The Frankford Town Council voted on Monday to accept a $188,153 Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring grant that would allow the town to hire one additional full-time officer for a period of three years. That would take the department to two full-time officers.
Some members of the public present at the Dec. 6 meeting questioned what would happen after the grant period is up and if there shouldn’t be a study done to see if hiring an additional officer is actually warranted.
But, ultimately, the council decided that, because the future of the grant is uncertain and because they were not offered the grant in a prior year for which they applied, the timing was right to accept the grant.
However, town officials did recognize its limitations.
“I’m not going to tell you that one more officer is going to stop the drug trade in Frankford – it’s not going to happen – but we are going to get more visibility,” said Police Chief Bill Dudley.
Dudley said state police officers with the Governor’s Task Force generally operate on leads regarding drug trafficking in the area.
“If they see an issue, they are better equipped to handle it,” he said, adding that he and a part-time officer are not going to stop drug sales. But, he said, the presence of the undercover task force agents helps. Drug dealers, he said, “are not that stupid, to sell dope to me. They know who I am.”
Resident Jerry Smith asked if it was really the right time. Smith had co-authored, with resident Greg Welch, a letter that was distributed from door to door in Frankford last weekend, appealing for Frankford citizens to attend the Dec. 6 meeting to voice their concerns about the issue, and others.
“Do we need it at this particular time?” Smith asked, noting that other areas had been forced to lay off officers after such grants expired.
“It’s a one-time deal,” answered Dudley, saying the future of the COPS grants is too much of an unknown to be sure what might happen.
Former council president Greg Johnson said he felt that the risk of what the future might hold after the grant expires is outweighed by potential benefits in the meantime.
“If an officer is in the schools and it saves one kid’s life, then it was worth it,” added Johnson.
Citizen participation rule amended
The council also voted on Monday to amend the rules of procedure for all boards, commissions and agencies of the Town of Frankford by adding a new Rule 1.3, relating to public participation.
The new rule states that citizens are to ask permission of the council president before speaking at a meeting, and are to state their name and address for the record. They are not to address a particular council member, but rather the body as a whole. They will be limited to three minutes, and they may submit written comments in lieu of or in addition to any verbal comments offered.
The rule, which is similar to what is already in place in some other local towns, reflects changes instituted after some recent council meetings became combative when direct dialogue was allowed between individual council members and citizens present at the meetings.
Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader said town council meetings are “not meant to be a dialogue” and the new Rule 1.3 attempts to further clarify expectations at meetings.
“The idea is to get public discussion before the legislative body and let the legislative body do its work,” he said, and to “bring some order back.”
“You have the opportunity to speak, but you cannot speak forever,” cautioned Schrader.
Schrader noted that Welch had already complained to the Department of Justice about the change in policy and said that Welch’s complaint had been rejected.
However, during citizen’s privilege, Welch refuted that assessment and questioned how the town could “pass an amendment to a policy that isn’t established properly, and is not signed or dated in the minutes.”
“This is to stop people from being able to comment on our town,” Welch asserted.
Smith agreed with Welch and also questioned the three-minute timeframe for comments, as well as the council’s action during a recent closed-door executive session, during which townspeople waited outside town hall for nearly an hour at the beginning of a scheduled meeting, when the executive session was moved ahead of other business.
Resident Albert Oliver also questioned that action and asked if an agreement couldn’t be reached with the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company, to accommodate meeting attendees in the fire hall during those parts of the meeting that were not open to the public.
Council Members Crystal Holland and Jesse Truitt replied that, just recently, because of increased public participation and the town hall’s small footprint, they had been placed on the fire company’s agenda to request use of the fire company’s meeting room for council meetings.
-use code, proposed charter change approved
The council on Monday also voted to have Schrader draft a charter change for state legislators to consider that would establish a process for the “procurement of material and services for the town.”
Schrader explained that this would help the town garner more participation during the issuance of contracts, bidding and awards.
The charter change would state that all “expenditures for supplies, materials, equipment and construction and labor of public improvements or contractual services involving more than $7,500 shall be by competitive bidding, and the town manager shall be required to advertise for bids, and if the town opts to not adopt such an ordinance, that they be governed by the laws of the State of Delaware.”
The council also voted on Monday to adopt the proposed Land Use and Development Code for the town. The document will replace outdated subdivision and planning and zoning ordinances and is something the town has been working on in conjunction with Schrader and town’s engineering consultant, Kyle Gubronson (a senior project manager for URS), for about a year.
Schrader offered that the council should “keep an eye on it,” because it is a very “technical and complicated” document. He said there should be an understanding that the council will revisit it “to reduce the scope, as we build an administrative history,” because, over time, it will become clear which parts are pertinent to the town and which parts are not.
Council members urged to oppose Eastern Bypass
Also on Dec. 6, Jim Bennett of Bennett Orchards, near Omar Road, presented a letter to the council opposing the Route 113 Eastern Bypass, the southernmost portion of DelDOT’s proposed U.S. 113 improvement project.
The eastern bypass would bypass around the towns of Millsboro, Dagsboro and Frankford before linking back in to existing Route 113 near Selbyville. (The U.S. Route 113 project would start near Ellendale and end at the state line.)
Bennett was a member of the working group on the project – a group that held meetings between 2003 and 2007, discussing numerous options for the project.
“My recommendation would be for you to oppose the Eastern bypass and urge DelDOT to upgrade existing Route 113 to satisfy their transportation needs,” Bennett said.
Upgrading existing Route 113 is known as the “on-alignment” option and has been favored by the towns of Ellendale and Georgetown, the other two areas along the route. (Milford stopped its discussions of the project in 2007, because of a lack of community agreement, and is no longer included in the study/project.)
Bennett’s wife, Carrie, expanded on that statement by adding that the Indian River School District would be affected by the bypass, as would a neighborhood just east of the old Frankford Elementary School on Frankford School Road.
“Remember the children of Frankford,” she urged council members before adding that DelDOT should use the “on-alignment approach instead.”
Carrie Bennett said she expected that, at a planned Dec. 15 meeting to which two Frankford council members and some other local council members were invited, DelDOT officials would try to show their maps and presentations and would not want to field any questions from whoever attended the meeting.
“Don’t drink the DelDOT Kool-Aid,” she added.
Johnson said in reply, “I was at the same meetings you were, and there would be an 8-foot wall dividing the highway from Bailey’s Seafood. I don’t want the bypass either, but don’t just go up there and ask for on-alignment.”
Council President Jesse Truitt then used the provisions of newly adopted public participation amendment to halt the continuing discussion on the bypass project, saying the council would have more information after the meeting with DelDOT.
In other news from the Dec. 6 town council meeting:
• The council voted to have Holland and Town Clerk Terry Truitt continue their application for a grant for park funding. It would be a matching grant of $5,000 through the Delaware Land and Water Grant Program.
• Council members voted to enter into an agreement with Futuretech Consulting, for $480 per year, for computer maintenance, and voted to establish a $10 fee for supplying CD copies of town council meeting recordings to the public, with the eventual goal of having them archived online.
• The town’s holiday house decorating contest will run through Jan. 1, 2011.