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Warren County Planning Commission Meeting of November 13, 2019

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At the Warren County Planning Commission meeting on November 13, 2018, the first item on the agenda was some unfinished business regarding the Backroom Brewery’s request for a special use permit to hold special events. Last month, several neighbors complained of noise and lights. The Commission approved and forward to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

The first public hearing on the agenda from Cook’s Riverside, LLC which was placed on hold at the request of the applicant.

Next public hearing was from the Front Royal/Warren County Economic Development Authority to amend the Warren County Zoning Map and rezone approximately 2.03 acres from Residential One (R-1) to Commercial (C) and to rezone approximately 0.85 acres of the adjacent unnamed right-of-way areas to Commercial (C). The property is located off of Reliance Road, near the intersection with Winchester Road, identified as tax map 12A, section 1, block 13, as lots 1-14, and located in the North River Magisterial District.

Michael McKay spoke to the Commission about his concern for the preservation of the ruins of the McKay site.

The next public was an ordinance to amend Warren County Code Section 180-28 to include landscaping and horticulture services to be permitted by-right within the Industrial (I) zoning district; to amend Section 180-8 to add a definition of landscaping and horticulture services; and to add Section 180-49 to include supplemental regulations for landscaping and horticulture services.

The Commission authorized the following to be advertised:

A. 2019-11-01 – Stephen Aaron – A request for a conditional use permit for a short term tourist rental. The property is located at 1174 River Ridge Drive in the River Ridge on the Shenandoah Subdivision and identified on tax map 11E, as lot 5. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and located in the North River Magisterial District.

B. 2019-11-02 – Asa and Andrea Foss – A request for a conditional use permit for a short-term tourist rental. The property is located at 653 Whitney Lane in Timberland Manor Estates Subdivision and identified on tax map 36D, section 1, as lot 2. The property is zoned Agricultural (A) and located in the South River Magisterial District.

C. Z2019-11-01 –Warren County Planning Commission – An ordinance to amend Warren County Code Sections 108-8, 180-10 and 180-40.1 regarding the use, parking, and storage of major recreational vehicles and equipment.

Requested items were approved to advertise.

Watch the Planning Commission meeting on this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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Town targets Special Prosecutor’s Office over EDA prosecution delays

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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.

Minus Mayor Tewalt and Councilwoman Thompson a Front Royal Town Council majority has collectively maintained an aggressive tone recently in public statements regarding EDA financial and now prosecutorial issues. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

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.

Past explanations

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.

Is the Front Royal Town Council’s ‘demanding’ legal movement toward EDA-related criminal prosecutions without discussion on the status of the prosecutor’s investigation a wise move? – One local attorney thinks not.

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?

New demands

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.

Is it a coincidence that the two resolution sponsors are council’s two members currently running for office, attorney David Downes asked in suggesting an unhealthy mix of politics and legal matters.

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,’ defense attorney David Downes warned council of moving too quickly into legal minefields.

“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.

Lori Cockrell addresses constituent concerns over delays in EDA criminal prosecutions in prefacing a vote on the resolution she and Chris Holloway brought to council Monday, Sept. 28.

“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.

Following adjournment of the open meeting, Gary Kushner, left, and Councilman Meza discuss Kushner’s public comments critique of council press conference assertions the previous week regarding liability and what was known about available interest rates on the FRPD headquarters construction project initially financed by the EDA.

Watch the video in this related Town Council story:

Council debates CARES reimbursement for Electric Department purchase as Monday’s Main Event – more EDA-related target shooting – approaches

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Council debates CARES reimbursement for Electric Department purchase as Monday’s Main Event – more EDA-related target shooting – approaches

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On Monday, September 28, at its second regular and third total meeting – fourth if you count the September 23 press conference announcing a pending bank deal to assume the debt service on its new, thus-far EDA and County-financed police station – the Front Royal Town Council covered a wide range of business.

