Frankford council addresses charter amendment procedure
At an Aug. 4 town council meeting, Frankford resident Jerry Smith voiced his concerns regarding the council vote that took place last year on the introduction of town charter amendments to the Delaware General Assembly.
Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader stated that, in December of 2010, the council had adopted rules of procedure for its various bodies and agencies, with the rules of procedure for the Town to be decided by Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure.
“In the absence of an expressed regulation, a proposition is carried in the legislative assemblies by the majority of the votes cast,” read Schrader from the manual. “However, the rules actually say three affirmative votes should be required to approve any matter within the jurisdiction.”
Schrader said that, looking at the approved minutes of the Dec. 22, 2013, meeting, the only item then-Council President Jesse Truitt recused himself from was voting on Christmas bonuses.
“There were only two votes,” said Schrader of that issue. “Theoretically, we need to ratify what took place on Dec. 22 or get the money back.”
Schrader went on to state that the minutes also reflect that Truitt presented to the members of the town council in attendance at the Dec. 22 meeting the two proposed Charter changes, dealing with limitations of employees’ health insurance and pensions, as well as an amendment for annexation.
“There were three votes in favor of sending that along to the General Assembly,” said Schrader, referring to the minutes, which stated that Truitt and Councilwomen Cheryl Workman and Pam Davis were the members who voted that evening. “Which is the majority of the members elected,” Schrader noted. “The two charter amendments had a majority of the elected members approving it.”
Resident Greg Welch had written a letter to the Delaware Department of Justice regarding his concerns about the proposed Town pension plan. Schrader said he had responded to the complaint on behalf of the Town, stating that, “Mr. Welch comments duly noted concerning the effect of any future change of the pension or health insurance coverage for town and employees and council members.”
He added that Truitt would be required to recuse himself from any future discussion, debate or vote related to a topic in which he could have financial interest, as his wife, Terry Truitt works as the town administrator.
According to Schrader, the Department of Justice reviewed the letters sent to the department by Welch, along with Schrader’s response on behalf of the Town, and determined to take no further action on the matter.
Smith said that his concern was that the Town did not have an open discussion with its residents prior to the charter change.
“That was my complaint to the Attorney General’s Office. It wasn’t about the vote,” said Welch. “It was that it showed up in written form without it even being discussed that we needed a change… They have no record on the agenda on changing the charter.”
“I thought we had discussed it,” said newly installed Council President Joanne Bacon. “I thought it was discussed in a budget meeting.”
“It was brought up in a budget meeting,” agreed Welch,” but it wasn’t an agenda item to talk about the town charter.”
Schrader said that the meeting’s minutes show that Welch was present for the discussions.
“In fact, on July 1, 2013, he made a comment concerning the issues of the 15 percent cap,” said Schrader. “When the Attorney General responded, he referred to the fact that Mr. Welch had been in attendance... It didn’t occur in a vacuum.”
Janet Hearn asked if the council has to take any action following their vote to send the charter change request to the General Assembly, where it was approved.
Schrader said the charter change has already taken place, and no further action is required of the council.
Resident Marty Presley said on Aug. 4 that the way in which the charter change was voted upon sounded “unethical” and asked if there is a mechanism in place for a rescission.
Schrader said that to change the charter back, it would require the council to vote to send another charter revision request to the General Assembly.
a concern, call to action
Also on Aug. 4, Frankford Police Chief William Dudley said that some minor vandalism has been noticed recently in the town park.
“We have one of the finest parks in Sussex County,” noted Dudley.
Broken glass has been found on the basketball court multiple times, even within hours of the court being cleaned.
“That creates concern,” he said.
Dudley said that the park’s basketball nets have been torn down and its tetherball court has also been vandalized, with the ball being ripped off of the string.
“It’s childish and it’s simple, but [it adds up],” he said.
Dudley said he is looking for grant funding that would be available to pay for some surveillance of the park, to potentially help deter vandalism.
“We put too much time and too much money into this park,” he said of allowing the status quo.
The Town has been given a set of cornhole boards for its park; however, Dudley said he has yet to install them.
“I’m hesitant to put them up because I don’t want them destroyed and I don’t want them to walk away,” he said.
