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Rummage: “If I ever mistreated anybody in this office at any time, I am sincerely sorry"

    More than 80 people tuned in last Thursday April 9th to view the Colonial Beach Town Council meeting on The Journal's U-stream, the meeting room was packed, and parking left late residents walking a few blocks to get to the meeting room in Colonial Beach.
   As reported earlier in the week Mayor Rummage had been asked by three council members to vacate his physical office in Town Hall. Many residents were determined to get to the bottom of the matter but what they got was a sugar-coated version of the truth which left residents to read between the lines and speculate as to the exact cause of the Council members’ recent actions.
   It was clear at the beginning of the meeting that the Mayor's ousting was valid reporting by The Journal since one of the items added to the agenda at the onset of the meeting was Resolution 27-09 which stated: Val Foulds has been employed as the Town manager, the Council seeks to promote an efficient workplace, the presence of the Mayor at Town Hall on a daily basis is interfering with and obstructing the efficient operations of the Town.
   The resolution sought to disallow the Mayor the use of an office in Town Hall and to restrict the Mayor or any member of the Town Council from undertaking actions related to the day to day operations and/or management of the Town, unless specifically authorized by the Town Council or specifically requested by the Town Manager.
   This move is in stark contrast to the previous Mayor's reign in office. Pete Bone, who sat in the Mayor's seat for several terms, renovated the upstairs area of Town Hall on the Corner of Irving Ave and Hawthorne as well as the Pete Bone Meeting room on Washington Ave. The physical office which he created was used intermittently by Former Mayor Bone for his duties as a mayor and many short periods when he acted as Town manager, one lasting 22 months.
   It was not until the end of the Town meeting last Thursday that the resolution was addressed and Councilman David Coombes gave an eloquent speech to try to explain the actions of council concerning Resolution #27-09 without giving much detail.
   The Mayor, however, shed more light on the issue than did members of Council. In his address to the Council and public he touched on three key events which he attributed to what he calls his “relations with Council going south."
   Rummage began by saying, “I have always felt that both sides of the story have to be told and when that is not done we are short changing the public.”
The first event concerns the Riverwood Apartment development which he said came to the Council in regular session on December 11, 2008. “We had quite a debate and discussion on that issue. I felt it was necessary to continue to a subsequent date which turned out to be December 17. During that continuation meeting I was unable to get anyone to open a motion to open debate. I called a 10 minute recess hoping someone would reconsider opening the debate,” explained Mayor Rummage.
   The Mayor subsequently sent a letter to the Westmoreland News to explain what happened in response to numerous complaints which he said he received from mostly elderly residents of Riverwood.  The Mayor stated that after that letter he believes his relationship with the council “had gone south,” which he coined as regrettable.  He said that it was never his intention for things to turn out in that fashion. “I still hope that we will reconsider and let bygones be bygones and get on with the future for the benefit and welfare of the people the Town.”
   The second event concerned the audit from February 3, 2009. There was an audit delivered to the office which the Mayor said he didn’t learn about until a week later. Rummage said that he was “very insistent” that he wanted to make copies and disseminate them to all members of Council. He stated that the same day he was charged verbally with mistreating people in the office. [Town Hall]  
    Rummage offered an apology saying, “If I ever mistreated anybody in this office at any time, I am sincerely sorry and my sincerest apologies.” Mayor Rummage said he was told that there would be copies of the audit report at the Retreat, but then was told that if he had a retreat, he would be attending it alone. (By members of Council)
   Although he didn’t point fingers at any one person, Rummage made claims that terms used to describe him among many others were ‘very domineering’ and ‘very critical’ and he was warned that if he didn’t change they (the council) would close the Mayor’s office.
Mayor Rummage said that subsequently he started to spend less time at his office and turned over all of the projects he was working on to Town Manager, Val Foulds who had just taken office full time.
   The third event Mayor Rummage spoke of occurred after he was informed by the County that they had received some money from the state for road repair on March 30, 2009.
   Mayor Rummage clarified at the Council meeting on April 9 that the money had to be spent during this fiscal year. The project would require $50,000 from the town’s budget that the county would match at $50,000. The combined money would then be matched by the State to total $200,000. This would start phase two of the Riverside Meadows pavement project. “The money would be derived from the reserve funds,” stated Rummage.
   Rummage ended his speech for which he received audience applause by saying, “I’m sorry I had to make this type of report, happy Easter to everyone,” but added, “I shall not stop as long as I’m here making disclosures that should be made to the public. Transparency is my commitment, it was when I ran for this office and honesty I was always taught is the best policy. Thank you very much.”    
When the Resolution came before the Council for vote, Councilman Coombes gave a guarded summation of the events leading to the decision to pass Resolution 27-09.
   Coombes began by saying, “For me personally, and this council can speak for themselves, “I am saddened to have to make this recommendation.” “The mayor and I have worked together for quite a while and in thirty years of professional experience as a CEO I have never had to be involved in this kind of thing. I think it is best for a number of reasons as stated in the resolution that at least for the foreseeable future, not always, probably not always under his term, the council feels and I feel that it is in the best interest of us, and the mayor and the town that the town close the Mayor's office. Only the physical facility.
    “We have had significant problems.” Coombes continued, “I commend the Mayor for publicly apologizing this evening particularly to the staff. But I still think we need to move forward.”
   Coombes spoke of former Mayor Pete Bone and his intermittent need to act as Town Manager. “The lines of responsibility in people’s minds tend to get blurred,” Coombes continued.    "State law and the town Code sets out the responsibilities of each of the entities involved in your government…Only this council, sitting as it is right now in open session with all of us here, that’s where the power and the authority lies. It does not lie in any one individual sitting here, each of us have the same authority and the same power when we sit here.”
   Coombes said he would not discuss specifics in open session but offered an invitation to speak one on one with any individuals that wished for clarification. He closed by saying we are going to entrust the Town Manager with the day to day operations of the town.
   Kennedy added, “I have a lot of respect for this man and what we are about to do should be no reflection on his ability to chair this Council. It should have no reflection on his desire to move this town forward. This is an operational issue. Nobody should read anything into this other than this is the way our charter is set and this is the way this towns structure should be.”
All members present voted yes, Chairman/Mayor Rummage voted present and having no need for a closed session, he adjourned the meeting.
    After the close of the meeting a small group led by Jean Leitch spoke out. Jean spoke up because she felt she was never given an opportunity to voice her opinion. “I would like to object.”
   The mayor explained to the woman that the meeting stood adjourned and asked to speak to her.
   Leitch replied, “I would like to speak to them,” she said gesturing towards the Council members. “I did not agree with what they did and I want them to know it.”
   Another gentleman with her spoke up and said, “I see control, I do not like control. When I woke up this morning I saw my flag still flying. I was surprised; I thought I was in Russia. When these people can have a meeting and walk into the Mayor's office and tell him to get out of his office where Pete Bone sat and slept for about 12 years up there.” The man continued raising his voice over the Mayor's gavel. “That man has an office, you have a job to do, you (referring to other members of the Council) did not elect that man, we did. We elected you, Mr. Kennedy, and I think you should get out of this place and never come back.”
   The Mayor spoke up and told the man that the meeting was adjourned. The group continued to talk but quickly dispersed with the added police presence that built up in the room.
   In an interview later with Jean Leitch said, “It appears that they, (referring to Council) only want to oppose everything the Mayor wants to do! This place is stagnating, it needs something new.”
   She spoke of the Mayor's removal from Town Hall as an assault that was deplorable and said it insults the intelligence of the citizens and tax-payers of this town. “I thought that we had Council members up there that were of a higher level of intellect and they have let us down.” Ms. Leitch lives in Bluff Point near Riverside Meadows and she says that her street is paved but she feels the unpaved roads are an embarrassment.”
   After briefly wishing a few people Happy Easter, the Mayor turned to the crowd in the room and waved goodbye as he walked out alone with his head held high.

Linda Farneth

Council holds illegal meeting to oust Mayor Rummage from his Townn Hall office

Although no members of Council are really talking, a source close to Town Hall confirms that on Tuesday, April 7 sometime before noon, Colonial Beach Mayor Fred Rummage was approached by three council members waiting for him in the downstairs conference room and asked to permanently remove himself from his office in Town Hall.
The source says the Mayor had just finished holding a Focus Group Meeting, which is a meeting with his advisory group he appointed shortly after taking office.  "The Mayor", they say, "came downstairs to check his phone messages, and the other Council Members -  Sparky Ridgely, Steve Kennedy and David Coombes - were waiting for him."  
The Council members and the Mayor retired upstairs to the Mayor's office, where the particulars of the conversation could not be heard.  What became clear to this Town Hall source was that a repeat action of something that was supposed to have occurred six weeks ago was happening again.  Council members wanted the Mayor out of Town Hall and this time they carried through on their wishes.
Since there were three Council members involved, this occurrence was an illegal meeting because it is an illegal meeting whenever three or more elected officials assemble for the purpose of discussing business.  Legal or illegal,  removing the Mayor from his office is serious business.
When reached by phone, Council Member Sparky Ridgely directed this reporter to speak with Val  Foulds, the Town Manager.  "All comments to newspapers come from her", he said.  
"I really can't comment on the rumor right now", added Ridgley.
 Messages left for both Mayor Rummage and Town Manager Val Foulds were left unreturned as of the time this story was posted on the internet.
Check out www.journalpress.com for updates on this story.
 

