FRONT ROYAL – When it was time to discuss the town’s $15 million civil lawsuit against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority during a Thursday town-county liaison committee meeting, Town Attorney Doug Napier said “I don’t want to be a party pooper” but it was not a proper time for the discussion.
As the town sues the EDA for alleged monetary losses, the EDA has filed its own civil lawsuit against 15 individuals and companies that alleges embezzlement and questionable deals during the authority’s former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald's tenure.
Napier explained that there was a Friday morning hearing via phone conference regarding the town’s case and “loose lips sink ships, so to speak.” He said it was better to postpone the discussion because the town does not know exactly where its lawsuit is heading. Napier explained over the phone that Judge Bruce. D Albertson granted the town 30 days to file an amended complaint, as new evidence has been found that will likely increase the claimed damages.
Mayor Eugene Tewalt said during the liaison committee meeting that there is “one thing for sure” – the town does not want to undermine the EDA. He proceeded to say: “At least I don’t. I don’t know about the council.” On multiple occasions, Tewalt has expressed a desire to work with the EDA and avoid litigation.
At the EDA’s Friday meeting, no town representatives were present and authority Chairman Ed Daley extended an open invitation for them to attend in the future. EDA Board Member Gray Blanton said: “the Town Council needs to listen to the mayor.”
Supervisor Tony Carter said he has always felt the town and county “would be better off working together” in attempting to recover assets lost in the alleged embezzlement.
The two bodies previously jointly funded the EDA and appointed its board members. About 10 years ago, however, the town ceased its funding and lost the ability to appoint board members.
Napier agreed that working together should be on the table “at some point” but “this is probably not the time.”
Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick noted that the town’s request for the ability to create its own EDA has been assigned to a General Assembly subcommittee but no date has been set for those discussions. He said the town submitted the request just to have the option and whether a separate EDA is created remains to be seen.
Carter said misinformation has circulated that the EDA was always working for the county although most of its projects were in town, adding those were not always "good projects."
Some of those in-town projects include the Afton Inn, a workforce housing project and ITFederal. None of those were completed and all were cited in the EDA’s civil lawsuit as avenues through which money was allegedly stolen.
Carter reiterated that the town and county need to work together and perhaps the town would like partially fund the EDA and regain the ability to appoint board members.
If the town creates its own EDA, Carter said the result would be a “duplication of costs.” He suggested the Town Council and Board of Supervisors each attempt to “set the framework” for a potential partnership.
Moving on from the EDA, Tederick asked if there is a more convenient way for town citizens to use county dump sites other than having a vehicle decal on windshields. The matter recently came to the town’s attention when many vehicles in downtown lots were ticketed for violating code by not having the decal. The town opted to not prosecute those tickets and Tederick said officials may do away with the decals altogether.
County Administrator Doug Stanley said the county began requiring decals for dump access in the mid-2000s because people from other counties used the sites, which resulted in Warren County citizens paying “six figures” for other localities’ trash.
He said dump access is allowed when citizens present a local vehicle registration or driver’s license, but some people get upset when asked to provide those items. He added that does not help those with weekend homes in the county.
Another issue, Stanley said, is that many dump site employees are older and the decals allow them to stay in a warm booth during cold months.
Tederick also updated the county on plans to institute a “Pride in Our Town” initiative that will involve churches and civic organizations cleaning yards and porch debris.
Stanley updated the town on plans for the old Sheriff’s Office off Jackson Street, saying it may be demolished for parking. In five to 10 years, he said the land could perhaps be used for a new courtroom as the courthouse is running out of space.