Dewey Beach officials say its embattled town manager will stay on the job despite calls for his removal or suspension with pay.
Town Manager Marc Appelbaum will remain at his post, but employees who have called for his ouster will report to Assistant Town Manager Jim Dedes while charges against Appelbaum are investigated.
Acting Mayor Diane Hanson said town officials will not rush to judgement after an explosive letter from town department heads accused the town manager of sexual harassment, misuse of town funds, interference with public safety and racial discrimination.
“With the support of the commissioners and town manager and for the benefit of all parties, until further notice, the assistant town manager will serve as the point of contact for any interactions with the police chief, the captain of the beach patrol, and the building official. Council anticipates that a resolution of this matter, given its complexity, will require a period of weeks,” according to a June 22 statement from Dewey Beach Town Council.
The June 16 letter from town staff called for the immediate ouster of Applebaum. Meanwhile, an attorney for staff who oppose Appelbaum and an attorney representing several businesses in town have both called for Appelbaum to be placed on paid leave while the matter is investigated.
The commissioners held an executive session June 20 to discuss the matter, but before the meeting began, the agenda brought a quick response from Richard Cross, the attorney who represents town employees seeking Appelbaum’s ouster.
Writing in advance of the meeting, Cross called on town council to suspend Appelbaum with pay and to appoint an independent investigator who has no prior relationship with the town to investigate the charges. He also called on Hanson to recuse herself from further involvement in the issue, charging she had strategized with Appelbaum about how to handle the letter and is not impartial. He also noted that while the commissioners could discuss the matter in executive session, they are required by law to take any vote as to how to move forward in public session.
The agenda for the executive session listed the appointment of Diane Campanile of Lyons Companies as the town’s acting human resources representative. Cross took exception to hiring Campanile to investigate the Applebaum matter because she has worked with Appelbaum on other issues and may not be impartial. Lyons Companies president David Lyons noted Campanile is working with the town on other matters, not the Appelbaum situation.
Mayor Dale Cooke is on vacation through Friday, June 23; in his absence, Hanson has been serving as acting mayor.
Hanson said it is very likely the town will bring in an outside, independent investigator to look into the letter’s accusations but will not rush to judgement.
“We will take a while to research all this,” Hanson said.
Town solicitor Fred Townsend was not available for comment.
The employees who sent the original letter - including Dewey Beach Patrol Capt. Todd Fritchman and Dewey Beach Police Capt. Sam Mackert among others - asked the commissioners to immediately remove Appelbaum, but a second letter, from their attorney, called instead for Appelbaum’s suspension with pay.
“If you fail to take steps to stop the ongoing damage from Mr. Appelbaum’s actions, you are exposing yourselves and the town to even greater liability,” Cross’ letter states.
“Why the town would want to allow Mr. Appelbaum to continue to insert himself in day-to-day operations with this cloud hanging over the town is risky and unreasonable under the law,” he wrote.
A letter to the mayor and commissioners from local attorney Stephen Spence, on behalf of clients who are Dewey Beach property owners, also called for Appelbaum to be suspended with pay while the investigation is ongoing, and for the appointment of an independent counsel with no prior dealings with the town to conduct the investigation. Spence also asked for the town to engage a human resources professional other than Campanile, who has previously worked with the town, calling it virtually impossible for her to become sufficiently detached to investigate the employee accusations.
Finally, Spence asked for a temporary town manager to act in Appelbaum’s absence while he is suspended.
“If you proceed in any other fashion you will greatly increase the risk that my clients and others will initiate a class action to protect their interests,” Spence wrote.
The letter from employees, received by the Cape Gazette June 16, lists 42 charges of misconduct against Appelbaum and asked for his removal as town manager. The letter included a number of salacious accusations as well as charges of sexual harassment, improperly budgeting town funds, interference with public safety, and swearing at and berating town staff.