The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Prince Edward Vice Chair "Lawyers Up"!

Vice Chairman Howard Simpson... on CDA development...

Doesn't know?

Doesn't care?

Or maybe there is something to hide?


The scene at the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors October meeting in Farmville, Virginia was surreal...

Hard questions concerning the Poplar Hill Communtity Development Authority (CDA) were asked... but no answers were delivered...

A well attended Board room... A long agenda... A number of important issues of public interest...

Coming late on the agenda, following a number of routine matters... approval of minutes, routine reports, paying of bills, and several public hearings... was a little matter entitled "Request for Status Report on Poplar Hill CDA."

This request was the topic of a previous Iconoclast post.

One could almost imagine Chairman Buckie whisper under his breath: "Please... everybody... just go home and do not watch this pathetic display of complete non-accountability of County government."

Observers in the Board of Supervisors meeting room (few that they were at the late hour) were aghast at the scene.

You could hear a pin drop...

All of the questions were addressed to Vice Chairman Howard Simpson who was the Board of Supervisors representative on the Poplar Hill CDA board since 1999... the very beginning of the CDA.

But few answers were coming from Vice Chairman Simpson that evening.

Not complete silence... but... a lot of mumbling... and... what was that again? Talk to the lawyer...

Talk to the lawyer? What is this all about?

Observers were again left to scratch their heads in wonderment about what was going on. The CDA is a publicly created entity owned "lock, stock and barrel" by the good citizens of Prince Edward County. Why do we need to talk to the lawyer?!

It seems that back in early July, there was some curious news reported in The Farmville Herald concerning a bank forclosure notice on certain key real property holdings of the publicly owned Poplar Hill Community Development Authority (CDA) in Prince Edward County. The news of the foreclosure came only a month after the "Grand Opening" of a brand new 18 hole golf course financed through the aid of a $8.8 million Federall loan guarantee.

At that time, the headlines in The Farmville Herald read: "Could Impact Inn, Conference Center Site, Not New Golf Course."

I am not kidding... the claim was that the foreclosure would "not impact" the golf course!

Not to mince words too much, the Iconoclast has previously made fun of the Herald's overly optimistic headline "spin" on an obviously serious problem.

Fact is... the foreclosure on significant real property holdings of the CDA has serious implications for the overall project and may be a sign of other problems ahead for the citizens of Prince Edward County and taxpayers in general.

Perhaps the Herald's earlier optimism was misplaced.

But now, perhaps to set the record straight, a new article has appeared in the Herald on the Poplar Hill development under the headline "CDA Would Consider Sale Of Existing 18-Hole Golf Course Site In PE." Coincidentally, this new Herald article appeared exactly three weeks after the Iconoclast first broke the story about possible problems in paradise.

Wow! Sell the golf course!

This article represents quite an "about face" from earlier Herald reports that the forclosure would NOT have an impact on the golf course.

Of particular interest, this article contained several comments by Poplar Hill CDA Chairman Norm Krueger. Krueger, in addition to being the current Chairman of the publicly owned Poplar Hill CDA, is also the Vice President for Business Affairs and Treasurer of Hampden Sydney College. Recall also that Hampden Sydney Poplar Hill, LLC is an important stakeholder in the overall Poplar Hill development holding significant real estate interests.

Anyway, Krueger is quoted in the Herald as saying: "Its been a bumpier than expected start for Poplar Hill Community Development Authority's 18-hole golf course..." and that "Playwise, it's down from what we had projected because of the inn and conference center absence and the lack of development out there."

Mmmmm... "Playwise it's down because of the inn and conference center absence and the lack of development out there." Is that the same as NOT having an impact?

Krueger also volunteered that "The CDA is certainly not... an expert in running golf courses..." (Now is a good time to let the citizens know!)

And then there is the real bombshell... the acknowledgement that "Yes" the sale of the CDA owned golf course is an option that would be considered.

Consider the sale of the golf course?!

What does that mean? Under what circumstances and terms would the CDA consider selling the golf course?

Hasn't that golf course been promised to revert to County ownership in the future? If it is sold, what are the citizens of Prince Edward County going to get out of this deal?

What about the $8.8 million Federally guaranteed loan guarantee? What about all the other public resources that have been invested? Are we talking about a sale price to recover the significant public investments? Or are we talking about the taxpayers having to eat the loss? Who is looking out after the public interests in this deal? Who would have to approve the sale of the golf course?

So many questions....

And this brings us back to our story...

At least in title, Vice Chairman Howard Simpson is supposed to be representing the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors on the Poplar Hill CDA board of directors, and therefore is also supposed to be looking out after the public interests.

However, when Vice Chairman Howard Simpson was asked to report on the Poplar Hill CDA there was... a pregnant silence.

Other than referring to the minutes that he has provided the Supervisors, Vice Chairman Simpson's only substantive comment was that he would not comment further and that things discussed about the CDA in executive session are not to be discussed now (during the October meeting).

Executive session?

What executive session? Does the public ever really ever know when the CDA meets? Aren't all of the CDA meetings kind of private... kind of secret? So how can the public ever know anything about the CDA... especially if Vice Chairman Simpson is not talking?

Vice Chairman Simpson fended off several questions with the same answer... talk to the lawyer... that being the CDA's attorney Harlan Horton.

Considering that Vice Chairman Simpson has represented the Board of Supervisors and citizens of Prince Edward County on the Poplar Hill Community Development Authority for seven years (since 1999), his lack of responsiveness to basic questions was alarming to most observers.

I guess the good citizens of Prince Edward County are just expected to trust their elected officials to do what is best. But maybe that is not such a good idea.
Why can't Vice Chairman Simpson answer basic questions about the financial condition of the Poplar Hill CDA? What is protected about that? What does he have to hide? Why does he need a lawyer to answer these basic questions?

Maybe answers can be found elsewhere...

Maybe the answers can be seen in the picture below of the "Grand Opening" of the Poplar Hill Golf Course on June 14th.

Do these gentelmen have the answers to the important questions?

They are from left to right: Henry Booth, Harlan Horton (Poplar Hill CDA attorney), Southard Brumfield, Hunter Watson (former Chairman of the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors and Commonwealth Transporation Board member), and Scott Harwood (former Chairman of the CDA and current Virginia Tobacco Commission member)... all well known movers and shakers in Prince Edward County.

Also, all of these individuals are known to have been part of the original Poplar Hill Associates, LLC, a private for-profit entity related directly to the overall Poplar Hill Development but separate from the CDA. Nonetheless, Watson was the former Chairman of the Board of Supervisors; Harwood was previously the President of the Poplar Hill CDA; and Horton, is the current CDA attorney, the same attorney who Simpson referred all questions too.

Mmmmm... Getting nervious yet?

Perhaps we will be hearing from Mr. Horton in the near future. But frankly, we wonder... who is Mr. Horton most likely to represent best in this matter... the citizens of Prince Edward County or his buddies and business associates out their on the fairways? Yes... we wonder...

But in closing, the Iconoclast asks once again: Why does Vice Chairman Simpson have to "plead the fifth" to basic questions concening the Poplar Hill CDA?

Oh well...

As they say... Mr. Simpson ... "you have a right to remain silent... "

Maybe Vice Chairman Simpson is smart to "lawyer up" rather than to explain what he has been doing for the past seven years.

You can bet that there will be more about this story in the future.



NOTE: Quotes of CDA president and group picture are from The Farmville Herald. As always, thanks for the tips. Keep them coming.

20 Comments:

  • At 10/26/2006 9:24 AM, Anonymous Trying to Understand said…

    I too was caught off guard when I read in the Herald last week that the CDA would now consider selling the golf course. what? A few weeks ago the Herald reported everything was still peachy, as you point out..

