Sussex County Delaware

Dickerson Hearing
Moved to Bethany
 
Fenwick Island ...

Will Now Be Held in
Bethany Fire Hall

By ERIC MAGILL
SC Online Publisher

Fenwick Island Town Council voted unanimously to move the site of the termination hearing for police chief George H. Dickerson Jr. to the Bethany Beach Fire Hall during a special meeting on Friday, Nov. 22.

The hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 4.

Friday's meeting was held with only two days notice rather than the required seven days because council couldn't put together a quorum to "meet potential litigation issues."

Pending issues the town faces include a lawsuit filed by Dickerson against the town on Wednesday, Nov. 20 and a Department of Justice investigation of the town.

Also at Friday's meeting, council clarified its motion on Friday, Nov. 15, to hire Glenn Hudson as Officer in Charge of its police department.

Rather than giving Hudson a six-month contract as officer in charge as stated during the Nov. 15 meeting, Hudson will now be Officer in Charge until Dec. 5 pending the outcome of Dickerson's hearing on Dec. 4.

The new date coincides with the contract Hudson had been hired under as a consultant, which had been extended until Dec. 4.

"As I understood it," said town attorney Tempe Steen, "you were hiring him (Hudson) in anticipation of needing an additional officer until December 5th because the hearing may result in Chief Dickerson being reinstated on Dec. 5th."

Edward "Buzz" Henifin, the town's public safety commissioner, said he inadvertently omitted the ending date for Hudson's contract as officer in charge in a letter he gave to Hudson on Nov. 15 and asked for council's advice on the matter.

Council agreed unanimously to clarify that Hudson will serve as Officer in Charge until Dec. 5.

As for Dickerson's hearing, council agreed to move the hearing after receiving a letter from resident Bill Weistling, who said the town hall would not be able to accommodate the crowd expected. Weistling also said in his letter that the hearing should be held in a meeting hall that has a public address system so that everyone would be able to hear the proceedings.

Weistling said he wrote his letter to all council members on Nov. 8 and asked Town Administrator Helen Torres if she had a problem with him placing the letters in the individual council members' boxes. When she said she didn't have a problem with that, Weistling said he placed the letters in their boxes.

When no one from council responded to his letter or addressed it during the regular council meeting on Nov. 15, Weistling sent his letter to W. Michael Tupman, deputy attorney general for the State of Delaware, on Nov. 16. Tupman instructed council to respond by Nov. 25 on how it was going to address the issue.

Council treated Weistling's letter to Tupman as a FOIA complaint and during the discussion of moving the hearing to the Bethany fire hall, Council Vice President Harry Haon asked Weistling if he would drop his complaint if the hearing was moved.

Weistling said he would not withdraw his letter. "If I can explain why, it's because I gave you the letter, no one responded to my letter, and during the public meeting on November 15th, it wasn't addressed," said Weistling. "I gave you every opportunity and I didn't write the last letter (to Tupman) until I gave you every opportunity."

Steen said the hearing, while open to the public, would be a "quasi-judicial" proceeding in which town administration would present its case for Dickerson's termination and Dickerson would present his defense. Both sides could also be cross-examined.

Led by Hearing Officer Roger Akin, Esq., the hearing will not provide for public comment, although certain members of the audience may be called as witnesses.

Council also authorized spending up to $3,000 to rent the hall, hire a non-Fenwick police officer to man the front door and to rent a P.A. system if the Bethany fire hall's P.A. system proves inadequate for the crowd that attends.

In other business, Councilman Peter Frederick started a debate about proper procedure when he presented several items that weren't listed on the special meeting agenda.

Frederick said council should consider assigning a council member to review letters sent to council members to ensure all letters are answered and advised council that the upgrading of the town's computer systems was proceeding as planned.

Frederick said the town is upgrading its computers' memory and adding a work station so it can do things like maintain the town web site itself. "We would be saving some money on that," Frederick said.

He added that canceling the town's computer maintenance contract would save about $4,700, which could be put into the estimated $8,300 cost for the computer upgrade program.

Council member Vicki Carmean, however, said she didn't feel it was appropriate to discuss matters that weren't on the agenda and that the computer upgrade issue should have been left for council's regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 15.

That sparked a debate about proper meeting procedure, with Council President Peg Baunchalk saying she had given the floor to Frederick.

"I think that everything he said is wonderful," said Carmean, "but I don't think this belongs in this meeting."

Steen then said that she understood both sides of the debate and that while Roberts Rules of Order are fine for maintaining rules of procedure during a meeting, that it's OK for council to discuss off-agenda issues as long as it's for informational purposes and not for decision-making purposes.

Steen added that the information provided by Frederick had already been authorized by council during the budget process and that Frederick was merely updating council on the progress of decisions already made.

"There's a fine line between absolutely improper procedure and sharing interesting information," said Steen. "I don't think it's improper to share information on things that have already been authorized."


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