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Dewey group wants answers on police spending

Newly-formed Dewey Citizens for Accountability calling for reform in town hall
November 10, 2017

Story Location:
Dewey Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

Executing the $100,000 buyout of former Dewey Beach Town Manager Marc Appelbaum was the order of business for town council in October.

This month, Dewey town council is expected to address accounting issues associated with the police department’s handling of a federal military surplus program.

The agenda for council’s Saturday, Nov. 11 meeting calls for a discussion and possible vote on requiring the police department to give a complete accounting of all property received through any surplus property program.

The Dewey Citizens for Accountability, a recently formed, citizen-led group, is going to make sure that happens.

Started in September by Dewey property owner Jeffrey Smith, Dewey Citizens for Accountability has more than 30 supporters, Smith said.

“We are striving, most of all, for accountability and fairness,” said Smith in a Nov. 8 email. “It was evident there was no other citizens’ group addressing the challenges facing the town.”

The accounting inconsistencies were only revealed after police Chief Sam Mackert, the majority of the chief’s officers, beach patrol Capt. Todd Fritchman and building inspector Bill Mears revolted in June against Appelbaum. The revolt, and the accompanying complaint letter with 42 sometimes-salacious complaints, forced town council to hire Wilmington-based attorney Max Walton to investigate those complaints. The discrepancies around accounting procedures were called into question by Walton, who gave council a 112-page report in mid-September.

Citing the part of the Walton’s report that says the complainants lied and fabricated accusations for the purpose of retaliation, Smith said the complainants have suffered no negative consequences.

“No company would keep these employees on their staff,” said Smith. “Would you trust them to run your company? In the case of a town, how would [the employees] maintain their authority and respect after it is found [they] made false statements under their signatures? These employees should be fired.”

Smith, a north Dewey property owner for 19 years, said he thinks the employees are likely hiding something.

“Otherwise why would they be so adamant about hiding it,” he questioned.

Dewey Police Sgt. Cliff Dempsey said the town’s participation in this program hasn’t been concealed from anyone, has undergone numerous compliance reviews and is subject to spot checks. He said the equipment has also been utilized to provided public safety, most recently to illuminate dark areas during the Sea Witch Festival.

“The residents and visitors have seen this equipment in use on many occasions,” said Dempsey in a Nov. 9 email. “These items have been used in numerous hurricanes and other significant weather events.”

Dempsey said he thinks the timing associated with the release of information about the department’s accounting practices suggest it is motivated by retaliation for the complaints against Appelbaum and former town council members.

Smith said Dewey needs to change and, he said, it needs to start with the complainants.

“No resident wants Dewey to resemble an 1850-style western town with a business owner boss and some crony department heads, but as of September 2017, as documented by the town investigator’s report, Dewey has a lot of similarities, and this must change,” he said.

Smith said the complainants connection with Alex Pires, Dewey business owner and the attorney who wrote the complainant’s original letter, leads to a total loss of credibility on the part of all employees who signed the complaint. Especially, he said, Mackert and Fritchman.

Even if the police department had been following proper accounting practices, Smith said he questions the necessity of the town’s involvement with the federal surplus program. Rehoboth did not apply for or need any of this type of military surplus equipment, he said.