To the surprise of many attending the Dewey Beach Town Council meeting Sept. 14, town officials renewed Dewey’s participation in the military surplus program.
The agreement, signed by the military surplus program state coordinator Aug. 22 and by Dewey Police Chief Sam Mackert Aug. 30, was posted to the town website Sept. 13.
Town Manager Scott Koenig said commissioners never voted to withdraw from the program, so he and Mackert created a policy setting internal guidelines for the program, dated Aug. 30, and also posted to the town website Sept. 13. “It was not to usurp guidance from commissioners,” Koenig said. “The chief and I discussed an internal policy, an understanding on how we might move forward in case items come available that may be of interest to the police department and useful to the town.”
Commissioner Gary Persinger questioned the timing of the agreement. “When I first learned we had signed a new agreement, it was, for me, jaw-dropping,” he said. “We are in the initial stages of understanding the utility of what we have and what we need to dispose of. The town manager made a decision he thinks was perfectly justified. I happen to disagree.”
Persinger said he would have preferred a discussion before any agreement was signed. “Now that it is signed, I prefer we put a hold on obtaining any new equipment before the town manager has the opportunity to determine what is useful and setting criteria for the need of equipment, how it will be used and that it will, in fact, be used,” he said.
Persinger said the signed agreement was the third state plan of operation he had seen; there were versions dated 2013, 2016 and now, 2018. “They are not all the same,” he said. “There are variations from one plan to the next. There are important changes we need to be aware of, and I request legal review of this document so we understand our responsibility, and state and local laws.”
Mayor T.J. Redefer said the town did not have to participate in the program. “We’ve been in it for many, many years, but if the town of Dewey Beach has had enough of this, if we had our druthers, would we rather not have this black eye?” Redefer asked. “I think the answer is yes, we’d rather not, and we’d rather have other ways to raise revenue.”
Redefer said commissioners should decide whether or not to participate before spending legal fees to review a state plan.
Commissioner Dale Cooke said commissioners should slow down before making any decisions. “You don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” he said. “Because you have problems with the way the program was operating in the past, you don’t just say you’re not going to participate.”
Cooke said the program saved the town a lot of money. “We wouldn’t have the number of police cars that we’ve gotten when we needed them,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I agree with the process. Let’s slow down and make sure the town manager thinks everything is in order. We never told him we wanted out of the program, so he was trying to put rules in place.”
Persinger said he was not arguing to get out of the program. “It’s very hard to say no to equipment that’s very useful to the police department,” he said. “I’m saying we have a new agreement and I don’t think we’re 100 percent clear on the obligations that agreement places on it. We need a better understanding before we get too far down the road.”
Persinger made a motion, which passed unanimously, for a legal review of two parts of the Aug. 30 state plan of operation between Dewey Police Department and the state of Delaware.
The legal review will focus on state and local laws governing disposition and sale of property obtained from the program and placement and use of funds generated, and compliance with U.S. export control operation in selling and disposing of property obtained through program.
During public comment, Commissioner-elect David Moskowitz said the policy should come from the commissioners, not the town manager. “Scott doesn’t have the authority to do this,” he said. “You’re not following the rules. It must be voted on annually and should be a voting item for the next meeting.”
Moskowitz also pointed out that the town posted the signed agreement to continue participation on Sept. 13, the day before council’s monthly meeting. “It’s a backroom deal,” Moskowitz said. “It was posted without a public vote of the commissioners that is required per the verbiage and the contract.”