Va. agency head apologizes to McAuliffe’s company for ‘inappropriate’ e-mail

December 14, 2012

The head of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership has apologized to the chief executive of Terry McAuliffe’s electric car company after discovering that an employee of the state agency had put offensive comments about the executive in an internal e-mail.

McAuliffe, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2013, is the owner of GreenTech Automotive. The company is based in McLean, but it is building a plant to manufacture its “neighborhood electric vehicles” in Tunica, Miss.

The fact that GreenTech chose Mississippi rather than Virginia for its first plant drew attention in political circles, given McAuliffe’s designs on the governor’s mansion.

In October 2009, after GreenTech held an event in Mississippi to unveil prototypes for the vehicles it planned to build in the state, a staff member at the VEDP — which had discussed with GreenTech the possibility of locating the plant in Virginia — e-mailed four colleagues about the event.

The e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, included what appear to be online comments from a Memphis newspaper story on the GreenTech event. The comments include several mocking and derogatory references to the last name of GreenTech chief executive Charles Wang.

“Here’s how folks in Memphis responded today,” the VEDP aide wrote, before posting the offensive comments.

In a letter to Wang on Friday, Martin J. Briley, president and chief executive of the partnership, apologized “for the use of inappropriate words by staff during e-mail communications related to GreenTech.”

Briley wrote that the e-mails “came to our attention within the past few days” as the agency was assembling documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

This “behavior should have never occurred, as these comments were silly, sophomoric, and totally inappropriate,” Briley wrote. “The staff members have been duly reprimanded, and each has expressed deep regret for these actions and any unintended harm that may have resulted.”

Briley added that “it is our desire to move forward with you and your team to continue to explore opportunities in the future,” a reference to the possibility of GreenTech’s building a facility in Virginia.

In a statement responding to Briley’s letter, GreenTech said the company was “disappointed to learn that our company’s good work and new ideas were viewed through the prism of personal bias.”

“We accept Mr. Briley’s apology for these emails and statements,” the statement said. “We believe the leadership of VEDP is addressing issues from the past and we look forward to working with them in the future. We hope our expansion plans can include Virginia, in partnership with the VEDP.”

Asked this month why his plant was in Mississippi rather than Virginia, McAuliffe said the VEDP had “decided they didn’t want to bid on it. That’s their choice.”

A VEDP spokeswoman told WWBT (Channel 12) in Richmond that the agency “did not receive enough information to respond to GreenTech’s business proposal that was received in 2009.”

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