Q1. You wear several hats in addition to your role as Assistant County Administrator, serving also as the Director of Information Resources and Legislative Affairs for Isle of Wight County since 2006. How has working with the media changed since you’ve served in that role?
Don Robertson: Actually, I have been working with the media since I started with the County in 1990. The thing that has changed most is the way I interact with the media. When I first started in local government, all of my interactions with the media were either face-to-face or via the telephone. Now, in addition to those modes of communication, I spend an equal amount of time, if not more, communicating with reporters via email and text messaging.
Q2. How do you keep up with the news? What media sources do you read, watch, or listen to regularly?
DR: I spend time each day reviewing a variety of news sources. Typically, I will watch CNN and the local TV news before I leave home. I check several websites daily, such as MSN.com, CNN.com, USATODAY.com, Pilotonline.com, Richmond.com, Roanoke.com, Tidewaternews.com, DailyPress.com and SmithfieldTimes.com to stay abreast of any issues impacting the County.
Q3. You’ve also been the County’s Human Resources Director. What qualities do you look for when hiring?
DR: Like most everyone, I want to be sure that the person has the appropriate education and employment experience for the position we are attempting to fill, but I also like to get a feel for the person’s work ethic. We have an awesome team of employees in Isle of Wight, so I look for the person who is going to be excited about being a part of our team, learning new things each day, and getting things accomplished.
Q4. In addition to your Master’s in Public Administration, you hold a degree in communications studies from Virginia Tech and you worked as an electrician for Newport News Shipbuilding earlier in your career. How does your background influence your current work?
DR: When I was at Virginia Tech, I took a class called “Physics as a Liberal Art.” It gave me some great insights on the power of being able to explain very technical information to people with non-technical backgrounds and vice versa. I am always looking for opportunities to bridge the communications between staff and citizens because the things that seem so obvious to us are sometimes mysteries to the people we serve.
Q5. What drew you to working in local government? How did you make the transition from the private sector to county administration?
DR: When I left college, I really didn’t know that much about local government. I was working in the private sector, as an Apprentice Electrician in the shipbuilding industry. The pay was great, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the next 30 years, so I took a couple of graduate school classes in Public Administration. I think I got into an argument with one of my professors on the first night of my first class, but I was hooked. I knew I wanted to work in local government and specifically, I wanted to serve in Isle of Wight County so I could contribute to the community that I grew up in. I began pursuing opportunities in local government and when a position opened in Isle of Wight County I applied, but I did not get the position. I met with the County Administrator and talked to others in the organization to determine how I could better prepare myself for future opportunities and when that same positon became available a couple years later, I applied again and was offered the position.
Q6. What challenges and opportunities do you see facing Isle of Wight County in the near future?
DR: Isle of Wight County is challenged with addressing the needs and expectations of a growing community while maintaining its rural character. Many of our newest residents have moved from urban and suburban communities to enjoy the rural ambiance offered by our community, but their expectations of rural life are not always consistent with their more long-term neighbors. The growth we are experiencing represents an opportunity for diversification of our economic development portfolio and it also provides an opportunity for the expansion and provision of needed services and infrastructure in areas of our community where it would not have been possible.
Q7. What do you do for fun?
DR: Since my wife and I are now “empty-nesters” we really enjoy spending quiet time at home together or going out for a good meal and great conversation.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle