Dewey Town Manager covers up personnel policy violations

August 15, 2014

Privileged to serve as a town commissioner for two years, I love Dewey Beach and respect its full-time employees who work so hard day-in and day-out to operate our 22 blocks of heaven that people come to in droves every summer. But, I am troubled by our elected officials and the town manager they appointed, who have confounded something as simple as use of a town vehicle in ways that violate our town’s personnel policies, expose it to great liability, and compromise its integrity.

Dewey’s contract with our previous town manager Bob Stickels gave him use of a town car to commute between his Sussex County home and work, and to attend official meetings in Delaware. In April 2012 the town entered into a lease/purchase agreement with Ford Motor Credit Company for a 2012 Ford Fusion and, to obtain preferred municipal finance terms, stated that the vehicle would be used for “business purposes by the town manager.” Dewey was obligated to pay $553.23 per month for 36 months, the municipal business discounted rate.

Mr. Stickels’ use of the town car complied with Section 4-9 of Dewey’s Personnel Policy Manual, which states the general policy that town equipment shall not be available for personal use, and explicitly says that “No individual shall operate or ride in a town vehicle except as is required for the conduct of town business.”

Mr. Appelbaum’s employment agreement of Feb. 14, 2013, gave him “full use of the town manager vehicle until the car lease expires or is sold,” with him to pay for gas and the town to pay for insurance, maintenance and repairs. Somehow, Mr. Appelbaum and Mayor Diane Hanson decided that this permitted his full personal use of the vehicle with no restrictions, violating Dewey’s Personnel Policy and the terms of the lease agreement with the Ford Motor Company, with no regard for the town’s exposure to liability.

Mr. Appelbaum used the town car for multiple trips to New Orleans, La., with his family and pet, something that was discovered after the New Orleans Police Department cited him and found him at fault for a March 23, 2014 motor vehicle traffic crash that resulted in approximately $7,000 total damage to Dewey’s town car and the other car involved.

The automobile insurance policy had a $1,000 deductible. Mr. Appelbaum saw fit to only pay $500, even though he was solely responsible for the damage to two vehicles. To add fuel to the fire, Mr. Appelbaum violated another town personnel policy when he did not promptly notify Dewey Beach of the accident involving its vehicle.

In fact, he provided his personal automobile insurance information to the other party, whose vehicle was damaged, apparently hoping Dewey Beach would remain unaware of his accident in the coastal state of Louisiana. The other party’s insurance carrier caught this when trying to resolve the matter, following which the town’s insurer was notified of the claim against the town.

I also discovered that Mr. Appelbaum had the town’s car in Montgomery County, Md., where it ran a red light prior to Jan. 28, 2013. Reports are that one of his children was driving the car at the time of the infraction. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out who was driving the vehicle, but the town refused to provide that information. It should be a simple matter for Mr. Appelbaum to reveal who was driving the town’s car and got the ticket. If his child were driving, what devastating exposure would the town have in the event of an accident involving personal injury or death?

Accidents happen; that is why insurance is available, and the accident and ticket are not the issues here that concern me. It is the blatant violations of Dewey’s clearly stated personnel policies that appear within the town’s Personnel Policy Manual and the obvious cover-up about Mr. Appelbaum’s abuse of the privilege of using a town car that are troubling and should have the citizens of Dewey Beach on high alert about their commissioners, mayor and town manager.

To date, more than two months after my FOIA was filed, the town has reportedly spent a couple of thousand dollars on attorneys regarding the FOIA request and still has not produced the notice of claim sent by the town’s insurer to Dewey regarding the New Orleans motor vehicle crash, and has not identified the person driving the car as it ran a red light in Montgomery County - though I did discover that fundamental documents like mileage records distinguishing between personal and business use do not exist.

I communicated my concerns to all of the town commissioners, and only Commissioner Anna Legates responded, stating that she shared many of my concerns.

The willingness of the mayor and majority of commissioners to permit unfettered personal use of a town vehicle by an at-will employee, their willingness to misrepresent the vehicle’s use to the company from which it is leased, the town’s great exposure to liability, and the obvious attempts to cover up matters regarding Mr. Appelbaum’s use of a town car make me wonder what other larger items are they hiding from the citizens that are jeopardizing the Town of Dewey Beach. Our elected representatives have been entrusted with a moral and fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of our town - a responsibility they are so far failing to honor and fulfill.

James V. Przygocki
Former Dewey Beach Town Commissioner

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