Is New Year’s Eve a holiday? That is the question plaguing Fenwick Island in the first days of 2022, following an accusation by a former Fenwick Island town council member that a Town official improperly ordered construction workers to pack up and go home on Dec. 31, 2021.
In a letter to the Coastal Point received on Jan. 4, former council member William Weistling Jr. charged that current Vice Mayor Jacqueline Napolitano had “cruised through the town’s streets identifying work projects she felt were violating a Town Ordinance” on Dec. 31, causing several construction crews to shut down their operations for the day.
Weistling’s letter alleges that Napolitano and the entire current town council “took it upon themselves to have all of the construction projects within the town ordered to shut down their jobs and send their workers off the sites.”
Town code specifies that New Year’s Day is a holiday. It also prohibits commercial construction work on Sundays. New Year’s Day fell on Saturday this year, New Year’s Eve on a Friday. According to the code, work would have been prohibited on Saturday, New Year’s Day, but allowed on New Year’s Eve.
“Even if it had been the valid holiday, it is extraordinarily out of the realm of the normal duties of any council member to be performing the duties of the Town employees,” Weistling’s letter continued.
In the following days, the Coastal Point reached out to Napolitano and Town Manager Pat Schuchman for response to Weistling’s allegations.
Napolitano, in an emailed statement this week, said, “I categorically deny those accusations. They are false. I did not ‘cruise’ around Fenwick Island and instruct any construction site to halt work, nor did I instruct any police officer to do so.
“In fact,” Napolitano said, “on Dec. 31, I was in town hall working on completing the preparations for the Fenwick Freeze event,” which was held on Saturday, Jan. 1.
In a letter on Town of Fenwick Island letterhead, Schuchman said that “upon receipt of the Weistling letter containing the allegations, the claim was promptly investigated by me. I learned that a police officer who was on duty on New Year’s Eve mistakenly believed that the day was a holiday, given the State and County’s designation of the day as a holiday for the purposes of granting their employees a day off.
“My investigations revealed that the police officer made an honest mistake, and steps have been taken to ensure that actual holidays are confirmed with town personnel going forward. My investigation also confirmed that the police officer who had contact with the construction crew did not solicit nor did he receive any direction or instruction from any member of the town council to halt construction,” including Napolitano, Schuchman’s letter said.
Napolitano “had no contact with any construction crew,” Schuchman said. She also confirmed Napolitano’s statement that she was working in town hall on Dec. 31.
“The Town of Fenwick did not receive any complaints from any homeowner or construction crew about the New Year’s Eve construction closures,” Schuchman said. She added that, if Weistling or any others included on a subsequent email chain that included Weistling’s letter “had called either myself or [Police] Chief [John] Devlin and inquired about the issue, we would have been able to provide them with the true facts.
“I am truly disappointed that they did not do so,” Schuchman said.
At Point press time mid-week, Weistling had not returned a phone call seeking his reaction to the subsequent letters from town officials regarding the stop-work orders.
In the email chain that ensued following the circulation of Weistling’s letter, several people, including former council member Mitchell “Mike” Houser and Fenwick Shores hotel owner Spiro Buas leveled personal criticisms on the current council members, which the Coastal Point has chosen not to include in its coverage of the construction shutdown.
Fenwick Island Mayor Vicki Carmean also weighed in on the issue, in a letter shared with the Coastal Point that was initially addressed to Houser, in an effort to stem the tide of the email chain that included Weistling’s letter.
Napolitano said in her statement that she was “shocked and sickened” by the criticisms, which were attached to Weistling’s letter the email chain by Houser. She said the comments in the emails “not only impugned my reputation, but also, I felt, called into question the hard work and dedication of our town hall management employees.”
She said she hoped that Weistling, Houser and Buas would “recognize the harm that they have caused and publicly apologize for their involvement in this very unfortunate and false portrayal.”
Devlin, contacted by phone this week, said he became aware of the issue following the circulation of Weistling’s letter to town officials.
“We own it. It was an error in judgment” by the police officer, who he said was confused by the fact that New Year’s Eve was a holiday for town staff and assumed it was deemed a holiday for purposes of the construction-hours ordinance.
The police chief also said he agreed that the language in the code could be misconstrued. He said the officer was not responding to any complaints from residents or town officials when making the decision to shut down what he said were “multiple” construction sites on New Year’s Eve. Devlin said the town police department would typically respond to any complaints regarding construction that runs afoul of the town code.
In a contentious election August 2021, four members of the former council, including Weistling and Houser, lost to challengers, including Napolitano. Two other members of the council then resigned in the wake of the election, leaving only Carmean from the former council.
In her letter, Carmean reiterated Schuchman’s account of the construction closures.
“Now that the Town is aware of the confusing government terminology, steps have been undertaken to make sure that future ‘true’ holidays for purposes of construction closures are clarified to all town personnel,” she wrote.
Schuchman concluded her letter with a wish that “going forward, those who feel that there is some issue that needs to be addressed will bring the matter to our attention first, so that false and misleading rumors do not continue to circulate in our town.
“It is time to come together as a community and be the best version of Fenwick Island that we all can be,” she said.