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Costs continue to mount in Purcellville; town hires interim attorney at $350 an hour

Mayor Kwasi Fraser stands with fellow council members in November 2017. Times-Mirror File Photo
Costs related to the ongoing investigations and turmoil in Purcellville are now expected to top $120,000, a figure that does not include tens of thousands of dollars being paid to town employees who are on leave.

Purcellville Town Council on Tuesday agreed to more unexpected expenses related to the scandal that has left four high-level town employees on paid administrative leave.

Council appointed Henry Day, a former town attorney for Warrenton, as Purcellville's interim town attorney at a rate of $350 per hour for up to 24 hours per week until investigations into town's management are complete – the date of which is unknown. If Day were working for the town full-time, his yearly compensation would be $728,000.

The town's new attorney worked with new Interim Town Manager John Anzivino in Warrenton. Anzivino did not put the services out for bid.

“It didn't have to be,” Anzivino told the Times-Mirror when asked whether it went out for bid.

Virginia procurement law allows certain public contracts to be executed without a bidding process, and Anzivino said several candidates were considered for the position.

Day's hiring follows Town Attorney Sally Hankins' placement on leave Dec. 29. Hankins is among the employees on leave following mismanagement that has rocked the small western town in recent months. Also on paid leave is Chief of Police Cynthia McAlister, Interim Town Manager Alex Vanegas and Human Resources Manager Sharon Rauch.

The upheaval in Purcellville began following McAlister's firing in November. McAlister was let go Nov. 2 after a town-funded investigation claimed to substantiate accounts that the police chief abused her powers and failed to adhere to town procedures and policies.

The original investigation into McAlister, the specific details of which have not been disclosed, was conducted by a private human resources investigator, Georgia Nuckolls. The Nuckolls investigation was called into question after the investigator's criminal history, which includes felony fraud and forgery convictions in North Carolina, was revealed by town officials. Town leaders also stated in a news release that Nuckolls was having a relationship with a town employee involved in the investigation.

McAlister was re-hired Nov. 24 and placed on leave until an audit of Nuckolls' investigation and additional investigations into town management conclude.

Vanegas added to the confusion when he filed a sexual harassment complaint against Hankins, who denies the allegation.

The Wilson Elser law firm, which was brought on by Town Council to oversee several investigations into town management, suggested Hankins and Rauch be placed on leave. According to a statement from the town, the move was made to ensure the integrity and complete review of all open concerns and "is not any indication of any offense by either party."

Day's hiring adds to the town's recent unexpected expenditures. In addition to the new attorney's contract, which could amount to more than $8,000 a week, costs related to the months-long turmoil include:

-More than $13,000 to Nuckolls;
-Up to $30,000 to Anzivino to serve as interim town manager;
-Up to $80,000 to the Wilson Elser law firm, Loudoun County staff and a retired police colonel to review Nuckolls' investigation, examine Vanegas' work as town manager and investigate Vanegas' complaint against Hankins and other human resources-related complaints;
-And approximately $5,000 to a local media consultant, David D'Onofrio, to handle media inquiries during the investigations.

Additionally, more than $55,000 has been paid to Vanegas, McAlister, Rauch and Hankins while they're on leave, according to figures provided by the town.

In late December, the retired police chief the town hired to oversee the audit of the Nuckolls investigation, Thierry Dupuis, accepted a new position as police chief in Charlottesville before completing his work in Purcellville, according to Mayor Kwasi Fraser. Town officials did not disclose Dupuis' departure from his Purcellville duties until questioned by the media.

Council members did not address the investigations at length prior to going into closed session during Tuesday's business meeting, but Mayor Fraser touched briefly on the matter.

“We owe you folks a detailed analysis – and it's owed to this council also – the costs and the expenses that we will be putting forward to [the investigation],” Fraser said. “ ... everything that happens that is negative -- and I've gotten emails to prove this -- people are blaming it on, 'Oh, this council is a mess. This town is a mess.' But we are far from a mess. I just want to make sure that we are held accountable by presenting to you exactly where the money is going.”

Fraser said the town is in the process of tallying the official costs related to the investigation, and that figure should be released soon.

Purcellville is currently accepting applications for a permanent town manager. The town hopes to have a new manager in place in February or March. The deadline for candidates to submit applications is Jan. 12.

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @TrevorBaratko.


Curious whether the police that came forward to complain about police Chief(some in tears according 1 story) are on paid leave? If not, why not… Isn’t that the issue that started this clusterf. The public has yet to hear what those horrible complaints were??? Some on here have joked about it required them to be accountable…And they didn’t like that.

Peoples hardworking money being wasted by this mismanagement…I think the people of P’ville can do better…I’ll do the work for $250 an hour….to BobO’s point, why was this not put out to bid as normal process (expedited)....instead of hiring a crony like was done the first time….

In advance I apologize if this is a dumb question. I have read more than I wanted to about Purcellville’s troubles. The soap opera continues but nowhere have I seen or can find “what did they do wrong???”  The generic terms of “didn’t follow policy etc” “put on paid leave” does not state the reasons behind this clown show.  Seems there should be at least a public statement from the Mayor covering the actual charges than have a trial on unknown policy issues in the newspaper. Help if you know I don’t!

Skyprince - You don’t have to pay a lawyer $350.00.  You can always do it yourself.

Anzivino cannot take Bids on the interim attorney position. If he did he would not be able to pay a former work colleague 350 dollars an hour. Nothing to see here folks…...local Virginia politics in action, at its finest!

This is why the world hates attorneys. No one, except maybe a brain surgeon, is worth 350.00 an hour. Lawyers have always been greedy, bottom feeders and this just give credence to that…yuck..what a despicable profession and I use that world with alarm…

OK, it took me until this article but I’ve finally ID’d the problem in P’ville…if the mayor can look at this situation with a straight face and say the town isn’t a mess, he is in fact the problem.

Don’t know if a recall petition is legal, but if it is, get cracking.  If it isn’t, begin a petition and collect the signatures of over half of the town’s eligible voters asking him to resign.  Enough—P’ville was and can be again a great town, but only if someone grounded in reality with sound management skills is in charge.

Is it me, or is this nonsense going on and on with no end in sight? Who needs to ultimately step in here? The feds? The State Police?

Reminds me of the movie Titanic… I bet that attorney is charging for the full 24 hours per week allowed at $350/hour. Lunch is on taxpayers in Purcellville.

NewsFlash to mayor: Your group is a mess….Wake up.

Simple solution would be to reinstate Chief, have the Purcellville Council resign & elect a new Council.

What happened to BIDDING for government task assignments especially when the rate of remuneration is obviously on the rich side. Does anyone really believe that lawyers aren’t capable of bidding quality representation less than $350 per hour? Has the DC swamp extended all the way out to Western Loudoun?
Bob Ohneiser Esq.

The town’s new attorney worked with new Interim Town Manager John Anzivino in Warrenton. Anzivino did not put the services out for bid.


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