Dan Kramer was never at a loss for words when it came to Sussex County Council.
Kramer, a county government watchdog, passed away Sept. 14 at the age of 74 after a brief illness.
He followed county council meetings, workshops and hearings for at least 25 years. Showing up in his dated green pickup with his signature clipboard, wearing blue overalls, suspenders and work boots, Kramer rarely missed a council meeting unless he was ill.
He is survived by his wife, Martha, and two children, Catharine, a librarian at the Greenwood Library, and Daniel John Kramer II, who lives in Indiana.
Kramer moved to the Eastern Shore from his home in Ohio when he was 2 years old. He worked as a carpenter, auctioneer and purveyor of his famous kettle corn. He was also a “drop-in-the-bucket” farmer who specialized in beans of all sorts – especially lima beans.
Kramer drove from his Greenwood home on the Delaware-Maryland line to nearly every council meeting, and always arrived early to get a good parking space.
Somewhat irreverent at times, Kramer spoke at nearly every county council meeting during the public-comment period. His main concern was that council follow its rules of procedure and county code. He was also a stickler on the intricacies of the annual budget.
Vincent: 'It was his calling'
Council President Mike Vincent, who has served on council since 2008, said at times he was a little shocked at what Kramer said. “He didn't have a filter sometimes and what he said may not have been in the best taste, but in all honesty, he always spoke from the heart and it's hard to find fault with that,” Vincent said.
“He sincerely believed his job was to watch county government to make sure we follow our rules. It was his calling,” Vincent added.
Vincent said there was a lighter side to the relationship between Kramer and council. On the last meeting of December 2008, with an outgoing council led by President Dale Dukes, Kramer was called to the podium.
Council members gathered and presented him with a box. “And in the box was a frozen turkey,” Vincent said. “Dan frequently calls council members a bunch of turkeys.”
During a dinner to honor retired County Administrator Dave Baker, incoming Administrator Todd Lawson was presented with a red hotline phone with direct access to Kramer.
“Dan believed his job was to be a watchdog for everyday citizens who cannot attend meetings. He wanted to be the spokesman for the Sussex masses. I'm very sorry he's gone. Dan Kramer called us out and made sure we heard it. Everybody knew ‘that Kramer guy,’” Vincent said.
King of FOIA filings
Kramer filed numerous Freedom of Information Act complaints against council over the years. “Do I always get what I want? No. Am I always a winner? Yes. That’s because it gets their attention and they know Dan Kramer is still a burr under their saddle,” he said in a recent interview.
“Dan was the FOIA king, but he believed in what he was doing,” Vincent said.
“They knew Dan Kramer was there and he’s been there ever since. If they are doing something right, I’ll be the first to let them know. And if they do something wrong, they are going to hear from me,” Kramer said in the interview.
When council was forced to conduct business in virtual meetings because of the COVID-19 state of emergency, Kramer called in to let them know he was still out there listening. “I'm keeping an eye on you turkeys,” he said during just about every call.
Several years ago, he started writing Kramer's Korner, a blog about county government. It was big step for someone who had said he would never own a computer.
He ventured into the digital world out of necessity. Because he missed numerous meetings due to illness, he broke down and bought a computer so he could listen to meetings. He missed several months of meetings in a battle against cancer followed by more months of reconstructive surgery on his face.
He became proficient at doing research, reading county code and sending out emails.
From school board to council
Kramer really started taking an interest in county council meetings – he had been attending and commenting on Woodbridge School District Board of Education meetings – about 20 years ago when he was watching the county administrator talk to a reporter about an issue from the meeting.
Kramer soon discovered that several items ended up being discussed that weren’t on the agenda, and to top that off, agendas weren’t posted seven days in advance as required, as they are now.
He contacted the Attorney General’s Office. Soon after, a letter was forwarded to the county, reminding officials they were not posting meetings properly.
“All hell broke loose,” Kramer said. “From that point on I was told that if I wanted anything from the county I would have to put it in writing. That was OK because it taught me how to write.”