County admin hire discusses challenging year
Published 6:00 am Thursday, October 29, 2020
It has been a challenging year for incoming Prince Edward County Administrator Douglas Stanley, but he has confidence in a positive conclusion to 2020 and a bright future in Prince Edward.
In a Tuesday, Oct. 27, interview, Stanley addressed the future and both successes and pitfalls of his past.
“Without doubt, it’s been probably the most difficult and challenging year of my career,” he said.
Stanley was formerly the county administrator in Warren County. Along with that county’s Board of Supervisors, the county attorney, the county schools superintendent and the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) board, Stanley was charged by a special grand jury in September 2019 with two counts of misfeasance and one count of nonfeasance due to lack of oversight of the Front Royal-Warren County EDA.
He said an auditor confirmed corruption within the EDA, and the alleged embezzlement has been reported to have totaled more than $21 million.
The charges against Stanley were later dismissed, and he assisted with the efforts to recover the lost funds.
After Stanley served Warren County for more than 25 years, including more than 20 years as its administrator, the county’s five-member Board of Supervisors, which had three new members at the time, opted not to renew his contract in March 2020, giving him three months to begin looking for other opportunities.
Stanley noted he applied for the Lynchburg city manager job around May and was appointed to that position Aug. 11.
Around that same time, word began to spread on social media of inappropriate emails Stanley had allegedly sent while administrator in Warren. For one of the emails, dated 2016, no evidence was found that it was ever sent or received, pointing to the possibility that it was fabricated.
At least one of the emails was real and something Stanley had addressed and apologized for in 2019.
“In 2014, I sent an email that was intended — emphasis on the word intended — to be a funny reference to a movie line but included some insensitive and vulgar language,” he said. “I realize I went entirely too far with, again, what was intended to be a joke. And even though the recipient acknowledged it was a joke, it was inappropriate for me to send it in the first place.
“I think we all have things we wish we could undo at the end of the day, and that’s one of mine,” he said.
He noted that when the email became public in May of 2019, he acted on his own to address it. The Board of Supervisors chair did not ask for it, but in a board meeting, he gave a public apology to the board, his staff and the community for having written the email.
“I think they understood and I think the papers in Front Royal understood that the release of the (email) excerpt — because it wasn’t the full piece of the email which gave it more context — was made to disparage me and my reputation in the community,” he said. “And the fact is that the person ultimately responsible for that is the same person responsible for the $21 million embezzlement scheme with the EDA.”
Stanley said Lynchburg and its background headhunter firm had not identified the information about the emails.
“For me, at my standpoint, they always ask about negative press and what’s going on in the community,” he said, referring to questions asked during the vetting process before a hire. “And this wasn’t in the press, it was more social media driven. I had not brought it up. It came up, obviously, after my appointment.”
He ultimately chose to submit his resignation from the Lynchburg position Aug. 21, shortly before he was set to begin his duties as city manager Sept. 1.
“I think after discussing with them the way things went down, it was the best decision for me and for Lynchburg to step back and step away from that,” he said. “It was disappointing on a personal level, obviously, because I thought this was a great opportunity for me and my family and a place, again, I could make a difference and strong community, strong economic development opportunities. But it didn’t work out. And I’ll say that God has a plan for us all, and maybe, hopefully, it looks like Prince Edward is that plan for me and my family.”
He indicated he feels confident the old email controversy will not represent the same issue in Prince Edward County because this time the subject was investigated and addressed during the hiring process.
“I will say this that I have been very up front with the leadership of Prince Edward, and they have been appreciative of the fact that I have been up front with that information, and I think they believe in, ‘Hey, we all make mistakes, and people deserve second chances,’ so to speak,” he said. “We all have things that we wish we could take back, and sometimes I try to have a sense of humor, sometimes it fails, obviously in this case, and it was inappropriate.
“But we also learn lessons, and moving forward, the big thing is we don’t make those mistakes again,” he added. ”So, I am extremely excited about the opportunity to serve the citizens of Prince Edward. I’m excited about the opportunities that it brings.”
According to the contract Stanley signed with Prince Edward County, he will receive an annual base salary of $137,500 during the first year of the agreement. If he receives successful annual performance reviews in 2021, 2022 and 2023, he will be paid an increase each year of $2,500, moving the salary totals to $140,000, $142,500 and $145,000, respectively.
Also, the contract states that at the end of the third successful annual performance review in a row, the county will pay Stanley a one-time bonus of $30,000, to be paid on or about Nov. 15, 2023.
