Marshall, VA (October 22) – The Washington Post recently published an article on the unfolding scandal that is the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board. With that story many Americans and Virginians have come to know what so many residents of Warren county have known for a long time: something is rotten in Warren County’s government.
More than a dozen county officials including the school superintendent, the county administrator, the former county attorney, all five county supervisors, and six current and former members of the Economic Development Authority Board (EDA) all face misdemeanor charges. The county sheriff took his own life and $21 million was embezzled in a scheme allegedly led by Jennifer McDonald, the former director of the EDA.
The scale of this fraud is shocking but the clear lack of accountability, which allowed the whole situation to happen, is not. EDAs are notoriously devoid of accountability to the areas and people they are chartered to serve. In Virginia, the state government in Richmond grants localities the ability to establish EDAs, which in turn establish their own governance. In the case of Warren County’s EDA, the board is comprised of seven directors appointed by the Board of Supervisors.
There are some simple measures, which our elected leadership at the state level can take in partnership with local governments:
- EDA Oversight Committee in Richmond: Create a bipartisan committee of the General Assembly specifically charged with reviewing the annual plans of EDAs.
- Annual Report: The Authority should submit an annual report to the Governor and the Committee charged with the review. This report would also include a yearly-in person presentation in Richmond as well as an annual visit and audit of the EDA’s offices.
- Transparent and Public Meetings: Mandate public hearings for bond issuance or property acquisition. The public has a right to know where and how their money is being spent.
Front Royal and Warren County deserve new leadership and a clean slate to restore credibility to the residents of Warren County and to attract outside investors. Businesses will need new leaders with a track record of accomplishments in building public-private partnerships and clean governance. Most importantly, the people of Warren County deserve a government that serves them. These simple measures are the beginning of real accountability for the people of Warren County, because the last place our democracy should fail us is in our own backyard.
Laura Galante is a candidate for Virginia’s 18th House of Delegates District, a district that contains parts of Front Royal and Warren County. Laura is a small business owner, a cybersecurity expert, and serves on the board of the Northern Virginia 4-H Center in Front Royal. She lives in Marshall, VA with her husband and son. More information on her candidacy can be found at: galantefordelegate.com