FRONT ROYAL – Dan Whitten, the attorney for Warren County and the and the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, tendered his resignation Wednesday to become Prince George County’s attorney.
The Prince George County Board of Supervisors approved Whitten’s contract at a Tuesday evening meeting, at which time Whitten was in the Warren County Community Center participating in a joint town and county meeting regarding how the localities should move forward after the EDA embezzlement scandal.
That scandal has included the arrests of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, former EDA administrative assistant Missy Henry and businessman Donald Poe, all of whom were charged on either counts of embezzlement or obtaining money by false pretenses.
Whitten, 36, became county attorney in 2016 after having served as an assistant county attorney since 2010. When the resignation becomes effective Sept. 13, his salary will jump from $103,486 in Warren County to $117,300 in Prince George County.
He stated in a news release that he has “thoroughly enjoyed working” in the county and thanked the Board of Supervisors for offering him the opportunity to serve the locality.
“I will treasure the friendships that I have made with numerous Warren County employees and officials over the last nine years,” he stated.
Whitten said over the phone Wednesday that his relocation has nothing to do with the EDA scandal and that he was searching for a job near Richmond long before the alleged embezzlement was revealed.
He said that his wife, a graphic artist and children’s book author, wants to be closer to Richmond — which is about 30 minutes away from his new job — and its “art scene.” He added that Prince George is a well-run county and its location is also convenient because it is about halfway between homes of his parents and his wife’s parents.
He added that county attorneys generally stay employed for a long time and there are only so many opportunities to land in a desired location.
When asked, Whitten said his biggest accomplishment during his tenure was providing legal representation for both the county and the EDA, noting that he did not have an assistant attorney for the vast majority of his employment. He said the county has “gone through a lot of different legal issues.” Successes included debt collection, zoning prosecution and following proper procurement procedures, he said.
He said that he wished he had more time to see to every legal issue in a more timely matter but it was difficult being the only attorney and having an assistant would have been helpful.
Regarding the EDA scandal, Whitten said “hindsight is 20-20” and “it would have been great if we caught it immediately.”
Whitten said upon learning that McDonald and former Sheriff Daniel McEathron purchased over $2 million worth of property, he immediately notified the chairs of the EDA and supervisors and the county administrator. When McDonald later revealed that she won millions of dollars gambling — a story debunked in court documents — he said: “Everyone thought that was weird.” He said the EDA’s auditors and accountant, however, said everything was OK.
“You trust your auditors,” Whitten said.
When more financial questions continued arising, he said a forensic auditor was commissioned to study the EDA’s finances. When the auditor’s findings were presented on Dec. 21 — a day after McDonald’s resignation — the authority immediately handed the matter off to the Virginia State Police and Department of Justice.
Whitten’s exit represents an ongoing reconfiguration of the EDA’s board and staff.
In October 2018, EDA board member and treasurer of 30 years William Biggs retired citing health issues. That same month, Josie Rickard, the EDA’s bookkeeper of 20 years, retired. McDonald’s December resignation was followed by the March resignations of Henry and board members Ron Llewellyn and Greg Drescher. In July, board member Bruce Drummond resigned.
Supervisors Chairman Dan Murray stated in the release that he is “sorry to lose” Whitten “as his knowledge and experience will be hard to replace.”
“I appreciate how he has handled many contentious situations with grace, patience and respect. I consider him to be a friend and he will be sorely missed. He has been an asset to the County and the agencies he supports,” Murray states.