Letters to the Editor — September 5, 2014

Republican Club’s annual event a hit

Editor:

I would like to thank the state, county and local Republican candidates, as well as the community, for their support and enthusiasm at the 3rd Annual 38th Republican Covered Dish Supper held on Saturday, Aug. 23.

The event provided an opportunity for voters to put candidate faces with names in a setting with good food, music and conversation. In addition, the Covered Dish Supper gave voters a chance to have one-on-one conversations with the candidates regarding the current problems with Delaware’s lack of job growth, fiscal irresponsibility, declining educational ranking, illegal immigration, lack of Washington leadership and other issues that are troubling our state and nation.

The overwhelming interest of area residents wanting to be involved in the voting process was impressive. There is no doubt that the Cover Dish Supper attendees were serious about choosing candidates who represent their interests. Voters are looking for candidates with solutions.

Although we were caught off-guard by the unexpected last-minute rush of people buying tickets at the door, we will be better prepared for crowds in the future. This situation also illustrated on a small scale why “same day registration/voting” is not going to work in Delaware.

The 38th District Republican Club pledges continued support for the Constitution and the promotion of good government in Delaware!

R. Wayne Carmean, President
38th District Republican Club

McClenny left his mark on Bethany Beach

Editor’s note: The following letter was addressed, posthumously, to the late Tony McClenny, former mayor of Bethany Beach and was sent to the Coastal Point for publication.

Thank you, Tony, for being who you were, and how you were with others.

What a gift!

Steve Piron
Bethany Beach

Frankford resident airs his grievances

Editor:

The Frankford Town Council has been on a quest to provide pensions for its employees — not only provide a pension going forward, but some have inquired about going back 13 years, at least in one case.

In May of this year, at its budget meeting, pension funding going back three years was written in the proposed budget. It does not appear funding for this fiscal year was included. This could shoot the cost up in the neighborhood of $100,000 for pensions alone, which, when combined with what we already spend for healthcare insurance, wages and other benefits, the Town of Frankford would be spending approximately $365,000 — virtually half its budget — on three to four employees alone.

The council had to send the charter to the General Assembly to remove the 15 percent cap on employee benefits before these pensions could be approved. They succeeded in having that cap removed, only to have no cap whatsoever. The cap was there for a good reason. So now, with that cap removed, they can spend any amount they choose. Pretty clever, I’d say.

The town secretary is the wife of the council president. There are at least two other employees who would be eligible for these pensions — they already receive other employee benefits, including healthcare insurance. As of now, the Town pays for its employees and their included family members’ healthcare insurance without the employee making any contribution whatsoever.

The question often comes up: Can this town afford to go back and pay for pensions for the time there were no pensions? And how would the town as a whole benefit, or will this maneuver only benefit several employees when the town’s infrastructure, such as the water tower, water pipes and potholes — just to name three — need serious attention.

July 31, 2014, a financial planner presented the council with what I considered very important and enlightening information concerning these pensions. He presented many concerns and factors he believed should be considered to help financially protect the town and its residents:

(1) Some municipalities across the country have been forced into bankruptcy when using the state-defined benefit plan (SDBP). Once the Town signs on, like jumping off a bridge, it cannot back out, and paying for these pensions would come before they paid for anything else. Costs could skyrocket, with unknown employer contributions as a result of underfunding.

(2) It was suggested the defined contribution plan (DCP) was a surer and safer bet. Employer contributions would be known in advance and could be budgeted for. Employees can choose where they want the money invested, unlike the SDBP, and they have much more flexibility. The Town can also cut benefits, increase employee contribution requirements or make other changes it deems necessary including terminating the plan altogether.

Also, these startling figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics were offered during the presentation as a snapshot of what already exists in Frankford before going back to pay for pensions for three employees when there were no pensions:

(1) The per capita income for residents in Frankford is $17,500. The town has a lot of renters and retirees.

(2) The Town of Frankford employees’ per capita income is $42,250 which is 240 percent higher than the average Frankford resident.

(3) Private-sector benefits as a percentage of income averages 29 percent.

(4) With the SDBP, as proposed, Town of Frankford employee’s benefits percentage of income will equal 51 percent, which is 450 percent greater benefits value than the average Frankford resident.

The past several meetings have been uneventful, in the sense that, since the June 23 meeting, for the first time in a long time, residents and attendees have been able to talk freely, asking questions and expressing their concerns about the way their town is run without being censored or silenced. The three-minute rule had largely been relaxed by the council under new leadership. The democratic process was back in play… But that wouldn’t hold out, as you’ll read later.

June 23, 2014: I had begun seeking answers to these questions — why employees had received pay bonuses close to $2,000 with only two votes from the council, and why the council president had voted to send the charter to the Delaware General Assembly, completely removing any cap to clear the way for employee pensions, which may ultimately be of a pecuniary interest to this council president and his wife.

This was at that June 23 meeting; those questions went largely ignored and unanswered.

Right after that, at the next meeting, July 7, Jesse Truitt resigned his position as council president but remained on the council. There was a desire by a council member, with another agreeing, to immediately install a new council president, given Truitt’s resignation as president.

The councilperson under consideration wanted to take some time to think about taking on the position as the new council president. Charles Shelton, a council member, was concerned that he may not be present at another time to vote for the new council president, that it would be better for him if they could vote that night, while he was present. He was adamant. The candidate under consideration for council president held her ground and reserved that decision for a later date.

Present also at this meeting was the town solicitor. He said people who sign up for a seat on the council are aware and should be present at the meetings, since it’s not a secret when council meetings are held.

