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Where is the plan?



The following statement is what I call a tough conversation.  Albeit, it is one way, but it deserves attention and the community expects and deserves answers, so we know that our future elected leaders have the proper skill set to lead us from the paths of publicly aware incompetence and corruption.

After a few weeks of travel, I have been able to take a few moments to sit down, read, listen, and watch what some of the current political candidates have established as their election platform.  I recently viewed the Royal Examiner’s video featuring Councilman Tewalt’s interview and his thoughts on the status of Front Royal, Warren County, and the EDA.  I believe that Councilman Tewalt brings a well-balanced professional and political career to the area.  His decades of service have brought a sense of reason and thorough understanding of the important issues in this community.

However, Mr. Tewalt was given 21 minutes and 53 seconds of unfettered “air” time to speak to the community on the issues that are currently plaguing us.  Mr. Tewalt spoke in very high-level generalizations about today’s problems, which are quite obvious, but sadly failed to communicate his specific plans for action, goals and timeline for attempting the work to remedy these issues.  Mr. Tewalt was given 21 minutes and 53 seconds to explain to the community how he was going to improve inter-governmental relations but failed to do so.  Town & County talk of working closer together is a cheap and recycled political theme that is used year after year after year with no measurable results.  Mr. Tewalt also expressed concerns about expanding the commercial tax base in Front Royal and the need to address dilapidated structures.  Okay great.  What is your plan?  You have served in various political positions for years, and these same buildings are still standing, only in worse condition. To add insult to injury, there was support for a Property Maintenance Code but you voted against it.  What will you do differently that you haven’t done yet to get this passed, funded, and implemented?

Mr. Tewalt, I believe you are a good person and aim to serve the community to the best of your ability.  For the citizens of Front Royal, and Warren County, we already know what the problems are.  We are fully aware of the difficulties ahead with water, sewer, power, higher taxes, improved services, etc…. The citizens are owed and expect concrete ideas, an actionable plan, measurable results, and a timeline for performance.  These are the duties of an elected leader, including the Mayor of Front Royal.

Note: My views are stated as a citizen of Warren County. My statements are not representative as an official statement or position for the FR-WC EDA Board of Directors.

Greg Harold
Front Royal, Virginia

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Warren County Board of Supervisor member should resign



Dear Editor, Royal Examiner,

Tom Sayre should do the honorable thing and drop out of the race for Warren County Board of Supervisor. It’s what a principled supervisor would do for being grossly derelict in the loss of at least $20 million of taxpayer’s money.

Mr. Sayre’s insistence that he did everything possible to stop the EDA scandal is laughable. Nothing could be further from the truth. After serious red flags on EDA shenanigans were raised by Bebhinn Egger before the Front Royal Town Council in 2016, and by Mark Egger before the Warren County Board of Supervisors on three occasions in 2018, Mr. Sayre did virtually nothing.

Mr. Sayre claims that he made a motion, which was voted down by the board, to have a “forensic audit” conducted of the EDA, in which specially-trained auditors look specifically for evidence of criminal activity. There is no evidence, of which we are aware, that such a motion was ever made or voted down. Regardless, a leader worthy of its name, who is convinced a forensic audit is necessary, would have immediately:

  1. Issued a press release.
  2. Called a public meeting of his constituents.
  3. Held a well-publicized press conference.

Mr. Sayre did none of these things. He may be a decent person, a good father, and a pro-life Christian, but he is an inefficient supervisor who betrayed the people who elected him. He’s the typical politician who talks a lot and works hard to get elected, then does little once in office.

Do the right thing, Mr. Sayre. Drop out of the race.

Bill Hammack
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (retired)

John Lundberg
Colonel, U.S. Army (retired)

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EDA in Focus

Op-Ed: County, EDA officials cited for failed oversight – why not the Town?