Resident Liz Carpenter said she thinks cornhole boards would be a great addition to the park.
“Would it be possible to put the toss bags in a sign-out or some sort of machine where you would have to use quarters, to draw revenue to improve the park?” she asked.
Bacon said that is something the council would have to research.
Dudley asked that residents be cognizant of the park and the activity that occurs there.
“School will start soon, and that should solve a lot of the problems,” he added.
Councilman Charles Shelton said the Town does have a nice park, and he hopes all town residents will work together to take care of it.
“It’s going to take everybody in this town,” he said. “If you see something in this town, address it — be it contacting Bill or me — to address it to keep this town safe.”
Bacon asked Dudley if the town has a curfew. Dudley said that, currently, Frankford does not, and he noted that such an ordinance could be viewed as prohibitive, if a guardian were to send a minor out past the Town’s curfew to go to a town business.
“It’s something that probably needs to be looked at,” he said, adding that he would work with Schrader to look into it.
FOIA request reveals that financial
documents don’t exist
Property owner Kathy Murray told those present at the Aug. 4 meeting that a request she had made to the Town, through the Freedom of Information Act, for the Town’s 12-month actuals to budget was not fulfilled because the documents she requested do not exist.
“What financial data is provided to the CPA for year-end financial statement preparation?” asked Murray.
“The auditors or the accountants, they are on-site. They have access to go remotely to go in from behind the scenes … through a special program that has been initiated this year. They’re on-site now and will be for the next two weeks, approximately,” responded Terry Truitt, adding that the accountants pull financial data from what has been paid, received and entered.
“The council has never seen a full 12-month budget,” said Murray. “That’s a disgrace that this Town does not know how much money, far beyond Terry’s tenure here, we would spend each year.”
Schrader said he works with other towns that handle their financial reports differently and has given Truitt examples of those budgets.
“I’ve given those to Terry to see how it’s done, what I consider a better way or a proper way, so that everybody is informed,” he said. Of the council, he added, “If they direct her to do that, then those reports will be available to everybody. I agree with you — that that’s the better way to do it.”
Truitt said she had forwarded the information to the Town’s accountant and is in the process of implementing it by Sept. 1.
Murray requested that the same be done for the last three fiscal years.
The council agreed that, once the auditors complete the 2013-2014 year, the same should be done for the three previous fiscal years, as well, and the topic will be revisited at the Town’s September council meeting.
In other news:
• Property owner Robert Murray spoke to the council during citizens’ privilege, voicing his concern that letters of correspondence sent to council members were not being received by those councilpersons.
Murray said that, in July, he had written a letter to Bacon, requesting information pertaining to the 2 percent gross receipts tax.
“It was received by the Town on July 15. It was addressed to the acting president, Joanne Bacon. Between July 15 and Friday the 18th, Vincent Hitchens was asked by Jesse Truitt if he recalled the noted conversation that I put in the letter after the Feb. 14 monthly meeting. Vincent said that he did, and as a result, the Town attorney got involved without Joanne’s awareness. She had not been informed about the letter.
“The perception is that Terry Truitt saw the letter referencing her husband and either gave the letter to her husband or informed him of its content… This creates quite a concern to me. If there’s any correspondence going to our president … is the mail going to get to her?” he asked. “When the mail doesn’t get to our president, I don’t know how we can expect that to be handled properly. I think that’s something that needs to be addressed by the council.”
“We will discuss that, Mr. Murray,” responded Bacon.
• Following the resignation of Jesse Truitt as council president (though not as a council member) at last month’s meeting, the Frankford Town Council has reorganized. Joanne Bacon will now serve as council president; Pamela Davis will serve as vice-president; Cheryl Workman will continue to serve as secretary/treasurer; Charles Shelton will serve as police liaison; and Jesse Truitt will serve as water department liaison.
• Resident Liz Carpenter asked the council if they had given any thought to opening a town farmers’ market.
“I know I have a lot of vegetables at my house,” she said. “I think it would be a great way to get the town together. I think it would be something fun to do. I would be interested in helping that out, if that’s something you’d be interested in doing.”