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In Lewes, transparency takes a hit

November 8, 2019

Democracies work best when government functions openly and transparently. That allows voters to be informed and involved; informed and involved, the people can bring collective expertise to the decision-making process and help produce the best decisions.

Elected members of the Lewes Mayor and Council and the Lewes Board of Public Works failed that test in early 2017 when their elected leaders – Mayor Ted Becker and President Wendell Alfred – signed a nondisclosure agreement related to two legal reviews funded with taxpayer and ratepayer dollars. Nondisclosure means those reviews – together costing about $56,000 – were hidden from the public.

The reviews (see attachments) were commissioned first by mayor and council and then, tit for tat, by the BPW. Both targeted, among other things, a single question: Does the BPW stand as an independent governmental authority or does it answer ultimately to mayor and council? 

The question arose when BPW members started resisting mayor and council’s insistence that the BPW  provide utilities to properties outside city limits only after owners agreed to annex into the city. That started the wrangling that has now resulted in a lawsuit and the expenditure – so far – of nearly $200,000 in legal bills.

Both sides say they were trying to settle the issue quietly and amicably. Few following the story will be surprised to learn that the review commissioned by the city determined the mayor and council have ultimate authority, while the review commissioned by the BPW found the opposite.

The reviews surfaced this fall when former BPW President Alfred said he felt relations between the two bodies went south when the city commissioned its report. Both entities, upon request, recently released the reviews.

Since the reviews were completed, city and BPW officials have passed through three election cycles. Voters would have had an earlier sense of the depth of this disagreement had those documents been released when they were received. The reviews could have been part of the election discussions and deliberations, and could have led to an earlier and less expensive resolution.

The voters were left out of this equation. That weakened the governmental process. That’s not good government.

 

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, publisher emeritus, and Laura Ritter, news editor, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.