Letters to the Editor -- September 26, 2008

Ocean View made a mistake with chief

It is a sad day in Ocean View, thanks to the decision made by the town council on Sept. 16 to break the contract of the police chief and force him to report to the town manager instead of the mayor.

Despite the overwhelming support of the police chief and his existing reporting structure testified by residents, former council officials and law enforcement officers from throughout the state at meetings on Sept. 9 and Sept. 16, the gang of three on the town council — Roy Thomas, Perry Mitchell and Richard Nippes — sat stone-faced and voted on their predetermined decision to beak the existing contract, which had been made in good faith by the chief and the existing town council.

I must commend Mayor Gordon Wood, who attempted to bring logic to the discussion and pointed out the council’s attempt to fix something that was not broken. He also emphasized the tremendous potential fallout to the town of such a decision — taxpayer expense via lawsuits, impact on police morale and loss of town council credibility — all to no avail. The die was cast, and the gang of three would not be swayed.

The supposed rationale to make the change in reporting structure is to be in line with the town’s charter. However, the state’s General Assembly legislative counsel saw no conflict with the chief reporting to the mayor under the existing charter; and the town is awaiting an opinion on this question from the Attorney General’s office. Yet, when the mayor asked his fellow council members to at least table the decision on this important matter until we hear from the Attorney General, the three councilmen — none of whom is a lawyer — ignored the request and forced a vote, which of course passed 3-to-2.

Well, they have gotten their way, but it is the citizens of Ocean View who will feel the greater loss, as we will most likely lose one of the best and most community-oriented law enforcement officers in the state.

Richard Birkmeyer
Ocean View

Local couple does research on police

We decided to do some informal research to see how neighboring towns handle some of the situations the Ocean View Council is currently evaluating: Do police and town hall share the same building, do they have a take home police car policy, how many police officers and vehicles do they have, what other pieces of equipment do they own, what are they doing in lieu of budget deficits, etc. The information we learned follows below:

Town hall and the police department share the same building in Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach, Rehoboth, Dagsboro and Selbyville. Town hall and police are side by side or share the same property in Laurel, Fenwick and South Bethany. Millsboro’s old post office is now the police department and Georgetown had the police department building donated.

Dewey Beach, which is 2.5 square miles and 22 blocks long, has a police department that is down from eight full-time officers to six. They aren’t replacing the two full-time officers but are using 10 part-time certified officers from other areas. These part-time officers work 30 hour weeks at $12.50 per hour and no benefits. Town Manager Gordon Elliott says they get good, responsible part-time officers and the system works well.

The police force has five police cars (Crown Victorias), one van, two undercover drug cars (procured from drug busts) and two motorcycles which are used year-round. The motorcycles were purchased with grant money, but Dewey Beach pays insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.

They have 24/7 patrol year-round. Their busiest hours are 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., in season, with most arrests for drunkenness, drugs and rapes. They have take-home police cars for use within 15 miles, but it is a privilege that may be revoked if abused. Officers are not allowed to have their wives, babies or anyone in the police vehicle, due to liability exposure.

The PD has one holding cell and they also use the van when necessary, as well as a railing outside in good weather to detain offenders until transported to Georgetown. The News Journal compilation of reported crimes shows that Dewey Beach had more than 300 arrests for the period from June 1 to Aug. 30 this year. According to the News Journal, Rehoboth Beach had more than 250 crime reports, while Ocean View had six and Bethany Beach had four in the same time period.

No other area seems to have an organization equivalent to our CAP, but they do have neighborhood watch programs. The chief of police reports to the town manager, which seems to be the standard in smaller towns.

Other town-owned equipment in Dewey Beach consists of one small tractor, two trucks and one small beach truck. They swell to 185 employees in summer and reduce to 22 off-season.

Dewey Beach’s town manager, Gordon Elliott, had formerly been a member of the police department for 22 years and now town manager for five years. He feels it’s imperative that the chief of police report to the town manager. His chief runs his own department but reports to the town manager, who is responsible to the council and town to decide spending and manage the budget.

With a budget of $3 million and a deficit this year of $710,000, they are looking at their reserves, as well as services to cut, just as the Ocean View Council is doing. Elliott said everyone in every department has to conserve and compromise. Everyone. By the way, the town does provide him with an automobile and gasoline.

[As I am writing this report, I just spoke with Gordon Elliott again and he told me that the Dewey Beach Budget and Finance Committee is presenting a resolution at the upcoming Sept. 12 council meeting that he (the town manager) start cutting all non-essential spending until the end of the year. This may include items such as part-time employees, all luxuries, equipment; absolutely everything will be looked at again.

