January 9, 2019
Dear Dewey Friends and Neighbors:
In the past year, seeking transparency, our citizens group has filed over 30 Freedom of Information (FOiA) requests, with volunteers researching hundreds of pages of documents about Dewey Beach. News media outlets including the Gazette, the Dover Post, and Delmarva News have also sought and reported on some of these issues. DCA volunteers also sought information by attending dozens of town Council and committee meetings and spoke to Town Commissioners.
What we have found comports with what we have been hearing from residents with increasing frequency, and what was implied in the Walton Report 14 months ago, that the town is gripped with what are serious problems in the local government which, according to the data, has needs to be addressed immediately for the sake of the quality of life in Dewey Beach:
Dewey has been four months without a budget committee or investment committee.Ongoing attempts to stack Dewey Committees with allies and relatives of the Mayor (such as illustrated above) have left the town without a budget committee at a time when Dewey is in a budget crisis, or an investment committee overseeing the town’s investments in a volatile market .
The recent “procedures review” for the military surplus equipment has failed by any measure of accountability. Instead, off the chart payments of over $47,000 were made to the accounting firm TGM to write a “procedures review”, but only a phase 1 cost of $12,000 was ever approved by the Town Council. When phase 2 came out this past August it excluded 99% of the military equipment, was improperly edited by the Mayor and town manager before presentation to the audit committee in late summer leading to two resignations and an arrest. And it cost $35,000 without Council approval.
A huge lawsuit filed last week against the town related to a street melee on Memorial Day, where Dewey Beach Police charged a person with punching a horse. The judge threw the arrest out of court due to the police withholding video and purportedly fabricating evidence. The video showed a wrongful arrest, and fortunately no horse was punched. Because of Dewey‘s litigation history the town will at a minimum pay a $100,000 (one hundred thousand dollars) deductible to the insurer to litigate or settle the case, then be subject to further increased insurance premiums.
The continued and intentional refusal of the mayor and the police to comply with theNovember 11, 2017 council resolution to account for 2500 missing items received by the Police without disclosures from the military surplus program (as documented by our video).
In my efforts to report on the audit committee for DCA on behalf of transparency, the audit committee chair, TJ ally Larry Silver had me arrested for supposed theft of a public document. A week before trial all charges were dropped by the state without condition, but I will need to expunge the arrest record at the least. Procedural errors could have been avoided if the mayor had not blocked theNovember 11, 2017 council resolution to hire a police consultant.
Serious and unprecedented Town overspending compared to prior year financials were at first not being reported at all by the town. AFter we sent out a memo detailing huge expenses. the council promised to address it, but it was removed from the council agenda last month and is buried as the 6th item overall for this weekend’s set of town meetings.
Audit committee chair and TJ ally Larry Silver illegally changed public minutes with Mayor TJ’s help (actually from the audience) at a holiday midweek meeting with the committee secretary, a town council member, and a local reporter all stating the revised minutes were inaccurate as shown in our video.
Meeting agendas (i.e. this Friday's meeting agenda ) changed at the last minute in violation of state FOIA laws to exclude pro-accountability participants in favor of secrecy, again solely by the mayor.
Refusal of the mayor and a town manager (who is paid a record $110,000) to be accountable for multiple failures of the town’s audio-video system over the past two months - a system which fosters transparency by allowing the public to see and hear the Council meetings as property owners had been able to do in prior years.
A zoning change proposal for higher density (smaller setbacks) in the town’s north end, presented to the council by the mayor’s first cousin and business partner without any disclosure of his conflict— whose majority benefit falls to the mayor’s family’s land lease company. This conflict was not disclosed as the mayor refuses to say what partner percentage he holds on his required disclosure form.
Zero action has been taken on the recommendations of the Walton report, for which the town spent $300,000 and which came out 14 months ago documenting serious problems with the Dewey Beach Patrol, the police and the building inspector. Not even one person was fired, demoted or suspended despite serious violations and extensive lying by officials as reported by the attorney and investigator. The town manager stated that he had not even read the report when he met with our group in September. Council member Bauer has boasted he did not bother reading it either and (despite its clear documentation) he considered it only an opinion.
A year after the Walton Report, an official who was the subject of the most serious allegations, Dewey Beach Patrol Captain Todd Frichtman, was found to be operating a false charity and soliciting funds using a private email address and a non-town post office box. The Mayor TJ refuses to take any action, due he says, to his friendship with Frichtman for over 20 years. Cronyism is clearly a liability to the town and the interests of all residents need to be foremost in any town mayor’s mind.
One factor that came up repeatedly in the documents, and was evident in the problematic decision making, was that the current Mayor continues to block accountability and has refused to sign on to other commissioner choices to improve the town. Upon review of the mayor’s own reports of his actions in his newsletters, this conclusion seems inescapable.
The alternative model to what we have seen is a merit-based town government serving the residents. The current situation in Dewey is well summarized. Cronyism serving interests of entrenched officials is responsible for most of the above listed incidents. The residents will continue to pay the price in the form of lower property values and quality of life. In fact a resident study of property values in Dewey, confirmed with the two largest realty companies in Rehoboth, found Dewey values to be 25% less than South Rehoboth.
This is the year to lift Dewey Beach above the cronyism model of governance. It takes emails to town council to let them know that the residents want change from cronyism. Please take just a minute to title an email “No Cronyism for Dewey in 2019.” Asking the mayor and commissioners to do this is important now, as they are meeting on Friday January 11 and Saturday January 12 where they can address some of the above listed challenges.
Best wishes in this new year for a better and more responsive Dewey.
Jeffrey C. Smith
Citizens for Accountability