In addressing the Town of Front Royal’s amendment to its lawsuit upping its estimate of lost assets due to financial fraud in the workings of the local Economic Development Authority from $3 million to $15 million, Town Attorney Doug Napier commented on what he perceived as a somewhat surprising degree of sophistication in how alleged embezzlement and misdirection of EDA, and consequently Town, assets was accomplished.
In its July 12 filing to amend the amount being sought for recovery from the EDA, the Town legal department notes that the “Financial Study” it had unsuccessfully been seeking a copy of from Warren County and the EDA over several months of FOIA requests had been “voluntarily” sent to it by County-contracted investigative accounting firm Cherry Bekaert. Information from that 2900-page report on signs of fraud within the EDA in hand, Town staff amended its original complaint upward by $12 million.
Asked about the additional loss estimate Napier told Royal Examiner, “During our review of the Cherry Bekaert financial study of the EDA, including the interviews of the EDA Board of Director and staff members some new facts and circumstances were brought to light which caused me to think that the Town’s consequential damages in particular, and even direct damages, might be larger than the Town had originally thought. So I thought the Town would be well served by getting out in front of this.”
Asked to elaborate, Napier added, “There are some indirect losses – we can’t blame it all, or say she took it all herself. But there are consequential damages or peripheral losses, a sort of ripple effect. And we wanted to be careful and aim higher, rather than lower in estimating our total losses.”
“She” is former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, jailed since May 24 on financial fraud charges. Related to some of the Cherry Bekaert information Napier observed, “In ways it is really complicated – her ability to figure out how to alter the books, forge documents – if what is in the report is what happened, if the (EDA) board is telling the truth about not signing those documents, it is really sophisticated. It makes you wonder if she had an advisor or she’s just really smart, or both. I really don’t know – but it took somebody who really knew what they were doing, to pull off.”
In the Town’s initial June 21st filing of a nine-page civil action against the EDA there was scathing criticism of a lack of oversight of McDonald through 2018, even after the May 2018 Town staff discovery of years of debt service overpayments to the EDA totaling over $291,000; and an apparently volatile August 23 confrontation between town officials and auditors with McDonald in the presence of then-EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten.
“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 … 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,” paragraphs 18-B and 18-D on page seven of the nine page complaint states.
As Royal Examiner reported at the time “inexplicably” was the operative word in the Town suit’s description of EDA board and staff behavior over the following four months preceding McDonald’s resignation under mounting evidence from the EDA and County’s own investigation by contracted accounting firm Cherry Bekaert.
“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 of the initial Town complaint reads.
But if the EDA and County Boards remained “inexplicably” oblivious to possible financial misdeeds by McDonald post-August 23, the Town did not.
“It was the Town …who almost immediately after August 23, 2018 contacted the Virginia State Police (VSP) and requested a complete law enforcement investigation of the EDA and McDonald, which the Virginia State Police immediately began, and continue to investigate to this date,” the Town complaint of June 21, 2019 reads.
The June 21st Town Complaint was served on two of those involved in that August 23, 2018 meeting: Whitten at his County Office as EDA attorney and McDonald at the Fairfax Adult Detention Center to which she was transferred from RSW Jail on June 11. The third recipient was new EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons, served at his Kendrick Lane EDA office. Parsons told Royal Examiner on July 17 that he hopes an accurate assessment of any money owed to either municipality by the EDA can be agreed upon and that the EDA will eventually be able to make right on its legally-verified debt to both the Town and County.
McDonald was arrested by VSP on May 24, after the first four of what now stands at 12 felony embezzlement and fraudulent movement of EDA assets indictments were handed down by the Warren County Special Grand Jury empanelled on April 1, 2019.
That empanelment followed a March 26 request to do so by Warren County Commonwealth Attorney Brian Madden. Madden’s request came the same day the EDA’s $17.6 million civil suit was filed. That suit is now amended up to $21.1 million the EDA is seeking recovery of from McDonald, her two real estate companies and five other surviving defendants: ITFederal and its CEO Truc “Curt” Tran; Earth Right Energy LLC and its principals Donald Poe and Justin Appleton.