The status of the ITFederal project and the $10 million loan that facilitated it is likely to be under increasing scrutiny by EDA civil attorneys contending that loan was acquired under false pretenses. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Many have wondered when or even if prosecutors and state investigators guiding the Warren County Special Grand Jury’s look into criminality tied to the Economic Development Authority financial fraud investigation would expand its focus beyond a tightly knit circle surrounding former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

On Tuesday, September 24, they got an answer, if not precisely the one many citizens critical of the political and economic status quo here were hoping for.

That answer was a total of 42 indictments, three each against 14 new players, including the entire elected Warren County Board of Supervisors, the top county administrative official and recently departed County and EDA attorney, as well as a mix of former and sitting EDA Board of Director members.

The disappointment for some was that those indictments were all misdemeanor charges related to an absence of due diligent oversight of EDA affairs, specifically over the last four months of 2018 regarding the continued administrative authority of Jennifer McDonald. (See linked story below)

The bookings at the Magistrate’s Office of the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County Regional Jail (RSW Jail) didn’t even generate the orange jail jumpsuit mug shots many social media denizens would have likely framed for posterity.

No mug shots today – County and EDA officials charged with misdemeanor failures of due diligence in the conduct of their office were not booked into the jail, as any defendant in similar circumstances released on their own recognizance would not be RSW Superintendent Gilkison has explained.

But while County officials rightfully face scrutiny for their failed due diligence, the Town of Front Royal governmental apparatus has thus far escaped unscathed, at least regarding criminal liability and even the level of public criticism aimed its way.

No Front Royal Town official has yet been indicted for criminal negligence regarding financial oversight of EDA operations; and to our knowledge there is no “recall them all” petition being circulated against the Town Council.


Three years ago, it was an overwhelming majority of Council that threw a defensive and protective shield around both McDonald and two of the more implausible projects she was instrumental in bringing forward.

This mid-2016 photo perhaps shows varying levels of disinterest expressed by all of Bébhinn Egger’s Town Council colleagues over her claims about ITFederal at the time.

In fact, those two projects, ITFederal and Workforce Housing, account for nearly $11 million, $10 million and $650,000 respectively, of the $21 million in EDA assets alleged to have been either misdirected by McDonald or moved under false pretenses during her executive oversight.

But some Town officials have claimed Front Royal has nothing to do with EDA operations since the County took over the Town’s portion of the EDA’s annual operational funding in 2012.

But as Royal Examiner has reported previously, that notion is questionable at best with much of the EDA’s work being done on behalf of the Town on projects inside the town limits. ITFederal, Workforce Housing, the Afton Inn and new police headquarters construction project come to mind.

If that wasn’t the case how do Town officials explain filing suit against the EDA to recover as much as $15 million in Town assets they contend were misdirected, lost or acquired under false pretenses? Do they think McDonald snuck into a secret town vault to pick the lock or hacked into Town bank accounts and sent their $15 million to a secret offshore location?

No, if experience tells us anything chances are that if McDonald had asked the Town Council for $15 million they would have just given it to her with a pat on the back.

In fact, that’s exactly what Council did in 2015 when McDonald came and asked for a $10 million “bridge” loan to help prop up the EDA’s case with First Bank & Trust to finance a $10 million loan to ITFederal through the EDA. Council was even kind enough to extend that initial one-month loan taken out of an investment account generating nearly $4,000 of monthly interest for two additional months without fee compensation for lost interest revenue beyond the first month.

It seems very possible that without that three-month Town handover of the desired ITFederal loan amount the bank loan for ITFederal would never have been achieved, reducing the EDA’s claimed losses by almost half.

But when Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger warned her colleagues that ITFederal did not appear to be what it was purported to be financially or from a business standpoint by McDonald, Congressman Robert Goodlatte and the company’s CEO Truc “Curt” Tran the reaction was not one of cautious due diligent verification.

Rather, the unanimous consensus of Egger’s colleagues was to either ignore or berate her, not to mention your then newly created online news source, for telling them things they didn’t want to hear – even if as it turned out, they were verifiably true at the time – as in no $140 million government contract basis upon which to create 600 high paying tech industry jobs as part of a $40 million ITFederal investment in this community.