Closer look reveals dire condition of CB finance records

   There has never been any missing money, but auditor Nancy Miller’s high definition scrutiny of Colonial Beach’s town and school division finance records uncovered no fewer than twenty-two areas in need of immediate improvement.
   The Miller Foley Group was tasked last year with taking its evaluation beyond the scope required by law in order to generate a set of findings whose level of detail might optimally facilitate the remediation of the faulty accounting practices.
   As reported in last week’s Journal, problems uncovered during the audit of Colonial Beach’s Fiscal Year 2008 financial records were several decades in the making, but the results reported last Wednesday could have serious consequence if appropriate remedies are not introduced in a timely manner.
   On Wednesday Miller counseled town officials to take their time and avoid any attempt to hastily remedy all twenty-two of that audit’s findings.
   “None of these things happened last year and it’s not practical to think we can fix everything overnight,” Miller told members of the Colonial Beach Town Council and School Board.
   “Remember that it isn’t possible to have a perfect system of internal controls,” she stated in her opening remarks.
Later in the briefing Miller emphasized the need to avoid an attempt to address all the findings of internal control weaknesses in a hasty manner.
   “Fixing this is going to take a lot of time and a lot of resources. The problems won’t be solved by June 30, 2009,” when financial records associated with the current twelve-month fiscal period are closed.
   “You will probably have findings in your 2009 audit,” Miller then stated. “Right now you need to prioritize. To try and tackle all this right now is a recipe for not doing anything well.”
   According to the auditor, the town should expect “to address no more than three things in a single year. Then,” Miller related, “you can realistically expect to do them well.
   “Your role,” the auditor then advised the two sets of elected officials, “it to keep [the finance office employees] on task. It will be a great process if you allocate the resources and set a tone that is consistent with greater accountability.
   “You are the governance and you need to hold management accountable,” she explained.
   The auditor recommended that the Council and School Board waste no time in establishing a task force charged with addressing financial record keeping problems identified in the report.
   Council responded the following evening. Mayor Fred Rummage and Vice Mayor Trish King will represent the local government on a task force whose first mission will be implementing the computer-based accounting program known as the Bright system in the school division’s finance office. Two School Board members will complete that task force membership.
   Miller advised that June 30, 2010 “should be the timeline to really turn this thing around.” She made it clear that addressing problems associated with the school division’s financial records keeping practices should be all parties’ top priority.
   In a worst scenario the federal government could demand that Colonial Beach return almost $444,000 that its school division received as grant money from the federal government.
   “The federal authorities could ask for the money back, but I have never seen it done,” Miller related. “You just don’t want to have these [same findings] in the 2010 audit. A corrective action plan will be looked on very favorably” by federal government authorities.
The auditor made it quite clear that the school division’s finance office is seriously under-staffed, that existing personnel are being expected to utilize skill sets that they lack and that a properly trained financial staffer charged with tracking federal grants would expect to earn no less than $100,000 a year.
   In Town Hall and in the School Board office finance employees “are being asked to do three to four times what they should reasonably be expected to be doing,” explained Miller.
   In the school division’s finance office, “program people are asked to do accounting when they don’t have the training. Very few localities have the resources to hire a grant manager, and you guys are so tiny that the State Department of Education budget is really not focused on you guys.
   “Ninety-eight percent of the federal money is coming in on the state side, but there’s not much coming into the town right now. For the school system it’s a priority to understand grant management and ledger accounting,” along with creating a mechanism for the filing of timely reimbursement reports to better manage federal grants.
   The audit disclosed that lax procedures resulted in actions that caused the school division’s debt to the town to climb to $662,000. Coupled with the previously referenced federal grant accounting issues, a worst scenario consequence would require the Colonial Beach school division to raise a million dollars just to satisfy local and federal government demands.
   The three hour briefing included a warning from the auditor that the twelve-month budget period ending June 30, 2012 will likely reflect what state budget experts fear may be dire economic conditions. The town was advised to have a reserve balance it can draw from at that time.
Miller additionally delivered a warning about the unprecedented level of strings and accounting protocols attached to the federal government’s economic recovery allocations to local jurisdictions.
   According to information gathered by Miller, the oversight required from local finance employees in tracking allocations from the federal stimulus package will be no less than ten times greater than anything that was experienced in the past.
“There will be such a high level of review on how the money is spent,” the auditor counseled. “You got some pretty big stuff that was packaged really fast.” The details, she related, have not yet been disclosed.
   More will be published in subsequent weeks about the latest Colonial Beach audit findings. The final Miller Foley document is scheduled for release later this week.
During last Wednesday’s deliberations, parties refrained from finger pointing. Members of the town government must remedy their own accounting problems and Miller made it clear that all the players have expressed a willingness to embrace the appropriate sets of remedies as soon as possible.
   “They already have started working on the problems,” said Council member Sparky Ridgely in the final comment before the March 25 meeting was adjourned.

