New EDA chief tries to do business amid scandal
There is no normal — even a new normal — for the executive director of the Front Royal-Warren Economic Development Authority, Douglas Parsons. Not while his predecessor, Jennifer McDonald, faces criminal charges and a civil suit alleging that she engineered a $21 million embezzlement scheme.
A veteran in economic development, Parsons took office in May. Ever since, he’s been trying to stay focused on restoring the public’s trust and getting back to business, despite the still-evolving criminal and civil probes, which have ensnared McDonald’s husband, several businesspeople and the late sheriff.
A circuit judge recently dismissed misdemeanor charges of misfeasance and nonfeasance against the county supervisors, County Executive Douglas Stanley and current and former board members with the economic development authority. The judge said the charges were not listed as crimes under the state code.
“Right now, we have around $41 million in debt, and we have $1.6 million in the bank,” Parsons says of the authority’s finances.
“As we continue to make debt and interest payments over the next few months, that money will dwindle. We’re trying to be as frugal as we can all the way around,” he said in a late October interview.
The authority has filed a $21.3 million civil lawsuit against McDonald, her husband, her mother and various associates to try to recover as much money as it can.
Despite the unprecedented turmoil in what may be one of the biggest embezzlement cases in state history, Parsons says the news hasn’t been all bad.
“I don’t know of any deals or prospects that we’ve lost or [companies that] have backed out as a result of the troubles we’ve had here. I think people realize that there are issues here, but they don’t really affect their bottom line,” he says.
Parsons adds that assuring taxpayers that the authority is transparent and accountable has been a principal goal of his.
Sandra Peart, dean of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond, says a lack of transparency can lead to corruption.
“Leaders are more likely to behave ethically if there is transparency,” says Peart, who has written extensively about leadership ethics.