From left on Nov. 28, 2016, Councilmen John Connolly, Hollis Tharpe, Bébhinn Egger, Gene Tewalt, Bret Hrbek, Mayor Tim Darr, and Jacob Meza at far right, bid farewell to Town Manager Steve Burke, second from right. Only one of this group, you know who she is, performed due diligent oversight of EDA affairs. It was a majority state of affairs that lasted on council for another year and a half.

Revisionist History?

The day after the County and EDA misfeasance and nonfeasance misdemeanor bookings the Town of Front Royal issued a pat-us-on-the-back press release in which Interim Mayor Matt Tederick lauded the town government’s role in launching the Virginia State Police investigation into EDA finances.

“Due to the watchful eyes of the Town Government, potential financial irregularities involving the EDA were discovered in the late spring and early summer of 2018. The Town Council swiftly turned their findings and suspicions over to the Virginia State Police, who in turn immediately commenced an investigation,” Tederick states, adding, “The citizens need to rest assured that the Front Royal Town Council will continue to pursue its lawsuit against the EDA and any others in order to hold those responsible for the Town’s losses accountable. The public’s continuing confidence in Town government is greatly appreciated and I might add, warranted.”

Pals – then EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and private citizen Matt Tederick pose before start of Sept. 25, 2017 Town Council meeting. It was a meeting at which Council voted against a Board of Architectural Review recommendation to deny the EDA request to allow demolition of the Afton Inn to facilitate redevelopment at the site.

As far as ascertaining responsibility for any Town losses, both current and past councilmen and mayors over the past five years might begin by looking in the mirror.

As for “continued confidence”, as mentioned near the end of our story on a Council initiative to explore creation of its own EDA, if Tederick is referencing the work of town staff, as opposed to all but one of its elected officials (Egger) in recent years, he may be on to something.

After all, in June 2017 Town Police investigators began to develop suspicions that some reported criminal actions targeting the EDA offices and its then executive director had been staged from the inside.

And about a year later Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson did discover an eight-year history of over $291,000 in Town debt service overpayments to the EDA that finally set the process of EDA financial scrutiny in motion.

But that scrutiny was a long time coming, about 2-1/2 years after council was warned by one of its own that things appeared horribly amiss in some EDA projects. And the scrutiny of 2018 did not generate from any Town Council initiative targeting the EDA, but as noted above from staff discoveries while exploring Town finances that landed a “smoking gun” of precise evidence on Council’s lap.

It was Wilson, Town-contracted auditors and the Town Attorney who took the point in confronting McDonald, EDA Board Chairman Greg Drescher and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten over those debt service overpayments of nearly $300,000 on August 23, 2018. It was at that meeting during which the term “fraud” may have been first broached regarding EDA finances.

Greg Drescher and Jennifer McDonald appeared grumpy at times under questioning by Tom Sayre and Archie Fox at June 2017 joint work session on the EDA’s Workforce Housing Project.

That mid-2018 meeting between Town and EDA officials led to Drescher’s resignation as EDA board chairman the following day. It was also likely a driving factor in the County’s hiring, on behalf of the EDA, an investigative public accounting firm, Cherry Bekaert, to begin a probe into irregularities within EDA finances.

It was also a meeting that, as Tederick observed, led to the launching of a State Police investigation. But by that point, not to forward staff’s information on EDA financial irregularities to law enforcement for scrutiny might have eventually been seen as indictable as a more serious felony charge of complicity in a cover up of financial fraud.

As for that State Police investigation, one might contend it was begun a year earlier by the Front Royal Town Police. But that investigation was allowed to be shut down in 2017 at the request of EDA Board Chairman Drescher to allow, first the EDA board, then its executive director to control the investigation of alleged crimes targeting the EDA and its chief executive through a hired private investigator.

It was a request and decision that allowed the alleged EDA financial subterfuge, whatever its source, to go unchecked for an additional year and a half.