    As you mentioned in your last piece, the Herald has done everything over the past few years to put a big happy face on Popular Hill, and refuse to critically look into what is really going on. Thank you for your work! From talking to other residents in the area, people are starting to see what the Herald really is: a mouth piece for special interest and goold old boy politics in the region...with an occocsional human interest story thrown in for good measure (think pie baking contest or something like that)

    One of the many things over the years which has confused me about this golf course deal is the number institutions, individuals, and entities involved in this project - many of which are LLCs.

    Now if I understand correctly there is a public LLC (the CDA) and several private LLCs working together (essentially) on this project? To the aveage citizen this arrangement can be very confusing to understand. Maybe this is why many citizens have chosen not too pay a great deal of attention? Plus the media spin has been all positive until now (when they have no other choice)

    Speaking of LLCs, I notice last week that Ken Woodley of the Herald wrote a timely editorial in which he praises the LLC structure. Woodley wrote something to the extent that LLCs could "save the world" because they were so plentiful and so willing to motivate to do things (i.e. make money)

    I have a friend - who has established several LLCs - and his take on LLCs "saving the world" is quite different from Mr. Woodley; In his opinion one of the advantegous of the LLC structure is that it legally allows certain members/partners to conseal their identities. If I recall, I believe he said one person is appointed as some sort of proxy represenative, and legally one would have no way to find out other members.....bottom line: this appears to be a very nice arrangement if you want to invest is something that you might otherwise have a direct conflict with...once again, please correct me if I'm wrong...Here's an article that I found on his very subject from Nevada:
    __________________________________

    State law allowing company secrecy bothers legislators

    CARSON CITY -- Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said Thursday she will try to change a law that allows owners of limited liability companies to hide their identities.

    Buckley told members of Assembly Judiciary Committee that she was dismayed to learn that LLC secrecy has hampered the investigation into controversial land swaps between developers and McCarran International Airport.

    Many of the companies that participated in swaps were LLCs. Clark County and Las Vegas required the companies to divulge the identities of some, but not all, of their owners.....

    ___________________________________


    So what does this mean to Popular Hill? Well, I do know that multiple LLCs are involved in this project, and I'm begginng to think that this structure is intended to intentionally muddy the waters....

    Think about it, Longwood Univesity, a public university, has a private LLC which represent them on land deals in this development? Correct? Are they accountable to the Universities' BOV? President? Who are its members? Can one be a member of the public LLC and a private LLC at the same time? So we have private LLCs formed from public institutions?

    I'm starting to believe that Mr. Woodley's "save the world" LLC piece was nothing more than a thinly disguised pro-popular hill piece attempting to "put lipstick on a pig" - even though he didn't directly connect his piece to Poplar Hill...still, the writing is on the "Wall" (if you know what I mean)...

    Therefore it leads me back to my orginal point (I think) why has the Poplar Hill "experiment" (after many years of press coverage) suddenly gone "belly up" to be sold the the highest bidder - which might potentially be for just pennies on the dollar ...where's the accountability? Taxpayers need answers now Mr. Simpson!

    How much more tax dollars will local, state, and federal governments need to dump into this project to save it? Just so a few LLCs can make a killing on real estate speculation? And who the hell are these folks making a killing? Oh, by the way does anyone really use the golf course? Duh?

    Indeed why can't the CDA's Chairman answer these basic questions? I suggest next time they have the attorney come and answer questions at the next public hearing. This is out of control..

    Feel free to clear things up for me Will, and think you for writing about this subject. You have helped to increae my (and several of my neighbors) level of understanding in regard to this whole debacle - thanks again.

     
  • At 10/26/2006 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    By looking at the guts on some of those guys teeing-off it looks like they would have been better served conning the taxpayers into investing in a commercial fitness club instead of a golf course!

     
  • At 10/26/2006 4:19 PM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    Thank you readers for your comments.

