While a Dewey citizens group marched to demand accountability Sept. 8, Dewey officials say a former mayor and town manager knew about police department participation in the military surplus program as early as 2012.
About 20 members of Dewey Citizens for Accountability, and former Mayor Diane Hanson, marched to dispute an independent auditor’s report on the program and call for a complete audit of all equipment.
Jeffrey Smith of DCA said the town’s auditors found only 13 of over 2,600 pieces of equipment acquired through the program.
“So, 99 percent of the equipment is missing,” he said.
Former Town Manager Marc Appelbaum emailed town officials Aug. 21 to say he did not write or sign an Oct. 23, 2015 letter sent to a federal military surplus program manager with his stamped signature that approved police participation in the program. Appelbaum asked officials to correct the record; the letter and email exchange are posted on the town website.
In a signed memo to commissioners, DCA members stated they want commissioners to acknowledge the letter was fraudulently signed and to notify the federal military surplus program manager.
Smith emailed town officials Sept. 10 to request a public debate Friday, Sept. 14, between Commissioner Paul Bauer and himself. Smith said Bauer presented the disputed letter to council in January 2018 to show Appelbaum approved participation in the program.
Dewey Mayor T.J. Redefer said the town cannot call a meeting without providing at least one week’s public notice.
“Moreover, neither of these men are running for office so to what end would they debate?” he said. “Besides, I think my energy is better spent preparing for this pending storm.”
Redefer said an email search of the town’s server found emails that show Appelbaum and Hanson discussed using Humvees received through the program.
“On Aug. 26, 2012, and Oct. 29, 2012, there were emails about the police department activating their Humvees to serve and protect during a flooding event and a failure of our Bellevue Street pumps system,” Redefer said.
Hanson said she did discuss using Humvees during storms, and that Police Chief Sam Mackert told her the department received the Humvees through a grant. She said she did not know the extent of the police department’s participation in the military surplus program.
“Back then, I trusted the police and believed what they said,” she said. “I don’t anymore. Also, we are talking about one Humvee as far as I know, and that’s one piece of what turned out to be almost 3,000 pieces of equipment.”
Hanson said she and the commissioners tried to investigate the program in June 2017 when council voted unanimously to bring in a police consultant to investigate the police department.
“When the police found out, they filed their false charges against Marc and with the help of the biggest bar owner in town one week later,” she said. “I don’t believe that timing was coincidental. In the Walton report, they emphasized that Marc was a strong manager and police, lifeguards and Bill Mears resisted being managed.”
Hanson said, “After the complaint filing, our hands were tied, as it would have looked like we were going after supposed whistleblowers.”
Appelbaum said he did not wish to comment before the town’s Sept. 15 municipal election.
Redefer said exactly when the police department started selling and trading equipment is unclear, but after an April 2016 sale when $90,000 was deposited into the police restricted account, town officials did not fire anyone, put policies in place or inventory equipment.
“The barn door was open for the horses,” Redefer said. “This town was run poorly, and departments were left to fend for themselves. Our goal now is to build a town where this can never happen again.”
Town Manager Scott Koenig said he has already begun to categorize the equipment.
“Any disposal will be discussed with our accounting firm and auditor before items are released,” Koenig said. “We have to outline a plan that meets the concerns of our accountant and auditor so we have a clear audit trail for any equipment we get rid of. Mr. Persinger’s motion will help guide the administrative efforts.”
Commissioner Gary Persinger proposed motions in an Aug. 10 commissioners meeting that set timelines for equipment disposal. By January 2019, useful surplus items will be identified to commissioners, and by April 2019, all remaining items will be disposed of. Any funds received will be provided to the town and deposited in the police restricted fund.
Redefer said Dewey voters held town officials accountable at the time.
“Diane Hanson was voted out of office, and we hired a new town manager,” he said. “It is time for Dewey Beach to move forward.”
Candidate for commissioner David Moskowitz said the march was not intended to blame current administration for past mistakes. He said strong internal controls and a solid conflict-of-interest disclosure form will help prevent future mismanagement.
“The program is designed for agencies to use the surplus equipment,” he said. “If you are getting equipment under false pretenses such as Dewey Beach firing range, that’s fraud and violates federal and state law, which is what people are upset about and want to reform.”