Thursday, September 28, 2023

Colonial Williamsburg responds to questions about Mitchell Reiss’s departure — with silence

Members of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes & Drums. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Members of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes & Drums. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

Just one day after Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell Reiss announced he would “step down” from his role with the foundation, details remain slim.

Attempts to reach two spokesmen with Colonial Williamsburg Tuesday and Wednesday went unanswered, leaving several questions open about the nature of Reiss’s departure.

Colonial Williamsburg announced Tuesday Reiss would leave the foundation at the end of his contract in October. By that time, he will have been at Colonial Williamsburg for five years.

While Reiss’s accomplishments have been well-documented through annual reports, tax documents and news releases, here’s what remains unknown about his departure:

  • Who initiated the nonrenewal of Reiss’s contract
  • How often Reiss’ contract is renewed
  • Whether the separation includes a severance, separation or retirement package
  • When Reiss will be required to move out of his Colonial Williamsburg home, which is provided as part of his employment
  • Whether Reiss indicated he has a new job lined up or is retiring

Colonial Williamsburg spokesman Joseph Straw and other CW representatives have repeatedly declined to answer questions over the phone, asking WYDaily reporters to send questions only via email.

A message left with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Board of Trustees Chairman Thurston Moore was not immediately returned Wednesday. A receptionist for Moore said he was not in the office for the day, but passed along WYDaily’s request for a phone call.

Reiss came to Colonial Williamsburg amidst critical financial difficulties. The foundation annually pulled money from its endowment to cover its expenses, pulling around 12 percent of the fund in 2014 — more than double what healthy nonprofits should take, Reiss said in 2018.

Under Reiss, Colonial Williamsburg gradually cut down how much it was taking from the endowment, taking about 8 percent in 2017 and 2018.

Admissions revenue declined in 2017, however. Tax documents for 2017 show the foundation saw a nearly $900,000 drop in revenue from admissions alone.

Reiss is also well-known for his “fundamental restructuring” of Colonial Williamsburg, which started in June 2017 with lay-offs and outsourcing of retail operations. The restructuring impacts 333 employees, 71 of which were laid off. The rest were transferred to other employers.

Reiss’s performance netted him two $100,000 bonuses in 2016 and 2017. Tax documents for 2017 show Reiss’s total compensation package totaled $817,214.

RELATED STORY: Colonial Williamsburg president saw $100K bonus for second year in a row, recent tax documents show

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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