Wade Bartlett, Prince Edward’s previous county administrator, signed his last regular contract with the county Feb. 8, 2017. He signed a brief extension this past May.
According to the last regular contract, he received an annual base salary of $136,840 for the first year of the agreement. He would only receive an annual increase in salary equal to the percentage increase approved by the Board of Supervisors for all county employees. When Bartlett left his position this past September, he was earning the equivalent of $143,764 annually.
Stanley also gave his perspective on the Front Royal-Warren County EDA embezzlement scheme and his later involuntary resignation.
He stated that the special grand jury making indictments was asserting somehow that he and his Board of Supervisors had authority over the EDA and its executive director.
“The circuit court threw out those charges in October of 2019 when the judge ruled that misfeasance and nonfeasance weren’t technically laws that could be broken,” he said. “But he also accepted the argument that as county administrator, I had no duty to supervise the executive director.
“In fact, it was my actions to recommend the EDA chair contact their auditor to review the EDA’s books and then my actions to get the EDA board and my board to hire an outside auditor that eventually led to the uncovering of the corruption of the EDA.”
He explained what was also happening leading up to the board’s decision not to renew his contract.
“It’s been a tough year,” he said. “The town is getting a new town manager, the superintendent retired, the clerk of court got appointed to a judgeship, circuit court judge got appointed to the Virginia Circuit Court of Appeals, our treasurer retired. I was kind of (the) last man standing, so to speak.”
He said the Warren County Board of Supervisors has staggered terms, and three members were up for reelection.
“Two decided to retire, and the third lost his seat,” he said. “So we had three out of five new board members come in. And I get it, that happens. Folks want to see change, they want to see some new folks come in.”
He said the board did not give more specificity as to why it was letting him go.
“Unfortunately it comes with the territory,” he said. “It, I think, comes with the job. I will say there were two members of the board that wanted to keep me, so it was a 3-2 split.”
His contract ran out in June, and the board let him continue about a week into July before ultimately accepting his resignation.
“As an individual, you hate — having given 25 years to a community — to have to leave, but when you look at the fact that out of 95 counties in Virginia, I was in the top probably three or four in tenure, the average lifespan is a lot less than 20 years in one seat,” he said.
But he mentioned being grateful for having such an extended opportunity to have a significant impact in a community.
“I’m 51 years old,” he said. “I think that I have the ability and the life left to go and do that in another community, and I think Prince Edward offers that opportunity to make a difference.”
He shared a few of the successes that he was a part of while in Warren County, particularly as they relate to economic development. He first served as zoning administrator and planning director before becoming county administrator in 2000.
“In 1989, we lost our largest employer in Avtex Fibers,” he said. “I came in about 1994, so about five years after that closed. And we’ve worked really hard to replace the tax base that we lost and replace the jobs that we lost. It’s hard to believe, but Avtex, at one point in time, paid over half of all the real estate taxes for the entire county — one business.”
He said the county has also been able to bring in a substantial amount of commercial development.
“Everybody used to go shopping in Winchester, 30 minutes away, and we would spend all our tax money over there and help them build schools,” he said. “And over the last 15 years, we’ve been able to bring in Walmart, a Target, a Lowe’s and a number of restaurants and things have been able to help us improve schools in our community. That’s been a big effort, but we’ve been very successful … So when I walk away from Warren County, I’m proud that we’ve been able to make significant investment.”
As Prince Edward attempts to draw a data center to the area, Stanley indicated his past experience will allow him to be helpful in that effort.
“I have experience in working, promoting a community for (information technology) IT and data center types of uses,” he said. “You can imagine, (with) Warren County, which sits just outside the northern Virginia metroplex of Loudoun County, where half the internet in the world is located, we do have quite a bit of acreage that we have begun over the last few years to try to market for IT.”
He said he looks forward to being able to market the Prince Edward community.
“I think one of the things that hopefully made me stand out as a candidate for the position was my background in economic development,” he said. “We were able to bring in over 2,000 jobs into the Route 340-522 corridor and bring in over $250 million in investment during about a 15-, 20-year stretch. And then we were able to bring in the Dominion power plant, which was over a $1 billion investment — that’s a project that I worked on for over 15 years.”
In addition to his Warren County government work, Stanley said he was president of the area Rotary Club for his entire tenure, he is president of an educational endowment, raising money for public education, he was involved in a local arts council and he coached youth soccer.
He noted this involvement reveals the philosophy with which he approaches the county administrator position.
“For me it’s about making the community better — that means not just doing your job but getting involved in the community,” he said.