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Virginia Beach internal forum response to Something in the Water question sparks frustration from city employees

Days after Pharrell Williams accused city leadership of 'toxic energy,' city employees said they felt that energy was manifested with a blog response.
Credit: 13News now

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A response to a Something in the Water-related question posted on an internal City of Virginia Beach internal forum sparked frustration among city employees, who told 13News Now it represents the 'toxic energy' that Pharrell Williams criticized this week.

Monday, Pharrell denied a meeting with city leaders to discuss the return of the SITW festival, criticizing the city's response to the death of his cousin, Donovon Lynch. 

A Virginia Beach police officer shot and killed Lynch at the Oceanfront in March. The Lynch family has since filed a federal lawsuit. 

As a result, the Pharrell-led Something in the Water festival is unlikely to return to Virginia Beach. 

Virginia Beach City Council member Aaron Rouse said the city "squandered" the significant cultural and economic benefits of the festival, agreeing with Pharrell that city leadership needs to address systemic problems within the city.

Thursday, an anonymous Virginia Beach city employee posted a question on an internal city forum: "Since Pharrell has pulled SITW from VB will he also be pulling his surf park and moving it to a City that is actually diverse and inclusive?"

A manager responded: "Are you asking about the same City that you work for? Do you really think asking this question anonymously on an internal employee blog is what's needed right now?"

Credit: VB City Employee

The employee was referring to the in-progress Dome Site project near the Oceanfront, backed by Pharrell and Venture Realty Group, which is promised to feature a surf park and entertainment complex. 

Multiple anonymous Virginia Beach city employees messaged 13News Now about the forum post and response.

"This to me is evidence of continued toxic culture that has remained intragnizent among the city, even 2 years after the May 31st shooting," wrote one employee. "This is far from the only response of this poor caliber from this forum."

Another said: "I guess this is what Pharrell meant by toxic energy."

The City of Virginia Beach confirmed the post and response and said City Manager Patrick Duhaney was aware of the situation.

In a statement, Virginia Beach spokesperson Julie Hill said "the response was not authorized, nor was it in keeping with the tone or level [Duhaney] expects on the employee blog."

She said the situation is being addressed "as a personnel matter."

Friday, an additional response was posted on the forum: "It was not my intention to suggest I was being dismissive of the importance and value of Virginia Beach’s diversity and inclusion, and I deeply regret giving that impression with this response. While the question came across as “piling on,” I should have taken the opportunity to share information that provided context and highlighted where we were with the project. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will be more mindful of the tone and substance of these responses in the future."

Additionally, Hill said the City of Virginia Beach is "not aware that Atlantic Park is impacted" by Pharrell's comments this week. 

"The City and Venture Partners are continuing to work through the various elements of the development agreement."