Letters to the Editor -- November 18, 2011

Reader examines
Reader examines school districts

Welcome to the real competition between the school districts of Sussex County. It is the competition for Indian River High School and Sussex Central High School students. It is about the money each school district receives per student and how they differ in their funding packages.

The Sussex Tech High School District Board of Education is required to take their proposed education tax rate for Sussex County to the state legislature. The Indian River School District is required to use the referendum approach directly to the voters of the IRSD.

Let’s have a single education tax rate state-wide and have our State of Delaware legislature vote and make the final decision. We, the voters, decide who are elected to be our legislators. Local elections can be focused in each individual school population for oversight and advocacy.

We are such a small state to have so many school districts and not have superior educational service in every single public school. Competition for academic excellence should be the State of Delaware Department of Education vs. 49 other states vs. the world. Let’s focus on who is really our competition and what is best for all our students and their families in the state of Delaware.

Sussex Tech High School was organized to add to our choices of high schools in Sussex County. Their open house, on Nov. 5, was superbly presented at every level, and their attendance was significant.

We attended the open house at Sussex Central High School on Nov. 8, and it was interesting but poorly attended. SCHS facilities are excellent, and their student guides and one physical education teacher were enthusiastic. They have 18 AP classes, which is equal to combined totals of STHS, IRHS and CHHS – a very interesting difference.

We will attend the open house at Indian River High School on Nov. 21 at 7 p.m., and our expectations are elevated. Cape Henlopen High School will have an open house on Dec. 14 or 15, during the school day, and we will attend.

The recruitment package from Sussex Tech High School had an invitation for eighth-grade students to tour Sussex Tech High School (in order to see their technical classes in action), and it had a negative element.

STHS is offering a bus to pick up and return students “near” our school. Our daughter must walk from the Southern Delaware School of the Arts (yes, we could pick her up and drive her), three blocks from SDSA, (alongside the chicken processing plant and their delivery trucks, across the railroad tracks and into the Mason Dixon Plaza side entrance) and meet the STHS bus in front of the Mason Dixon Food Lion in Selbyville.

This is the decision imposed by our IRSD. Why would IRSD even think to impose such an uncooperative barrier for our students and parents? Will IRSD pick up eighth-grade students to tour IRHS or SCHS during the school hours at their schools or some shopping plaza? Pick up and return our kids at their schools!

We have always liked school choice, and that “choice” opened a very successful door for our child at the IRSD Southern Delaware School of the Arts eight years ago. This year, we prepare for a public high school choice. All we ask of each of them is to tell us and show us the best academic opportunities each public high school has to offer and eliminate all barriers to our evaluation – even three block barriers.

Lloyd E. Elling
Ocean View

Resident responds to council’s decision

Ocean View taxpayers are really in trouble now, since Conway Gregory has been terminated. He tried to keep the town financially sound but found it difficult to control the over spending of our police force.

First, let me say again, we didn’t need a Taj Mahal for a police station! Fenwick Island is building a police station for $600,000, not for the $2.6 million that Ocean View taxpayers did.

Second, we don’t need nine police cars, one for every officer, when we patrol a mile by a mile area by one officer on duty for a 24/7 basis. We had a take-home policy and each officer took their car home. What a waste of taxpayers’ money, since each patrol car costs at least $40,000 fully equipped.

Maybe that’s why Mayor Wood took over and the chief reports to only him? Ask yourself why our taxes have gone up 24 percent over the past three years. Who knows what will happen now!

I don’t believe we need nine or 10 police cars or seven or eight police officers. Did we need the Taj Mahal? We have other public safety problems in Ocean View, like drainage problems, sidewalks for our children and elderly and roads like Woodland Avenue that need to be widened.

When 54 percent of our budget goes to the police, it’s no wonder we don’t have any money left to take care of our other public safety problems. If you want things to change, then it’s time to start coming to the meetings like the people from Woodland Avenue did.

Thank you, Mr. Conway Gregory, for trying to do the job for which you were hired and the best of luck in your future endeavors. Like the editorial in the Coastal Point said, “The future will tell us if the council made the right decision on this one, and voters will tell council if they agreed with this move during the next election.”

Joseph Fedick
Ocean View

Fenwick Lions thankful for support with event

The Fenwick Island Lions Club wants to thank the community for coming out and supporting our recent successful spaghetti dinner. We also want to recognize the Indian River High School Leos who also assisted us in serving the dinners.