    First things first... Actually those individuals pictured in the post look kind of svelt to me. Perhaps the reader actually knows some of these people in person and would know better than I. But anyway, who among us couldn't benefit from shedding a few extra pounds.

    Now in response to "trying...": What can I say? Next time you might want stop being so coy and tell us what you really think!

    But seriously, the reader "trying..." does make some good points and raises some fair questions.

    I will try to address some of these issues.

    First, the Poplar Hill CDA is not an LLC so far as I know. It is a Community Development Authority created by the County Board of Supervisors, for some specific public purpose.

    Separate from the CDA but related by ownership of real property in the immediate area of the golf course are several LLCs or Limited Liability Companies. These several LLCs obviously have something to gain from the amenities being built by the CDA.

    There is nothing inherently sinister about LLCs. It is just another way of organizing a business. LLCs are sometimes mistakenly called Limited Liability Corporations. They are not corporations.

    But yes, the LLCs offer to their members, whether it be one or many, certain protections against personal liability and a certain veil of anonymity. So far as I care, this is all fine and dandy.

    However, when the LLCs start to belly up to public coffers, that is when the need for public accountability kicks in. That is what makes this story interesting.

    The story is also interesting because of the interesting cast of characters who are involved in one or more capacities, sometimes overlapping capacities. Some of these people hold public offices or have in the past and have participated on both the public and private side of this deal.

    It seems to me only fair that the public has a right to know who these people are, what their various roles are and what their financial interests are. If there is nothing to hide, why not come clean with the answers.

    Perhaps there are good answers for all the questions and everything will turn out fine in the end.

    Perhaps in time, we can all belly up to the bar at the nineteenth hole at the Poplar Hill Golf Course and drink to a wonderful success.

    But for now, the public has a fair right to know what is going on, who is benefiting, and at what public cost.

     
  • At 10/26/2006 9:17 PM, Anonymous David said…

    Hate to complain, but why do you cut Chapman's article in the Herald off in mid-sentence? Some of us would like to read the whole article.

     
  • At 10/27/2006 12:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I appreciate you guarding the public interest. I also understand that "all politics are local"...but I only wish our national media was as vigilant in reporting and exposing sweatheart deals that ultimately cost the taxpayers while a select few take a wheel barrell of cash to the bank. Haliburton is waling off with BILLIONS of tax payer money with little accountability since Congress refuses to properly investigate (thanks Virgil Goode)....so now a few good old boysi in farmville are going to go belly up on on 8 million dollars? So what? ....

     
  • At 10/27/2006 9:24 AM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    Just a couple of quick comments before I have to get to work.

    First, I apologize for the incomplete Herald articles that sometimes appear here in the Iconoclast. I know that it is inconvenient and irritatating. We could fix the problem but it would require some extra time and effort on our part. Fact is, we do not cut off the Herald articles. This is how they appear on the official Farmville Herald website. But anyway sorry for the inconvenience.

    Second, the previous comment is well taken. Most people have no problem in spending public resources for public benefits. Unfortunately, too often we see public resources being allocated for questionable activities that don't deliver for the public but seem to enrich special interests.

    The problem with this Poplar Hill deal is the incredible lack of forthrightness, and the curious relationships between the local government personalities, the CDA personalities and the LLC personalities. In some cases, they are the SAME PEOPLE. This is not a confidence inspiring situation.

    Now given the uncertain financial status of the CDA, the public needs some accountability from responsible persons. We think this is a fair enough expectation of public officials.

    TGIF.

     
  • At 10/27/2006 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am glad that we have websites such as this and others that reveal the truth about government and other issues because the papers around here sure as hell won't report on it! Thanks for the information and keep on doing your thing Will!

     
  • At 10/28/2006 10:29 AM, Anonymous a taxpayer said…

    Even though the golf course has been in the Herald a lot in recent years , it did not really sink in how much public money is involved with the development. It is now fair to say that the golf course probably would not have been built without the federal loan guarantee.

    This is not exactly what the community was led to believe earlier on.