A ninth defendant, former Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron, died on May 28 from what VSP described as “an unattended death with a firearm nearby”. McEathron was named in the suit due to his involvement in McDonald’s two real estate businesses and financial questions surrounding development of the criminal justice police training academy the EDA was involved in.
Recent motions filing in that EDA civil action will be the subject of coming Royal Examiner stories. In fact, a motions hearing on the EDA civil suit scheduled for today (Wednesday, July 17) was continued to an as-yet-undetermined date due to the judicial shuffling occurring in the wake of Judge William W. Sharpe’s July 12 recusal from all EDA matters.
At the time of the special grand jury empanelment request Madden said, “Since August of last year we have been working with the Virginia State Police as they investigated suspicious financial activities. Yesterday’s lawsuit filed by the EDA’s attorneys raises issues that are not presently being addressed by the VSP.
“In reviewing the bill of complaint most of the allegations arise from an outside investigation conducted at the EDA’s request. To date this office has not been able to review any report generated by the outside investigation,” Madden observed.
In the wake of Judge Athey’s May 22 order that EDA civil counsel produce the evidence upon which its now $21.1-million civil action is based, that is no longer true – even for the Town of Front Royal which had initially been blocked by EDA and County officials in its efforts to acquire information on the EDA fraud investigation.
Earth Right Energy countersues EDA for $20 million in damages
According to a November 7 filing with the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office Earth Right Energy (ERE) has joined in countersuing the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority for damages it claims the company incurred as a result of cancellation of a contract it asserts was validly put in place during the tenure of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.
As previously reported attorneys for EDA civil defendant ITFederal and its principal Truc “Curt” Tran filed $13.5 million countersuit against the EDA on October 9. The EDA is seeking recovery of as much as $12 million in EDA assets from Tran and ITFederal.
Along with Tran and his company, Earth Right Energy and its principal Donald Poe and Managing Partner Justin Appleton were among defendants named in both the original EDA civil litigation of March 26 and the Amended EDA civil complaint of October 4.
The EDA is seeking recovery of a total of $21.3 million from what has climbed to a total of 15 defendants alleged to have been involved in, or beneficiaries of fraudulent financial schemes surrounding the former EDA executive director. McDonald is now facing 32 criminal felony financial fraud indictments related to the EDA civil litigation and the County and EDA-contracted Cherry Bekaert public accounting investigation of EDA finances at the base of that litigation. Poe is scheduled for a three-day trial January 22 to 24 on three criminal felony charges – two “obtaining money by false pretenses” and one “perjury” – related to the EDA litigation.
The Amended EDA complaint states that ERE, Poe, Appleton “and others, entered into multiple agreements with Defendant McDonald purporting to oblige the Warren EDA to pay for solar installation at Warren County Public Schools, even though Defendant Poe knew, that the Warren County Public Schools did not approve of any agreement to purchase and install solar power equipment from Defendant Earth Right Energy for any Warren County Public School properties.”
While that $27.3 million dollar solar contract for the schools was never acted upon the EDA civil suit cites payments authorized by McDonald to ERE “without permission or authorization by the Warren EDA” totaling $1,279,888. The EDA litigation notes an August 27, 2018 reimbursement payment made by ERE at McDonald’s request to the EDA of $334,851, reducing the total sought for recovery from ERE to “at least $945,037”.
However in its countersuit, ERE attorneys allege that the public schools solar contract was legitimately negotiated and confirmed at some levels in a mid-August 2018 phone conversation witnessed by “Earth Right’s representatives and Mrs. Michelle Henry”. Henry is also facing criminal charges and civil liability in the EDA case.
“Earth Right extended a formal offer in August in the form of an unexecuted written agreement memorializing the terms of the offer.
“In mid-August (2018), representatives from Earth Right, met in person with Jennifer McDonald, then the Executive Director of the EDA, to inquire as to (1) whether the EDA had approved and agreed to the terms in the Offer, and (2) whether the Warren County School Board was amenable to being a third-party beneficiary of the agreement and would endeavor to aid Earth Right and EDA in fulfilling the terms of therein.