Boy Scouts lead council through the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Republic and its government by Constitutional law equally applied to all. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

Following a Boy Scout troop’s leading the Pledge of Allegiance, that business included:

  • final approval of an ordinance amendment to allow ice cream trucks other than the former mayor’s grandfathered operation to use town streets to “peddle ice cream and other frozen desserts”. And speaking of ice cream trucks and frozen desserts, C&C Frozen Treats proprietor William Huck told council downtown businesses were hoping to proceed with at least a pared back, weekend walking mall Downtown Halloween this year – at least everyone will be masked;
  • enactment of a $113,280 budget transfer from the General Fund to the Electric Fund to cover costs of upgrades to a “SCADA” electrical distribution monitoring system purchased in 2009 and now in severe need of updating. The appropriation will switch the provider to what was described as a more reliable company, Survelant, than the one the original system was purchased from over a decade ago. The two companies were described as the only regional provider for towns Front Royal’s size. One dissenting vote was cast on this appropriation by Councilwoman Letasha Thompson.

Thompson cited anticipated reimbursement from CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities) Act funds that she believes may not be a sure thing.

Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick assured council that other jurisdictions, including Warren County, were utilizing the same funding process, which he said would involve LEOS (Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act) funding to qualify for the CARES Act reimbursement of the Electric Department purchase. Council’s five-member Republican Committee majority took those assurances as adequate to approve the budget transfer.

In other business near the meeting’s outset the mayor presented “Stars of the Month/Pride of Performance” employee recognitions to Kayla Thomas and FRPD Officer Andrew Haywood for their professionalism and/or compassion in the conduct of their jobs.

Town staff ‘Pride of Performance’ awards went to Kayla Thomas and Officer Andrew Haywood.

Council also heard a report from Regional Director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission Brandon Davis on the availability of “Go Virginia” economic stimulus funds that require multiple-municipality joint applications.

The meeting flirted with tediousness during a half-hour presentation by contracted Tourism Marketing company Strategic Solutions by Trisha’s team of four representatives, three of whom elaborated on what they cited as climbing numbers of social media viewers and “Likes” from their promotional work on the Town’s behalf.

Three of four ‘Strategic Solutions by Trish’ representatives, from left, Michelle McAfee, Kris Griffith and Trish Hudson (Elena Patrice not pictured), during detailed presentation on their contracted social and multi-media marketing work on tourism promotion replacing the Town’s in-house Tourism Department controversially fired early this year by the interim town manager and council majority.

An eight-item Consent Agenda of routine business was passed without discussion. And at the open meeting’s conclusion, council went into Closed Session to discuss the town manager search, EDA litigations, and a public property disposition issue.

Blame game takes a turn

But then there were the public comments – AND agenda item number 10 where council, with Thompson again dissenting, refocused its sights in the “we’re not going to try EDA-related matters in the court of public opinion” or “point the finger at everyone but ourselves regarding lapses of due diligence that allowed the EDA financial scandal to develop”.

Council prepares to refocus its public criticism on the EDA scandal from the County and EDA to Special Prosecutor Michael Parker for not moving faster on criminal charges inherited from previous prosecutors’ piecemeal approach to eliciting special grand jury indictments as over million pages of evidence was assembled. Well, it has been a year and a half.

The target of this Town “Resolution Seeking Justice for Citizens of Front Royal as a Result of the EDA Scandal” was EDA criminal case Special Prosecutor Michael Parker of the Harrisonburg Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

But before reaching that final public meeting agenda item, nearly an hour and 15 minutes earlier two citizens took council to task, one over that coming Resolution, and the other over the previous week’s EDA shooting gallery press conference targeting the county supervisors and EDA board of directors.

First, Gary Kushner blasted council’s attack mode assertions of the previous week regarding its absence of accountability for its decisions on an unavailable, if verbally promised by Jennifer McDonald 1.5% FRPD project interest rate. Then local defense attorney David Downes called the agenda’s “EDA Justice” resolution a shortsighted, counterproductive, seemingly partisan political effort; an effort he cautioned was more likely to help potential criminal defendants than find justice and restitution for the community.

Above, Gary Kushner questions council assertions about its attitude and legal stance on interest rates, principal payments and willingness to negotiate on payment on the FRPD headquarters debt service. Below, local defense attorney David Downes questions wisdom of coming approval of Resolution critical of EDA criminal Special Prosecutor Michael Parker as he traverses a complex legal landscape including COVID-19 restrictions on jury trials, a million pages of evidentiary documentation and a total of 23 civil case defendants in addition to Jennifer McDonald, as potential criminal case targets.