I remarked to him that it would surely be painful but he probably had a good working relationship with his department heads. His insightful response was, “There is never a good relationship when you start cutting back peoples’ money.” This same stress on working relationships is apparent in Ocean View, as well as other Delaware towns at this time.]

Going back to the report, Dewey Beach consists of 1,700 residential properties, half of them occupied year-round. With no residential property tax, their budget is met with parking fees and fines, building permits, business licenses, rental licenses and restaurant and bar fees.

In conclusion, it was apparent during our research that Ocean View is not alone in our budge deficit situation and not unique in how council is trying to address it. Some of the people interviewed remarked that “everyone” was wondering what Ocean View was thinking when they were building such a large police building and they wondered when Ocean View residents were going to see the light. All felt that it would be proper for town hall to move into the Public Safety Building, as is the case in most surrounding towns. No one felt it should create any certification or public safety problems of any kind.

Elaine and Ed Herbert
Ocean View

Melrath to vote for lowering our deficit

When Bill Clinton took office in January 1993, he inherited a $290.4 billion dollar deficit. When he left office in January 2001, he handed over a $236.4 billion dollar surplus to George Bush.

On July 21 of this year, the deficit was $9.5 trillion dollars.

Today, it is $9.668 trillion and growing. This is primarily caused by huge amounts we are spending in Iraq.

If we do not address our deficit problem, we will leave our grandchildren a horrible burden.

I am voting for the Democrats, who know how to pay down deficits and balance budgets.

Russ Melrath
Bethany Forest

Residents unhappy with council actions

I am writing this letter regarding the last town council meeting. My husband and I moved to Ocean View about two and a half years ago, after living through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, La. We thought we were moving to a small town with great people who work together for a common good.

Unfortunately, after witnessing the last few town council meetings, we are totally disgusted. It is very apparent that there are people on the council that have their own agenda and are not listening to those citizens they are supposed to represent. At least in New Orleans the politicians are honest about being corrupt!

We feel like we are living in a town where the tax-paying citizens are represented by council members who have no regard for how we feel about issues. They are spending our hard-earned tax dollars at will, with no concern of how this will affect our future taxes or how the town is managed.

Moving people from the town council offices into the new police department building should have been decided when they negotiated the architectural designs initially. Spending approximately a six-figure amount to change the police department building and house the Ocean View Town Council and personnel is not really needed when they currently have decent facilities. A police station is for police business only.

Along that line, changing the contract of the police chief, regarding who he reports to, was clearly a power move and the flexing of three councilmen’s muscles to show who is in charge. We were brought up to believe that a contract is a contract, unless both parties agree to the changes. Having prior contractual experience, we would never think to change contract language without first discussing it and getting approval from all concerned parties. We find the behavior of the three members of the town council to be void of integrity and honesty.

It was mentioned by one of the town councilmen at last Tuesday’s Sept. 16 meeting that our once-lovely little town of Ocean View is bankrupt. This is a strong statement, especially since the people who fund the town by tax dollars are not allowed to view what our supposed representatives are spending our tax money for.

It was told to my husband and I after the meeting that we, as citizens, can view how much money is coming into the Town of Ocean View and where those expenditures are being made. I was told to look on the Ocean View Web site. I have done that and cannot locate what the town manager and one councilman are talking about.

The questions and concerns that we have are:

(1) Why is everything with the town council business done in secret? If there is not a hidden agenda with what the town councilmen are planning, then why not make all information available to the people who fund the budget of this town with their hard-earned tax dollars?

(2) We thought, by moving to Ocean View, Del., we were still living in the United States of America. It has quickly become apparent that we are living in some other alternate country, where councilmen feel free to trounce on what the constituency that they are supposed to represent wants. They can flex their muscles and show “their power” with no concern for the taxpayers of this town. Again goes to honesty and integrity.

(3) Why not wait for the Attorney General of Delaware to make a decision on who the chief of police reports to? Why does there need to be an immediate change if for no other reason than the town councilmen, along with the town manager, feel the need to control our police department?

(4) Why does the Town of Ocean View have a town manager that does not live in the town where he works? Why does he not even live in Delaware? It would seem to us that it would be in the best interest of the citizens of Ocean View to have a town manager that is a tax-paying citizen of Ocean View, one who can work for what is in the best interest of the town and his neighbors — not in support of the agendas of certain councilmen that have to control everything.

(5) If the Town of Ocean View is “bankrupt,” then why do our tax dollars pay for gas and a car that our town manager — who lives in Denton, Md. — uses? Does he not make enough money to pay for his own car and gas? For the town council to vote to have the police cars sit stationary because of gas prices, it would seem prudent for the town manager to at least pay for his own gas to go to and from work.

(6) Why, when you attend a “town meeting” by one of our presidential candidates, can you ask questions, but with our town council we have to phrase questions in the form of statements? This seems to be counterproductive and harder for those handicapped citizens who might not understand.