“Jennifer McDonald, as Executive Director and in the presence of Earth Right’s representatives and Ms. Michelle Henry, telephoned Mr. Greg Drescher, then Chairman of both the EDA and the Warren County Public School Board (writer’s note: actually Drescher was superintendent of schools, not a member of the School Board).
“Mr. Drescher confirmed to Jennifer McDonald during the above-mentioned telephone conversation that the EDA had approved the agreement and that the Warren County School Board would endeavor to take whatever reasonable steps the EDA and Earth Right needed to have solar installed on the Roofs of the schools subject to the agreement,” four consecutive paragraphs of the ERE counterclaim contend, adding that “on September 4, 2018, Jennifer McDonald … on behalf of the EDA, formally executed the agreement with Earth Right …”
Of the agreement the ERE Counterclaim states, “The intent of EDA and Earth Right though not written was to secure third-party grants and other sources of funding such that the EDA either did not have to make any capital outlays required by the School Solar Agreements or such that the EDA would be recoop all monies paid (grammar in context).”
As a consequence of what it claims was a legitimately enacted contract, Earth Right Energy asks the court for a judgment of $20 million in damages; court costs; “and any other relief deemed just and appropriate.”
And so the legal wheels continue to spin around EDA civil and criminal litigation now estimated to have generated between 700,000 and a million pages of related materials being accumulated by the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.
Evidentiary issues delay Michelle Henry hearing to January 23
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton and Michelle Henry co-counsel David Hensley and Ryan Nuzzo were granted a joint motion to continue a scheduled preliminary hearing to January 23, at 8:45 a.m.
Judge Bruce D. Albertson granted the continuance after Layton agreed with Hensley’s observation that complications in digitizing the voluminous amount of materials related to the EDA financial fraud investigation and Special Grand Jury documentation leading to criminal indictments related to that investigation had prevented Discovery Motion materials from yet being made available to the defense.
“We have nothing to review, none whatsoever,” Hensley told the court.
Layton told the court that progress had been made in the digitization process the Virginia Supreme Court has suggested to deal with an unusual amount of evidence and documentation related to the EDA criminal and civil cases. However, he observed that, “Unfortunately we are in an unusual situation with a great deal of Discovery material.”
Estimates of the involved material in previous hearing discussions has ranged from 700,000 to one million pages; an amount that has drawn the attention of the Virginia Supreme Court according to Warren County Circuit Court Clerk Janice Shanks.
“We are in rare waters,” Judge Albertson observed of the evidentiary situation.
He ruled that both sides, including legal staffs and the defendant, could have access to available Special Grand Jury transcripts related to the two felony embezzlement charges former EDA Administrative Assistant Henry faces. However the judge told the attorneys that while those Special Grand Jury materials could be reviewed, they could not be copied and must be kept confidential within the legal teams working the case.
In seeking a date for the continued hearing, Albertson noted he would be in Warren County January 22nd through 24th for a three-day trial on the EDA-related criminal charges against Donnie Poe. Henry’s hearing, during which a trial date may be set in her cases, was set prior to the start of Poe’s trial’s second day.
Henry was arrested on June 24 on two felony counts of embezzlement for the “unlawful use, disposal, conversion, embezzlement of property of the EDA”. Her arrest came exactly one month after her former boss Jennifer McDonald’s first arrest (May 24) on what has since climbed to 32 felony indictments against the former EDA executive director related to financial fraud allegations.
Dates attached to the Henry’s warrants are for actions occurring between October 1 and December 30, 2016 and September 1, 2014 to December 30, 2016. Henry was cited for involvement in dispersal of assets tied to the B&G Goods retail operation in the old Stokes Mart building that the EDA purchased in 2014, as well in a possible scheme related to the building’s purchase.
“MCDONALD is suspected of colluding with HENRY, LAMBERT, and possibly POE to acquire the Stokes Mart property under false pretense to facilitate several different embezzle schemes of which payments herein as repairs and maintenance for B&G or paid directly to LAMBERT are approximately $21,000,” CPA fraud investigator Cherry Bekaert wrote in its EDA financial investigation report.
