Doug Stanley, who appointed Childress to oversee the Farms Sanitary District among others, operations. After over 20 years in his position, Stanley reached an involuntary termination agreement with the County under the impetus of the board’s new majority elected in November 2019 under a wave of public and social media criticism of “business as usual” due to the EDA financial scandal. Childress retired shortly after Stanley’s departure and long-time County Emergency Services Director Richard Mabie, also interviewed in the video, soon announced his pending retirement in coming months when he reaches retirement age.
So, as a new board majority orients itself to its job the County is losing a huge amount of staff institutional knowledge of operations on a variety of fronts, including Sanitary Districts.
Cullers, who with Oates and Mabe has been at the point of seeking answers to questions raised by POSF/Sanitary District management critics, noted that the supervisors were obligated to answer questions from all segments of county citizens. She suggested POSF officials sit down with those critics to reach a mutually beneficial line of communication to reach a satisfactory end for all involved.
“But you expecting a rational response and we’re not getting that,” Boyle responded of past POSF efforts to respond to certain critics. “Okay, we are potentially explaining what’s going on correctly and legally and trying to inform you all as well. But I think, politely, I don’t think that I’m going to be able to get through to them because I don’t think they want to hear any of the answers that are correct. So, at that point we just thought, we’re hoping you all would mitigate that for us.”
At another point, following Rinaldi’s comments on negative perceptions being raised by critics on social media over specific matters POSF officials insisted they have tried to respond to, to little impact with those critics, Boyle rose to add a further observation.
“Here’s some of what we deal with on a fictitious (level) – ‘We’d like to see your credit card statement.’ Well, we don’t have any credit cards to give you any statements. Okay, then what goes on social media is ‘They refuse to give us credit card statements’ which is a true statement which can imply that you’re hiding money. But if you have no credit cards, you cannot provide a credit card statement.”
Of the POSF impression of a belligerent unwillingness to communicate in good faith to reach answers being sought by their critics, Boyle said, “Be careful, because what you’re hearing … that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Sometimes where there’s smoke there is fire. And also sometimes people blow smoke at you … We invite you to go through our finances with a fine-tooth comb.”
Mabe responded that he had been the one to comment at a previous meeting that “Where there’s smoke, there’s potential fire” adding however that from his perspective an inquiry offers the POSF the opportunity “to prove there’s not (fire) – that’s what we’re asking here … There is no witch hunt here – there is an opportunity for questions we have to be answered in a logical manner that we understand so we can, in turn, get some of the people that are the ‘witch hunters’ off of your back and our back.
“If there’s a problem, we’ll probably be able to solve it and we’ll fix it, we’ll move forward; we’ll do the best that we can. But perception is 95% of the room. So, it works both ways,” Mabe told POSF officials of the move toward the board’s inquiry into the Sanitary District operations.
And on the perception front, several POSF officials pointed to a social media co-opting of online domain names similar to the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms title, making it increasingly difficult to search and find the actual POSF site. One said they believed it to be a “malicious” effort to co-opt online hits and information dissemination from the POSF.
Shortly after those observations, Board Clerk Emily Ciarrocchi told those present she had created a direct link to the POSF site <shenandoahfarms.org> from the County website as a means to help solve that access confusion.
See these discussions, questions, and explanations along with a historical look at the “Farms”, including its founding; somewhat suspicious past behaviors of a potentially criminal nature; road inaccessibility and emergency service and law enforcement access issues with what now stands as one of Virginia’s largest Sanitary Districts at 5,000 residents, 2,804 lots, 1,783 of those developed, and 42-plus miles of roads, in this Royal Examiner video:
Valley Health-Anthem consequences; FRPD bank loan details scrutinized
After getting an opening salvo from long-time critic Paul Gabbert aimed Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick’s way, the Front Royal Town Council, minus member Letasha Thompson, moved through a series of meeting and work session budget and ordinance updates and related staff suggestions, as well as consideration of a reduction of the number of Town Planning Commission members from seven to five, and discussion of employee health insurance coverage options if the compensation impasse between Valley Health and Anthem (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) is not resolved. In an added meeting agenda item council approved a Resolution approving recently submitted language required by United Bank regarding the $8.4-million loan to facilitate the Town’s assumption of the debt service on the Front Royal Police headquarters from the EDA.
It was noted in a summary prepared by insurance consultant Gallagher presented during that latter health care coverage work session discussion that Valley Health had hired a California-based consultant in its dispute with Anthem over its compensation from the giant health insurance provider and that Valley Health, “wants reimbursement levels that makes Valley Health highest-paid or close to highest-paid provider in the state of Virginia.”
And in its attempt to acquire that compensation from Anthem, Valley Health has “sent a preemptive letter of termination to Anthem for December 31st” that would make Valley Health a non-participant in Anthem health care coverage on January 1, 2021.
Under consideration by council Monday was sending “TLC” (The Local Choice), which is the Town’s current State Department of Human Resources Management medical insurance provider through Anthem, a notice of termination effective December 31. This would leave Town employees, like others including the County Public School system, out of coverage and facing higher health care costs likely through the end of the fiscal year.
While the State requires 90 days notice of opting out of TLC, making a November 1 notice effective February 1, the option of holding off on the TLC termination notice in the hope the corporate high-stakes poker game between Valley Health and Anthem will be resolved by the end of the year was also presented.
But council authorized the interim town manager to move forward with the TLC termination letter by November 1. If a settlement is reached between the dueling medical and insurance providers, the termination will be rescinded, Tederick later explained to us.
The interim town manager told council that a similar medical care provider and Anthem dispute had been settled shortly after the turn of the unnamed year it occurred. Tederick later said he believed information we had received from another source that the referenced medical care provider that had carried its past dispute with Anthem past a previous December 31st deadline was represented by the same California consultant Valley Health has contracted in its current dispute with Anthem, was correct.
Tederick also told council that several impacted Northern Shenandoah Valley municipalities could spearhead the formation of a group pool of employers with as many as 3500 employees to seek a lower pool rate coverage from providers in the next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2021.
Details being ironed out on FRPD loan
In the meeting’s final agenda item added by Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock at the meeting’s outset, council approved a resolution authorizing what was described as “required wording” by United Bank regarding the $8.4-million loan at a very favorable 1.87% interest rate to assume the debt service on the Town Police headquarters.
The new wording was received by Town staff earlier in the day, not giving the legal or finance department time to review the resubmitted document in its entirety. On Sealock’s motion, council approved the resolution authorizing acceptance of the new loan wording contingent on its review and approval by staff. It was noted that a deadline of noon, Wednesday, October 28, was pending on final approval of the loan terms.
Contacted Tuesday, Finance Director B. J. Wilson said were there to be any question about the wording leading to a missed Wednesday loan finalization deadline, it would likely only mean that a loan agreement would be reached in November instead of October, impacting the terms only as to a slight increase in the accrued interest the Town would be paying.
A misdirected opening salvo
Gabbert’s above-referenced meeting opening salvo, including a call for Tederick’s immediate termination for “gross deception”, appeared based on a misunderstanding of a published legal notice reference to a “Front Royal Industrial Development Authority” as opposed to an accompanying reference Gabbert cited to a “Warren County Economic Development Authority”.
Gabbert seemed to believe it was a unilateral effort by the interim town manager to implement a second Town EDA that has been on the table, if not finally approved as a done deal as the Town and EDA appear working toward resolution of some past impasses, particularly the FRPD headquarters financing which Tederick has predicted could lead to a settlement of the Town civil suit against the EDA “within 45 days”.
However, as this reporter explained to Gabbert as he passed the press table following his remarks, you sometimes still see, particularly in legal filings and even on the EDA website under “About EDA”, the EDA referred to by its original “Industrial Development Authority” name more prevalent in the 1960s-‘70’s-‘80’s’s, often followed by the notation “trading as the “EDA” or “Economic Development Authority”.
Contacted later Tederick verified this reporter’s perception of the referenced ad language and noted that the published legal notice had been prepared by Town legal staff, not him.
The referenced “Daily” legal notice of a public hearing wording in question is: “The Front Royal Town Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, November 9, 2020, at 7 p.m. in the Warren County Government Center located at 220 N. Commerce Avenue, to consider a rezoning application submitted by the Industrial Development Authority of the Town of Front Royal and the County of Warren, also referred to as the Economic Development Authority, for the rezoning of approximately 62.7 acres of property …”
Monday night when Tederick commented he would seek to assemble information to “see that Mr. Gabbert gets his facts straight” Gabbert angrily rose from his seat in the audience under the watchful eye of FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis in an attempt to call a “point of order” for Tederick referencing him personally in his remarks, though if I am not mistaken, only meeting members may call points of order by the governing Roberts Rules of Order.