But here at just under 700 words, let me suggest you go to the Royal Examiner video with the above clues as to where to find the early Kushner, Downes public comments; council’s response with its “Resolution for Justice” remarks, particularly by November election candidates Lori Cockrell and Chris Holloway who brought the Resolution forward, in the final open meeting agenda item; and Jacob Meza’s Council Reports reply to Kushner’s belaboring of the September 23 council press conference comments about 55 minutes into the meeting.

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EDA in Focus

Update: County responds to Town announcement of FRPD financing

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This story has been updated. Here is the complete release. Page 2 of the release was missed and left out of the original post.

Warren County released the following press release on Friday, September 25, 2020:

The press conference held on September 23, 2020, announcing that the Town of Front Royal has secured permanent financing for the Front Royal Police Department building is great news for the citizens of our community! It closes a chapter on one aspect of the lawsuit the Town of Front Royal filed against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) and ends months of dispute between the EDA, the Town, and the County. It should be viewed as a path forward to a working relationship between the Town of Front Royal, Warren County, and the EDA.

As Warren County citizens, we were brokenhearted by the EDA scandal. The breach by those who were entrusted with our tax dollars and economic development is one that will take years to restore. Efforts taken by the Warren County Board of Supervisors to restore faith and oversight of the new EDA Board of Directors are well documented. Both the Board of Supervisors and the EDA Board of Directors have worked diligently to clean up the mess and recover the stolen assets for taxpayers.

The portrayal by some Town leadership that the County was unwilling to work with the Town to resolve the EDA issues could not be farther from the truth. The County has had every incentive to work with the Town to resolve the Police Station debt owed by the Town and has repeatedly approached the Town to work together on economic development issues critical to the success of our community.

Town and County residents expect us to resolve our differences and focus on big issues affecting our community. Rampant drug overdoses and deaths in our community, families on the margins suffering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers struggling to educate our children remotely, first responders working double overtimes…these are the type of issues we should be working together to resolve.

Our government needs to DO BETTER. We need to stop blaming one another and start focusing on what will better the lives of our citizens. The residents of our community deserve leaders who spend their tax dollars wisely. That includes streamlining our efforts to reduce duplication of the same services and waste of resources. THE CITIZENS of the Town/County are footing the bill for these lawsuits that are equivalent to suing ourselves. And in the case of Town residents, they are paying for lawyers and court costs on both sides.

The citizens of this community want their leaders to find ways to work together. They deserve it. We encourage the Town leadership to work with the County and the EDA to secure a better community!

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With revenues up, expenses down RSW superintendent pursues bonuses for staff

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After a positive Finance Manager’s report on contracted bed rentals to non-member jurisdictions through the first two months of Fiscal Year-2021, Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County (RSW) Regional Jail Superintendent Russ Gilkison recommended a bonus plan for remaining staff at the jail. Pointing to the loss of 16 people due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the jail and its staff fighting its way through a COVID-19 outbreak impacting inmates and staff, the RSW superintendent told the governing RSW Jail Authority on Thursday, September 24, “I’d like to reward those for sticking with us through the good and the bad.”

Gilkison estimated a $126,000 cost to implement the bonus plan. New Authority member Ed Daley, Warren County’s Interim County Administrator, suggested establishing bonus program guidelines based on length of employment at RSW through the recent pandemic situation.

As RSW Finance Manager Stephanie Smith listens to his right, Jail Superintendent Russ Gilkison, center, explains how the jail is operationally surviving a jump in staffing vacancies. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

On the bright side of that situation, Gilkison reported “no active cases or symptomatic staff/inmates since June 15, 2020.” He also called a remote visitation system implemented on July 13, allowing family and friends of inmates to visit them virtually “a huge success – We went from no visits to more than ever,” Gilkison said of the IWeb Visit system that is averaging 45 remote visits per day.

On the not so positive side, Gilkison noted losses that have left jail 42 staff down, the largest number ever one authority member pointed out. Asked about safety concerns from the staff shortage, Superintendent Gilkison noted procedural adjustments in the COVID-19 pandemic environment that have reduced some oversight needs.