I thought there would be no better person to ask those same questions I had previously asked than him, so I asked. His response was the council president did not vote to send the charter to the General Assembly to clear the way for pensions, meaning only two people voted to do that.

The council president’s wife, and another council person as well, confirmed that the council president didn’t vote that night for the charter change. The town solicitor added that the Town’s acts only require two affirmative votes out of a five-member council.

He referred to that as a “majority of the quorum” — the quorum consisting of three council members. And he said, while looking through his notebook, this was based on the rules of procedure he had drafted that was passed by the council in December of 2010.

Based on the town solicitor’s response, doling out pay bonuses only required two affirmative votes out of five council members — that same “majority of the quorum” in effect. The council president allowed this to occur.

Near the end of the next meeting — the July 31 special meeting — armed with the written facts pertaining to these matters, I asked the town solicitor to explain his answers from the last meeting, since what he had said was in error. He refused to address the issue in public but said he would do so in private. I was not interested in a private response off the record, since the initial answers had been given by him on the record. I believed not just myself, but others present, needed to know the correct answers, as well.

At the Aug. 4 meeting, the town solicitor finally agreed to redress the concerns with the fallible information he had given. He said the council president did vote to remove any existing cap from the charter to provide pensions; the council president made the third vote. It appears he based that conclusion on the minutes, unmindful those minutes are written by the council president’s wife. He then read from a letter he had written, dated Dec. 9, 2013:

“To that end, the Council President and the Town Secretary have been admonished that the State Officers’ and Officials’ Code of Conduct, appearing in Title 29, Chapter 58, applies to them and that the Council President must not participate in any matter in which he or his wife has a financial interest or may receive a personal gain [See 29 Del.C. §5805 (a)(2).]”

If, at a future date, this matter returns to the council for a decision on some proposed pension and health insurance matters, the council president will be required to recuse himself, and he may not attend or participate in any discussion, debate or vote concerning the topic.

The town solicitor had not mentioned that the council president may also have been in violation of the Town’s own ordinance, Ordinance 15 — The Town of Frankford Code of Conduct, written in concert with the “State Officers and Officials Code of Conduct,” signed into effect on Feb. 1, 1993:

“Section 1 (c): It is the purpose of this Ordinance to insure the propriety and the preservation of public confidence in the officials and employees of The Town of Frankford and to establish ethical standards for those officials and employees which will protect the integrity of the government of The Town of Frankford.”

“Section 1 (j): “Personal or Private Interest.” Is an interest in a matter which intends to impair the independent judgment of an official or employee in the performance of his duties with respect to that matter.”

“Section 3 (a): No official or employee shall participate on behalf of the Town in the review or disposition of any matter pending before the Town or before a committee or commission thereof in which he has a personal or private…”

I stated in my last letter that it was of the concern of the council president that employees, including his wife, receive pensions.

This suggests to me the council president’s involvement may have been in violation of laws and ordinances but, hey, we’ll just let that go, we’ll bypass that. Who is going to know the difference?

He did finally admit two votes, “majority of the quorum,” for the pay bonuses were not sufficient in adhering to the law and that that money needed to be paid back to the people or this all had to be redone.

He explained his two vote, “majority of the quorum” position as something that would have been legitimate if it had not been written “elsewhere” or in the charter, that three votes were required to pass any act of the council. The “elsewhere” was that it was written in that December 2010 Rules of Procedure he had drafted and was passed by the council. So it was located in at least two prominent places, one of which he created.

The town solicitor has been representing this council in the neighborhood of 20 years but apparently did not realize or had forgotten, mistakenly or otherwise, three votes are required to pass any act of the Frankford Town Council and that that requirement has always been unambiguously delineated in the charter.

Either case — whether that Charter was forwarded to the General Assembly with only two votes or whether Jesse Truitt proposed and voted to send it there, including removing any cap whatsoever, when his wife was likely to become a direct beneficiary — should not be swept under the rug. I ask this Council not to do that to reestablish trust with the people.

As I was discussing this with the town solicitor, others chimed in on this matter and similar matters.

Shelton, the councilperson I mentioned earlier, who only attends about six regular council meetings per year or who is often late but nonetheless manages to retain a seat on this council, usurped the authority of the new council president, who was presiding over the meeting, who had run some very enjoyable meetings even though there was discourse on a point or two.

Out of nowhere, he decided and lashed out without warning, interrupting, that he didn’t want to hear any more about the subject of discussion the town solicitor, others and I were having.

He said he had been hearing about it for the last four years.

There is no way to really know what he was talking about, since pensions and the charter have never been under discussion in any real and meaningful way. The first mention of either, to my knowledge, was a year ago, and the first real discussion was on June 23 of this year. But how would he know that if he is hardly ever present.

He said there were some questions and comments he wanted to hear and some he didn’t want to hear because some were more important than others — he would decide which ones would be heard. He was sure to remind everyone he and the others don’t get paid to be council members.

He had no comments now and had none before on the matter at hand: the votes for the Charter change, pay bonuses. He had no apparent concern on how many votes it takes to pass acts of the council. And it appears he is not concerned employee benefits no longer have a cap as a percentage of pay.

Perhaps he could have made a world of difference if only he had been present on the night the vote was taken on the Charter change and the pay bonuses.

Since the last four or five council meetings, this is the only one that got off course. I wasn’t that surprised to see it was at the hands of a council member. We hadn’t seen that recently.

A resident had on a number of occasions questioned the council’s ability to function properly with a council president/council member where the wife is an employee of the Town. Also, a longtime resident and attendee asked Jesse Truitt to resign completely from the Frankford Town Council.

I concur. It is well past the time that he did.

Jerry Smith
Frankford