Texts between Henry and McDonald that are part of the Cherry Bekaert report on its investigation of EDA financial affairs indicate discussion between the two of investment stakes in the B&G Goods business.
Due to judge transfers and recusals Henry spent a month in jail before Albertson, the chief presiding judge of Virginia’s 26th Judicial District took over the bulk of EDA cases. On July 23 Albertson granted Henry a $2500 secured bond on the two charges against her.
EDA hearings done for the day – Let’s go get McDonald again
Maybe that’s the reason the larger Warren County Circuit Courtroom “A” wasn’t available to move into to accommodate the full house in diminutive Courtroom “B” for the EDA criminal and County Supervisors Removal Petition hearings Monday morning – new indictments brewing from the EDA Special Grand Jury that often meets in the larger Courtroom A.
According to the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail website former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald was arrested Monday afternoon on four new felony indictments related to the EDA financial scandal.
She was arrested by the Virginia State Police and booked at 1:25 p.m., an hour-and-25 minutes after the Removal Petition Show Cause Hearing adjourned at noon to close the day’s open court proceedings regarding the EDA. She was released just over an hour later at 2:26 p.m. on what appeared to be a $5,000 secured bond.
If our memory serves us that is McDonald’s third arrest, raising the number of financial felony charges she faces to 32. She was arrested on four initial counts on May 24, saw that number climb to 14 while incarcerated without bond as a flight risk. She was eventually granted bond by new presiding Judge Bruce D. Albertson on July 31. Albertson took over EDA cases as Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. left for the Virginia State Appeals Court.
The 42-year-old McDonald was arrested on 14 new charges on August 23, the same day her husband Samuel North and business partner Donald Poe were arrested on related charges, Poe for the second time after first being charged on three counts in the EDA case on July 23. After spending the weekend in jail, all three were bonded out Monday, August 26.
On Monday, October 28, McDonald was out on a $50,000 secured bond on the 28 previous charges she has been arrested on. Noting the fluid nature of the Special Grand Jury investigation regarding his client, at an earlier hearing McDonald’s criminal attorney Peter Greenspun had asked for some arrangement to prevent repeated, prolonged incarcerations for every new charge levied against his client.
Perhaps that ability to post a smaller, secured bond to obtain immediate release is that arrangement.
The new charges are Fraud, Uttering; Larceny – Embezzlement – $200 plus; Money Laundering – Financial Transaction from known felony activity; and Fraud – Obtain money by false pretenses, $500 (or more).
County officials, EDA board members have good day in court – will it last?
After hearing combined arguments from attorneys for 11 of 13 County municipal and Economic Development Authority defendants present on why ancient English Common Law did not create 21st Century legal grounds for criminal prosecution regarding unintentional dereliction of the oversight duty of their office, Judge Bruce D. Albertson ruled for those defendants.
Also on Monday Albertson denied a Removal Petition request that all five sitting County Supervisors be immediately removed from the conduct of their office prior to the resolution of a Show Cause Hearing on that Removal Petition filed October 18.
“For me as a judge to act now is potentially influencing the outcome of the election,” Judge Albertson observed in denying immediate removal.
However in a possible harbinger of things to come, the judge added that “there are other conceivable outcomes civil and criminally” as to a potential final resolution of this citizen-elected official dispute.
On a motion by defense counsel for the supervisors that petition was sent to the County Registrar for verification that the required 10% of county voters in each voting district signing the petition, were in fact registered county voters. A return date of November 22 at 8:45 a.m. was set to get the result of that Registrar’s Report.
More on that initial Removal ruling later, but first to the court decision quashing the criminal charges against those county supervisors, the county administrator and past and present EDA board members.
After retiring to chambers to consider his ruling after an hour and seven minutes of legal arguments and counterarguments, 13 minutes later Judge Albertson returned to sustain the collective motions to quash the three misdemeanor indictments against all 11 defendants whose attorneys were present and participating in the arguments.
Upon that ruling, an observing co-counsel for Tom Sayre and Tony Carter, whose counsel was not present due to a scheduling conflict, both rose to ask that they or their client be included in the ruling, drawing some laughter from a packed courtroom.
