FRONT ROYAL – Town Council at its regular Monday meeting gave its attorney Doug Napier the go-ahead to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the Front Royal-Warren County Development Authority seeking the authority’s forensic audit.
That forensic audit, which was commissioned by the EDA in September, resulted in the authority filing a $17 million civil lawsuit against nine defendants for alleged embezzlement and misappropriation of funds.
It was the town’s discovery that it was overcharged by the EDA at least $291,000 for debt service payments that led to the audit. These overpayments were not mentioned in the lawsuit’s case filings.
Mayor Hollis Tharpe last week called the overpayments “inadvertent” charges that were not embezzlement.
Council members last week lamented that the town has been left in the dark regarding the audit’s findings.
A resolution that the council unanimously passed Monday supporting Napier’s submission of FOIA request states that town officials “have the right and duty” to see the audit’s results in order to determine the standing of taxpayer money and whether it will be “promptly returned.”
The resolution states that Napier will file a FOIA for the “full, complete, and unredacted” copy of the forensic audit “which has been stated by officials of the EDA to be complete in full by March 22.”
Dan Whitten, EDA attorney, said over the phone, however, that the audit report EDA board members saw was a draft and the finalized version is not complete. He added that any copies of the draft have since been destroyed.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt said he is “100 percent in favor” of the resolution and that the town is requesting the audit because “we need closure on the situation.” He said the town must learn what it is owed by the EDA and vice versa.
Councilman Jacob Meza said he is “not optimistic” that the EDA will provide the town with the audit but that it is nice to let citizens know that officials are doing everything possible to get information.
Napier previously said the town will have legal grounds to take the EDA to circuit court if the authority denies the FOIA request.
Town Council on Monday also:
• Approved a proclamation declaring May 2019 Building Safety Month and a proclamation declaring April 27 Arbor Day.
• Approved the renewal of a lease agreement with Shentel that will allow the company’s continued use of the town’s Fairgrounds Road water tank.
• Approved the first reading of an ordinance to vacate a public right-of-way that includes a 25-foot alley near 208 W. Duck St.
• Approved the first reading of an ordinance amendment that will implement a $25 fee for requests for water meter data logs when such requests are made three times within a year. The ordinance amendment also implements a $25 application fee for all fence permits.
• Approved the Humane Society of Warren County’s request for use of a town trolley during its Waggin’ for Dragons fundraiser.