“It looks worse on paper because that number is going up. But we’re really sitting about the same as we always have because we just operate a little differently … overall we’re operating just like we normally do. We’re still maintaining our staffing standards that we did pre-COVID. I don’t feel like we’re at risk,” Gilkison assured the authority members. He added that were it to get to a point of overstretching remaining staff he would have to begin telling outside jurisdictions the jail could not accept additional inmate bed rentals from them.

Gilkison proposed a $126,000 allotment toward a bonus program for remaining staff who have performed admirably through personnel losses and a COVID-19 outbreak.

But with it not yet at that point, Finance Manager Stephanie Smith reported August contracted inmate bed rentals totaling $118,748.52, $74,723 from Culpeper County and $44,025.52 from Page County. That brought RSW’s two-month FY-21 bed rental revenue total, including medical, commissary, telephone and related housing expenses to $243,928.45.

Couple that number with reduced expenditures due to the smaller staff and Smith’s Finance Report noted that with 16% of the Fiscal Year gone, expenditures were at 12.4% and revenues at 18.5%.

Smith also reported RSW Jail’s receipt of a $49,963 grant from the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) grant program made available through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. The grant was near the program’s ceiling amount of $50,000.

“To date, RSW has expensed $88,567.96 on materials, supplies, and services directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the funding from this grant significantly helps,” Smith wrote in her finance report.

See the full Authority and RSW Finance Committee meetings of about 20 minutes each in this Royal Examiner video:


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EDA in Focus

McDonald bankruptcy filing removes her from EDA civil suit – July 2022 dates set for remaining civil defendants’ trial

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The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority civil litigation now seeking about $26 million in asset recovery against 24 defendants including its former executive director was dealt a harsh blow the day before scheduled motions hearings Friday morning, September 25. That blow was a notice of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing Thursday afternoon, September 24.

As noted in the filing and as discussed in Warren County Circuit Courtroom “A” Friday, the bankruptcy filing essentially removes McDonald from the civil litigation process. McDonald’s bankruptcy filing included one of her two real estate companies, MoveOn8 LLC.

“As a result of the institution of the bankruptcy proceeding, all actions to collect a debt from Jennifer McDonald, or to recover property from the bankruptcy estate of Jennifer McDonald, have been stayed by reason of the applicability of Section 362(a) of the United States Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. 362(A)),” McDonald attorney Peter Greenspun wrote in the filing received in the Warren County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office Thursday afternoon. The same holds true as to a stay on asset recovery in the MoveOn8 LLC filing.

Jennifer McDonald’s Thursday bankruptcy filing has essentially STOPPED her involvement in the $26-million EDA civil litigation swirling around her alleged embezzlements. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

With EDA lead attorney Cullen Seltzer acknowledging the stay on civil action against McDonald involving her now bankruptcy-trustee seized assets, a scheduled 9 a.m. motions hearing seeking financial sanctions against her for attempting to move a piece of property frozen by the court near the outset of the April 2019 EDA civil litigation filing was removed from the docket. Judge Bruce D. Albertson adjourned the 9 a.m. proceedings 10 minutes after they began.

Motions hearings on the remaining defendants’ cases commenced shortly after 10 a.m. as scheduled. Two defense attorneys connected by remote audio hookup told the court they were likely to file similar “interlocutory appeals” motions to the one April Petty and Jesse Poe attorney William Shmidheiser informed the court in person he would be filing. Those petitions will seek to have defendants removed from the single “mass trial” the plaintiff is seeking in alleging a wide-ranging conspiracy of McDonald and associates to profit from the alleged McDonald-directed embezzlements and misdirection of EDA assets.

Before making his case that his clients should be removed from the single trial of all defendants, as the 10 a.m. hearing began Shmidheiser called McDonald’s bankruptcy “the elephant in the room” that should be discussed with all involved defense attorneys linked in. That led EDA attorney Seltzer to repeat his acknowledgment that the case against primary defendant McDonald was stayed from further action due to the bankruptcy process.

Several times during subsequent discussion McDonald was referred to as “the hub” of the conspiracy “wheel” the plaintiff is alleging existed between the former EDA executive director and those believed to have benefitted financially one way or another from her alleged misdirection and embezzlement of EDA assets.