We thank the following businesses who continues to support us by donating supplies and food: Grotto’s Pizza, Hocker’s Supercenter, G & E, DiFebo’s, Goose Creek Food Stores, Al Casapulla’s, Devito’s Deli, Johnson’s Country Market, Brasure’s Pest Control, Brasure’s Auto Repair, Ocean Side Pizzeria, Lighthouse Liquors, Snow Pharmaceuticals LLC, Harpoon Hanna’s, Treasure Beach (Jerry Adkins), Bob’s Marine Service, Boulevard Ford, Hastings Funeral Home, Kay Tingle & Associates, Solutions Plus, Jimmy’s Kitchen, Harris Teeter, Gregory & Associates, Dirty Harry’s restaurant and Mio Fratello restaurant.

We especially want to thank Scott Fornwalt for allowing us to use the Fenwick Crab House and staff to hold this spaghetti dinner. As in the past, the food that was left over was given to Diakonia, a shelter in Ocean City, Md.

The community support and the generosity of all of these businesses enabled us to have a successful fundraiser; and, you should know that 100 percent of the money raised goes back to serve the needs in the community.

Sam Mooney, Committee Chair and 1st Vice President
Fenwick Island Lions Club

Magill offers opinion on Gregory’s ouster

I have known Dr. Conway Gregory since 2007, my last year on the Ocean View Town Council. As one of the council members charged with sifting through 50-plus candidates for the town manager’s opening that year, I have long been impressed by Dr. Gregory’s grace under pressure – something he faced from the moment he was hired as the town manager of Ocean View.

Because of his accomplishments for the citizens of Ocean View, in the face of the daunting financial challenges he inherited and the bitter divisions on the town council, I want to thank him publicly for his service to the town.

Faced with an annual $1 million structural deficit and a long-range financial forecast that anticipated the town’s reserves would be completely depleted by 2012, Dr. Gregory guided the town to a projected balanced budget by Fiscal Year 2014, which would be the town’s first balanced budget in a decade, while maintaining one of the state’s lowest property tax rates.

While neighboring towns imposed 100 percent property tax increases in a single year to soften the blow of the real estate and transfer tax bust, Dr. Gregory put the town on a path to a balanced budget with spending cuts and incremental tax increases of 8 percent per year while continuing to provide each department the necessary resources to do its job properly.

During this time, Dr. Gregory didn’t allow the town to wither away, either. While developing the balanced budget plan, he continued to improve the town by:

• Overseeing the five-year update to the town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which continues to emphasize the preservation of our small-town character.

• Moving the cramped administrative offices into unused space in the Melson Public Safety Building – saving the town hundreds of thousands of dollars in expansion costs while providing residents with the convenience of town services in a single location.

• Reducing a planned expenditure of $1 million on a much-needed public works building to about $350,000 without compromising quality, safety or efficiency.

• Establishing reserve funds for streets and drainage projects to preserve the health, safety and welfare of the town’s citizens long into the future. With those funds, streets have been maintained and repairs have been started or completed on long-standing drainage problems.

• Finishing the town’s water project. Dr. Gregory, coming in cold with no knowledge of the project’s history, guided it to completion in 2008.

• Obtaining a grant for solar panels for the municipal building to reduce the town’s energy costs.

• Obtaining a grant to construct long-requested sidewalks that would provide a walking network between the town’s older neighborhoods and Route 26 businesses.

• Enhancing the town park with a new gazebo, playground equipment and an internal walkway to increase recreational opportunities. Again, he obtained grants for many of the improvements.

Dr. Gregory has also displayed the ability to work with neighboring towns to benefit the citizens of Ocean View:

• He worked with nearby communities to combine their bargaining power in their negotiations with Mediacom for a new cable TV contract.

• He worked with Bethany Beach, South Bethany, homeowners associations and DNREC to construct a pathway along the Assawoman Canal. That project would boost not only recreational opportunities in town, but also real estate values for properties along the canal.

In short, Dr. Gregory demonstrated an ability to develop a vision, and then accomplish that vision – often in the face of obstacles posed by the political whims of council members.

I thank him, wish him well and congratulate him on surviving the Town of Ocean View with his good humor and sanity still intact.