    It is also surprising to now learn that Longwood and Hampden Sydney are so much involved in this deal. I get it that LLCs are not the same legally as the colleges, but still it seems obvious that the colleges are involved up to their necks.

    Given the sky high tuition costs today, the government probably ought to be doing more to help local kids get a quality college education at a reasonable cost. While the golf course may be nice for some, I am not sure that the government ought to be getting into what I consider expensive "frills" for a relatively small number of kids.

    I hope this deal works out in time, but I agree that county officials and local media need to do a better in telling us the truth rather than suger coating the story. Maybe if more people had the full story earlier on some decisions would have turned out differently and better.

     
  • At 10/29/2006 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What is ridiculous is the complete waste of taxpayer money going into this boondoggle. Why should a government agency pour our hard earned money into such a private venture.

    Funds from the public should only be used to pay for services that directly benefit those who are taxed.

    After receiving my recent tax bill, can I redeem it for a free round of golf?

    Maybe Ken Woodley should adopt this as his latest "poster child".

     
  • At 10/30/2006 8:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Don't worry Mr. Norm Krueger, we completely understand that the CDA members aren't experts when it comes to running and developing a golf course.

    Because we aren't experts in running a war either, and you see how that turned out!

    So there is hope for you guys!

    Regards,

    George Bush, Dick Cheney, & Don Rumsfeld

     
  • At 10/30/2006 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The Herald should be commended for the recent update on the Poplar Hill development. In all fairness, I don't think you could say that the most recent article was sugar coating anything.

    I also agree that selling the golf course may not be such a bad deal. Assuming that it could be sold for a fair price that would assure that all past public investments are recovered, why not?

    The details are important obviously. And since public resources are involved, it is probably fair that questions be asked. But boondoggle is a pretty harsh word to use at this time. I suggest we wait until more information is available before we judge.

     
  • At 10/30/2006 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What qualifications does Howard Simpson have anyway to be representing the county and the citizens on this deal? I can not imagine a more unsuitable (read unqualified) individual to be makeing decisions concerning financial aspects of this project. Foreclosure only a month after the Grand Opening? It is no wonder he does not want to talk about it. There is probably a good reason why certain people do not want a financally savvy county representative on the CDA board. This is just typical of how this county government works.

     
  • At 10/30/2006 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What is Simpson's "day job"? I'm assuming he isn't a CPA?

     
  • At 10/30/2006 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Think Simpson is long time retired. Seem to recall that somebody said he was a sheriffs dept. jailer or bailiff or something like that. Don't know the exact details. Maybe he could handle a lemonade stand, but no way is he qualified to make decisions on something like this. I am baffled as to why he is there.

     
  • At 11/02/2006 2:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You guys at the Iconoclast should keep on asking the questions. This deal is is begining to look like another example of government abuse. Who can we complain to?

     
  • At 11/06/2006 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    In rseponse to the previous poster:
    You'd have to complain to the same Board of Supervisors who foisted this debacle on the taxpayers in the first place. Since they are not likely to listen, the best alternative is to vote out the controlling bloc next November, when, for example, Howard Simpson must defend his seat.

     
  • At 11/18/2006 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Norman Krueger is the guy who moved Hampden-Sydney's endowment into stocks just months before the dot-com bubble burst. No tower of competence there!

     
  • At 11/29/2006 10:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I happened to be an eye witness to Mr. Krueger's recent presentation to the board. He did a good job I thought and didn't try to hide any thing that I could see. He admitted that there may be some problems. What else can you ask of the man? They are trying and will get the numbers together as soon as they can. Hampden Sydney is an asscet and, as Mr Krueger said, has nothing but our best interests at heart. I say give these guys a chance.

     
  • At 12/13/2006 1:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Will, you got to check out what these guys are up to recently. Seems like some or those shady deals of the past are begining to stink up the courthouse. Lots of questions and no answers. Howard is hilarious as the new boss hog. Where is the casting director?

     
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