Accountability – where?

But beyond an honest self appraisal of its past complicity in throwing a protective shield up against scrutiny of EDA projects and its executive director’s assertions about them, should town officials be vigilant about past EDA activities that may have targeted more of its assets versus those of the County? – Certainly.

But why not continue the joint reform process the interim mayor and council propelled forward, rather than just withdraw from it? After all, new EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons has promised full cooperation in determining an accurate appraisal of the Town’s losses within those EDA losses financial fraud investigators have reported being misdirected through EDA operations over a number of years.

And we would suggest the interim mayor and council not continue a course of self-delusional praise and finger-pointing that tries to minimize the Town Council’s own long-term lapsed due diligence regarding EDA affairs it was directly involved in facilitating.

In mid-2016 Bret Hrbek, left, was Jennifer McDonald’s staunchest defender among many, when Bébhinn Egger, right, raised concerns about assertions about EDA projects, particularly ITFederal.

And speaking of that involvement, the media asked former EDA/County Attorney Whitten why the $10 million ITFederal loan the Town was so instrumental in helping achieve was included in the EDA civil litigation for recovery even though it is current on its rather lax terms.

“Because it was acquired under false pretenses,” Whitten replied following an EDA board meeting three months ago.

Whitten’s response echoed the above-referenced, ignored and even vilified warnings three years earlier that something appeared amiss in the EDA’s representations about ITFederal.

So “warranted continued confidence” may be a stretch, at least as it applies to elected Town officials over the past three to five years.

Nonetheless it appears Town officials may avoid the embarrassment of criminal charges, not to mention a high degree of public anger, for their long pattern of failed due diligence regarding oversight in their dealings with the EDA.


The answer we believe is two pronged legally: first, a statue of limitations on misdemeanor offenses; and second what we would contend was an unnecessary relinquishment of the Town’s authority to appoint two of the seven EDA board members based on the EDA’s fair funding formula split on Town-County investment in EDA operations.

As for a potential third prong in the Town’s escaping the extreme level of public scrutiny and recall petitioning aimed the County’s way, a primary social media purveyor of that public anger has not threatened to sue the Town for millions of dollars, so a public shaming there may have less interest.

But back on the legal side, note that the three indictments filed on the 14 County and EDA officials on September 20 for which they were booked on September 24 and 25, all involved EDA transactions between September and December 2018. Those charges involve only $309,000 of the allegedly misdirected or embezzled $21.3 million being sought for recovery by the EDA in civil litigation.

What about liability for a lack of due diligent oversight during the movement of the other $20.99 million, particularly that $10 million ITFederal loan the EDA now claims was acquired under false pretenses?

There is likely to be none – because misfeasance, nonfeasance and even malfeasance in the conduct of public office are misdemeanor criminal offenses. And there is a one-year statute of limitations on misdemeanor offenses. Also in the September to December 2018 timeframe, the Front Royal Town Council did not have appointment authority of EDA board members.

That is because when the County assumed responsibility for the Town’s 34% portion of the EDA’s annual operating budget in 2012, the Town Council allowed its appointment authority of two of the seven EDA board members to be withdrawn.

Was it a necessary condition? – We would contend not.

Because that County assumption of full annual operational funding from the previous 66%-34% County-Town split was made as part of the long and ongoing negotiations on two fronts: double taxation of Town citizens on certain services provided countywide; and compensation to the Town for its extension of central water-sewer utilities into the North Commercial-Industrial Corridor outside the town limits without annexation.

North Corridor commercial development was enabled by the Town’s extension of central water sewer outside the town limits without annexation. Many believe the Town continues to suffer from lost commercial tax revenue after a judicial striking down of agreed upon PILOT fees tied to utility bills as the Town’s major compensation for that lost tax revenue. Photo Roger Bianchini/Courtesy CassAviation

So if the County is essentially saying either, “We are going to stop the double taxation of Town citizens for countywide services” or “We owe you more compensation for your lost commercial tax revenue due in large part to a Town-County North Corridor compensation arrangement struck down by a Circuit Court judge, and this is part of how we’ll do it,” why would the Town Council agree to withdraw or reduce its past oversight of EDA operations it remained deeply involved in?

