By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Oct. 17 — After this week, Page County will be without a director of Economic Development and Tourism. Nina Long Fox, who has held the position since March 8, 2021 will officially step down on Friday. No official reason has been given.
“I hate Nina is leaving,” County Administrator Amity Moler replied to an email inquiry by Page Valley News last week. “I feel as though the current Economic Development and Tourism team, under her leadership, is on a successful roll and will temporarily go off track.”
“That is not what I want for Page County,” Moler added.
Although it was disclosed to county administration and members of the Page County Board of Supervisors upon her hiring more than 18 months ago, local realtors and citizens have complained about Fox’s decision to maintain her Realtor’s license since she started working for the county. Some believe that continuing to sell real estate locally, while also acting as the county’s economic development director, could present a potential conflict of interest.
That belief prompted an inquiry after complaints were lodged about Fox handling a recent seven-figure sale of local rental cabins for a member of the TOT committee formed last year. The group that recommends to supervisors how $1 million-plus in transient occupancy tax revenues are spent in Page County was dominated by cabin owners when it formed soon after Fox’s employment started with the county.
Many of those same cabin owners who felt jilted by the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce over the years managed to have a significant portion of funds the county typically allotted to the Chamber for tourism promotion shifted to the county’s Economic Development and Tourism Department under Fox’s leadership.
Following the recent discussion with the county regarding her real estate business, Fox opted to leave the public sector and submitted her resignation on Monday, Sept. 19.
“As you all may have already heard, I am leaving the County of Page,” Fox stated in a Sept. 30 email sent to the managers of all three towns in Page County titled “A Fond Farewell.” The town managers distributed the email to council members, and last week Stanley Town Manager Terry Pettit shared it with council members during their regular meeting.
“My last day with the county will [be] the 21st of October,” Fox’s email continues. “I wanted to take this time to let you know I have enjoyed working with each of you. I am leaving with a heavy heart, because you all made my work such a joy.”
When asked why Fox was leaving her county post that she seemed so passionate about, the county administrator would not comment — other than to confirm that no conflict of interest was found.
“Per our legal counsel, the County has not found, nor is there reason to believe, that Ms. Fox engaged in any inappropriate behavior while employed with the County,” Moler stated.
Fox was given notice several days prior to the publication of this article and an opportunity to respond either “on” or “off” the record. She did not take advantage of either opportunity.
The county has not given a timeline on filling the director’s position.
“The ED support staff (Rebecca Armstrong and English Henry) have long term projects they are both working on and will fill in where they can until the Director position is filled,” Moler stated last week.
When Fox was hired in March of last year, she followed Liz Lewis who served as the “coordinator” of economic development and tourism. The department added a “director” position upon Fox’s hiring. Lewis resigned soon after Fox took over the department after the former coordinator had secured more than $3 million in grant funding for the county during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Please know that I am 100 [percent] confident that Rebecca Armstrong, English Henry, and Kimberly Donohoe are prepared to help anyway possible after I leave,” Fox stated in her Sept. 30 email. “They are the best team I have ever worked with.”
On Monday night, Fox gave her final presentation to the board of supervisors, providing requested updates about ongoing projects. The 45-minute presentation explained everything from developing plans to build a meat processing plant locally to how videos were made to show local pride in Page County. Fox spoke about a marketing plan developed for the county, a hotel feasibility study, and partnerships made with various regional agencies. Among the details of the report were also some words of advice for the future.
“There is no reason why we don’t have more development other than we don’t have land ready for development,” Fox said. “It doesn’t make any sense to keep hiring economic development directors without any land to develop.”
Fox encouraged zoning properties to allow for more by-right uses, as opposed to the sometimes lengthy and cumbersome process of securing a special use permit, which she said can discourage private investment. She also touted that, “Shenandoah and the southern end of the county are prime for commercial and industrial development.”
The parting economic development director also took a moment at Monday’s night’s board meeting to say a few goodbyes.
“Amity has been an absolute joy to work with,” Fox said as she became emotional. “…when people make fake statements about facts…and make these accusations…that Amity has been a poor leader…they should be held accountable.”
Members of the board shared their appreciation for Fox’s efforts during her 18-month tenure.
“I want to thank you for your service, loyalty and dedication to this county and this community,” District 3 supervisor Mark Stroupe said.
“We are thankful for everything she was able to accomplish in her short time here,” Moler added as she too became emotional.
To learn more about the Page County Economic Development and Tourism Department,
visit the county’s website.