Eric Magill
Ocean View

Pickrell upset with council decision

Another waste of tax payer’s money just occurred at the Nov. 8 town council meeting. Our illustrious town council in a unanimous decision decided to terminate Town Manager Dr. Conway Gregory’s employment contract without cause. What this means to the tax payers of Ocean View is approximately $45,000 in compensation paid to Dr. Gregory for him to sit at home.

If I recall correctly, didn’t the town council just increase our property taxes by 8 percent, in April of 2011? Does this make any sense to you, especially when our Town is still in deficit spending? What ever happened to the “Get Well” tax program? I think it just took a turn for the worse. I imagine the citizens of Ocean View can expect to see another tax increase next year to pay for yet another foolish decision and keep us on life support.

I am really perplexed as to why the town council made such a costly decision when there was less then four months left on Dr. Gregory’s contract. According to Mayor Wood, “How do you terminate a person with cause, if you just got done giving him a decent review?” The fact is you don’t! Nor do you terminate someone without cause for any reason whatsoever unless there is an underlying reason or you’re trying to cover something up.

Now, the taxpayers have to foot the bill and pay Dr. Gregory, a highly educated, experienced and competent town manager, to stay home. What were they thinking? Is this what you call being fiscally responsible?

There was absolutely no reason to terminate Dr. Gregory’s contract, other than he might spill the beans to the next prospective town manager on how the Town is divided, that we are running the Town on a bifurcated system and how difficult it has been for him to operate under those conditions, half controlled by the mayor and police chief and the other half by the town manager. This is a result of the contract between the chief of police and the Town of Ocean View being in conflict with the Town Charter.

A study recently conducted by the IPA clearly points out this must be corrected in order for our form of government (manager-council) to operate as it was originally designed by the framers of the Town Charter.

As it stands now, our Town is being held hostage by Chief McLaughlin. According to Mayor Wood, he is in “negotiations” with the chief to come up with some type of agreement that would satisfy the chief’s reporting responsibility.

My question is why are we negotiating with the chief in the first place and why isn’t the council fixing the problem and have him report to the town manager? If the chief opposes the change, the council could terminate his contract like they did Dr. Gregory’s and restore the town back to its original concept of a manager–council type of government.

I am not calling for the termination of the chief, but he should agree to remove the clause in his contract that allows him to report to the mayor. This would bring us back into compliance with the Town Charter and put a stop to this ugly, bitter divide.

The other issue Dr. Gregory might divulge would be the underground government which operates in this town, headed up by ex-council member Bill Wichmann. It’s been a well-known fact to some of us that, for years, council members have been meeting at ex-councilman Bill Wichmann’s residence, also known as “The Bar,” after regular Town Council meetings and workshops.

These so called gatherings are in direct violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). If three or more members of council meet outside of a regular public meeting, it is considered to be a violation.

The question is what Town business is being discussed at these gathering and what kind of influence does Bill Wichmann have on council members when he is buying them the preverbal beer? Does this also present a bribe or buying influence?

Over the past several months, I have personally driven by Mr. Wichmann’s residence after Town Council and workshop meetings, only to find council members’ vehicles parked outside of his residence.

I have physically seen at least two council members either driving to or leaving from his residence and have personally witnessed a marked police vehicle on one occasion and Chief McLaughlin’s vehicle on a second occasion. As recently as the Nov. 8 council meeting, council member vehicles were observed outside of Mr. Wichmann’s residence. I guess they were celebrating the demise of Dr. Gregory.

One must remember when Dr. Gregory first came to Ocean View as our town manager; it was he who brought us back from certain financial ruin and possible bankruptcy brought on by members of our Town Council (including Mr. Wichmann) and their out-of-control spending.

It was Dr. Gregory who has obtained numerous grants to improve the infrastructure of our town, improve the quality life and make Ocean View a better place to live. Dr. Gregory has always held the best interest of our town at heart and unfortunately has had to tolerate unnecessary criticism, vicious rumors and verbal abuse by some of our citizens and council members.

Mayor Wood was quoted saying in the Costal Point “that he did not believe the council decision to end Gregory’s contract would cause backlash from residents.” Well, it should, when you waste taxpayers’ money!

And, just for Mayor Wood’s information, there were a number of residents who would have liked to see Dr. Gregory stay! I am truly saddened by the decision of the Council and for Dr. Conway Gregory for the way this council has treated him over the years. Who in their right mind would want to come to work for the Town of Ocean View as town manager in such a dysfunctional government?

No wonder we are called the laughing stock of lower Sussex County!