While criminal charges related to the EDA civil suit have been dropped against McDonald and others due to speedy trial statute concerns, the threat of refiling remains, leading to possible invocation of 5th Amendment rights if called to testify or be deposed in other defendants’ cases.

Former EDA and McDonald Administrative Assistant Michelle Henry’s attorney John Cook told the court the McDonald bankruptcy filing made his client’s case problematic, in that Henry has filed to force McDonald to pay for her legal fees in the civil case.

Also on the table Friday was McDonald’s ability or willingness to testify as a witness as the civil cases proceed in the wake of her bankruptcy filing. That she could be deposed as a witness in other cases seemed agreed upon. But whether she would quickly choose to invoke her 5th Amendment right not to self-incriminate, with the refiling of criminal charges also still a possibility, remained at issue.

Judge Albertson took defense counsel concerns about the bankruptcy filing’s impact on the other defendant’s cases under advisement, observing, “I think we can proceed with (setting) dates in the event I rule the stay is not warranted.”

EDA attorney Seltzer noted the large number of witnesses to be deposed, over 50 he acknowledged; as well as the limited days per month, three, available for those depositions, depositions he predicted would at a minimum take a full day due to the number of defendants and their counsel involved. Due to those factors, coupled with lingering pandemic limitations on court processes, Seltzer raised an eyebrow or two predicting the civil trial wouldn’t happen before July of 2022.

That prediction led to an added sense of urgency by Petty and Jesse Poe’s attorney. Responding to a question, Shmidheiser told the court he probably would file his interlocutory appeal by the end of the week, as he sought a November date for a hearing on the appeal. Judge Albertson set November 23, at 3:30 p.m., for what is anticipated to be a 30 to 40 minute or so hearing.

Shmidheiser also told Judge Albertson that one of his primary hopes for the day’s hearing was that specific dates would be set for the lengthy deposition process of witnesses, as opposed to the vague “three days a month” tag currently on the table. Agreeing that pinning down dates for depositions was a preferred course of action, Albertson set about finding dates all attorneys could be available for.

Due to varying attorney’s schedules, preferences and other court variables, Tuesdays-Wednesdays-and-Thursdays were set between January and May 2021 to get the deposition ball rolling. Deposition dates agreed to were January 13-14-15; February 16-17-18; March 30, 31, April 1; and May 11-12-13.

Acknowledging the process would likely continue through the remainder of the year, Albertson set a pre-trial motions date of February 19, with a 24-day trial scheduled 4-1/2 months later from July 5 to 29, 2022.

Some of us may need an ambulance to get to the EDA civil trial now scheduled for 24 days in July of 2022.

Seltzer did acknowledge it was possible some defendants’ motions to be removed to individual trials could be successful, leading to earlier trials for those defendants.

As for the bankruptcy situation, one attorney present familiar with bankruptcy cases, later explained to the media that the EDA could file to have certain McDonald assets separated from the bankruptcy sale process to accommodate creditors, citing her alleged embezzlements. However, without a conviction in support of those allegations that filing might be hard to get approved by a bankruptcy trustee, Shmidheiser said. He added that the bankruptcy transfers McDonald’s liability from the EDA civil case now in Warren County Circuit Court to a judge-overseen trial in a Harrisonburg U.S. Western District of Virginia Bankruptcy Court.

According to the McDonald Bankruptcy Docket posted by the U.S. Western District of Virginia Court:

The First Meeting of Creditors is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Friday, November 13, 2020 (by telephone);

Deadline for filing Proofs of Claims has not yet been set, because McDonald filed her case as a “No Asset Case”;

Deadline for filing Complaints for Exception to Bankruptcy Discharge is Tuesday, January 12, 2021. The Warren EDA will have to file a Complaint for Exception to Discharge case by the deadline, or its claim will be discharged in bankruptcy, we were told;

McDonald ‘s Bankruptcy Schedules are due to be filed by October 8, 2020 – but if time extensions are requested, they are generally liberally granted.

The Trustee is listed as Bob Stevens of Charlottesville, along with the Office of the U.S. Trustee, with a Roanoke address.

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Town announces bank deal on FRPD headquarters debt service payments

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In a Wednesday evening press conference the Front Royal Town Council and the Town’s mayor weighed in from varying perspectives in announcing a Town financing agreement with United Bank to assume the debt service on the principal and an undisclosed, but favorable, interest rate on payments for construction of the new Front Royal Police headquarters.

