The Lewes Board of Public Works has hired a lobbyist to work against proposed charter changes that would make the BPW part of the City of Lewes government.
Charter changes must be approved by state legislators. BPW President Pres Lee said the board hired Patrick Allen of Allen Strategies LLC of Wilmington to navigate the Legislature and defend the BPW if charter changes move to the General Assembly. He’s hopeful the BPW won’t need the lobbyist.
“It sounds like we won’t need him to do anything,” Lee said, noting BPW and city officials plan meet to discuss a truce in their several-months-long dispute.
“We’re going to be getting together soon,” he said, calling hiring the lobbyist a precautionary move.
“This is something new to us,” he said. “We don’t usually dabble in politics. Although we have great relationships with our local representation, we don’t really have to ask them for much help. We’re just looking to see what we had to do to defend ourselves against potential charter changes.”
BPW General Manager Darrin Gordon said the lobbyist has been paid $2,000 to date.
Lee said the idea to hire a lobbyist came after mayor and city council’s Dec. 10 meeting, when it laid out a plan to take over the BPW and make it a department of the city.
The BPW held its own meeting Dec. 11, when a member of the public suggested indemnification. At the meeting, Lee said the BPW would be willing to drop its lawsuit if the city indemnified BPW from any potential lawsuit regarding a pre-annexation agreement. In an interview Dec. 12, Mayor Ted Becker said the city was willing to consider the proposal. However, no public meetings have been held since, due to the holidays and schedule conflicts.
The central issue is that city officials want landowners to agree to annexation into Lewes before utility services are provided, called a pre-annexation agreement.
The BPW received a legal opinion that pre-annexation agreements are likely illegal and unenforceable, opening the door for challenge in the courts, prompting the BPW not to require them.
Michael Hoffman, BPW attorney, said there has been pushback on the pre-annexation agreement from property owners seeking BPW services.
“The BPW has property owners who are not-so-subtly making it clear that if the board enforces this [pre-annexation] condition that it would violate their rights,” Hoffman said at the Dec. 11 meeting.
After the city and BPW failed to work out the issue, the BPW filed a lawsuit in July seeking a court decision.
Over the last six months, each side has made its case in written briefs, with the city seeking dismissal of the case and the BPW seeking summary judgement. The next step, including making a decision on motions or hearing oral arguments, is up to Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley.
In a statement sent to the Cape Gazette Dec. 12, Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said he would not support charter changes unless both the city and BPW were on board.
“I do not wish for an over 100-year partnership, which has benefited Lewes taxpayers and ratepayers alike, to be severed … over reasonable disagreements that can be resolved through compromise and good faith,” he said.
Some of Allen Strategies’ other clients include Highway One Limited Partnership, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, Delaware Humane Association, and Delaware Alcohol Beverage Distributors.