Letters to the Editor -- February 26, 2010

Nippes announces election decision
Editor’s note: The following letter was forwarded to the Coastal Point for publication.

Residents and non-residents of Ocean View, you deserve a decision about my running for re-election. I have devoted a significant amount of time as to whether I should or want to serve the people of Ocean View for a second term. Weighing the pros and cons has forced me to deliberate extensively about subjecting myself and wife to the hurtful attacks leveled against me and the time commitment required by this elective office.

The negatives far outweigh the positives. I have been attacked both personally at council meetings and in the press. Internalizing criticism is a weakness of my personality, but continued attacks have forced me to develop coping mechanisms. Personal attacks on me are part of the political process, but when citizens direct negative comments about me to my wife, then politics becomes abhorrent.

This elected office has called into question my faith in humanity, with a minority of citizens willing to use any tactic to discourage me from serving Ocean View. I have been called names that cannot be printed, had signs set up in town that called for me to be hung, my intellect has been called into question, and most hurtful was an accusation that I was taking drugs that clouded my ability to think rationally.

It is no wonder why highly qualified citizens do not want to run for elective office in this town. If you vote with the vocal minority, you are a hero, but cross them and you become the villain.

It is very evident that as a result of votes that I have cast, a group of voters will not support my re-election and will work to prevent me from having a second term. Running for re-election is not that important to me, but upholding my principles and values are paramount to my living with myself.

What has been most difficult for me to discern is whether the vocal minority view is actually the view held by the majority. In a number of hotly contested debates, few citizens come and express contrary positions from that of the minority that shows up at every meeting. Truly, the minority believes that it represents the town’s citizens.

I want to believe that complacency or satisfaction with the job being accomplished keeps citizens from attending meetings, and not fear of intimidation. Democracy is best served when all citizens feel free to express their opinion. Not knowing where the majority of people stand on issues has weighed heavily on my decision.

I would be remiss to say that the past three years have been void of accomplishments. The two major reasons for my decision to run for council were to deal with the financial crisis facing the town and creating a new image for the town.

First, the financial issues facing the town were far more serious than I perceived as a citizen. This town is facing a serious structural deficit caused by mismanagement of monies collected during the good years and spending that far exceeded revenue.

Thank goodness that Dr. Gregory was hired, because he has set a budget course that will eventually bring the town financial stability once the economy improves. This plan has generated much ill-will, because spending has been curbed in areas where previous priorities have now had to experience cuts.

Dr. Gregory has made difficult decisions supported by the council but many people want to see him resign. I feel good that progress in improving our financial situation has been made and the town’s finances are moving in the right direction.

My second priority was to help Ocean View become a community where citizens would openly express pride in the town where they lived or owned property. Owning a residence or property near the beach does not create a community where camaraderie prevails.

I have tried to take the history of this town and used it to promote a renewed spirit that characterized this town in the past. The council has created a historic district and obtaining National Recognition for Historic Places is under way. I rejuvenated the historic committee, and it has evolved into the Ocean View Historic Society with non-profit status.

The members of this Society are some of the most dedicated people that I have the pleasure to work with. The Society has presented a vision to the council to restore the 1860 house and build a new museum directly behind the restored house using the funds raised by the Historical Society. When this vision comes to fruition, thousands of visitors will travel to Ocean View to view this great accomplishment and the rich history of the area.

The town was known for years as the place of the great homecoming celebration. I have challenged the council to revitalize this great day and with the help of the Historical Society, a great family day will be enjoyed by all on May 15.

The question for me is whether the accomplishments outweigh the negatives. I have concluded that I would be remiss to let down all those wonderful citizens who have encouraged me during the past three-year term by not giving them the opportunity to vote for me. Thus, I will seek re-election and allow the majority to prove my decisions right or wrong.

The projects that I have set in motion need continued leadership on the council level. I have always taught my students about their civic responsibility in serving their fellow citizens. I have exercised my civic responsibility to the best of my ability, and the final judgment of the past three years rests with you, the registered voters.

Richard Nippes, District 1
Ocean View

Magill discusses Wichmann censure

After serving on Ocean View Town Council from 2001-2007, I helped Gordon Wood in his successful run for mayor in 2008.

His statements in last week’s Coastal Point regarding a possible repeal of the 2006 censure of Councilman Bill Wichmann don’t befit a man of his intellect.

If the spineless politicians of South Carolina willingly dismiss bad behavior by politicians, then Ocean View should excuse violations by its politicians? Huh?

Perhaps Mayor Wood forgot that instead of apologizing and asking for council’s patience in rectifying the mess he created with his illegal hiring of an electrician to install a 130KW emergency backup generator at the temporary police headquarters for $15,987, Wichmann dared his colleagues to do something about it. The phrase “bring it on” comes to mind.

Wichmann’s behavior over the next few months, while town staff and council members worked to ensure the generator and installation could still be covered by the DEMA grant obtained by the Chief, left council with no recourse but to formally reprimand him.

After discovery of the violations, Wichmann initially attempted to hide his actions, lied to council about having a written estimate to try to justify his illegal activities, berated the town manager so badly for telling me about the violations that town employees complained to me, and failed to comply in a timely manner with the Mayor’s requests for the necessary documents to save the grant.

It’s not as if Wichmann didn’t know the town’s purchasing procedures. He told us in a special council meeting on April 25, 2006, that he had worked with the town manager to obtain the necessary three bids to purchase the generator. He obtained the bids in October 2005 and the town manager generated the purchase order on Nov. 3, 2005, just a few months before his illegal hiring of the electrician.

So, he had just been through the procurement process, and had more than 10 years of council experience in New Jersey and Delaware with procurement procedures, but we’re to believe they just slipped his mind over the four months that passed from the time he solicited the three bids for the generator in October 2005, through its delivery on Dec. 27, 2005, and his hiring of the electrician, who started the installation on March 14, 2006.

The town wound up with an installation that didn’t meet the National Electrical Code, an unsafe installation on the generator’s wood shipping pallets that voided the warranty, expenses of more than $15,000 on maintenance and repairs over the next two years, the potential loss of the grant, a potential lawsuit from the electrician because we couldn’t pay him right away due to the irregularities of his hiring, and a potential lawsuit from Wichmann’s verbal threat to the town manager when she informed him of the censure motion.

He nicely summed up his attitude during that special council meeting on April 25, 2006, when, after letting us believe for more than a week that the Chief had violated the town charter and ordinances, Wichmann finally admitted that he had authorized the illegal hiring.

“I got my generator up and running,” he told us, “and all you want to do is fight. Well, bring it on.”

His generator, his police station, his police department.

His disdain for his fellow councilmen on police matters had been evident for some time.

On April 19, 2004, the night he introduced his 15,000-square-foot police building, Wichmann scolded me for questioning the building’s size because, “You don’t even know what all of the rooms are for.” Apparently I wasn’t supposed to know what those rooms were for, either.

As plans for the building progressed, Wichmann refused to provide smaller designs as requested by former Mayor Meredith and myself.

He became irate with his fellow councilmen on Aug. 2, 2005, when we declined to approve a bid package for the police station sight unseen. He expected us to pre-approve a bid package that we couldn’t review because it wasn’t finished.

He told us during the August 2005 council meeting that he had a 40-year plan to justify the extraordinary size of the police station. No such plan existed.

This pattern of behavior culminated in his decision to bypass those pesky procurement procedures and hire an electrician, who just happened to be the father of an Ocean View police officer who had recently left the force to join the state police, to install the generator for $15,987, or $9,000 more than the $6,800 written estimate he told us he had. No such written estimate existed.

Such actions, though, don’t rise to Mayor Wood’s redefined standards for censure.

The fact is, censure is not a severe punishment. It didn’t go on Wichmann’s permanent record. There was no fine. He didn’t have to pay for the installation. He didn’t lose his “voice.” It had no tangible effect – Wichmann continued to serve on council with the same powers as other council members.

We couldn’t remove Wichmann from council, so censure was the one expression of disapproval we could mete out short of filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

As it was, the censure didn’t change Wichmann’s behavior. Putting the name for the police station on the building before seeking council approval and trying to derail the move of the administrative offices to the public safety building with false statements that the move cost $300,000 instead of the actual cost of $133,000 come immediately to mind.

It will be interesting to see if three councilmen – other than Wichmann – will vote to repeal the censure and thereby signal that town ordinances that private citizens must follow don’t apply to council members.

And how hollow would such a repeal be, if it can only be achieved by Wichmann voting for it himself?

Eric Magill
Ocean View

SCPA pushes legislature for immediate help

We are writing in response to the recent newspaper articles citing funding concerns for the paramedic program in Sussex County. The Sussex County Paramedic Association (SCPA) is greatly concerned by any funding cuts proposed by the state, as they will adversely impact patient care.

We are fully aware and sympathetic to the financial crisis affecting local, state and national agencies and the need for budget cuts to help offset the crisis. We are imploring county and state leaders to understand the implications these proposed cuts to the paramedic system will have on the residents and visitors to the State of Delaware.

In Sussex County we have eight strategically located paramedic units to help minimize response times. Sussex County Administrator David Baker, alluded to the possibility of reducing staff by two to three paramedic units should the State reduce their share of funds. This equates to a 25 to 33 percent reduction in service in Sussex County.

Current national standards and the Delaware Emergency Medical Services System Improvement Act of 1999 call for an 8-minute response time on 90 percent of the calls.

In 2008, Sussex County EMS met that standard 50 percent of the time with eight strategically located paramedic units, and that is roughly a 10 percent improvement from 10 years ago. Statewide, we have seen a dramatic reduction of trauma-related injury and death by 25 percent due, in part, to our much-needed growth and current staffing levels.

Annual call volume over the past 10 years has increased by nearly 30 percent, which has required Sussex County EMS to add units and stations to meet the demands of the increased call volume. Sussex County’s changing demographics have necessitated relocating certain stations to achieve mandated response times and deliver the service our community deserves. In the year 2000, we responded to 12,594 incidents; in 2004, we responded to 13,803 incidents; and in 2008, we responded to 17,526 incidents.

Current data and projections show that our population has increased and will continue to increase. Reducing our funding could result in slower responses, drastically reduce the level of service we are able to provide, and adversely affect the quality of life for all our citizens.

Over the last five years, the State had reduced their share of our funding from 60 percent down to 30 percent. This is unacceptable, as the State and Sussex County have an obligation to their constituents to provide a service, and that service is in jeopardy. The Sussex County Council has been doing their best to keep up with the State’s shortfall, and it is time for the State to step pup to the plate.

The SCPA supports Sussex County EMS in it commitment to improving the quality of life of all Sussex Countians, but we can’t do it without the support of our state legislature. The Sussex County Paramedic Association strongly urges the legislature to adopt a 50/50 cost-sharing process or alter the real estate transfer tax formula to allow more funds to go to the counties. Any less would be a disservice to all Delawareans.

Gabriela Evans, President
Lars Granholm, Vice President
Sussex County Paramedic Association

Reader wants Bethany to deal with flooding
Editor’s note: The following letter was addressed to Bethany Beach Town Council members and was forwarded to the Coastal Point for publication.

I appreciate this opportunity to comment on your proposed budget item for the coming fiscal year to pay for the relocation of utilities for the businesses along Garfield Parkway, as described in your notice of Feb. 19, 2009.

I hope that the council will delete this $1 million item from the proposed budget. I propose further that you place the money in a reserve fund as a down-payment on a project to mitigate constant rain and tidal flooding along North Pennsylvania Avenue and all other streets in Bethany Beach adjacent to the Bethany Canal.

Town government’s steadfast denial that this regular flooding is a serious problem requiring correction now is unconscionable. Bethany Beach has consistently argued that resolution of flooding along the Loop Canal’s full length is well beyond its financial capabilities, and yet you appear to have plenty of money to relocate utilities and “beautify” the 100 Block of Garfield Parkway.

I believe this budget item represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the capital projects desires of a majority of the town’s property owners.

Last winter, the big capital improvement budget item was going to be boardwalk widening, and the council wisely shelved the proposal in the face of public opposition. I urge you to shelve utilities relocation this winter and instead move ahead to build up a reserve fund to address Bethany Beach’s rapidly emerging reputation as the Venice of the Delaware shore.

Dan Costello
Bethany Beach