Purcellville Audit Finds ‘Flawed Investigation’, Vanegas Fired

The Town of Purcellville today released the results of an outside investigation into allegations of misconduct of three top managers and the consultant hired to review the allegations.

The work of an investigative team from the law firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP and Timothy Longo Sr., a retired police chief, concluded that the investigation by Georgia Nuckolls, the consultant hired to investigate allegations of mismanagement by Police Chief Cynthia McAlister, did not “represent a fair, unbiased, and thorough investigation.” Nuckolls’ report initially resulted in the Town Council firing McAlister, but the chief was rehired and placed on administrative leave after questions emerged about Nuckolls’ conduct. Wilson Elser and Longo are conducting a new independent investigation into the allegations made against McAlister, who remains on leave.

The report also resulted in the firing of Alex Vanegas, who served briefly as town manager and who hired Nuckolls and worked with her on the McAlister investigation.

“The Wilson Elser investigation concluded that Vanegas failed to properly manage and failed to exercise proper judgment with respect to the investigation into the complaints about the chief,” according to a statement issued by the town Tuesday morning.  The report recommended the immediate termination of Vanegas, which the Town Council did Tuesday night.

The Wilson Elser team also reviewed allegations by Vanegas that he had been sexually harassed by Town Attorney Sally Hankins. They found no merit to those allegations. They also found that  Hankins did not retaliate against Vanegas and that complaints lodged against her by other town employee were “frivolous” and “meritless.”Hankins, who has been on paid administrative leave since Dec. 29, was cleared to return to her duties.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday night to fire Vanegas and reinstate Hankins.

Human Resources Manager Sharon Rauch also was cleared to return to work starting this morning. She also has been on paid leave since Dec. 29 following allegations that she did not follow proper procedures to protect records and files. The investigators determined that Rauch followed all proper procedures in her duties, that the town did not incur any liability resulting from her actions, and that there was no mismanagement of records and files. The report concluded that allegations against her “appear to have been manufactured and baseless.”

As of April 6, the town has spent $437,112 on the investigations and salaries of the suspended managers and their replacements. The Town Council in December initially earmarked $80,000 for the investigations. The money will come from the town’s reserve fund.

Councilmen Doug McCollum and Chris Bledsoe on Tuesday raised concerns that the town might be withholding the complete picture of the town’s costs.

“I don’t that we have [Interim Town Attorney Hank Day’s] most recent invoice, nor the invoice of Wilson Elser,” McCollum said. “The voters in the town need to have a current, accurate statement of the expenses that we are incurring.”

Bledsoe agreed, noting that he has seen comments on social media that implied that previous town management practices triggered the investigations. The flawed Nuckolls investigation and the turmoil caused by unsubstantiated allegations all followed the council’s action a year ago to push former town manager Rob Lohr into retirement and replace him with Vanegas.

“In some cases, statements have been made that would seem to rationalize the reasons for these investigations … as if we’re going to be better off because of these,” he said. “I couldn’t disagree more.”

Mayor Kwasi Fraser, however, continued to claim problems existed before the council pushed for a management shakeup.

“For Councilmember Bledsoe, based on what we know, to imply that there weren’t systemic issues in the Town of Purcellville that gave rise to the environment that caused it, is blatantly a lie and inaccuracy,” he said. “I say that for the record because things like this do not happen overnight.”

3 thoughts on “Purcellville Audit Finds ‘Flawed Investigation’, Vanegas Fired

  • 2018-04-11 at 11:50 am

    Another local newspaper had a headline article, “Smear Tactics in Purcellville Beginning to Backfire.” It appears that the only things that backfired, at least for Nuckolls and Vanegas, were facts and due process.

  • 2018-04-11 at 8:18 pm

    It’s about time the truth came out … the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So pleased to see the start of the REAL Pville Swamp Rats being drained. ALL three female leaders were slandered and lied about – I believe that’s called bullying. It’s disgusting how Vanegas (good riddance, buddy) and his swarmy group of cohorts tried to convince the mayor and council members of such a corrupt and false narrative and sadly … he and his wanna-be investigator (and others) succeeded. Thank God for the credible and meticulous team of unbiased experts who worked to uncover the truths. Fasten your seat belt folks, I bet there’s more that will come to light once the remaining lies are thoroughly scrutinized – based upon facts versus fiction – that will further reveal the credibility, honesty and integrity of all three women.

    • 2018-04-12 at 10:14 pm

      Credible and meticulous? This report is just as biased. Note I am not defending the actions by others. I am just pointing out this report is clearly biased.

      1. The latest report dismisses an allegation that disciplinary action was taken in retaliation for a critical article being distributed. Even if there is underlying support for a disciplinary action, it is not allowed if it is in retaliation (see Mt Healthy standard). The discipline only came after the article was distributed even though the appearance violations had always existed. For this “meticulous” team to cite legal case after case but not understand this universal employment law standard points to clear bias.

      2. The latest report dismisses the use of lie detector tests to establish credibility. This team is supposedly made of experienced law enforcement officials. Yet…. law enforcement consistently uses lie detector tests all the time to determine credibility. They use them on parents who report kids missing. Or spouses accused of foul play. Intel agencies have stringent requirements for them. The fact that they are not admissible in court has no bearing on whether they can be sued as part of a credibility determination. Clearly, this investigation team is biased.

      3. Lastly, Loudouners have had a lively debate on whether county law enforcement should be controlled by an elected sheriff or by a police chief beholden to the Loudoun county administrator. Yet, this “meticulous” team claims that a police chief may circumvent his/her boss (the town executive) to inquire about legislative changes and issuing special permits. Say what? The town executive is accountable for the actions of the entire town government and can legitimately require such actions to run through, or at least be made aware of, him. Suggestions to the contrary point to this investigation team being clearly biased.

      I am not taking sides. This whole thing is a mess. I guess $100K’s isn’t sufficient to hire a qualified investigative team. Pretty sad.

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