Whatever the reason, in 2012 the Town Council did agree to relinquish its EDA board appointment authority, and thus direct supervisory authority over EDA operations. In fact, that relinquishment is referenced in motions filings surrounding the EDA’s claim of sovereign immunity in response to the Town’s $15 million civil action against it.

“That the Town of Front Royal voluntarily waived its right to control the EDA, contrary to the statutory mandate, does not create an actionable fiduciary duty to (the Town’s) benefit,” EDA attorneys wrote in reply to the Town’s opposition filing on the EDA claim of institutional sovereign immunity.

However those arguments play out at a November 8 motions hearing and whether that “voluntary” waiver of its EDA oversight right was a bad decision or not, it has paid off for Town officials in an unexpected way.

Because by allowing the County to assume full EDA board appointment authority, that 2012 Council may have saved its 2015 to 2018 successors from legal liability for the absence of Council’s own due diligence in its oversight of its EDA affairs. And while like the County and EDA officials who were indicted, that misdemeanor liability would have only extended back a year and involve an estimated $309,000, it was a long-term failing the Town itself alleges led to the misdirection of up to $15 million in Town assets.

Regardless, unlike County and EDA officials, in the absence of direct authority to limit the EDA executive director’s conduct of her office over those last four months of 2018, the Front Royal Town Council appears poised to skate home free of any legal liability for its own lapses of judgment regarding its business dealings with the EDA in recent years.

And without “smoking gun” evidence of payoffs to look the other way or shared profiteering from the alleged EDA financial fraud under legal and civil scrutiny, it would appear the worst offense those not indicted for illegally moving or receiving EDA assets can be charged with is failed due diligent oversight, and that within that one-year misdemeanor statute of limitations. And for the above cited reasons it would appear that such charges could only come on the County and EDA sides of the equation, as it did on September 24.

So more than any proactive due diligence by elected Town officials generating “continued confidence”, legally on the failed municipal oversight front you might say it just pays to be lucky timing wise; not to mention have a voluntary withdrawal of EDA board appointment authority in your pocket. I guess you could also say that County generated initiative to acquire additional control of EDA board appointments for its added operational financial contribution kind of backfired long term – because misery loves company, right?

Criminal and non-criminal dereliction of public duty: Where might they apply in the EDA financial scandal?

Grand Jury indicts 14 County and EDA officials for lack of EDA oversight

Council divided on move toward second, Town-controlled EDA

Defense attorneys move to quash grand jury misdemeanor indictments

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Good deeds happening in Front Royal



People all over the world, including the little town of Front Royal, Virginia, do good deeds for complete strangers everyday without asking for anything in return. Sometimes they have absolutely no idea how much their actions help those complete strangers. You may ask how I know this… the answer to that question is that I was one of those strangers. I had hit rock bottom and it led me back to my home town of Front Royal. I was staying in a rent-by-week hotel. I was unemployed and money was running out fast. I had to use the local food banks to feed myself.

One day, while I was walking back to the hotel, it was snowing and all I had was a jean jacket on. I was absolutely frozen from head to toe. This red jeep pulls up beside me and the passenger window goes down. Inside I see a man and woman I had never seen before. The man said that I looked cold and my response was that he was correct. He got out of the vehicle and pulled out a high-quality winter coat and handed it to me, and he told me it was mine now. I put it on and thanked him, telling him how much that meant to me as I could not afford one. He introduced himself as Barry and introduced me to his wife, Moya.

