Placing perspective on the town of Purcellville’s management and personnel problems is difficult even for those who believe they are in the loop.
New information has been revealed which may shed light on the motivations behind what many can’t believe is occurring in the small Loudoun based town.
Earlier this year, Town Manager Robert Lohr’s contract with the town was terminated early as the town council had little confidence in his ability to continue under their direction. Lohr had been in the position for 24 years.
Instead of selecting Lohr’s assistant and protégé Danny Davis as town manager, the council appointed Alex Vanegas as interim town manager. Vanegas was a 12-year veteran leading another town department and known for running a tight ship. Davis left for another job.
Vanegas stepped in with a directive to begin cleanup; help uncover any mismanagement and peel back the layers of problems, rumored corruption and ultimately, get the town on the right track and in line with the council’s direction.
According to Vanegas, one immediate complication—he was tossed in with the operators behind Lohr and Davis; those who enabled, allowed and/or supported most of the problems.
According to many, this includes town attorney Sally Hankins, town human resources specialist Sharon Rauch, town administrator, Hooper McCann, and town IT director, Shannon Bohince.
Sources revealed Hankins was at risk of termination for allowing the town to get into many costly situations, pawning off a great deal of legal work to outside law firms, and subjectively placing the town in instances of potential liability–all while pulling a six-figure salary. Council members were known to admonish her for continually demonstrating little knowledge concerning town legal issues and as such, failing to communicate viable solutions without reaching for outside counsel. Frustration was mounting to replace Hankins.
Rauch was known for a lazy non-caring approach to human resources (HR) and half hazard approach to employee concerns, files, procedures and HR health in general which repeatedly cost the town to bail itself out.
Vanegas immediately began looking into and gathering information to corroborate what he heard and experienced as a long-time town department head.
Vanegas began to receive a multitude of complaints against various town administration staff and requests for action on situations which were previously raised but never resolved.
“Everyone knew you couldn’t complain to town hall. Lohr, Davis and their six-figure secretary McCann, they would all brush it under the carpet or just go back to your own supervisor, rat you out and say there was no merit,” one officer in the Purcellville police department stated. “After experiencing and seeing that, its easier to just keep your mouth shut.”
Outside of complaints regarding Hankins and Rauch, within a week of Vanegas being appointed, he received numerous and substantial complaints against Chief of Police Cynthia McAlister.
In fact, McAlister’s entire command staff and other sworn officers filed formal complaints and placed their jobs on the line in trust that Vanegas would not sweep them under the rug as would be the typical scenario under Lohr.
“When Lohr brags that he had no similar complaints or grievances, he is correct—everyone knew you didn’t formally complain to the town manager. Nothing would be done unless you were in the clique, or it would come back to haunt you,” stated one staff member still afraid to go on record.
The allegations against McAlister were brought to the town council and serious enough to warrant placing her on administrative leave, starting an investigation. As the McAlister investigation begins Rauch went on medical leave placing Vanegas in a position to find an HR professional.
“The largest immediate problem we were facing was up to 6 walk-outs under McAlister after having two recent vacancies she already created,” said Vanegas. Eight potential vacancies in a department of only 14.
Although finding an HR professional was an emergency because McAlister was already on administrative leave and town procedure allows a sole source contract to be awarded, Vanegas uses a common policy provision allowing a contractor to be hired quickly after obtaining three verbal quotes provided the estimated work would be less than $25K. Story here.
At the same time, Vanegas begins to dig into complaints coming in against Rauch.
Two situations brought to Vanegas’ attention involved female staff members becoming married, needing their names officially changed for benefits. Rauch failed to act despite repeated requests.
With one employee, when Rauch did act, instead of changing her name, she created an entirely separate employee and/or benefits file. As a result, the employee was getting duplicate medical receipts and bills in both her maiden and married name. Upon further investigation, Vanegas found that Rauch had enrolled this staff member in benefits twice. To top that, the town had been paying both premiums—one in the maiden name, one in the married name.
Next was another set of mistakes costing the town due to procedural HR violations. Two staff members complained that they had not received their COBRA insurance after leaving the town’s employment. The reason—Rauch had failed to file the proper notifications. Ultimately, the town was on the hook for COBRA [back] payments or be faced with legal liability as Rauch failed to comply with procedure.
At the same time, the investigation into McAlister quickly leads to the review of relative police department personnel files.
“The files themselves were an absolute mess. The HR personnel files were out of compliance, missing documents, duplicate records, some had duplicate files created as if one had been lost or misplaced, another create and the original found again, keeping them both. With a full-time HR director on staff, there was no excuse for what we found. I’ve never seen an HR department in such disarray,” said an inside source concerning the investigation.
Situations like these were constant, sources said—years of HR problems while “Lohr, Davis and the town [operations] staff all covered for each other.”
Unknown to the public until now, Rauch was placed on administrative leave by Vanegas with the blessing of several town council members.
Specifically, Rauch was placed on administrative leave for:
- Mismanagement of Human Resources Department resulting in the Town’s having to financially mitigate various vendors, benefits costs, and individuals
- Unauthorized personal charges on three different days to Target using the Town’s credit card.
- Mismanagement of Human Resources records/files
Rauch was escorted out of the town hall on November 3, 2017.
“Unless the investigations stopped, unless the operators were back in control and found a way to give themselves time to be back in control, and potentially clean up as much as they could,” one source said, “the gig was up for all of them.”
Finding A Way—Enter the Smear Campaign and Puppetmasters
Vanegas, besides some support of the town council appointing him, was a lone wolf. His immediate staff are all those hired under Lohr and Davis, those Vanegas and others claimed had bolstered the problems or were directly responsible for mismanagement—those Vanegas had to investigate to find who to retain and who to terminate in the ultimate goal, getting the town a clean operational slate.
Also, the HR consultant is now full time and continuing to uncover evidence against McAlister. Collaterally, this is exposing both Hankins and Rouch for related mismanagement as well as Bohince for emails which have been erased, town-issued cell phone’s of McAlister, Lohr and Davis which had been wiped and hard drives which had been used for years but also wiped clean of any records (now in the hands of the FBI).
Keep in mind, McAlister and Rauch are already on administrative leave slated for termination. The writing is on the wall—Vanegas’ next focus after terminating McAlister and Rauch was to focus on Hankins, McCann, and Bohince.
The investigation against McAlister is finally completed and a report drafted. Hankins is not allowed to attend any further town closed sessions on the matter as she is named in the report. The town council votes unanimously against McAlister, story here. Vanegas terminates McAlister the following day.
All of a sudden, conveniently, an allegation of an inappropriate relationship between the two-people peeling back the layers is made. Sexting-type emails are uncovered in Vanegas’ “spam folder.” The emails are “found” by IT Director Bohince who just happened to be perusing the interim town manager’s spam folder.
When questioned as to why he was perusing Vanegas’ spam folder and reading Vanegas’s emails, Bohince informed the town council he was looking for the source of a complaint which came in about himself and Diana Hays, town clerk, having an affair.
Bohince’s offered no other provocation, direction or authority as to why he was in Vanegas’ email account besides looking for the source of a complaint about himself and the town clerk having an affair—a complaint Bohince had not even been made aware of at that time.
Concerns were immediately raised by those who did not believe Bohince, stating the manner of discovery was simply too arbitrary and convenient; that these emails, which were purported to be from the same or similar email account as many other professional emails in Vanegas’ inbox, were actually all unread and in a spam folder which Vanegas never checked.
Regardless, Hankins pushes for Vanegas to be placed on administrative leave and for McCann to become interim town manager.
Officially, Vanegas is placed on leave for having an affair with a contractor, not disclosing the affair and as such placing the integrity of the McAlister investigation in jeopardy.
The problem with this is severalfold. One, Vanegas and the contractor immediately denied any such relationship. Two, the emails are in no way conclusive on any level, including origin, author and/or if they were simply spam, spoofed or planted. There were duplicated emails, another sign they were just spam. Three, the manner in which they were “found” is extremely questionable–that another staff member would be tapping into the town manager’s email account for his own personal gain, to uncover a source complaining about him, is a terminatable offense itself. Fourth, there is no town policy, even if there was a relationship, against having a relationship with a contractor or whether one would need to be disclosed.
While the Mayor bought into all of this quickly and placed Vanegas on administrative leave, terminating the contractor, Hankins and McCann were finding their charade would not stand up to scrutiny. Procedurally, without an actual violation of town policy or law, Vanegas should never have been placed on administrative leave.
To tie in a procedural violation so the Mayor wouldn’t unwind Vanegas’ leave, Hankins and McCann allege violations of contract procedure when Vanegas hired the HR consultant. Those allegations made it seem as if Vanegas sole-sourced a contract to someone Bohince was now alluding Vanegas was having an affair with. Another news outlet attempted to report Vanegas violated policy but the Tribune quickly uncovered that they misquoted a witness and in fact, policy was specifically followed by Vanegas.
In short, the town has no reason to keep Vanegas on administrative leave under the false manufactured reasons.
The Town’s Original Staff Has Control, For Now
The day Vanegas is placed on administrative leave, McCann has already been appointed interim town manager. McCann reinstates Rauch as HR director without further investigation into the HR violations. In fact, Rauch personally delivered the administrative leave notice to Vanegas asking him if he wanted his personal property boxed up.
“Reinstating Shanon Rauch is the ultimate indication that something is amiss and town leadership continues to make a mockery of the Mayor and town council,” said an onlooker at the last town council meeting. “Town council is trying but they still have a disconnect when it comes to who should be in decision-making positions. It’s almost like a game, the full-timers who sit and scheme all day against the part-time council.”
Last week the town council announced retention of an outside veteran law enforcement professional and independent law firm to spearhead an investigation into all of this and more. Story here.
Tonight, Purcellville holds a town council meeting at 7pm. Sources offered that a number of related matters may be raised concerning the town’s operational staff still allowed to be in place.
Publisher’s note: The unnamed sources in recent stories concerning Purcellville are either employed with the town and/or have been threatened in the past. Current and past council members, town staff, consultants, and supporters have had notes left on their cars with threats to remain silent “or else,” tires flattened, anonymous phone calls coming to otherwise private cell numbers with warnings to leave town business alone. Purcellville police have escorted staff and others to and from town hall and made reports of these threats although difficult to trace their origins. For this reason, the Tribune is not going to expose names and place sources in jeopardy of any harm.