Emotions ran high in Dewey July 12, when residents argued over the town’s handling of violence at Northbeach, and the mayor accused a commissioner of creating a hostile environment.
During public comment at the packed commissioners’ meeting, Dewey Citizens for Accountability’s Jeffrey Smith said the town was withholding information from residents. Smith said 85 residents submitted letters requesting a public meeting, at which point Mayor TJ Redefer attempted to interrupt.
“Excuse me,” Smith said. “If this is going to be a debate, I’ll be happy to debate. I’ve offered to debate and you said no.”
Redefer replied, “Sir, if you would like to debate me anytime, anywhere, drop your lawsuit, and I’ll be happy to.”
Resident Gary Talley told commissioners Dewey Beach is in crisis.
“You have given us poor handling of Northbeach, you’ve given us mayhem,” Talley said. “You are not keeping us safe, and that is your primary responsibility.”
Addressing Redefer, Talley continued, “It is very important that you resign as mayor and not run again as commissioner.”
Redefer said there have been no late-night incidents since the town took action June 16. He said Northbeach has agreed to pay some of the $6,000 in extra security each weekend, and that Northbeach’s new safety procedures include charging a cover fee and closing the parking lot entrance at 10 p.m., increasing outside lighting, and making bouncers break up fights even if they happen outside.
“Some seem hell-bent on hurting me personally and politically,” Redefer said. “There is no need to politicize these issues. There is no need for mass negative emails filled with lies. None of that hurts me; it hurts our town.”
Police Sgt. Cliff Dempsey said he responded to an incident over the July 4th weekend around dinner time, where several males were reportedly fighting on Dagsworthy Avenue. When he arrived, he said, no one was fighting, but there was a man who was bleeding and covered with sand.
“He denied a physical altercation took place, so we assume there was a fight, but I would consider him a suspect, not a victim,” said Dempsey, who added there were no incidents at Northbeach from July 6 to 7. “I do believe it is because of the high profile of our police officers.”
Chief Sam Mackert said he was concerned with what he called a societal problem.
“Everybody wants to record and put on social media, but they’re forgetting one step, to call 911,” Mackert said. “We need to be notified. We’re becoming reactive, and we’d like to be proactive.”
Mackert said individuals who were involved in the Northbeach fights have been seen around town but are behaving. He said, based on reports and complaint logs, crime is down compared to this time last year, and he recommended increased police presence for at least another week.
Town Manager Scott Koenig said additional police will cost the town $100,000 this summer; he said the need was not isolated to a single property. “The problem moves around,” Koenig said.
Commissioner Gary Persinger said bringing in additional police was the right thing to do.
“The town stepped up, and the response was appropriate,” Persinger said. “It’s good the business owner is willing to put up some funds for this. The public would benefit by knowing what their contribution is; $100,000 for a summer season is daunting.”
Resident Ken Beach thanked commissioners.
“I’m tired of the personal attacks and emails that we’ve been getting,” he said. “Can we stop with the crap and move forward, make decisions and deal with the issues as they come up?”
Dewey Business Partnership Executive Director Kelly Rainieri said the town took appropriate action.
“All the negative emails that are coming out, all the ‘I gotchas’ are showing weakness in our town,” she said. “Our town needs to be united; it needs to be strong.”
She challenged Smith when he said she represented only the bars.
“I do not only represent restaurants and bars - and there is only one bar in Dewey Beach and that’s the Bottle & Cork,” she said. “Highway One is no longer part of the Dewey Business Partnership. I represent small hotels, businesses, the Jolly Trolley. I represent all businesses who are part of the Dewey Business Partnership.”
A combative Moskowitz challenged Mackert and commissioners over police staffing levels. He accused Mackert of having a lawyer who is also a Highway One partner, and said Koenig and Commissioner Paul Bauer have family who work for Highway One. He said Redefer being mayor and a board member of the Lions Club, which leases land to Northbeach, was a conflict of interest.
Woody’s owner Jimmy O’Conor corrected Moskowitz. “For the record, his daughter works for me, Dave, not Highway One, and he’s [Redefer] not on the board. Just so you have the facts.”
Commissioner Dale Cooke said Redefer did not advocate for Northbeach to be awarded the lease.
“It is not true to say that the mayor encouraged the Lions Club to do what they did,” Cooke said. “Initially, the mayor, who was a member of the board at the time but is no longer, told them they should have lease-land townhomes on that land. He was against having an alcohol-dispensing establishment, but the board voted that down.”
Highway One owner John Snow said the company appreciates the cooperation of town and police in addressing this issue, and will do its best to continue addressing it.
Bauer said town staff is overwhelmed by Freedom of Information Act requests made by Moskowtiz, which he said should be made public so residents are aware of the time needed by staff to complete the requests.
Moskowitz said he only files the requests as a last resort. He accused Koenig of not responding to him and told him he needs to communicate better.
In closing the four-hour meeting, Redefer addressed Moskowitz directly,
“You’ve gone out of your way, because of your desire to do things immediately, to create a hostile environment,” Redefer said. “If you don’t get things to go your way immediately, you’re going to cause disruption. You’re going to write letters to the editor; you’re going to do a mass mailout to everybody you know and you’re going to make sure the world knows you’re upset.”
Redefer said Moskowitz has submitted 12 information requests to the town and four complaints to the attorney general since early June.
“I don’t think you get how much stress you add to the process with the way you’re behaving,” said Redefer, who called for a special meeting to discuss Moskowitz’s information requests and attorney general complaints.
“I think we need to do it in public,” Redefer said, “so everybody knows once and for all what’s driving you crazy so we can get on track and do a better job for all of Dewey Beach.”