However, having made his point Gabbert sat back down without incident, other than Mayor Tewalt stating he wanted to see no further public outbursts perhaps violating the recently implemented “Rules of Decorum” included now as page two of agenda packets.
See these discussions and other business conducted in this Royal Examiner meeting and work session videos:
Liaison Committee ponders drug abuse committee logistics, solid waste disposal costs, and ongoing projects
Town and County officials reviewed a number of projects at the Front Royal-Warren County Liaison Committee meeting of Thursday, October 22nd. Those included early stages of formation of a joint municipality and law enforcement committee to work more proactively to stem the tide of drug, particularly heroin and opioid abuse in the county; adjustment of Town payments to the County on its solid-waste disposal to reflect current costs to the County; the status of implementation of Building Inspection software to facilitate online applications and payments; recent Development Review Committee discussion of Town and County projects; and two County projects ongoing inside the town limits.
Adjusting the name of the currently referenced “Drug Task Force Committee” to more accurately portray its joint civilian-law enforcement mission of education, prevention and rehabilitation of aspects of the community, particularly young people and other vulnerable groups, targeted by drug dealers was suggested. “Joint Substance Abuse Committee” was cited as a leading candidate for that renaming.
The committee by whatever name will meet at 8:30 a.m. this coming Thursday, October 29th at the Warren County Government Center in a room determined to be large enough to hold all involved parties.
The bulk of the Liaison Committee agenda packet – 16 of 20 pages – referenced background on the solid-waste agreement between the two municipalities dating to 2009. At issue is that the Town’s current $50.72 per-ton payment on the Commercial tipping fee on its commercial waste does not cover current costs incurred by the County under the old, agreed-upon 73.5% the Town pays on its waste.
Asked by Councilwoman Lori Cockrell what the bottom line of the dizzying array of numbers, various fees and percentages presented was, it was determined the Town needed to increase it’s per-ton payment by $1.28 per ton to $52 per ton. Cockrell then asked what the yearly tonnage of Town commercial waste handled by the County was.
The answer, 518 tons per year, meant that a year’s underpayment at the current rate equated to a County loss of $663.04 annually. It wasn’t clear if the rate adjustment would include compensating the County for any past losses, though as Cockrell observed, the annual total didn’t equate too much of the Town’s annual budget.
A County staff suggestion was that moving forward, the rates and any necessary adjustments be reviewed and made annually.
Among ongoing projects recently discussed by the Development Review Committee were a request for “60 apartments on East Main Street”, a proposed gas station-convenience store at the old Joe’s Steakhouse location on the town’s Southside at South Royal and Criser Road intersection; and the November 1st reopening of the thermal shelters offered to the community’s homeless through the cold weather at the County’s Health and Human Services complex on 15th Street in the old middle school building.
Cockrell, representing the Town with Mayor Tewalt and Gary Gillespie, pointed out that an inquiry had been made about the potential of adding locker space where homeless could keep their possessions during the day.
Interim County Administrator Ed Daley also observed that it was believed the 18 to 24 maximum thermal shelter accommodation at the site might not be enough for the anticipated number of homeless needing winter accommodations in the coming years. The possibility of establishing an alternate site that could both accommodate increasing numbers and provide lockable space for their possessions might be necessary long-term was discussed without a pinning down of a potential location.
See these discussions and others in this exclusive Royal Examiner Liaison Committee meeting video:
Baugh Drive warehouse rental lease approved; EDA looks toward a ‘Strategically’ consistent future
The EDA Board of Directors met for their regular monthly board meeting, Friday, October 23. Following a one-and-a-half-hour Closed Meeting the Board approved the following motions:
- Approved a 3-month lease agreement with Dollar Tree Distribution Inc. for parking lot space at 426 Baugh Dr. at $2,100/month;
- Approved a $90,000 settlement agreement with the heirs of Daniel McEathron;
- Approved giving board Secretary Greg Harold authority to review and award a contract for mold remediation of the Avtex Building, as Executive Director Doug Parsons is away on personal leave/vacation.
