FRONT ROYAL — The candidates for Warren County sheriff recently shared their thoughts on county leadership, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority controversy and the future of the Sheriff’s Office.
The candidates are Warren County deputy Michael “Mickey” Licklider, Herndon police officer Mark Butler and Winchester police officer Jason Poe.
Poe recently posted a Facebook video lambasting county officials for what he said is their non-reaction to the EDA’s recent filing of a $17 million lawsuit. He said over the phone the video was posted because “the county is starving for leadership” and nobody has taken the lead as rumors spread about.
The EDA’s lawsuit, which details alleged embezzlement and misappropriation of town and county funds, names nine defendants including Poe’s father, Donald Poe, and Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron.
Poe said over the phone posting the video had nothing to do with his father being one of the defendants and it was strictly because of the “leadership failure” within the county.
In the video, Poe said County Administrator Doug Stanley’s resignation should be demanded immediately and he questioned why it was not until recently that a special grand jury was impaneled regarding the matter when EDA issues have been under investigation since August.
Poe said over the phone that the Board of Supervisors needs to hold somebody accountable because “obviously something bad has happened in our community.” Just what that bad thing is, Poe said: “I don’t know because the investigation is ongoing.”
“But people need to lead. Silence has turned our community upside down,” Poe said.
Butler reacted to Poe’s video by saying over the phone that it was “very reckless,” “immature” and borderline slanderous. He noted that the FBI had appeared recently at the EDA’s office and fingers should not be pointed at anyone during a federal investigation.
“To sit there and come out and slam people, that is lack of leadership...We actually need to come together as a community instead of dividing,” he said.
Licklider said the EDA ordeal is a “trainwreck” that has given the community a “black eye” and it is clear “somebody dropped the ball somewhere along the line,” noting that officials should have listened to former councilwoman Bébhinn Egger when she raised questions regarding the authority in 2016.
With that in mind, Licklider said it is important to let the investigation take its proper course and “let the ax fall where it may” in the end. After the investigation, he said the judicial system will work as it is supposed to and that those guilty of crimes will suffer the consequences.
Butler agreed and said America’s judicial system has worked well for centuries and it should be allowed to work “because when it’s done right, the scales typically do balance out and the facts do come forward.”
Poe agreed that those who are guilty should be held responsible but leaders need to speak up in the meantime.
Butler said that candidates should not be using the situation as part of their platform. He added that leaders should be held accountable and although he has personal opinions regarding the matter, he will not spread those opinions as a candidate. He added that he will get elected without negative campaigning but through his leadership abilities and beliefs.
Butler added that all of the facts about any possible crimes at the EDA are not available because it is an ongoing investigation, noting that he has been involved in many federal cases “but clearly some of our candidates haven’t really worked those kinds of cases, so they don’t really know how it works.”
Poe did not have any response to the video being called reckless and noted that he is not asking for case specifics because the matter is under investigation. Still, he maintained officials should acknowledge there is a problem and that they will get to the bottom of it.
All three candidates agreed that because McEathron is a defendant in the lawsuit, the office must undergo image rehabilitation whether he is guilty or not.
Butler said when he is elected, the he will work “tirelessly” to have the citizens respect and trust the office. Under him, Butler said, a similar situation will never arise because he will not allow the office “to be thought of in an unethical light.” He added that he will involve the whole community in making the county safer. He said tactics his office will implement include being friendly and diligent while investigating cases “to the fullest.”
Licklider said his goal is to establish a dedicated, professional and trustworthy office, characteristics he said he has displayed throughout his 32-year career in law enforcement.
Once elected, he said he will examine all operations of the office from the top to the bottom and decide where changes are needed. He said he will especially focus on work that could be done effectively while spending less money.
Poe, who previously worked at the Sheriff’s Office, said he would enact a roughly 180-day plan that would evaluate each division and make the office “become one with the public.”
“It’s about getting out here, shaking hands, being committed to our citizens. And that starts with me. If I hide behind that desk and never come out of that office, then that office is gonna have the reputation that it has and that’s not acceptable,” he said.
Poe said he decided to leave the Sheriff’s Office to see how a police department operates and because he had problems with certain “leadership avenues” in Warren County such as a lagging effort in retaining experienced officers.
“There was no effort to retain them, none. And as a leader, I don’t agree with that,” he said.
Licklider said once the FBI and Virginia State Police put all of the pieces of the EDA puzzle together, “we need to let that happen so we can move on, get this behind us and learn from the mistakes.”
For example, he said the proposal that would have the county become the EDA’s fiscal agent and oversee the authority’s financial transactions, is not a good idea because citizens believe the supervisors are partly responsible for the problem. Instead, he said an independent panel should be formed and oversee the EDA’s operations.