Dewey staff revolts against Appelbaum

Employees allege sexual harassment, misuse of funds
June 19, 2017

Story Location:
105 Rodney Ave.
Dewey Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

Citing sexual harassment, offensive language, misuse of town funds, racial discrimination and jeopardizing public safety, 12 of Dewey Beach’s employees have asked for the immediate removal of Town Manager Marc Appelbaum.

In a June 14 letter written to the mayor, commissioners and residents of Dewey, the employees – a group including police Chief Sam Mackert, beach patrol Capt. Todd Fritchman, building inspector Bill Mears and nine members of the Dewey Police Department – say they are exercising their rights as whistleblowers with the submission of the 11-page, 42-complaint document.

In response, acting Mayor Diane Hanson said in a statement, “Last Friday the Commissioners of the town of Dewey Beach received a complaint that contained serious allegations of misconduct on the part of a town employee.  In response, the Town will promptly and  thoroughly investigate the matter and make its findings known when it is reasonable and responsible to do so. Time is required to compile the details that the complaint lacks in many instances.  The town will not rush to judgment.  The sensitivities of all parties involved will be an utmost consideration.”

Calls to confirm whether Appelbaum remains in charge were referred to town attorney Fred Townsend, who could not be reached by presstime. Hanson said the mayor and commissioners will meet in executive session to discuss the letter Tuesday, June 20.

After being sent a copy of the letter hand-delivered June 16 to the Cape Gazette, Appelbaum said he was deciding whether to read it. “In the meantime, I’m going to take a walk on the beach with my wife and do my thing,” he said.

Richard Cross, attorney for the employees who wrote the letter, said June 19 he hopes the town commissioners respond appropriately to the letter. He said the town should suspend Appelbaum pending an investigation. Cross said the commissioners have been aware of prior complaints about Appelbaum.

“They have a duty to deal with this and not just bury their heads in the sand,” he said.

The letter ends by telling the mayor and commissioners that if they ignore the complaints, they have exposed themselves individually, and the town as a whole, to legal liability because of Appelbaum’s actions.

“If the mayor and commissioners do not take immediate action to remove Mr. Appelbaum and put an end to the toxic and abusive work environment detailed above, we, the undersigned employees, intend to seek legal relief in court,” the letter reads. “The eyewitnesses to the acts described below are prepared to testify under oath, and in court, as to the facts detailed.”

Regarding legal action, Cross said that would be an option should the commissioners fail to take action but, “We’re not there yet.”

“We’re confident the mayor and commissioners will take appropriate action,” he said.

Sgt. Cliff Dempsey, the police department’s public information officer, confirmed that he was one of the 12 employees who signed the letter and that the letter is from the employees. He declined to comment any further, instead saying he would pass along the comment request to Cross.

A letter to the mayor and commissioners signed, among others, by former Mayor Dell Tush, former budget and finance committee member Dave Davis and former Commissioner Joy Howell, called for an immediate investigation by outside investigators. The letter also asks for Applebaum to be suspended from his duties.

“If these allegations are true, Mr. Appelbaum’s conduct has been disgraceful and perhaps even illegal. He has put the Town at great risk both in terms of legal liability and reputation. He has been cruel and unprofessional to the employees. If you ignore this situation, you may also create the risk of personal liability for you as members of the governing body that has been made aware of the potential for serious, perhaps criminal, misconduct,” the letter says.

Accusations against town manager

In a document full of salacious accusations, the first one sets the tone. It reads, “Mr. Appelbaum wears pajama bottoms into the office, often without underwear, intentionally making the outline of his penis visible to female employees.”

That’s one of nine complaints dealing with various levels of sexual harassment. Another accuses Appelbaum of not paying his female employees equally, but rather, the letter says, he rewards and pays fairly only those women who submit to him.

The letter then moves onto abusive conduct. It says after town commissioners vote to approve the budget for the next year, Appelbaum makes significant changes as a means of controlling and punishing employees. The letter accuses Appelbaum of actively obstructing town employees from doing their jobs.

The letter further accuses Appelbaum of interfering with police officers by directing them to take selective enforcement actions against individuals and businesses. It also says Appelbaum attempted to force Mackert out when the chief was home last summer recovering from a heart attack.

The letter also accuses Appelbaum of interfering with the Dewey Beach Patrol. Most recently, the letter says during Memorial Day weekend, Fritchman scheduled 31 lifeguards to work, but Applebaum reduced the number to 8.

“Mr. Appelbaum’s decisions are made without regard to the safety standards applicable to open water lifeguarding,” it says.

The letter also accuses Appelbaum of using the town’s permitting process as a weapon to punish his enemies. It says Appelbaum has forced Mears to change the building code in order to deny applications.

The letter also accuses Appelbaum of using permitting fees, that are supposed to be earmarked for Mears’ office, for other purposes.

Mayor Dale Cooke said June 16 that he was unaware of the letter or complaints contained in the letter.

Town attorney Fred Townsend has not responded to request for comment.