Barry and Moya told me about something called the Drop In Cafe. It was at a church in town, and they told me to come for a warm meal and conversation if I would like, and it is completely free. We parted ways, and I made a much warmer final walk to my hotel. Monday came and I decided to go and get a warm breakfast as promised, and once again to thank the people who gave me my new coat. When I got to the church, I was shocked to be warmly greeted by a few people from the community who asked what I would like to eat and drink, and said it is all free here to anyone in the community who is in need, homeless or just wants to drop in. Barry and Moya were there, as they said they would be, and introduced me to a wonderful woman named Linda. After sitting and talking to Linda and sharing some of my story, she offered to help me get resources and figure out what kind of aid I qualified for. Kind of in shock, I asked why she would do all of that for a total stranger. She just smiled and replied, “that’s what we do here at the Drop In Cafe.”

I got my food and some hot coffee, and I sat and talked with Linda, Barry and Moya for a while. After I finished eating, they asked if I would like more, to which I replied “no thank you.” Linda then took out a notebook and wrote a list of resources for me to look into as well as took my personal information down. She offered to help with any application process I needed help with. Before the Drop In Cafe closed for that day, they gave me a travel hygiene kit, a survival bag (which included a knit hat, gloves and some more hygiene products) put together by a lady at the church, and made sure I took a good amount of food with me. Linda gave me a ride home as all they had given me was a lot to carry. When she dropped me off, she told me I was welcome at the cafe anytime and to call her if I needed anything. As it turned out, I did take her up on her offer for a ride to use some of the resources she gave me to get clothing vouchers and some more winter appropriate clothes.

The week went by and I decided to make another stop by the Drop In Cafe. Of course, I got breakfast and chatted with the Barry, Moya and Linda again. Linda said she had a few things that she needed done around the house that she would pay me to do if I was interested. I accepted the offer, as I was very close to broke. Barry and Moya offered to drive me around place to place to fill out applications if I would like. I accepted that offer as well.

About a month went by without a missed visit to the cafe. One day I came into the cafe and Linda could tell something was wrong and asked what was troubling me. I explained that I was not able to pay for the hotel and was going to have to go to a shelter in Winchester, Virginia. She told me to hang out at the cafe for a while and she would see what she could do. That day she drove me back to the hotel and asked when I had to be out, which was the following day. She told me she had plenty of space, as she lived alone, and to call her when I checked out and she would take me to her place to stay for a while until I got on my feet. After moving in with Linda, we became close friends and I started thinking of her as as surrogate mother. She continued to help me in anyway she could to get a job, kept me fed, and kept a roof over my head. She never asked for anything in return.

I continued to go to the cafe every Monday morning but now as a volunteer instead of one in need. It has been almost two years since Barry and Moya gave me that coat. I now have a well paying job and am able to rent a beautiful townhouse. Things are going well for me. I still see Barry and Moya from time to time. As for Linda, we are still close; she truly is my surrogate mother and I love her as such.

There are many people who make the Drop In Cafe possible, and they are all deserving of praise for what they do. They take time out of their day to cook and feed every person who comes to that cafe, and even though it is at a church, there is no preaching or asking if you know God and Jesus, but will talk about faith if you ask them to. Just good food and good people willing to help you in anyway they can without expecting anything in return.

To all at the Drop In Cafe, thank you for everything. Thank you Barry and Moya for helping a stranger on the street and pointing me in the right direction. I still have the coat and it is still in good as new condition. It is still my primary winter coat. Special thanks goes to you, Linda, and I love you. All of you truly are a guiding light to those lost in the storm. I’m sure the Lord has a special place reserved for you at his table when you return home to him.

Thank you all.

Christopher Ferguson
Front Royal, Virginia

Drop In Cafe: Every Monday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. in the gathering hall at the Calvary Episcopal Church (132 N Royal Ave, Front Royal, VA 22630)

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Richard Hoover supports Thomas Sayre for Warren County Board of Supervisors



I support Thomas Sayre’s November reelection to the Warren County Board of Supervisors. I find him to be a man of integrity and one whose voting record, whether as Town Councilman or Board Supervisor, so often reflects philosophies and beliefs which I support. A quick internet review of his voting profile reveals some of them (quotations are his):