In closing, I am hoping that by bringing these problems out into the light, our councilmen can move toward the light and start to represent their constituents with integrity and honesty. This heavy-handed behavior and bullying is not attractive, no matter how you color it.

Joe and Patricia Rinaldi
Ocean View

Reader offers his thoughts on town

A couple of years ago I was approached to lend my experience and expertise to the design and construction of a new police headquarters for Ocean View.

Previously, I had turned down all requests for participation in police oriented projects — I was retired and wanted to stay that way. This time, however, I was impressed by the people involved and agreed to help.

As a volunteer consultant, I submitted a report, attended the public hearing, reviewed the plans and eventually watched the building take shape.

Just about a year ago, a state-of-the-art police headquarters was dedicated, and it was a proud day for Ocean View. Dignitaries from all over the state attended the dedication and heaped praise on its prime mover, Bill Wichmann, and Chief McLaughlin.

Now, just a year later, a new administration is busy destroying the integrity of the police headquarters, making it a dual-purpose building by moving town administrative offices into it.

The people of Ocean View should be aware and make known loud and clear their objection to this. The building was built as a police headquarters; let it stay a police headquarters. Three other jurisdictions on the peninsula are in the process of designing and building new police headquarters. Nobody is building a new police headquarters/public administration building.

Bill Wichmann and Chief McLaughlin have been recognized throughout the state for their dedication and accomplishments but in the Town of Ocean View seem to be targets for the present administration.

Jealousy, ignorance or just anti-police? I don’t know the motivation for what is happening, but it is not good.

Police officers can’t take cars home any more, which served to facilitate quick response when needed, but the town administrator can take a car home daily for a round trip of over 100 miles.

It certainly doesn’t appear that the present administration is very pro-police, and the main thrust is to attain mediocrity.

Ernest R. Swanson

Stronger helmet laws needed in Delaware

After reading recent coverage of motorcycle deaths in Delaware, I would like to offer a few observations, based on my experiences as a former EMT (emergency medical technician) in Baltimore County (Maryland), and senior staff member at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

The stories of eight motorcycle deaths in less than a month here in Delaware, along with data showing an alarming increase in motorcycle fatalities nationwide, makes a compelling case for anyone who has anything to do with public safety in this state to step up and support changes in Delaware’s motorcycle helmet laws.

I find it unconscionable that in a state known for its tough stance on highway safety, motorcyclists are required to “display” helmets, not “wear” them. In other words, a helmet must be on the bike and not the biker. It’s like having a child safety seat law that requires a child safety seat to be “displayed” in the vehicle with the child sitting next to it, not in it.

Critics will argue that mandating laws for children is necessary because they are minors, and lack the maturity to think responsibly for themselves. However, when it comes to adults, they are old enough and more mature to make their own decisions. That is, until they are critically injured or killed in a crash they might have survived without permanent damage, if they had been protected.

In Maryland, helmets are required, and their use has been credited with saving countless lives. The motorcycles might be engineered for speed, but the human body, and more importantly, the head, isn’t.

As an EMT, and director of public affairs at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, I saw the head trauma, first hand, among critically injured patients who, some said, were not lucky enough to die. “Unlucky,” in the sense that their recovery would take months and sometimes years in rehab, and often with debilitating brain damage and other neurological head and neck injuries that disabled them or left them dysfunctional for the rest of their lives.

I recall one admission of a young man who was flown in by Maryland State Police med-evac helicopter with his helmet next to him on the backboard. The helmet, removed by paramedics, was cracked by the impact of his head on a guardrail along the highway that, police said, occurred at a speed above 50 miles per hour. He was badly bruised, his bones broken, but he escaped serious head, neck and spinal cord injuries because of the helmet.

It is time for the citizens (taxpayers) of this great state to express their support for strengthening our helmet laws by requiring their use. This effort will face some tough opposition from the so-called “freedom riders” who insist that this is a “constitutional” issue and not one of safety.

The response to that must come from the area’s fire and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) personnel who are called to rescue these victims every week. It must also come from the entire medical community, including ER doctors, trauma nurses, the rehab clinics and other health care professionals who are often called to the bedside of critically injured motorcyclists who were riding without helmets.

If there is going to be meaningful, life-saving changes in our helmet laws, this effort must also have the support among our elected leaders who will be held accountable for the unnecessary and expensive carnage that will continue to occur if they do nothing to enhance safety for motorcyclists and others who share the highways with them.

As a former public information officer with Maryland State Police, I feel confident that Delaware State Police would support it and aggressively enforce it, once enacted. Have you ever seen a trooper assigned to the motor (cycle) unit riding without one?

Chuck Jackson, Executive Director
Citizen Advocates For Safe & Efficient Travel