“That makes sense,” Judge Albertson said, allowing the joining of the two in the judgment as had been discussed earlier were the ruling to go that way.
Albertson noted he was unable to find any evidence codifying misfeasance and nonfeasance as prosecutable misdemeanor offenses in the Commonwealth of Virginia, even under English Common Law at the base of U.S. law. He said the only related legal reference to the two charges he could find was in a 1967 civil case in England.
“What else is out there? It’s like finding a black hole by the gravity moving around it,” Albertson said, noting that the closest DCC Code that was found to bring the charges under was “solicitation”.
Solicitation of what, the court may have asked.
Acting Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton argued that while “as ill-defined as it may be, there is a legal precedent” for the charges, in arguing against the motions to quash the indictments.
Several attorneys jumped on that argument.
“ ‘As ill-defined as may’ be is repugnant to Virginia Law,” David Crump, who represented four defendants, replied to Layton’s assertion of precedent.
“ ‘As uncertain and vague as it is’ supersedes due process and fairness and is repugnant to the Virginia Constitution,” David Silek, representing former EDA Treasurer William “Billy” Biggs, added.
As Royal Examiner reported on September 8, of the three “feasance” failings of public office only malfeasance is codified as criminal by the Virginia Legislature, and that as a misdemeanor offense, though one that could lead to more serious charges.
The dividing line between malfeasance and misfeasance and nonfeasance is intent.
Malfeasance is defined as “intentional conduct that is wrongful or unlawful” while nonfeasance is defined “as a failure to act where there was a duty to act” and misfeasance is described as “conduct that is lawful but inappropriate”.
All the charges relate to the County and EDA Boards’ continued allowance of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald to operate without oversight, restrictions or direct supervisory control as a financial investigation of EDA affairs was closing in on her between September and late December 2018. McDonald resigned under mounting pressure from that Cherry Bekaert financial fraud investigation on December 20, 2018, admitting to liability for the return of $2.7 million in EDA assets. The EDA claims her liability is much higher.
The misdemeanor indictments cited McDonald’s movement of around $309,000 to her own benefit during that four-month period at the end of 2018, setting the groundwork for the charges. While the EDA civil litigation is seeking return of a total of $21.3 million now, due to the one-year statute of limitations on misdemeanor charges, earlier transactions could not be included in the indictments.
Removal on hold
Helping fill Circuit Courtroom B Monday morning were a number of citizens involved in the Removal Petition filed against all five County supervisors on October 18. As noted above, they left disappointed.
Not only was their request for immediate removal of the Warren County Board of Supervisors denied, but the foundation of their petition, the criminal misdemeanor indictments against the supervisors regarding a lack of due diligent oversight of EDA operations the last four months of 2018 were quashed as not legally prosecutable by Virginia law, no matter how deep you dig back to its roots in English Common Law.
Following adjournment, Removal Petition attorney Tim Johnson said he did not believe the quashing of the criminal indictments was a major blow to the Removal initiative. While no longer under criminal indictment for a lack of supervisory oversight of EDA finances at the hands of an executive director under increased scrutiny, misfeasance and nonfeasance can be “grounds for impeachment of a high official” Johnson told the press outside the courtroom.
So involved supervisors still on the board in the wake of the November 5 Election can be held accountable for past failures, Johnson believes. As noted during the hearing two of those supervisors, Board Chairman Dan Murray and Linda Glavis are not seeking reelection. Tom Sayre is running for reelection against Walter Mabe in the Shenandoah District. And Archie Fox and Tony Carter are not up for reelection for another two years.
With the citizen petition filed with the Court, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has taken up the Removal case for the plaintiffs. Acting Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton called the citizen loss of faith in their County elected officials “an unusual circumstance in my experience”.
In arguing for the plaintiff’s request for the immediate suspension of the supervisors said he believed “the damage to the public trust is so severe” as to justify the immediate suspension of their powers to govern.
County Attorney Jason Ham and co-counsel Jim Cornwell countered that there was no basis in the facts of the citizen petition to justify such a radical suspension of the municipal government function.
