The Dagsboro Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to remove a member of its Planning & Zoning Commission
According to Chapter 34 § 34-4, “The Mayor, with the approval of the majority of the Town Council, may remove any member of the Planning and Zoning Commission for cause after a public hearing.
“The Mayor, with the approval of the majority of the Town Council and without the necessity of a public hearing, may remove any member of the Planning and Zoning Commission for reason that the member has been absent without reasonable excuse from three or more Planning and Zoning Commission meetings within a one-year period.
“Vacancies occurring other than by expiration of term shall be filled for the unexpired term by the Mayor, subject to confirmation by a majority of the elected members of the Town Council.”
At the Aug. 1 meeting, Mayor Norwood Truitt presented council with a list of reasons as to why he believed James Thompson should be removed from the commission. The list stated Thompson had been “repeatedly disruptive” at meetings, has discussed items not listed on the agenda and may have a possible conflict of interest, as he works part-time for the developer of The Woodlands at Pepper’s Creek, where he also resides.
“Do you primarily revolve your meeting around what’s transpiring at the Woodlands of Pepper’s Creek?” asked Councilwoman Theresa Ulrich.
Thompson said he had never done so, that anything he brought up was related to the State of Delaware’s erosion and sediment control manual. He added that the Town Code that requires, if there is wetlands on a lot, it may require a permit from the State of Delaware or Sussex County or both.
“How do we know if it requires a permit if it’s not inspected?” he asked, adding that he just wanted to bring up that topic in a P&Z meeting.
Thompson also said that he had issues with how the meeting agendas were put together.
“There’s stuff on the agenda that shouldn’t be, and there’s stuff that’s put on the agenda that shouldn’t be.”
Town Administrator Stacy Long said that, if residents or the council would care to look at the minutes from the commission’s last meeting, it would read that every member of the commission, excluding Thompson himself, agreed not to put Thompson’s item on its agenda.
“Who wrote the minutes?” he asked, to which Long responded, “Not me, and it’s recorded.”
Long said she had asked the commission three times if they wished to discuss the manual. She recalled Commissioner Cathy Flowers stating that she did not want to discuss something that “is out of the Town of Dagsboro’s hands.” Flowers made the motion and it was passed, said Long.
“Please stop saying I made the decision not to do that, because it’s so untrue,” she added.
Thompson said he had not been privy to the “charges” against him.
“I have not been told who is trying to remove me or why.”
Councilman William Chandler said the P&Z is a small group of people that needs to work in a collegial and cooperative manner.
“I respect you have strong, vigorous, passionate viewpoints that you wanted to get across. I respect that — I actually admire it. But it doesn’t always work well in small environments.”
Chandler said he believed it would be better for Thompson to continue to voice his opinion, but off the commission.
“It would be for the better interest of the Town and the people of the town if you would do that.”
“The Planning & Zoning Commission has to move forward,” said Truitt. “They can’t get stuck on one or two items. Planning & Zoning has a lot of issues to deal with…”
Thompson declined to voluntarily step down from his position as commissioner.
P&Z Chairman Scott Crater said he believes the subdivision is the catalyst of the discussions.
“I think that he’s using being a part of this committee to look over his subdivision. He’s using it in his own discretion somewhat. I wouldn’t say he’s taking advantage of it… But it is the catalyst to many meetings.”
Crater said that, at their last meeting, Thompson was “very hostile” and did not want to approve the agenda because his items were not included.
“I was accused of not following the rules and regulations of the Planning & Zoning… We’re all a member of a small body of people who volunteer. We don’t have any one individual subdivision picked out that we are zoning in on to stop development. We want everyone to get along. To me, you were very hostile — enough that it was upsetting.”
Long said she agreed that Thompson had been hostile, particularly with her.
Thompson said what he was accused of did not, in his eyes, constitute “cause” for his removal.
The council voted 5-0 to remove Thompson from the commission.
Thompson complains of treatment by Town
During public comment, Thompson spoke to the council again, stating that he was representing the interests of homeowners in the town.
“All you did was shoot the messenger,” he said. “I’m trying to support my neighbors.”
Thompson said he had serious concerns related to the commission following its rules. He said he had tried to raise concerns about how items were placed on the agenda, and those concerns were not met well.
“All I was trying to say was, ‘Follow the rules.’”
Thompson also charged that, after the meeting, when he brought up his concerns, Long had made disparaging comments about his appearance.
“I don’t know why she did that. Can you understand why I was getting annoyed? So I sent a letter to the mayor. He sends a letter back, ‘Thank you for your resignation.’ I never resigned! You think I was a little ticked off at that?”
Thompson said he then sent an email requesting to meet with Truitt, to which Long responded, stating Truitt had denied his request.
“This is a certified letter sent to the Town on June 11,” said Thompson, who held up an envelope. “It was returned to me, unclaimed by the Town of Dagsboro, which I believe is in violation of municipal law… According to the U.S. Post Office, I am allowed to deliver this certified letter in person.”
Thompson said in the letter he objected being put “under police surveillance” on June 8 by a Dagsboro police officer who he said “waited for me outside of my house, followed me over here to this building, followed me through that door.
“When I sat down, he sat behind me and proceeded to announce to Scott and all the other people on the Planning & Zoning Commission that if I said anything at all, he’d have me removed. Apparently you’ve never heard of freedom of speech or class. You have not heard the end of this yet.”
Long retorted, saying that what Thompson had said was untrue.
“I do not want everyone sitting here to think that everything Mr. Thompson just said is accurate, because it is absolutely inaccurate. After a Planning & Zoning meeting, he waited for every single one of the commissioners to leave this room before he came to me, blasting off at me. Thankfully, within three seconds, Commissioner Flowers walks in this door, and sat and heard everything between our conversation.
“What he just said about disparaging remarks against him and calling him names is untrue.”
“I’ll take a lie-detector test. Will you?” responded Thompson.
Long said she thought perhaps Thompson’s perception of the conversation was not correct.
She added that she serves as the coordinator for Freedom of Information Act requests for the Town.
“The reason he kept getting shot down to discuss — it’s not on the agenda. I’m not going to allow any commission to violate the Freedom of Information Act,” she said. “I’m sorry I was doing my job. That’s all I can say. End of story.”
In other Dagsboro news:
• The council reviewed a proposed ordinance that would amend the town code to adopt conditional-use zoning classifications.
Chandler voiced his opposition to allowing for conditional use, stating what already exists in the code is “active and sufficient,” adding that to allow for conditional use would be a cost burden on the Town and likely invite litigation. Ulrich disagreed, stating she believed some had been treated unfairly.
The council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at its October meeting.
• The Planning & Zoning Commission will begin reviewing the town code as it relates to signs, in its entirety, as that section of the code has not been touched in 10 years. That decision was made due to Crater voicing the concerns of P&Z as it relates to signs, such as the Clayton Theatre’s marquee, which would be required to be changed if the business were to change ownership.
• The council voted unanimously for the Dagsboro Police Department to purchase a used 2011 Chevy Tahoe for $16,000. According to Chief Floyd Toomey, one of the department’s vehicles has cost the town a few thousand dollars in repairs over the last few months.
• Long’s last day with the Town is scheduled to be Aug. 10. She has been training the Town’s temporary clerk to take over duties, as they have not started searching for a replacement. The council agreed to advertise for a full-time town administrator position to replace Long and would look for two part-time clerks, to give the Town more flexibility.