FRONT ROYAL — It remains in the air whether county money will be used to fund current and former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority board members’ legal fees for their dismissed misdemeanor nonfeasance and misfeasance charges.
The charges – which were dismissed by a judge because they are not actual crimes – related to their alleged lacking oversight of former EDA Executive Jennifer McDonald, who has been charged on 32 felony counts stemming from alleged financial improprieties. The EDA has requested $36,827 to fund the legal defenses of current EDA board members Mark Baker, Gray Blanton and Dr. Tom Patteson, and former board members Greg Drescher, William Biggs, Bruce Drummond and Ron Llewellyn.
The supervisors have already used county money to fund the legal fees of four out of five current and former supervisors, County Administrator Doug Stanley and former EDA Attorney Dan Whitten for the same three misdemeanor charges, which were also dismissed. That decision was made before three new supervisors took office this month.
County Attorney Jason Hamm said during the supervisors’ Tuesday work session that the county does not have a legal obligation to provide money for the legal fees. He added that the county cannot legally pay for EDA board members’ legal fees, but the county can give the EDA money. He noted that the EDA has approved a resolution asking the county to give the authority money, which would be used for legal fees.
Hamm added that a decision not to provide the money may have “a chilling effect” on potential candidates for other boards. He said the question is: what is the best action for Warren County?
Supervisor Cheryl Cullers said the decision “has been an absolute agony for me.”
“I think about this probably more than anybody realizes and I’m still struggling with it, to be absolutely honest,” she said.
Cullers noted that EDA board members are volunteers and she does not believe some of the people who “got snapped up in this should have.” She added that while there are taxpayers opposed to the county funding the legal expenses she also feels an obligation to do so because the EDA board members are volunteers.
Supervisor Archie Fox said “it concerns me” that Drescher’s requested reimbursement of $10,000 is about twice as much as other board members. Hamm noted that this may have been the result of Drescher paying a flat fee, which potentially could have saved money if the court proceedings took longer.
Hamm said the county could provide less than the EDA has requested, to which EDA Chairman Ed Daley responded: “We will be very appreciative of any support that you can give to our members.”
Cullers proposed the possibility of the money being loaned and repaid whenever the authority’s “boat is upright.” Daley responded that the supervisors could do that, or the county could provide the EDA less operating funds in the future.
EDA Board Member Greg Harold said this would be a much more difficult decision if the charges were actual Virginia crimes but they were not and never should have been filed.
The supervisors on Jan. 21 will vote whether to fund the legal fees.