Emails show county anticipated opposition

Published 7:08 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2019


According to emails between Isle of Wight County officials — which Farmers Bank President Dick Holland obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request in March, and provided to The Tidewater News — the county government anticipated opposition from residents almost from the very start of its plans to bring a juvenile correctional center to the Windsor area.

An email dated Dec. 19, 2017, from the county’s director of public utilities, Don Jennings, to then-Assistant Director of Economic Development Chris Morello warns that the county “may be putting off potential users [of the extended water and sewer mains] based on the perception of having ‘that’ neighbor.” A Dec. 23, 2017, email from the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors’ Smithfield District representative, Dick Grice, to Newport District representative and now-Chairman William McCarty concerning a meeting between county representatives and the Department of Juvenile Justice also warns, “If this information is leaked to the press, & that is likely, we face an up hill battle. We need to gain, at a minimum, the mayors & town managers support… and that means bringing them in the loop… That is why I am recommending that [Windsor District representative] Joel [Acree] & I meet with the Windsor folks… again not a full town council just key players. We want a fall back position of not having a quorum by either government agency.”

Holland’s FOIA request also included emails concerning how those involved with the DJJ project should refer to the center and what it might be named. On Jan. 12, 2018, McCarty writes in an email to his fellow board members and county staff that he “would be fine with having it named toward the Carrsville District” but felt it was “best to leave words like Rehabilitation, Correction, Detention, Juvenile etc off of it.” McCarty then proposes that “words that could be a part of the re-brand” could include “youth care complex,” “teen care complex” or “teen re-life center” among other suggestions.

Following Windsor Town Councilman Walter Bernacki’s mention of a “youth development center” at a Town Council meeting in early 2018, and a subsequent article by The Smithfield Times revealing that the term in fact referred to a juvenile justice facility, County Administrator Randy Keaton, in a Feb. 16, 2018, email to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, requests that Robertson bring Isle of Wight County Director of Tourism Judy Winslow in on the project. That same day, Grice emails Keaton, suggesting that the county rapidly prepare a citizen information presentation with Winslow called upon to “coordinate and facilitate an upbeat presentation.” In that email, Grice refers to Winslow as “the best marketer we have” and states that there is a “need to overwhelm with satisfying a critical need and positive support for locating in south/central IOW.”

Enter Joel Rubin — a former WAVY newscaster who now has his own media and public relations consulting firm. Robertson confirmed to The Tidewater News on April 9 that the county had hired Rubin as a consultant on the DJJ project in July 2018, around the same time that the county officially went public with its plans to bring a DJJ center to the Windsor area, and to-date has paid his firm $4,145. Rubin’s role in the project, according to Robertson, was to provide “an objective, outside viewpoint on the County’s media and public outreach efforts” and to provide “advice on how the County could better handle its communications.”

It was Rubin, according to an Aug. 7, 2018, email from Robertson to the Board of Supervisors and county administration, who suggested that Keaton write and submit an opinion piece to the local media concerning the DJJ facility. In that piece, which The Tidewater News published in its Aug. 19, 2018, edition, Keaton pledged to keep county residents informed of “what is occurring behind the scenes” but argued that holding an immediate town hall meeting to lay out all the facts “would have been premature in February and, in fact, still is.”

On Dec. 21, 2018, two months before the county’s public hearing on whether to transfer land to the state for the DJJ project, Rubin emailed Robertson, copying other county officials, and suggested that the county now refer to the facility as the “planned” juvenile justice center, and not “proposed,” stating, “We are beyond ‘proposed’ and no one should think you are going to retract commitment to the state.”