NOTE: Sussex Beat is a log of news briefs and commentary by Kerin Magill, editor of Sussex County Online, with contributions from Sussex County Online users.
Fenwick Island Town Council voted on Friday, Sept. 13, 2002, to spend up to $1,000 on a financial audit of the town's police department.
The unanimous vote took place following a three-hour closed meeting. The motion was made by council member and police commissioner Edward "Buzz" Henifin.
Henifin said in his Sept. 13 motion the council was calling for the audit "in terms of the transition the department is going through." The audit will be conducted by Sombar and Co., the Georgetown firm that performs the regular audits of the town's books.
Council did not make clear whether the audit request was related to the ongoing tensions between Chief George H. Dickerson Jr. and town council. The agenda for the executive session said it was called to discuss "personnel and potential litigation".
Dickerson said Saturday, Sept. 14, that he doesn't see the purpose of an audit of the police department's finances. He said typically purchase orders were prepared by his assistant, Sherry Jordan, and he signed off on them. But he said the final authorization was done by Mayor Peg Baunchalk, and in recent months, Henifin.
"He had been taking a particular interest in the last sixth months," in police expenditures, Dickerson said.
Other than petty cash, he added, "no cash was even handled," by him or the other officers. "There's no impropriety there," he said. "The ledger speaks for itself."
Dickerson added that the police department's financial records are handled as part of the town's overall budget and all checks were written by town clerk June Truitt.
The tensions between the chief and council began in March, when Dickerson and Major William Manning filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against the council. The complaint alleged the town had violated the act by holding closed meetings regarding the police department's manpower shortage.
The state Attorney General's office found that six of the seven complaints filed by the police officers were valid. After that, relations between the police chief and his second-in-command and the council deteriorated to a series of terse memos, many penned by Henifin.
Among other things, the chief was required to submit weekly schedules for Henifin's approval and officers' leaves were cancelled while the department was short-staffed. Dickerson and Manning complained when the other remaining officer, Sgt. Michael Bruette, was given a raise after he was offered another job in Virginia.
Then late last month, Dickerson was suspended after he came to a meeting with Henifin and another council member, Richard Griffin, and said he wanted to tape record the meeting.
He was reinstated the next day but apparently suspended again the following week. He remains on the payroll, but a statement taped to the door of town hall and released to the media said Bruette had been placed in charge of the department. Fenwick officials will only say that Dickerson "is still an employee."
On Tuesday, Sept. 3, the council held another three-hour closed session, after which it voted to hire former Bethany Beach Town Manager Glenn Hudson as a police consultant. Hudson is also a former Delaware State Police trooper and former captain in the Bethany Beach Police Department.
The Sept. 13 closed session was the third such meeting in less than two weeks. The previous two had been held with less than the required seven days' notice; the Sept. 13 meeting was first posted Sept. 6.
A ceremony of patriotism and remembrance for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks will be held on the Bethany Beach Bandstand on Sunday, Sept. 15 at 2 p.m.
The ceremony will include speeches by state Sen. George H. Bunting Jr. and state Rep. Shirley Price. Musical tributes will be performed by the combined bands of Indian River High School and Selbyville Middle School, as well as soloists Cassie Wells, Jennifer Carter, the Evans sisters, Heather Hale and the Sweet Adelines. Poet Christina Weaver will share selections from her book of poetry.
The V.F.W. Post 7234 Honor Guard will present the colors and provide a 21-gun salute. The Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company and the Bethany Beach Police Department will also participate. In case of inclement weather the ceremony will be held at the Bethany Beach Fire Hall on Hollywood Street.
Submit this form to send us an item for this column. Event news should be submitted to our Calendar of Events. All items are subject to verification.
Sussex County Online Copyright © 1999-2002 Sussex County Online