FRONT ROYAL – The Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday meeting denied the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s request for $36,827 to fund current and former EDA board members’ legal fees for their dismissed misdemeanor nonfeasance and misfeasance charges.
The seven current and former board members were charged in September for alleged lacking oversight of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, who has been charged on 32 felony counts related to alleged financial improprieties during her tenure at the authority. The charges, however, were dismissed by Circuit Court Judge Bruce D. Albertson because he said misfeasance and nonfeasance are not actual crimes in Virginia.
The decision comes after the supervisors voted to fund four current and former supervisors’ and two county officials’ $49,922 in legal expenses stemming from identical charges, which were also dismissed.
Resident Paul Gabbert said during a public comment period that there were “not too many people” happy when the supervisors funded their legal fees and “not too many people” want the county to fund the EDA board members’ legal fees.
“We as taxpayers shouldn’t pay for these attorneys,” Gabbert said.
He added that everyone charged was guilty, but it just so happens misfeasance and nonfeasance are not crimes.
“How convenient that was,” Gabbert said.
Resident Leslie Mathews noted that the county does not have an obligation to reimburse the board members’ legal fees. She noted that Ron Llewellyn, one of the former board members seeking reimbursement, once owed the county hundreds and thousands of dollars in back taxes and “I am tired of subsidizing for him.” She added that Greg Drescher, former schools superintendent and EDA chairman, was recently the highest-paid county employee.
The motion to not fund the legal fees passed by a 4-1 vote with Supervisor Archie Fox serving as the lone dissenter.
Supervisor Delores Oates said she cannot commit taxpayer money to the legal fees “at this time” without understanding how it impacts the county’s overall budget forecast for the upcoming fiscal year. Oates added that it “would be foolish” to provide the legal fees when there is no telling how much the county will have to support the EDA as it nears insolvency.
Supervisor Cheryl Cullers said she appreciates the authority but wondered why the EDA did not have an insurance policy that covers the legal fees.
"My thought is that we need to support them by being proactive and looking to insure them so that if this happens again...they have an insurance that will back them up...I'm not trying to dump you but I do want to protect you in the future because I do value your service," Cullers said.
County Attorney Jason Ham responded that there is no policy that covers criminal charges.
Supervisor Tony Carter said not providing the legal fees will make it difficult for the county to get good candidates for other volunteer boards.
“I think that’s the bigger picture,” he said.
Carter noted that the charges were dismissed and possibly should have never been brought. He added that he would never be in favor of reimbursing anyone if they were found guilty. He said one scenario is to loan the authority money until it recovers assets in a civil suit seeking $21.3 million in damages.
Ham said the four supervisors who voted in favor of not funding the legal fees can bring the issue back before the board at any time while Fox cannot bring it back for a year.
After the vote was taken, Ham said: "I'm sorry, I'm confused. I thought we were voting to deny it...and that included Mr. Carter?"
"Yes," Carter responded.
Oates speculated that Carter voted that way because "he wants to bring it up again."