Statements indicated that the lower interest rate acquired, as opposed to the EDA’s 3% rate with United Bank on the FRPD debt service, would save the Town at least a million dollars. Town officials declined to discuss details such as the interest rate or amount of the loan at this point in the loan process.

While a summary of the loan agreement announcement read into the record by Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick and elaborated on by the town’s elected officials, was a welcome update on what has become an increasingly contentious finger-pointing exercise in municipal government dysfunction, the tone of that update maintained and perhaps upped the ante on the accusatory finger-pointing.

Above, Matt Tederick reads the opening statement on the Town’s debt service agreement with United Bank into the press conference record; below, County Supervisors Delores Oates, left background, and Supervisor’s Chair Walt Mabe and EDA Board Chair Jeff Browne, listen as they are vilified for the past impasse on FRPD debt service negotiations. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video by Mark Williams

In fact, following the full council comments Mayor Eugene Tewalt observed that he did not agree with a lot of what was said by council in lauding their bank financing deal. Since his November 2019 Special Election elevation to mayor, Tewalt has repeatedly butted heads with his former council colleagues over trying to negotiate, rather than litigate with the EDA.

When this reporter and other media present asked for details of the loan agreement and support for the accusatory nature of the announcement alleging belligerent intransience by both the county government and the re-tooled in the wake of financial scandal Economic Development Authority Board of Directors, there were few direct, substantive answers forthcoming. In fact, the interim town manager cautioned council on answers regarding support of its stated legal stance, noting the Town remained in civil litigation with the EDA.

One of three local reporters, yours truly, attempting to gain clarity on council’s allegations about County and EDA intransience in past FRPD debt service discussions.

The media was added to the negative stereotyping in past reporting on the Town’s year-and-a-half or so refusal to assume liability for undisputed principal and partial interest payments on the EDA-enabled financing for its new police headquarters. Councilman Holloway disputed what he termed “tabloid media” reports that have “beaten up” the Town in reporting the evolution of the Town-EDA financial impasse and what has evolved into dueling civil litigations. Wednesday’s announcement does not appear to impact the Town’s $20-million civil suit against the EDA.

Several county official present, including Board of Supervisors Chairman Walt Mabe, Vice-Chair Cheryl Cullers, and North River Supervisor Delores Oates, indicated possible future comments after having time to absorb what they heard Wednesday evening. However, EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne did give Royal Examiner an on-the-record comment.

“Well, the main thing that I want to leave you with tonight is that we’re excited that the Town is finally paying the principal that they’ve owed on the police station. And that’s really what tonight’s about. We can get into some other details some other time,” Browne told us after the press conference, adding, “It’s a positive and I’m hopeful that we can start to work together. I hope that it’s a start of something good because we ought to be working together.”

United Bank is the same bank the EDA financed construction of the police headquarters through. The EDA, recently with County help, has been making monthly interest-only payments of about $21,000 on its FRPD debt service. However, the EDA announced last week that it and the County would stop covering those payments as of October. The EDA United Bank loan was slated to go to interest and principal payments of about $50,000 monthly on November 1. Thus far the EDA or County has paid about $500,000 on interest on the FRPD construction project, which appeared to cause some confusion on the EDA’s claim against the Town in its recently filed civil suit to hold the Town liable for FRPD construction costs.

But as for working together in the wake of Wednesday’s press conference, several council comments critical of the past and existing EDA board justified the Town’s move toward creation of a second, unilateral EDA, pointing away, rather than toward cooperation with the existing, half-century-old joint Town-County EDA.

Above, County Board Chair Walt Mabe and Councilwoman Lori Cockrell chat following the adjournment of council press conference. Below, delays on the renovation of the Afton Inn to the left of Town Hall were laid directly on the EDA by Councilman Gillespie.

In fact, Councilman Gary Gillespie took direct aim at the current EDA staff and board of directors for delays in renovation of the dilapidated Afton Inn across Crescent Street from Town Hall.

Go to the below-linked Royal Examiner video to see exactly what was said, alleged, asked, and answered, or not, at the approximate 45-minute Wednesday evening Front Royal Town Council press conference:

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