FRONT ROYAL – The Board of Supervisors during its Tuesday meeting postponed voting on whether the county will fund legal expenses in the misdemeanor cases brought last week against the entire board and two officials.
Those indicted last week on two misdemeanor counts of misfeasance and one misdemeanor count of nonfeasance include Warren County Supervisors Dan Murray, Tom Sayre, Archie Fox, Linda Glavis and Tony Carter, County Administrator Doug Stanley and former County Attorney Dan Whitten.
The charges stem from an alleged lack of oversight that resulted in what a lawsuit claims was the embezzlement of about $21 million from the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.
Regarding the county's right to fund supervisors' legal fees, Stanley previously cited Virginia Code section 15.2-1520, which states a locality may fund legal expenses of officials if it relates to "duties in serving the locality." He also cited 15.2-1521, which states a locality can reimburse officials' legal expenses upon being found innocent.
David Downes, a local defense attorney and founder of the Warren County Beer Party that battles partisan politics on the local level, stated in an email that the Board of Supervisors, "charged with breaking the law, must follow the law." He added that under Virginia law, the supervisors "cannot do more than the Virginia General Assembly permits them to do."
Downes noted that the Virginia Code has "two laws governing the payment of counsel fees for the Board of Supervisors." He stated one of those statutes, 15.2-1520, "is more general and permits counsel fees to be paid in all court proceedings" while the other, 15.2-1521, "is narrower and only applies to counsel fees in criminal proceedings."
"As a rule of statutory construction, the narrower statute is controlling. In this case, it only permits counsel fees to be paid if the defendant’s case ends with a dismissal or not guilty. Until that event happens, if ever, the Virginia General Assembly has not empowered the Warren County Board of Supervisors to pay counsel fees in their pending criminal cases," Downes stated.
The decision to postpone the vote until December passed by a 3-2 vote with Glavis, Fox and Carter in favor while Sayre and Murray dissented.
Sayre said he will not approve using county money to fund the legal expenses of any officials, including himself. No other supervisors stated how they would vote regarding the matter.
Citizen James Harper said during the meeting's public comment portion that Sayre is the only supervisor “paying attention” because he is the only one up for re-election. Harper added that perhaps there should be an election every month so everybody constantly pays attention.
Carter said the supervisors lack appropriate “background material” to make a decision regarding the legal expenses at this point and suggested delaying the matter to December, a notion that received boos from onlooking citizens.
Over 15 citizens appeared during the meeting's public comment portion to urge the supervisors to reject using taxpayer money to fund their legal defenses.
Gary Kushner noted that a special grand jury has determined the supervisors, whether it was a conscious decision or not, did not fulfill their duty. Regardless of their past errors, he said the supervisors have an opportunity to do the right thing now by funding their legal expenses and “I sincerely hope you do.”
Fern Vazquez said that when citizens voted for their representatives, it was under the belief that elected officials would exercise their fiduciary duty.
At the very least, she said, voters want officials to listen to concerned citizens who gave warnings about the EDA. Specifically, she cited citizen Mark Egger’s appearances during supervisor meetings in which he voiced a series of concerns regarding EDA activity.
Vazquez said citizens never wanted to fund the disappearance of millions of dollars and do not want to fund the supervisors’ legal defense.
She said that by voting to personally fund their defenses, the supervisors can begin the “healing process” and “pick up the pieces” of one of the largest embezzlement scandals in Virginia’s history.
Joe Andrews said that no one is without fault in the situation. He said that includes the citizens who blindly trusted the supervisors, who in turn blindly trusted others.
“Vote to get your own lawyers,” he said.
Melanie Salins agreed, noting that although Tuesday's meeting occurred at 9 a.m., many citizens rearranged their schedules “to let you know that we do not want to pay for your legal defense.”
If officials are charged by the FBI or IRS, she wondered who would fund those legal defenses.
“Where does this end?” she asked.
William Pierceall said that the local “good old boys” have a motto: “Go along to get along.”
“It pervades the political mindset and fosters corrupt and immoral activities without fear of punishment,” he said.
Amber Poe Morris asked for every supervisors' resignation to “let our community heal.”