FRONT ROYAL – During his first regular Town Council meeting on Monday, interim Mayor Matt Tederick detailed how he thinks the local government should deal with the fallout from the alleged $21 million embezzlement from the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority.
He said the council and Board of Supervisors should discuss the EDA’s “dissolution” at a joint meeting and “get back to the basics” by re-focusing on the government’s true role.
“Perhaps it’s time for our governments to consider bringing the marketing functions of the EDA in-house to whatever degree we should and can,” Tederick said.
Also during that joint meeting, he asked that discussions be held regarding the formation of a “citizen commission” to evaluate the council, supervisors and EDA “to determine what went wrong and what went right.”
“The unbiased report of a citizen commission will help all of us learn from our mistakes and put proper safeguards in place so that this never happens to our community again,” Tederick said.
He noted that the “the community is reeling” from the alleged fraudulent activities carried out by former EDA Director Jennifer McDonald — who is being held in jail without bond on four felony counts of embezzlement — and “the perceived lack of financial oversight from the authority, the Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Doug Stanley.”
Tederick then laid out a plan for the local government to heal its relationship with citizens including the need to “accept responsibility for the lack of proper financial oversight.” He added that the town government has not funded the EDA in about 10 years but the town did use the EDA’s financing and bonding power.
“I believe our town government was duped, just like the EDA and the Board of Supervisors,” he said.
Tederick also thanked Finance Director B.J. Wilson and Councilman William Sealock for their efforts in uncovering alleged financial irregularities that made the town realize “we were duped sooner than others.”
He said that while it will take time for trust to be restored and to “obtain justice,” the council and town staff are full of public servants who will “work tirelessly to restore our image and lift this community out of the darkness.”
Tederick noted that past controversies including the unsolved murder of police officer Dennis Smedley and the closing of Avtex that resulted in one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites did not define the community.
He added that what may become “the largest embezzlement scandal” in Virginia’s history also will not define the community. He said goodwill is already prevalent in Front Royal and what defines the community is “love and service to others.”
While justice will be served in time, he said, citizens should focus on service and “mow your neighbor’s grass, paint your neighbor’s fence, cook a meal for your sick friend, ask [Town Manager] Joe Waltz how you can volunteer for our town government.”
“This too shall pass and we as a community will come out stronger because of it,” Tederick said.
He said his greatest responsibility is to do his part “to heal the wounds created by the EDA scandal and to do everything humanly possible to once again unify this community.”
Tedrick also outlined several goals for his term as mayor including:
• Working to have the town “use every influence possible to encourage the EDA to finish” what it started in regards to the stalled Afton Inn renovations.
• Make sure that the historic Town Hall building does not suffer the same fate as the Afton Inn by sitting vacant over the course of years and becoming decrepit.
• Move the beginning of town budget discussion from October to August and provide the council with a class on the town’s audit “so that we can get a thorough understanding of what’s in it, what it means and how we can utilize it to sharpen our pencils during the budget process.”
• Hold a work session to discuss an amendment to the town code that would allow any council member to place an item on a meeting’s agenda.
Tedrick added that during his stint as mayor, the council “will be giving clear and unambiguous direction to staff to execute our vision for this community” and “we will not be kicking the can down the road.”