Two additional actions were bookkeeping items introduced in the report of the Finance Chair Jorie Martin. Both motions were unanimously approved: a/ to eliminate the EDA Rent account at Atlantic Union and transfer all monies to the EDA Cash-Operational account. b/ To recode specific payments made by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission as Note Receivable payments, as they were previously recorded and deposited incorrectly to the EDA Rent account at Atlantic Union. These payments will be deposited in the EDA Cash/Operational account.
The remaining portion of the meeting was devoted to Director Jim Wolfe and his review of the results of the Strategic Planning conference held October 9-10. He appreciated all of the conversations and involvement by all of the attendees which led to the development of draft goals for the EDA. He reported that he’ll be assigning specific topics for further research to the other Directors with the goal of having a draft Strategic Plan at the next regular board meeting on December 4.
EDA settles civil claim against McEathron estate for $90,000
Following an hour-and-thirty-five-minute closed session on a variety of topics that opened its monthly meeting of October 23, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors approved a motion agreeing to a settlement with the estate of late Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron.
The settlement amount agreed upon between the EDA and McEathron’s widow and two adult children is $90,000. McEathron was linked to the EDA financial scandal due to his partnership in former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s DaBoyz LLC real estate company. In the EDA’s civil litigation initially filed in March 2019, McDonald is accused, among other things, of unauthorized moving of EDA assets to her own benefit through her real estate companies DaBoyz and MoveOn8. Still Sheriff at the time, McEathron along with McDonald and the two real estate companies, were on the initial list of civil case defendants.
After taking early retirement effective May 1, 2019, just over a month after being named a co-defendant in the EDA civil litigation, the county’s long-time sheriff was found dead on his Bentonville property 28 days later, May 28, from an apparent suicide. Some questions about the death arose after Sheriff’s Office personnel, ostensibly alerted by McEathron to his planned suicide by phone, removed the body from the scene where it was discovered in proximity to an expended firearm before the Virginia State Police, the EDA criminal case investigating agency, was notified of the death.
On Friday, EDA Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold, who made the motion to approve, addressed the McEathron Estate settlement prior to the vote.
“Mr. Chairman, I want the community to know that the EDA has negotiated in good faith for this settlement for a long time. This is something that we’ve taken very seriously; this is something that we have called back and forth with, with our attorneys and the estate’s attorneys. While we feel there are certain risks and rewards with these situations, I think the EDA is comfortable at this time that we have done the best that we can for the community and that it’s time to put this matter behind us as the motion is written,” Harold said.
Thank you for that,” Board Chairman Jeff Browne responded. There was no other comment prior to the vote on Harold’s motion, seconded by James Wolfe, which then passed by a 4-0 margin of the members remaining after the closed session, the above three and Tom Pattison. Jorie Martin and Melissa Gordon were present for the 8 a.m. convening of the meeting into closed session but had left to other commitments prior to the closed session’s 9:45 a.m. conclusion.
The motion on approval of the settlement read into the record by EDA Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson states in part, “Whereas the Front Royal-Warren County EDA has certain claims against Daniel McEathron; Whereas the EDA and McEathron’s heirs desire to resolve any claims that may exist between them; Now therefore be it resolved the chairman and the secretary of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA Board are authorized to enter into an agreement … (with those heirs) for the purposes set forth in this resolution which agreement shall provide for the payment of $90,000 dollars to the EDA …”
The motion adds that if any FOIA request are received by the EDA related to the settlement, McEathron’s widow or her attorneys will receive notice of those requests having been made.
As initially reported by former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw, McEathron and McDonald’s first transaction in DaBoyz dated to October 2016 and the pair purchased a total of $2.8 million of real estate between then and 2019. The LLC was involved in a number of transactions cited in the EDA civil litigation filed to recover allegedly misdirected assets, including a mysterious one in which a property was bought and sold back to the owner a month later at a loss of $600,000.
A number of McDonald and her two LLC’s existing properties were frozen by the court early in the civil case process. However, civil claims against McDonald assets have been complicated by her recent filing of bankruptcy, which put her assets under control of the Harrisonburg-based bankruptcy court.
The EDA civil litigation has grown to 24 human and business entity co-defendants, with total claims, actual and punitive, of about $25 million dollars. And as previously reported, the Harrisonburg Special Prosecutor’s Office has turned the criminal investigation into the EDA financial scandal over to the U.S. Western District of Virginia federal prosecutor’s office.