Cornwell said in arguing four such cases he had never seen immediate removal authorized by the court. The only case he was familiar with where the judge did order removal, with a six page Opinion he noted, was a Norfolk City Treasurer who had been convicted on six embezzlement charges – “Here’s there’s none of that,” Cornwell argued. “There is some vague reference that ‘something may happen.’ There is no evidence, it is a feeling of some people … Why suspend on an opinion?” he asked the court.
At the request of the Commonwealth, Albertson retired to chambers to watch Royal Examiner videos of two county meetings, on October 1 and October 25, with counsel from both sides before rendering that decision. Arguing on behalf of the petitioners, Layton said he believed the videos illustrated the unusual and high level public “loss of faith in the Board of Supervisors” due to the EDA financial fraud situation.
Court adjourned at 11:20 a.m. and reconvened at 11:42 a.m. following the video viewing.
Judge Albertson observed of what had been viewed, as one video segment that “devolved into yelling” and another that had been “very respectful” in its conduct of public speakers expressing themselves.
County Attorney Ham summarized what he had seen as less than ten people expressing public dissatisfaction at the hiring of legal counsel for the supervisors at taxpayer expense. He argued against overturning the electoral will of the full voting population of the county for a vocal minority of its citizens.
Layton countered that while only 10 citizens may have spoken publicly, many more were there in support of those 10; and the citizens’ petition when verified would represent 10% of the voting population, not just 10 citizens.
However Judge Albertson denied the immediate removal request.
He called it a “drastic remedy” adding that the Removal Petition itself was a “drastic measure” itself and perhaps a “pressure valve” on public discontent.
And as noted above, he worried over a judicial action that could influence a looming legislative election just two week away and alluded to other possible legal directions this citizen-elected official dispute might take.
EDA plows toward future amidst multiple, evolving litigations
The largely revamped, yet still embattled Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority held its October monthly meeting Friday morning, October 25.
The EDA board went through monthly Executive, Finance, Assets, and Communications Committee reports before getting an Executive Director’s report from Doug Parsons.
Two Board officer appointments were made and approval of the Greehan, Taves & Pandak Law Firm as the independent EDA legal counsel was finalized.
Into the meeting Board Chairman Ed Daley suggested the EDA move aggressively to determine exactly who is owed how much by whom related to the various litigations the EDA is involved in related to the Cherry Bekaert financial fraud investigation conducted from September 2018 into 2019.
The EDA civil litigation is seeking recovery of what has risen to $21.3 million allegedly misdirected or embezzled during the tenure of former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald. The Town of Front Royal has also filed a lawsuit against the EDA claiming “up to $15 million dollar” in misdirected or otherwise lost assets.
The Town also withdrew from a joint Town-County-EDA effort to smooth out future EDA operations and participation in an EDA Reform Committee, though both the EDA and County government continue to retool EDA operations.
See the monthly meeting updates, discussions and votes in this Royal Examiner video:
One agenda item County Special Meeting turns political & confrontational
For a short, one-agenda item meeting called to discuss and vote on appointment of legal representation for the County Supervisors against the Removal Petition filed with the Circuit Court on October 18, Friday morning’s (October 25) Special Meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors was “Must See Royal Examiner TV”.
But let’s set the groundwork first and give some time for the popcorn, pizza, and/or wings to arrive for the show.
A fairly large public attendance was present for the 10 a.m. meeting’s convening – and a lot was about to happen in less than 15 minutes.
Following Chairman Dan Murray’s now traditional call for a moment of silent prayer for healing in the community in the wake of the now $21.3 million EDA financial scandal that has gained statewide and occasionally national notoriety, and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Nation and its Laws, the meeting got right down to its one order of business.
Without board discussion, Tony Carter took the floor to read a motion citing the Virginia Public Procurement Act as exempting putting the legal representation out to bid per any “prior County policies with respect to such contracts.”
The motion passed 5-0.
Carter then read motions for that representation “by the County Attorney and James Cornwell” for the other four supervisors, who each in turn abstained from voting on the appointment for representation of them as individual supervisors.
Linda Glavis then returned the favor for Carter, who abstained on the vote for his representation, which also passed 4-0.
