After work on Cavalier deal, Virginia Beach official asked developers about work for son

The Cavalier on the Hill. (Courtesy of Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development)
The Cavalier on the Hill. (Courtesy of Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development)

VIRGINIA BEACH – After estimating a public incentives package for a developer’s winning bid to purchase the Cavalier Hotel, a high-ranking city employee sent a congratulatory email with a question for the firm’s chief investment officer.

“Would you mind if I give my son, Colin Frankenfield, your contact information?” Barry Frankenfield, the city’s strategic growth area director, wrote to GoldKey | PHR Hotels & Resorts’ Chief Investment Officer Robert Howard on July 24, 2013. “He is an associate at Alliance Partners in Chevy Chase, Maryland. I know you may not be interested in their services but he has an interest in the Old Cavalier and the Virginia Beach (sic) and he would like to tell you what his firm does. Either way no pressure. Thanks.”

Howard replied 18 minutes later: “Yes, please provide, thanks.”

“Ok thanks,” Frankenfield answered.

Southside Daily obtained copies of the emails, which were previously released to the media but have not been reported until now. A city spokeswoman said this week when asked about Frankenfield’s inquiry about his son to the Cavalier Hotel developer that Frankenfield had been reprimanded because of the email.

Julie Hill, the spokeswoman, said the email was “inappropriate.” She said she could not provide details of the city’s reprimand because it is a personnel matter. City policy describes a written reprimand as “a form of discipline where an employee receives a letter” that is placed in the employee’s file.

The city’s action apparently happened some time ago. Hill said the city became aware of Frankenfield’s email about his son when responding to a prior Freedom of Information Act request regarding city correspondence on the Cavalier project.

Frankenfield, in response to questions from Southside Daily, said by email that his son and Howard never talked or worked together “in any way.”

Frankenfield said he thought at the time it was OK to ask Howard about forwarding his son’s information because the Cavalier Hotel project already had been awarded to Gold Key, and the City Council already had approved the tax incentives.

“It was a mistake on my part that occurred over two years ago,” Frankenfield wrote. “I acknowledged the mistake and it was appropriately addressed.”

Frankenfield determined how much taxpayer money in the form of incentives would go to Gold Key, a hotel development firm led by Bruce Thompson, for the Cavalier project. He relayed a revised figure to other city staff the day before the firm bid on the property.

After Gold Key won the bid, emails from city staff show Frankenfield remained closely involved on the project with developers. When the developers sought a meeting in August 2014 with city officials to solve utility issues, an architect for the team told the project manager to loop in Frankenfield.

“He’s probably got the most pull to help smooth things out,” the architect said in the email, on which Frankenfield was copied.

Government ethics experts responded with concern when told about Frankenfield’s email regarding his son.

“His duty is to the public not to advance his son’s career,” said Hana Callaghan, Government Ethics Program director at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center.

The incentive package for Gold Key on the hotel project is worth $36 million; that figure includes $18 million that was approved by the state in July 2014, to come from taxes generated by the project once it is completed, according to the city.

Frankenfield was promoted to acting director of the planning department in July. The move came with a raise of $17,821.68, putting his salary at $128,376, according to the city.

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