 

By Betsy Ficklin

Beach financial records are this Wednesday’s discussion topic

   Colonial Beach financial record keeping difficulties that have been at least twenty years in the making are this Wednesday morning’s topic of discussion in the Town of Colonial Beach. Town and school audits will hear from auditor Nancy Miller at a meeting scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m.

The Miller Foley Group’s audit of town government and school division financial records associated with the 12-month fiscal period that ended on June 30, 2008 identified a multitude of problems.
Numerical values associated with auditor findings were unavailable at the time of this reporting, but Colonial Beach Mayor Fred Rummage told The Journal on March 9 that problems are far worse than he had previously supposed.
Rummage won election to the office of Colonial Beach Mayor in May 2008, following two years of service on Town Council. A retired attorney and former Maryland legislator, he vowed to introduce a greater level of transparency to town business that would be dominated by concerted efforts to resolve the problems that had not been properly addressed by prior administrations.
New in 2009’s audit reporting is the return of auditor Nancy Miller to review the town’s financial records. Miller was previously associated with an audit firm known as Tingler and Miller, whose services as town auditor ended approximately seven years ago.
According to the narrative  portions of Miller’s February 2009 draft report, the problems cited as a result of the financial professional’s past visits to the town were never properly resolved.
The difficulties associated with financial record keeping in the Town of Colonial Beach were not altogether unanticipated. During 2007 some elected officials identified instances in which unappropriated monies had been expended by the school division and also by the municipal government.
The town government’s introduction of a more modern financial accounting computer software program was intended as a measure that would correct shortcomings associated with previously financial record keeping efforts. Improvements were noted by Colonial Beach’s previous auditors.
Those reports encouraged the school division to convert to the same financial accounting computer software program that the local government converted to as long ago as 2004. Despite ongoing discussions, the school division has continued to use a computer-based accounting program of its own.
By April 2008 Town Council had instructed the town’s chief finance officer to implement a new set of protocols in order to ensure that the Colonial Beach school division expenditures did not result in financial deficit conditions.
In order to comply with modern accounting requirements, a Colonial Beach police officer, Ryan Hood, was charged several years ago with developing an inventory of the municipality’s fixed assets.
The tasking included compiling a list of all town owned properties and equipment, including an inventory of office computers, copy machines and miscellaneous equipment. The new audit asserts that as of June 30, 2008 the inventory of the town’s fixed assets fails to meet the requisite standard.
Financial records were a major issue in Colonial Beach’s 1990 and 1992 general elections. By 1992 it had become understood that the town’s government and school division needed to invest in an integrated financial accounting software package and a program known as SDS was purchased by the town.
Hopes that the new accounting system would resolve lingering financial records keeping problems were thwarted as quickly as the Robertson, Farmer and Cox audit firm released the findings associated with its audit of the 12-month budget period that ended on June 30, 1993.
Internal controls were that audit’s big issue and efforts were made to create a system of checks and balances that would provide appropriate oversight. Despite the town’s concerted effort, accounting problems continued to be identified in annual audits. SDS went out of business and successor computer software vendors attempted to improve the workings of the integrated computer software program.
As long ago as summer 1992 a Colonial Beach Treasurer had attempted to persuade Town Council to purchase the integrated financial accounting computer software package known as the Bright System, but the town delayed its conversion to the Bright System until 2004.
When Council became vocal during 2008 about the school division’s need to utilize the Bright accounting system, proponents of the transition were advised that the Bright package may be already obsolete.
  Nancy Miller is expected to make it known on March 25 just exactly how problematic Colonial Beach government and school division financial record keeping problems have become.
  Westmoreland Commonwealth’s Attorney Dean Atkins will reportedly review the final report and then determine whether or not criminal charges should be brought.
The already disclosed audit finding that Colonial Beach school division expended unappropriated monies may or may not have a serious legal consequence. The audit identifies as many as 19 serious town government and school division financial accounting shortcomings whose cause may be linked to inadequate checks and balances or, in auditor language, internal controls.
   Once again Colonial Beach has an audit suggesting the town is unfamiliar with modern accounting principles. Problems include the manner in which trial balances, account reconciliations and debt service payments are recorded. The report asserts that proper levels or monitoring did not occur and senior management may have over ridden the established set of internal controls.
   A portion of the reported record keeping problems may be associated with inadequate communication between  the members of the local government and the Colonial Beach school division.
   School division and local government changes in administrative personnel  may have created additional financial reporting difficulties identified in the audit that will be this Wednesday’s discussion topic in the Town of Colonial Beach.