Jason Ham of the Litten Sipe Law Firm has been appearing as County Attorney at meetings since the September 13th to 15th departure of Dan Whitten for Prince George County. Ham later verified that Cornwell was with the Litten Sipe firm.
Then the fun began.
The meeting’s slated business taken care of, Shenandoah District Supervisor Tom Sayre asked for the floor. Despite some hesitancy from the chair, Sayre was given that floor from which he launched into a prepared statement citing his past questioning of EDA officials about their Workforce Housing Project and consequent civil defamation legal battles with former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.
But Sayre may have flirted with at least breaking tradition or procedural rules removing politics from the actual action of public service, by turning his statement in defense of his past actions regarding the EDA into a campaign speech by calling out his Shenandoah District opponent Walter Mabe.
“I don’t know where my opponent was, but I and a few others were in the trenches before any solid evidence had been produced of this extreme breach of EDA and law enforcement trust,” Sayre stated.
At that point a woman in the audience seated in the center of a near front row began laughing out loud. She later identified herself as Kris Nelson, main Removal Petition gatherer for Sayre’s Shenandoah District. Undeterred, Sayre continued as silence returned to the point where he reintroduced his political opponent into his statement.
“My record as a board of supervisor will continue to remain clean. As a supervisor I will continue to be a part, unlike my opponent who has only recently appeared at board meetings, and who has never cast a vote in a past election,” Sayre continued at which point several people interrupted from the audience.
It appeared that among those, leading social media County critic Kristie Atwood attempted to call a Point of Order objection on the conduct of the meeting as several people continued to yell down Sayre’s now campaign-toned presentation.
“There will be no yelling out,” Chairman Murray cautioned the public present.
Murray then noted the political turn Sayre’s statement had taken and suggested to the Shenandoah District Supervisor that he “wrap up where you’re at this moment” which Sayre did, ending with a “Thank you very much” that failed to garner a “You’re welcome” from anyone present.
Atwood then attempted to call another “Point of Order” from the public seating area which led to a strong admonishment from the Chair, likely as Points of Order by Roberts’ Rules of Order under which local boards generally conduct their meetings, appear to allow such procedural objections to be made only by “a member” of the convened body.
The relevant portion of “Section 23 – Point of Order” reads, “When a member thinks that the rules of the assembly are being violated, he can make a Point of Order (or ‘raise a question of order,’ as it is sometimes expressed), thereby calling upon the chair for a ruling and an enforcement of the regular rules.”
Obviously that was Murray’s understanding as he said, “If I have to bang the gavel one more time I’m going to ask the Sheriff’s (deputy) to escort you out. Calling out from within, the board will not tolerate personal attacks from anyone,” Murray said as one person in the audience chimed in, “We’re aware of that,” as Murray continued, “or any other participants in the proceedings.”
Murray’s admonishment was not just to the crowd, but as he later verified his just silenced fellow supervisor who stirred the crowd up with the campaign turn of his non-agenda presentation.
As continued calls came from the crowd, Carter called a motion for adjournment.
“We are adjourned,” Murray responded, banging his gavel a last time, not for the removal of a disruptive citizen, but with the meeting’s business concluded, of all citizens, including the board members – if not in the permanent manner the Recall Petitioners envision.
“We don’t get to talk?” one person asked incredulously – though a quick glance at the brief one-page Special Meeting Agenda, copies of which lay by the entrance door, indicated no Public Comments section such as are included twice during regular bi-monthly board meetings.
The crowd continued to yell at the departing board, one loud, “You wonder why you’re recalled,” directed their way; followed by, “You just gave us a lot of material for Monday” that latter comment a reference to the first court hearing on the Removal Petition. Petitioners are seeking immediate removal of the entire County Board even before the Show Cause Hearing is resolved, as it is unlikely to be Monday.
Both the initial Removal Petition Show Cause Hearing and a slew of defense motions to quash the misdemeanor misfeasance and nonfeasance indictments against County (and EDA) officials at the base of the Removal Petition are on the Warren County Circuit Court Docket Monday, October 28.
So hopefully the snacks are in tow and you’re ready to settle in to watch it all transpire in real time in this Royal Examiner video: