Where do we start?
That's what quickly comes to mind when reflecting on the pathetic and embarrassing debacle that has consumed Purcellville government for more than two years.
The CliffsNotes: After the former Town Council pushed out the well-respected town manager and passed over the obvious successor in favor of their preferred puppet, chaos ensued.
That chaos included said puppet, former interim Town Manager Alex Vanegas, launching a bogus investigation against Purcellville Chief of Police Cynthia McAlister. The inquiry was pre-determined. Its end game? Oust McAlister.
And it almost worked – only people started asking questions. What exactly were these acts of malfeasance for which McAlister was fired? Will a report on the investigation be made public? Who conducted the probe?
We soon learned the answer to that last question was Georgia Nuckolls, a self-styled human resources professional with a criminal past and ties to convicted felon Brian Reynolds, the ex-publisher of the now-defunct Loudoun Tribune and a former political operative for Sheriff Mike Chapman and previous county Chairman Scott York. Reynolds is currently in prison awaiting sentencing for new federal fraud convictions unrelated to the Purcellville fiasco.
The Nuckolls investigation was eventually proven to be a sham following an audit from an independent law firm. (This time real professionals handled the task.) McAlister, who was forced to endure a very public and very humiliating firing from council members in on the plan, was eventually rehired, but not before costs for new investigations, attorneys' fees and town workers on paid leave mounted. We can easily say the former council's missteps have cost the small town $1 million. The final price tag – lawsuits are in progress – will likely be tens of thousands, if not millions, more.
Amid the investigations you had people like Mayor Kwasi Fraser and council members Nedim Ogelman and Ryan Cool condemning the media for reporting the goings-on. “Hatchet job,” Ogelman said in an email to the Times-Mirror. Indeed, the blame-the-media sentiment is alive and well among certain factions of council. For the sake of the town, we hope rumors that Ogelman and Cool won't seek re-election are true.
Mayor Fraser, meanwhile, continues to skirt any real accountability for his role in the mess. The mayor is too busy finding another “monetizing assets” scheme to botch.
Former council members Karen Jimmerson and Kelly Grim swiftly skipped town as the plan began to unravel. How convenient.
So what's the latest? Last week we learned nearly 2,000 people's private information – Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, medical records – may have been compromised during the Vanegas-Nuckolls plot. A letter was recently sent to people who may be at risk, and that notification quickly circulated on social media, with people outwardly wondering whether it was real or a scam.
(The Times-Mirror had heard of a potential data breach in late 2017, yet when we asked Fraser, he denied it. Hubris can be a dangerous thing.)
In searching for dashes of optimism, Purcellville at least has new council members like Tip Stinnette and Joel Grewe pressing for answers.
“Does this breach qualify as a criminal act, and what are the options for that?” Grewe asked during a Saturday emergency meeting, which was sparked by the uproar over the notification letters. “Why did it take the amount of time it did for the letter to come out?”
Stinnette acknowledged the town's handling of the letters should have been better communicated.
Grewe, Stinnette and Councilman Ted Greely should be commended for stepping up when their town needed honest and open leadership. We hope more people like them will do the same in next spring's election.
In the meantime, we'll continue to chip away at the “why” of this whole thing. And yes, we expect to be harangued for doing so.