A former Dewey Beach commissioner has accused Town Manager Marc Appelbaum and elected officials with covering up personnel policy violations.
In a letter sent to media outlets Aug. 13, James “Zeke” Przygocki accuses Appelbaum, Dewey Beach Mayor Diane Hanson and the majority of town commissioners with violating town code and violating a contract with Ford Motor Company by permitting the personal use of a town vehicle by Appelbaum. Przygocki also faults Appelbaum with covering up an accident in New Orleans while using the town's vehicle.
“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,” wrote Przygocki.
Przygocki begins the letter by saying he loves the town, but he then quickly gets into accusing Hanson and Appelbaum with blatantly violating the section of the town's personnel policy manual dealing with town equipment that is not available for personal use.
Hanson said at the time of Appelbaum's hiring, he didn't want the 2012 Ford Focus, but the town had just leased it and was going to be paying for the vehicle anyway. Hanson said it's common practice during contract negotiations to override certain policies when trying to come to an agreement – as an example, she used providing a person with an extra week of vacation above the allowed amount.
The car came with the job, she said, and all the commissioners voted on and approved Appelbaum's contract, which allowed for him to use the car for personal matters.
Przygocki accuses Appelbaum of using his personal car insurance information in an attempt to cover up a March 23 accident in New Orleans.
Appelbaum confirms that he drove the car to New Orleans and that there was an accident, but he was adamant that he did not try to hide it. He said giving his personal insurance information doesn't make sense because the town's car is not covered by it.
“Apparently they found out the name of my personal carrier, but it was an issue that was quickly resolved,” he said.
Appelbaum said the accident happened with the car parked and the engine off. He opened the driver's side door into the driving lane too far, an oncoming car hit the door and it bent the area of the door closest to the hinge.
Within five minutes, the police had been called, said Appelbaum, and that evening, because the accident was on a Sunday, an email was sent to the town's insurance company about the accident.
“I've got nothing to hide,” he said. “I wasn't drinking and driving. I didn't have underage girls in the car.”
In the letter, Przygocki accuses Appelbaum of paying $500 worth of the town's $1,000 deductible instead of the whole amount.
Appelbaum confirms that he paid $500, but said there was no attempt to deceive the town. He said if a town employee were to lose a cell phone, he wouldn't make them buy another one. He said that just because he's the town manager doesn't mean he's got to be harsher on himself than other town employees.
“So I payed 50 percent,” he said.
Przygocki also brings up that the car received a ticket for running a red light in Montgomery County, Md., in January 2013. He speculates that one of Appelbaum's children was driving the car.
“Reports are that one of his children was driving the car at the time of the accident,” he writes.
Appelbaum denies that one of his children was driving; he paid the ticket without question after being told about it.
Appelbaum said he's not driven the car for more than a week and is the process of liquidating it for the town. He said the town owes approximately $5,400 on the car and has been given a quote of $10,000 for its purchase.
The town will get about $4,500 back, plus saving about $1,500 a year in insurance costs.
Origin of letter
Appelbaum isn't sure why Przygocki is bringing the driving of the car to light. He speculated that it had something to do with an issue regarding inappropriate behavior by Przygocki towards Mayor Diane Hanson in 2010 when Przygocki was a commissioner.
In March 2010, Hanson called for Przygocki's resignation after he presented a box of condoms to a town employee, a joke implying sex between the employee and Hanson; Przygocki suggested the employee wear protection, as one witness paraphrased, to prevent the propagation of the species.
Appelbaum, a commissioner at the time, supported Hanson's request that Przygocki resign.
Ever since then, said Appelbaum, Zeke has had an issue with the two of us.
Appelbaum received immediate support from Hanson and Commissioners David Jasinski and Gary Mauler.
“I believe in my tenure, and there's been seven or eight town managers, Marc is absolutely the most competent town manager the town has ever had,” Hanson said.
Jasinski said Appelbaum's use of the car in New Orleans is completely proper and there is no issue with him using it. The commissioners voted to allowed Marc to use the car for more than just business purposes, Jasinski said.
He viewed the accident as a minor property incident and didn't think it was a major issue. He also believes that the reason Przygocki wrote the letter is because he's still sore from what happened in 2010.
Mauler said the issues with the accident and the ticket have been discussed, and he's satisfied there's nothing being covered up. He said the information provided by Przygocki is misleading and taken out of context.
He said Przygocki is a part of a small group of people in town who spend a lot of unproductive time writing Freedom of Information Act requests and then complain when the town spends a lot of money on legal fees answering those requests.
Mauler had no problem with the contract between Appelbaum and the town.
“If the agreement suits both parties, you sign it and move on,” he said. “These guys need to get a hobby and a life, while we keep the town moving forward.”