“To be or not to be” – this seems to be a Shakespearean question looming over the continued existence of the Unilateral Front Royal Economic Development Authority (FREDA). During its business session on Tuesday 11 October, under the watchful eye of FREDA Board Vice-Chairman Mark Tapsak, Front Royal Council discussed the implications of a yet to be established FREDA budget, among other procedural matters. The staff agenda summary even noted the ability of cities to control development, including economic development, through zoning parameters and central decisions on the extension of public services, without the help of a EDA.
Acting City Manager Kathleen Leidich summarized the staff report on issues raised by council during the August and September business sessions, leading up to the discussion on Tuesday, October 11. Following this presentation and discussion, a joint FREDA Council and Board of Directors meeting has been tentatively scheduled for Monday, October 17 at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall.
As noted in the October 11 Staff Agenda Summary:
“The city, as permitted by Virginia code and governed by city code, has control over its use of land, water, sewer and electric utilities. As such, it has the means to guide community development, including economic development, within its territory.
“The City’s ability to direct, control or encourage development within its boundaries does not depend on the creation of an economic development authority. In 2021, the City began the process of creating an economic development authority. As a result, the Front Royal Economic Development Authority was created and began meeting in January 2022.
“Current concerns regarding the city’s EDA include:
- “Configuration is incomplete – No Federal Tax ID has been established; accounts not configured
- “Differences Between EDA Bylaws and City Code Chapter 16 – Role of Executive Director Not Established or Defined; staff support for meetings; Legal review
- “Staff support – staff currently provide support to six councils and commissions in addition to the EDA. This includes the preparation of agenda records, advertisements, minutes and videos for each meeting, in addition to related work products generated by each council or commission.
“Recent events provide Council with an opportunity to consider its concerns and build consensus regarding the City’s Economic Development Authority.
And finally, “Staff Recommendation: – Staff seek direction from City Council regarding the establishment/support of the City’s EDA.”
It can be noted that, as reported Royal Examiner in February 2021 (after a year and a half gap, the city council catches up with the activity of the EDA, in and out of town), after first joint meetings aimed at correcting the processes that allowed the financial scandal FR -WC EDA to escalate between 2014/15 and 2018″…to the objection of then-Mayor Gene Tewalt, who unsuccessfully recommended a policy of cooperation and reconstruction with the EDA and the county , as opposed to a council-backed litigation policy pushed by the former acting mayor’s office and the acting city manager’s council began to move down the hostile path of civil litigation. despite offers from FR-WC EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons for “good faith negotiations to see exactly who is owed what” related to what was allegedly the unauthorized movement of EDA assets, from the county and the city by former EDA Executive Director, Jennifer McDonald.
It’s a path that continues to rack up contract attorney fees for the Alexandria law firm Damiani-Damiani recommended to council by the former city manager/acting mayor as the city pursues the EDA of the County of Front Royal-Warren and County for Disputed Losses and Liabilities. And with its launch of civil lawsuits, the City withdrew from participating in the reconstruction of the half-century-old joint municipal EDA. This is an EDA for which, by mutual agreement, in recent years the City had no responsibility for operating costs, only the payment of its debt service for City projects overseen by the EDA such as the construction of the new police headquarters.
Back to the future
Which brings us back to today as the current board ponders the cost of the economic development path it and its predecessors have chosen. Following Acting City Manager Leidich’s summary of the above issues, Councilwoman Letasha Thompson questioned the FREDA Board’s awareness of council’s concerns going forward. Leidich responded that FREDA Board Chairman Rick Novak had been notified of the scheduled discussion that evening, but was unavailable, resulting in Vice Chairman Tapsak being present. .
Mayor Holloway then suggested a joint meeting with the FREDA board, ‘So we can all get together and discuss our options’, adding: ‘It’s taken a while to put this together. somehow get rid of it.
Council consensus was reached quickly and with a lead time to announce a special joint meeting and schedule availability “as soon as possible” as Councilor Gary Gillispie suggested, as noted above a tentative date meeting for Monday evening, October 17 at 7:00 p.m. in the main meeting room at City Hall has been set up.
Councilwoman Amber Morris cited council’s past discussions behind closed doors on the future of FREDA, noting that the discussion was now a matter of open session, public record – “It’s over there,” he said. – she observed, adding: “The set up of FREDA is incomplete, or was not completed and we have started operating. FREDA predates my arrival on the board. I am excited for them, I was excited for them and I think they will bring great opportunities to the community for the economic development of the town – this hasn’t been developed in over a decade. All the development is going to the county,” Morris said of ‘An imbalance of past economic development maybe perceived. However, whether such larger scale commercial or industrial development outside the established city limits reflects an imbalance of development or a natural result of the availability rel tive of undeveloped tracts of somewhat isolated land is certainly debatable. And it might be noted that the only 147-acre space reserved for commercial economic redevelopment within the city limits, the former Avtex, Federal Superfund, Royal Phoenix Business Park, “Brownfield” site, belongs for this redevelopment to the FR -WC EDA, more commonly referred to as WC EDA since the city’s withdrawal from participation around 2020/21.
Morris continued, reviewing staff concerns cited above in the agenda summary, including the lack of a federal tax ID number and the lack of accounts being set up: “And the big concern that applies to that is that we voted to allocate money to FREDA and a budget. We’ve had discussions… We literally can’t fund them to let them work,” Morris said. She compared the situation to the initial experience with the work of the joint city and county tourism committee to create a 501-C6 organization to manage this promotional operation, of which she pointed out: “We hired them, then the held hostage” for a while as the parameters and details were ironed out.
Morris also noted the conflict of City Code Chapter 16/FREDA Bylaws with the position of Executive Director not being established or defined. This is despite the fact that recently fired City Manager Steven Hicks was appointed by council to fill the position as an EDA employee before his August 8 departure.
It looks like the council and its new FREDA board will have a lot to say on Monday in hopes of establishing a viable path with all the necessary legal parameters and funding in place. Or after further exploration of the numbers, could council choose, as Mayor Holloway put it, “to sort of get rid of it” and rely on “controlling its land use, water, sewer and electrical utilities…as a means to guide community development, including economic development, within its borders.
It should be noted that one of the two items on the agenda for an in camera meeting at the end of the working session was the discussion with legal counsel regarding “the establishment, powers, duties and limitations of the Front Royal EDA, pursuant to §2.2-3711(A)(8) of the Virginia Code” with the additional statement that “the Board may take other action in open session.” No action was taken after the closed session. But that may not be the case next Monday. Stay tuned as this process moves forward. The other topic of the closed meeting was the status of the director positions. general, city attorney and clerk of the council.
The FREDA discussion starts at 42:00 minutes of the Town video and ends at 52:24. See this, and other topics, including staff updates on other key projects, including the comprehensive city plan review; pending ordinance changes, including residential snow and ice removal on City rights-of-way in front of these properties; special use permit applications; and Redundant Northern Corridor Water Line Funding Variables. As noted at the end of our related story on Skip Rogers’ vacant(?) council seat nomination, financial variables on the latter topic, among others, have reduced the city’s reserve funds to six budgetary months, to barely three months above the code mandated at least three months. Also, at the start of the special meeting preceding the business session, see council approve a resolution committing to share funds with VDOT and granting signing authority on VDOT projects in town to Acting City Manager Leidich.
Click here to watch the meeting.
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