  • Transparency; Mr. Sayre supports limitations on what governing bodies can discuss behind closed doors;
  • Responsible Development; he opposes “too much high density development for Front Royal;”
  • Support for the Samuels Public Library;
  • “Staying within budgets and reining in excessive spending;” not just once, for example, has he voted against salary increases;
  • Managing taxes to a minimum; “I don’t think it’s going to sit well with the citizens of Front Royal to raise their taxes when…we have a balanced budget and there are surplus funds available;” see Mr. Sayre’s voting record against real estate tax and utility rate increases;
  • The Great Outdoors; see his support for local hunters, for the Royal Shenandoah Greenway and its bike trails program.

Finally, an internet review shows that Mr. Sayre, whether as councilman or supervisor, does not shrink from mixing it up with his colleagues in defense of what he believes.

Richard W. Hoover
Front Royal, Virginia

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historically speaking

I recently saw a post on social media asking why conservatives are so concerned with socialism when what they should be concerned about is dictatorship in their own party. Historically speaking, accusing presidents of dictatorship is nothing new. In fact, it’s as old as the nation itself. I am not going to write about if President Trump is a dictator or not, but I do want to show that it can be said that being accused of dictatorship actually puts him in good company.

During the Nineteenth Century, the cry of dictator was not as prominent. For most of the century, presidents were fairly limited in their political power. The ones who did exercise real presidential authority always faced the accusation of dictator. Anyone who reads my columns knows the election of 1800 is my favorite. It is one of the most hostile in history and I have spoken on it many times. Suffice to say the principle accusation made by Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans was that John Adams wanted to make himself into a king or dictator. Jefferson, who believed in small government, feared that the Federalists wanted to enlarge the power of the federal government and strip away the rights of the people. It did not help that under Adam’s administration Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which in essence made it a crime to criticize the government. It turns out that Adams did not intend to enshrine himself into royalty but instead performed the most important political act in American history. He walked away from the presidency when he lost and set a precedent for the peaceful transfer of power between parties.

A few decades later, President Andrew Jackson had the same accusations made against him. The Whigs were the party that formed to resist who they called “King Andrew I. A name taken from the British party that opposed the King, the name was not a coincidence. It is not hard to see why the Whigs referred to Jackson as a dictator. First, he vetoed more bills than all his predecessors combined. Earlier presidents did not see the veto as a political weapon, but rather as a protection against unconstitutionality. Jackson, however, wielded the veto like a sword to defeat his enemies in Congress. Later, when the Supreme Court went against Jackson’s ideas of Indian removal, Jackson responded with, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”  If any president had potential to be a dictator, it was Jackson. Yet after his eight years, he walked away and the nation moved on.

Jump ahead a couple more decades to the election of Abraham Lincoln. Like many readers, Lincoln is my favorite president, yet his entire presidency was plagued with accusations of dictatorship. As much as I love Lincoln, there are good reasons for the claims. Probably his greatest power move was the suspension of habeas corpus, a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge to secure the arrestee’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for the person’s detention.

Basically, Lincoln imprisoned anyone who spoke out against him. Dozens of newspaper editors and political opponents were imprisoned during the war. Because of space restraints, I can mention just one. Lincoln had Ohio Congressman Clement Vallandigham arrested for declaring disloyal sentiments and opinions. Instead of imprisoning Vallandigham, Lincoln exiled him to live in the Confederacy. If any president had the potential to be a dictator, it was Lincoln.  However, we will never know as he was assassinated by John Wilks Booth who claimed death to all tyrants.

In the Twentieth Century, one of the presidents who had the charge of dictator leveled at him was Woodrow Wilson. As a true progressive, he believed in a strong federal government and did everything in his power to strengthen and enlarge it. It was Wilson who pushed an Amendment to create an income tax to fund the federal government. Wilson also passed the Espionage and Sedition Acts. As under Adams, it became a criminal act to criticize the government, the president, or the war. It was Wilson who created the Committee on Public Information that turned into the nation’s first propaganda machine. If any president seemed prepared to become a dictator, it was Wilson. When he tried to push the League of Nations through Congress (even many Democrats opposed it), he spoke of running for a third term so he could force it through.  We will never know if he would have followed through. He suffered a stroke making it difficult to even finish his second term.

