Setting record straight on Dewey article

June 6, 2013

Your recent article “Dewey Beach accused of violating sunshine laws” cites two complaints sent to Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, one by disbarred Maryland attorney Georgia Leonart, and one by former Dewey Beach Commissioner James “Zeke” Pryzgocki.

The first complaint focuses on a power point document about the FOIA mentioned at a town meeting that was not a Dewey Beach town document. When Leonhart filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get it, she was told there is no such Dewey Beach document. Nevertheless, she decided to file a formal attorney general complaint anyway, which she knows will entail the town needlessly paying legal fees.

Leonhart attends and tape records every town meeting and some key committee meetings. Recently she attended a meeting of the Dewey Budget and Finance Committee at which she picked up a confidential legal memo concerning the town’s authority to impose taxes on town business. She was asked to return it, but refused and then hustled out of the meeting clutching it.

If you ask the property owners in Dewey Beach they will tell you that Leonhart is paid by the developer and large bar owners to attend these town meetings and write for a venomous website call “Dewey Beach News” that is known for its bizzare attacks on homeowners who dare to oppose the big bars.

The big bar owners complain that Dewey Beach gets negative publicity, so why don’t they stop paying Ms. Leonhart to create it? While motives for requesting documents are not relevant under FOIA, the property owners in Dewey will tell you that Leonhart is an integral part of the big bars’ strategy for taking back political power from homeowners in Dewey Beach by promoting her continuous maligning and attempt to discredit this town council and its members.

Similarly, Pryzgocki filed a complaint with the attorney general. Pryzgocki, who regularly files FOIA requests, has previously filed unsuccessful complaints to the attorney genera,l but is most well known for his mean-spirited condom “joke” of harassment against Mayor Diane Hanson that resulted in an official censure of him when he was a commissioner by his fellow commissioners. He was defeated in his bid for re-election. He too is part of the big bar attack team. His wife has been working for Steve Montgomery (Montey) at one of his bars.

The bars particularly dislike Citizens to Preserve Dewey (CPD) because the group pushes for openness, fairness, enforcement of the law and balance in Dewey’s town decisions and pushes back against business bullying tactics such as endless and costly business lawsuits against the town.

Pryzgocki is now alleging to the attorney general with no factual evidence that commissioners Legates, Howell and Hanson breached the Delaware open meetings law when he asserts they discussed town business at lunch in April with six other people, including CPD members, in Dover after a State Supreme Court argument. But Pryzcocki is all wet and off the mark again - continuing to cost the town unnecessary legal fees.

First, Pryzgocki cites no eye witnesses claiming they heard any discussion of town business. Second, it was an impromptu, informal, “hey who is hungry, where can we get a bite to eat” gathering of nine people before leaving Dover to drive to various destinations. But most importantly, as Pryzgocki should by now know, Delaware FOIA defines a meeting as “the formal or informal gathering of a quorum of the members of any public body for the purpose of discussing or taking action on public business.” 29 Del. C. Section 10002(b). Various court cases and attorney general opinions over the years have stated a complainant “must show substantive proof of a secret meeting rather than mere speculation in order to shift the burden of going forward.”

Cases have also indicated that if the following factors applied, such a group would not constitute a public body under FOIA and thus not violate the public meetings requirements of FOIA. The factors are: attendance is voluntary, individuals are not appointed by a committee to attend, attendance is a matter of personal choice, attendance includes people who are not council members, there is no report or recommendation made to the council by attendees, there is no purpose to discuss or take action on public business. All of these factors apply to the luncheon Pryzgocki complains about. It obviously was not a town meeting under FOIA.

The FOIA and open meetings laws were created to shine light on government and ensure that average people without barrels of money to twist government to their ends would have a fair chance of having government by the people, for the people.

As a member of CPD I promise openness is a critical priority for our volunteer citizens’ group. In fact, we are deeply disturbed that Town Manager Marc Appelbaum has refused for months to release any documents concerning town oversight of the Ruddertowne development project, citing old lawsuits as the only rationale. If the attorney general focuses on any town secrecy, it should turn its attention to Appelbaum’s coverup of information and documents about construction of this huge, costly development project that will affect the future of Dewey for generations.

What we see in Dewey these days is that the big bars help create and support a small group of people whose mission is to harass those who stand up to the big bars’ bullying tactics. We can only hope that talented Attorney General Beau Biden can see through all this and not let his office be used for political smear campaigns by the rich and powerful against those who don’t do their bidding.

The volunteer commissioners of Dewey Beach should not have to feel harassed every time they go to a backyard barbeque. Otherwise, the only volunteers for commissioner will be a small group of big bar supporters - precisely their goal.

Joan Claybrook
Dewey Beach

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