Despite an appeal from Rehoboth Beach Patrol Capt. Kent Buckson, city lifeguards will remain under control of the city’s police department for the foreseeable future.
During a meeting Nov. 20, city commissioners declined Buckson’s appeal to move forward with a hearing questioning City Manager Sharon Lynn’s ability to delegate her responsibilities for one department to another department. The majority of commissioners said moving forward with the appeal wouldn’t be in the best interest of the city.
Rehoboth Beach Police Chief Keith Banks was given control of the beach patrol by City Manager Sharon Lynn this year in early spring. At the time, because of COVID-19, beaches across the state were closed, and lifeguards were expected to work as security patrol on the beach.
In his appeal to Lynn and the commissioners, Buckson said it was his understanding the arrangement would be temporary while the beaches remained closed. He said he was surprised Lynn continued to force the new arrangement when the restrictions on use of the beach were lifted and lifeguards were needed for normal lifeguard operations.
“To my surprise, you told me that the beach patrol would remain under the supervision of Chief Banks as you were too overwhelmed to handle it,” said Buckson. “Despite my concern that this arrangement was a conflict of interest, I nonetheless respected your position and agreed to report directly to Chief Banks for the summer of 2020.”
In his appeal, Buckson said Lynn told him the arrangement would be for the 2020 season only.
Commissioners said they thought Lynn’s initial decision to delegate this responsibility was allowed under the state of emergency and it was allowed to continue while the state of emergency was in effect. Commissioners said a hearing may be warranted if the new arrangement continues post pandemic.
This is an issue about something that hasn’t happened yet, said Mayor Stan Mills. This is not the right time to conduct an appeal, he said.
Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski was the only one to vote in favor of moving forward with the appeal. He said if an employee is concerned enough to raise issues related to a change in structure, he thought it was better to deal with the issue now rather than wait until spring.
Buckson responded to the commissioners’ decision in an email Nov. 21. He said he thinks the majority of the commissioners misunderstood the basis and justification for his appeal. The city charter does not authorize the city manager to delegate her direct supervisory duties over the beach patrol to another department head.
“I believe the beach patrol should remain under the direct supervision of the city manager, regardless of whether we are under a technical state of emergency,” said Buckson. “Furthermore, even if you accept the opinion of some of the commissioners that the state of emergency requires the beach patrol to assist the police department, the charter does not authorize a complete shift of supervisory powers from the city manager to the chief of police, nor does it authorize a complete change of structure of the beach patrol where my roles and responsibilities as captain were taken over by the chief of police.”
Discussions related to city personnel matters are typically conducted in executive session, away from the view of the public, but this discussion was conducted in public at the request of Buckson.
“I felt it was important for the public to be aware of this matter since it relates to public safety and a major change in supervisory and leadership structure of the beach patrol being under the auspices of the police department,” said Buckson, in his email. “Furthermore, the impact on recruitment, retention and morale within the beach patrol is a very real concern.”
Buckson said he remains hopeful the commissioners will give him the opportunity to be heard in March or April. Regardless of the outcome, he said he plans to return for his 22nd year as captain in the spring.