Finally, there is the man who potentially was the greatest dictator but also one of the most beloved: Franklin D. Roosevelt. No one did more to expand the power of the federal government, or, more specifically, the Executive Branch. He wanted to reorganize the Executive Branch and take the regulatory agencies under his control. When the Supreme Court tried to check him, he attempted to increase the number of judges and fill the Court with his supporters.  Finally, he told Americans that he was the only man who could possibly lead during the Great Depression and later WWII. He ran for and was elected to four terms. If any president seemed to set himself up as a dictator, it was FDR. We will never know, as he died in his fourth term.

I am not saying whether Trump is a dictator or not. You can decide. I am also not saying we should accept tyranny in any way, but calling him a dictator actually puts him into pretty good company. Not all the men on this list are people’s favorites, but there is no questioning they all make the list as some of the most important presidents in history. Historically speaking, maybe being called a dictator by your political enemies is a badge of honor. If nothing else, it’s a pretty impressive club to be in.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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Time to Consider Structural Change



I have been a long-time resident of Front Royal-Warren County.  I was not born and fully raised locally, but I consider this my home and despite the negativity and nefarious actions of a few in recent past, I’m still optimistic about continuing to call this my home.

Over the decades, I have been involved in various town and county organizations.  Having served 8 years of the Front Royal Board of Architectural Review, I witnessed and dealt with the ongoing issues of dilapidated buildings, absentee landlords & property owners allowing their properties to advance the blight in the historic district, and conversely, more responsible property owners wanting to improve their homes and businesses, but not knowing the proper channels, processes, and procedures to do so.

Most recently, having been frustrated with the political climate and advent of the EDA scandal and the advancement of such, I found myself constantly stewing in what appeared and has proven to be a monumental issue for this community.  I found myself personally lashing out to the Board of Supervisors both from an emotional standpoint, and from a more measured approach on what I viewed as being cultural and structural issues with the EDA.  The Board of Supervisors seized upon my energy and frustration and through weeks of dialogue persuaded me to apply for an open board position.  My legacy will yet be determined as the organization still has issues to resolve.  We are dealing with full time issues with a part time but fully dedicated and engaged Board of Directors.  It fair to state that my optimism, although cautious, extends to this organization as well.

As the recent indictments were announced involving a cadre of current high-level Warren County officials and current and past EDA members, I reflect to a conversation that I had with at least 2 current Board of Supervisor Members.  The general theme was that it is difficult to find qualified, competent and willing candidates to run for elected seats.  (This does not include the current slate of individuals currently running.)  When a community has a systemic problem of engaging people to serve their community at the highest level, one must evaluate the possible root causes of such a problem.

Upon closer examination, I feel that the current structure of the Board of Supervisors should be examined to help promote and facilitate a larger pool of candidates in participating at all level of elected or appointed governmental roles.  Our commuting town and bedroom community provides little opportunity beyond entry level service positions.  Professional services, skilled trades, tech, mid to high level managerial roles, and federal contracting jobs are 45 miles down the road but requires 3 hours minimum of commuting time. However, leaders don’t necessarily have to commute.  As I have witnessed crew leaders at fast food chains that I would be privileged to work under.  However, those leaders are rare, and by having a large populace commuting to earn a reasonable living wage, eliminates a large pool of potential candidates with outstanding leadership ability.  I encourage and ask the current BOS, stated candidates, and the public to make recommendations on how meetings times, committee assignments, and other necessary functions can be restructured for greater effectiveness and efficiency for promoting greater participation in these elected roles.


My views are stated as a citizen of Warren County and as an active member of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.  My statements are not representative as an official statement or position for the FR-WC EDA Board of Directors.

Greg Harold
Front Royal, VA  22630

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