The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority took more steps Friday to change how it runs and to improve transparency.
The authority’s Board of Directors voted at a special meeting on several measures to create new rules and procedures as it moves forward through the agency’s legal and financial situation. Measures also sought to increase transparency.
The board voted unanimously to spend $7,365 for professional services provided by Scans America. The authority plans to employ the firm to scan documents to more easily fulfill requests for information. The Warren County special grand jury subpoenaed the EDA for documents on behalf of the state in the case of Commonwealth v. Alleged Public Corruption. Executive Director Doug Parsons arranged for a professional company to complete the required scanning. The action also should make it easier for the EDA to fulfill requests it receives through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
The board’s action puts in the record members’ previous direction to Parsons, board Chairman Edwin “Ed” Daley said, citing the need for transparency. Board member Margorie “Jorie” Martin then asked that Parsons provide the name of the firm and the contract amount to the board so the authority can put the information in the record.
The authority had 36 boxes of historical documents scanned by a court-imposed deadline Aug. 21 and given to EDA Attorney Dan Whitten for review, Parsons said. The court has extended the authority’s deadline to Oct. 23 to allow Whitten more time to review the documents. Whitten can file with the court for reimbursement for the scanning costs, Parsons said.
The authority received four bids to provide scanning services, one of which did not include an amount. The authority also considered how soon the bidders could provide the services, Parsons said.
The board also discussed a proposal by Martin to impose term limits on board officers through a change in the panel’s bylaws.
“I think the EDA, in the past, they’ve had a stagnant, if you will, chairman and all positions have been pretty much rote year after year,” Martin said.
Some past chairmen held their positions for 10-15 years and treasurers for 30, Martin said.
“I don’t think that’s healthy for any organization,” Martin said.
Martin’s proposed resolution seeks to amend the board’s bylaws specifically in terms of the election of its officers - chairman, vice chairman, secretary, assistant secretary and treasurer. The proposed resolution seeks to change the bylaws by limiting an officer to serve no more than two years in that position and to prohibit a director from serving more than four consecutive years as an officer. Members discussed and agreed to some adjustments to Martin’s proposal.
The creation of term limits for officers would serve as a step in increased transparency for the board, Martin said. The move might also address the problem of members serving too long as officers, Daley added.
The resolution serves as notice that the board expects to take action at its next meeting to change the bylaws, Whitten said, adding that the board must issue a notice at least 10 days prior to any effort to change its bylaws. The board could make changes to the proposed amendments to its bylaws by the time its members take up the matter at their next regular meeting Sept. 27.
In another step toward increasing oversight of the EDA’s operations, the board voted in favor of board member Greg Harold’s motion to reactivate its Assets Management Committee. Information provided at the meeting notes that the executive director, the board chairman and another member would serve on the committee.
Harold explained the impetus behind his motion to reactivate the committee that would oversee all of the authority’s physical assets, from real property to the solar panels on the agency’s building. The committee would not manage the EDA’s financial assets. The committee’s primary functions would include the acquisition and disposition of properties, Harold said.
“I want the community to understand that as we review these properties for acquisition and disposition, there is absolutely a process in place,” Harold said. “There is a due-diligence period and due-diligence activities that this committee will be performing to make a recommendation to the board or to make sure that we are dotting our ‘I’s’ and crossing our ‘T’s.’
“I also want the public and the board to be aware of the fact that when we dispose of an asset, it’s not always about the purchase price; it’s not always about the disposition price,” Harold added. “It’s about the long-term return on investment in the community and that involves many factors.”
Such factors include the stability of the affected industry; the expected number of employees and the income they bring to the community; anticipated tax revenue and expansion opportunities, Harold said.
Daley asked that the reactivated committee review the EDA’s Afton Inn and proposals the authority received for property on Baugh Drive. The Afton Inn remains a point of contention for Front Royal leaders as renovations to the building, spearheaded by the EDA, stopped as the authority sued its Jennifer McDonald, its former executive director, over claims of embezzlement or misappropriated funds, and the special grand jury indicted McDonald and others on related charges.
Later in the meeting, after a closed session, board members voted in favor of a motion made by Jeff Browne, seconded by Gray Blanton, to ratify the counter-proposal to sell 514 E. Main St. for $134,000, contingent on Mo Mardani’s signature as the buyer. Bernard and Sarah Jane Stokes sold the property to the EDA in December 2014 for $398,200. The property, known as Stokes Mart, is valued at $86,700 as of Warren County’s most recent real estate assessment.
The board also voted in favor of a motion by Browne, seconded by Blanton, to ratify a study period for the sale of property at 404 Fairgrounds Road. Family Dollar Services Inc. sold the property to the EDA in 2004 for $141,500. The most recent assessment puts the property value at $530,000.
The board also:
Voted in favor of a motion to confirm an engineering contract for a rezoning applications. Parsons talked to the board at its July meeting his desire to begin the process to rezone EDA-owned land in the Happy Creek Technological Park from residential to industrial use. The board passed a motion to approve Parsons’ suggestion. The authority received bids and contracted with an engineering firm.
Voted in favor of a motion to update the administrative personnel statement.
Voted in favor of a motion to adopt a social media policy for members and administrative staff.
Reviewed a draft of a list of EDA projects.
Voted on a resolution to authorize a one-time cash grant of $500 to Queen Consulting & Technology Limited Liability Company, contracted to provide information technology services to the EDA; and to request that Front Royal grant a business professional occupational license credit to Queen in which the town would reimburse fees and, in all future years, applied with need for payment.
The board also convened in closed session to:
• Discuss the acquisition or disposition of real property limited to those located on Main Street, Stephens Industrial Park, Happy Creek Industrial Park and on Fairgrounds Road.
• Discuss prospective businesses or industries or expansion of such existing entities - limited to Main Street, Stephens Industrial Park, Happy Creek Industrial Park and on Fairgrounds Road - where no previous announcement has been made of the business’ or industry’s intent.
• Consult with legal counsel about matters related to loans, accounting, debt service and the Afton Inn.
The board scheduled a special meeting for Sept. 10.
Attending Friday's special meeting were board Chairman Edwin “Ed” Daley, Vice Chairman Jeff Browne and board members Gray Blanton, Margorie “Jorie” Martin and Greg Harold. Board member Don Patteson attended the meeting via telephone. Administrative assistant Gretchen Henderson, Executive Director Doug Parsons and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten also attended the meeting.