Old School Cape Charles Questions Developer Moonlighting
By GEORGE SOUTHERN
Cape Charles Wave
October 9, 2012
The fight in Cape Charles over the old school, basketball court, and playground parking has spilled over into Hanover County.
Hanover County, 12 miles north of Richmond, is perhaps best known as the home of King’s Dominion theme park. The county has a population of 100,000 and a full-time director of economic development: Edwin Gaskin.
Gaskin is also president of Echelon Resources, Inc., the development firm set to receive from the Town of Cape Charles the old school, park property, and $41,000 in insurance proceeds. According to a contract signed by Mayor Dora Sullivan, Echelon gets the property and the insurance money for the nominal sum of $10.
The local group Old School Cape Charles, LLC, is working every angle to try to stop the deal from going through. They have filed two lawsuits in Northampton Circuit Court against the Town and Echelon. And now they are taking their case to Hanover County.
In an October 4 letter to Hanover County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ed Via, the community relations spokesperson for Old School Cape Charles, Deborah Bender, requests copies of telephone logs and emails “to establish how much time Mr. Gaskin devoted to his development project in Cape Charles while employed by Hanover County.”
The request was made under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which allows public access to most state and local government records.
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The Old School group has already obtained emails on official Cape Charles computers between Gaskin and Town Manager Heather Arcos and Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek. Old School has supplied copies of several of those emails to Hanover County Chairman Via.
“We question the propriety of a full-time Hanover County official involving himself in Cape Charles electoral strategy – especially if done on government time,” Bender wrote to Via.
“It will be a smoother transition with our May 1st elections to execute the contract on May 10th.” –Town Manager Heather Arcos to Edwin Gaskin
The “electoral strategy” was the subject of emails between Gaskin, Arcos, and Panek prior to the May 1 Town Council election. On April 15, Town Manager Arcos wrote to Gaskin: “It looks like it will be a smoother transition with our May 1st elections to execute the contract on May 10th. It will be in our best interest but of course [I] am aware of your desire to be under contract in April. Is this a problem?”
“Wouldn’t a new bunch of Town Council members want to stop and deconstruct the issue entirely?” — Edwin Gaskin to Manager Arcos
Indeed it was a problem. Gaskin fired back the next morning: “We really want to have the executed Purchase Contract this month [April], the lender is tee-ed up to have it by then. . . . I’m surprised that the delay until after the election would be perceived as somehow smoother for the process. Wouldn’t the existing group of Town Council members – who have been informed on the issue – prefer to vote on it? Wouldn’t a new bunch of Town Council members want to stop and deconstruct the issue entirely, as well as revisit any debate on this topic? My preference is to get this done right now, right away.”
“We are trying to avoid possible electoral consequences of contract approval just before the May 1 election.” –Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek to Edwin Gaskin
Gaskin was under the mistaken impression that new Council members elected May 1 would be installed immediately. It fell to Assistant Town Manager Panek to explain: “[W]e are a bit concerned about potentially turning the election in to a one issue food fight. We have only about 600 votes at play, and five candidates for three open seats. We are trying to avoid possible electoral consequences of contract approval just before the May 1 election.”
Panek continued, “The one thing you are missing is that new Council members do not take office until July 1. So, the existing Council will have two months to do what they need to do. That should all occur on May 10.”
“The lagged seating of the new folks should have been obvious to me.” –Edwin Gaskin to Bob Panek
Gaskin responded: “The strategy you decide[d] makes sense; thanks for the explanation. The lagged seating of the new folks should have been obvious to me, but I missed that important point. . . . Avoiding the one issue food fight makes a lot of sense.”
When Gaskin took his current job with Hanover County, there was an impression that he would be leaving his Echelon work to others. In an August 16, 2011, article on Gaskin’s appointment in Richmond BizSense, Michael Schwartz wrote: “Once Gaskin takes the helm Sept. 1, the management and ownership of Echelon’s various properties will be handled by Gaskin’s investment partners.”
DISCLOSURE: Cape Charles Wave staff members are also active in Old School Cape Charles. Every effort has been made to ensure that the above report accurately represents the facts of the case.