George M. Pickrell
Ocean View

More input on town decision

I am out of town, but word has reached me today that, on Nov. 8, 2011, the Ocean View Town Council voted unanimously to terminate the contract of Town Manager Dr. Conway Gregory, for no reason. As a term of his contract being unilaterally terminated by the Town without specified cause, the Town is obligated to pay Dr. Gregory his full salary and benefits through the scheduled end of his contract, which is in March of 2012, approximately four months from now.

My first question is – what is the reason for this? Dr. Gregory has been a very competent and capable town manager since he began working in Ocean View. He has been instrumental in saving the taxpayers of the town hundreds of thousands of dollars in securing grants and other benefits that the taxpayers would otherwise have had to fund. In addition, his financial acumen has enabled our Town to avoid bankruptcy and a looming structural deficit, despite the wasteful spending practices of the Council.

My second question is – what is the Council thinking? They have all pledged fiscal responsibility, yet with this decision, they have squandered at least $45,000 in taxpayer monies to “buy out” the contract of Dr. Gregory.

What is resulting is that Dr. Gregory will collect his full salary and benefits for four months while he sits at home and does no work for the Town of Ocean View. In the meantime, Lee Brubaker – a person who is already extremely busy – is being tasked with doing his own duties and the town manager duties, with no increase in pay. This isn’t fair to Mr. Brubaker or to the citizens of the Town at this time of year, when the 2013 budget needs to be developed and analyzed.

My third question is – what is so urgent that required the Council to make this ill-conceived and wasteful decision with only four months remaining on Dr. Gregory’s contract? Dr. Gregory has many projects in process, e.g., preparation of next year’s budget, the Woodland Avenue pathway, the Assawoman Canal pathway, installation of solar panels, etc., that he could be gainfully utilizing the remaining few months of his contract to complete or get into position for the next town manager to take over.

My fourth question is – what kind of applicants does this Council think we will get for our town manager job when word gets out about how capriciously and arbitrarily they treated the previous incumbent? What capable person would want to work under the circumstances under which Dr. Gregory has had to work with this Council of imbeciles who have been manipulated by Bill Wichmann, whose only interest is his personal agenda, not the needs and interests of the Ocean View taxpayers?

We need to get the Attorney General to look into what goes on in that bar in Mr. Wichmann’s yard where the Council regularly and repeatedly has met, in violation of the FOIA restrictions on secret meetings of government officials.

My last question is – are the Citizens and Taxpayers of Ocean View ready to come forward now and oust this Council? They have just thrown away a huge amount of our hard-earned money when the Town is already in a deficit situation. That $45,000 would be better spent on the new public works facility or to offset other monies already overspent by the Council.

A large number of citizens came out Nov. 8 to oppose the latest idiotic idea of the Council – to make Woodland Avenue a one-way street – and the idea went down in flames thanks to these citizens expressing their views. Let’s get that group back to the Council meetings and let this Council know that we do not want them to continue to throw away our tax funds, and we want them all to resign immediately.

Conway Gregory is a hardworking, intelligent, competent town manager, and he is the one who should be retained. It is the Council that we should fire. If the termination of Dr. Gregory’s contract is allowed to stand, we should make the five Council members pay the $45,000, not the taxpayers of Ocean View.

Kathy Vengazo
Ocean View

Reader takes issue with perceived threat

It’s 3:20 on Tuesday afternoon, and I’m getting ready to feed my horses when I’m interrupted by the blast of a car horn and the steady banging on the door of my house.

I was at the barn, so it took me a few minutes to get to the front gate. I was met by a very angry, upset man who immediately started screaming about the peacocks who live here on the farm. He is getting sick of them pooing on his property.

OK – I do understand that, and I am happy to try and figure out a way to capture and relocate the birds (if given a chance). He said he has been upset since summer but hasn’t approached me before now. I asked what he intended to do to the birds, and he said, “Just watch.”

I am sure I have seen the last of my birds (we’ve been here now for 12 years), and it upsets me very much to think of the fate that waits for them here on mean old Cedar Neck Road. When did people get so mad about all the small stuff? It used to be so peaceful here on the Neck. I don’t remember mean people like [him].

Can’t we just live with all the animals and stop being so angry? Watch them – they really are a thing of beauty. If anyone knows this man, please help him see the light, calm down and be reasonable. These birds are my pets. Would you take it upon yourself to harm other people’s pets?

Diane Turner, Hi Point Farm
Ocean View