Betsy Ficklin

Council, Mayor hash out committee system, communication, power

   In June, 2008 Mayor Fred Rummage assigned “monitoring and oversight appointments” to oversee issues that previous administration appointed committees had been responsible for; Budget (Mr. Ridgley); streets and roads (Mr. Kennedy); planning and zoning (Mr. Coombes); water and sewer (Ms. Payne); public safety (Mr. Lyburn); and economic development (Ms. King).
   Councilman Kennedy raised the issue of returning to the committee system at the last Council work session on January 29th.  “The oversight appointments have fallen short of my expectations as I see it. I have a number of reasons for feeling that way. I think communication between council members has fallen, we don’t have a good conduit of communication. I think that we are chasing rabbits; sometimes I don’t know who’s doing what.”
Kennedy concluded his presentation by saying, “I think these committees served a better purpose by having two to three people on each committee, there was a better line of communication, there was more input into what we were doing.”
   Kennedy’s concerns stem from the fact that although these appointments are separate matters, members often end up researching the overlapping information but never confer with each other. For example, when dealing with public works, Kennedy handles the roads and Councilwoman Payne handles water and sewer. Payne confirmed in last week's meeting they have never met to discuss public works, yet they both have to meet with Public works director Rob Murphy.
   Mayor Rummage replied, “I was surprised to see this on the agenda because I never heard that you were dissatisfied with the assignment that you agreed to.”
   Kennedy clarified that he was not dissatisfied with the appointment but that he was dissatisfied with the lack of communication. Kennedy proposed instituting the resolution to reinstate committees on July 1st of this year to coincide with the new fiscal year. “I’m open for any discussion on this matter.”  Kennedy indicated that he wanted input from the Council and if it was voted down he would accept that but he didn’t want the issue to fall through the cracks.
   Originally when Mayor Rummage asked for comments from the Council, there were none, but as discussions between Rummage and Kennedy continued all members joined in to give their opinions.
   Rummage began his argument against the resolution by saying, “The ways and Means Committee to my knowledge, in the past two years prior to July 1 of this year has never met! Were you aware of that?”
   To which Kennedy replied, “No.”
   Rummage continued, “The administration of the finance committee according to my predecessor was set for the convenience of an individual that wanted to chair a committee. Nothing ever came out of that committee.”
   Rummage explained that the Finance committee and Ways and Means committees are a duplication of effort. He told Kennedy, “If you're willing to settle on Public works, public safety, and planning and economic development, I don’t have a problem.”
   Appearing to reach a compromise Kennedy said, “I’d still like to see adding a finance committee in there. We can combine the two.”
   Other Council members finally began to join the discussion; Ridgley stated that when he was appointed to oversee the Budget he did not receive any written information from his predecessors or any committee concerning finances.
Coombes said in the past the success or failure of a committee was due to its chair and said, "We have had some weak chairs in the past."
 Payne had no objection to going back to committee system.
   King's general comment was to point out that with a committee meeting, several people engage in the discussions and others can attend. With the present system "Council members are only given a report and are not privy to how decisions are reached."
   Finally Lyburn said he doesn’t feel left out because he just goes out and asks people to find out what he wants to know.
    Lyburn said he is happy to share information any time it is requested. He is not opposed to committees but he cautions the time consumption issue and he addressed the need to find ways to share information. If three or more members of council meet to discuss town issue it must become public and advertised adding to the burden of scheduling.
   After much discussion the majority of the Council voted in favor of tabling the issue till May.
   The next two items on the agenda seamed to set an atmosphere of addressing uncertainty in the rolls of the Council members and the Mayor.
   Kennedy presented a list of Bylaws and Rules of Procedures drafted by Town Attorney Erard which the council covered line by line. The Resolution following this list addressed, commitment to excellence, the Mayor and Council complying with the letter and spirit of the laws affecting the operation of town government as well as being required to be impartial and fair in judgment and actions while in public office.
   Mayor Rummage presented a document also prepared by Erard outlining the powers, duties and authority of the Mayor compiled from the Town Charter, Town Code and The Code of Virginia and other legal precedence.
   Although there was no formal discussion on the documents concerning the Mayor he apparently was responding to the opposition he has received from Council in the past.

Linda Farneth

 

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