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In the latest issues involving the Fenwick Island Police Department, Sussex County Online has learned that the The Town of Fenwick Island is under investigation by the United States Department of Justice.
Major William Manning of the Fenwick Island Police Department said on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2002, that the town is "under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General." He also said the investigation involves "possible federal violations," but declined to give more details.
Colm Connolly, the U.S. Attorney in Delaware, has been out of the office and unavailable to comment on the nature of the investigation.
The Office of the Inspector General, a branch of the Department of Justice, handles mostly internal audits of the DOJ but can also investigate organizations that have received Department of Justice grants such as the COPS grants Fenwick Island has received from the DOJ as a result of President Clinton's 1994 pledge to put 100,000 more police officers on America's streets.
According to Paul Martin, a spokesman for the Office of the Inspector General, audits are fairly common and can be done randomly or in the event the office receives word that federal funds have not been properly utilized. Investigations, on the other hand, involve allegations that laws governing fraud, abuse or integrity have been violated.
Martin said his office had nothing on file regarding Fenwick Island in its Audit Branch. When asked about the Investigative Branch, Martin said his office doesn't comment on "ongoing criminal investigations."
In a memo from councilman Edward "Buzz" Henifin to Manning, Henifin wrote that "The DOJ has further stated, 'This investigation is private, and we request such privacy be maintained'."
Henifin also sent another memo to Manning on Sept. 14, 2002, requesting a meeting between Manning, himself and Sgt. Michael Bruette, then the officer in charge, to "obtain a statement from you concerning the records requested by the Department of Justice." In the memo, Henifin said that statements were being prepared for "several employees of Fenwick and for Council President/Mayor and Public Safety Commissioner. These statements will be part of the package of material that will be sent to the Department of Justice on Tuesday afternoon."
Besides the DOJ investigation, town council also eliminated the position of Sherry Jordan, the administrative assistant to the town's chief of police, on Wednesday, Nov. 6. Jordan, who had been in the position for 5 1/2 years, said on Monday, Nov. 11, that she believes she was fired because she wouldn't cooperate with council's efforts to get information regarding the DOJ investigation from one of Fenwick Island's police officers.
"I was fired because I support the Chief, the Major, and the officers of this town against the backstabbing work environment the town council thrives on and now, too, I am a victim," said Jordan in a strongly worded letter regarding her firing. "The Major will be next."
Henifin, named Public Safety Officer by Fenwick Island Town Council last week after Sgt. Michael Bruette resigned as Officer in Charge, refused to comment on the investigation or Jordan's firing. Council President Peg Baunchalk could not be reached for comment.
In the memo to Major Manning, however, Henifin referred to the investigation when he wrote that all records and correspondence regarding the department's employee applications and testing in the past five years, "have been quickly reviewed, copied and sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Town's initial reply to the DOJ subpoena."
The revelation of the DOJ investigation and Jordan's firing are just the latest in a string of issues involving the town's police department and the handling of its budget.
Since May 2002, town council has been found in violation of the state's Freedom of Information Act a half-dozen times, criticized for its handling of the budget, is trying to catch up on four years of missed financial audits, is trying to fire Police Chief George Dickerson after suspending him on Aug. 26, and is working with consultant Glenn Hudson on the reorganization of the police department.
A public hearing on Chief Dickerson's fate has been scheduled for Dec. 4. Town residents have written to council requesting that the hearing be moved from town hall to a larger facility that can hold the anticipated crowd and has a PA system.
During the past three months, the police department has seen one upheaval after another as the power struggle between the council and the police department has played out. On Monday, Sept. 3, the council voted to hire Hudson, the former Bethany Beach Town Manager, as a "consultant" on the operation of the police department.
Manning and Jordan said Hudson has overstepped his responsibilities and has become the de facto police chief. Manning said Hudson has taken over the chief's office and has developed the police officers' schedule through Dec. 19, 2002.
When council hired Hudson as a consultant, it said it hired Hudson to "analyze, evaluate and make recommendations regarding the operations, policies and procedures of the Fenwick Island Police Department."
Hudson's contract was due to expire in mid-October, but Manning said the council voted last month after an executive session to extend it through Dec. 4 -- the day of Dickerson's hearing. Henifin said he couldn't remember what date Hudson's contract had been extended to.
In her letter, Jordan took the council to task for hiring Hudson at $25 per hour as a consultant, and accused council of grooming him as the next police chief.
According to records obtained by Sussex County Online, the town paid $69 for Hudson's firearms recertification from JD Defense Equipment and Supplies in Georgetown on Nov. 6. He has also recently completed training on the Heartsaver AED (automatic external defibrilator), a device carried in police vehicles since they are often on the scene of a cardiac emergency before ambulance crews or paramedics.
Hudson has also been given the access code to the locked door leading into the town employees' offices in town hall.
Henifin had been placed in charge of the department Nov. 4 in the wake of Bruette's resignation as officer in charge. Manning said Henifin still has keys to the department's records, files and evidence locker. When asked this week if he still had the keys, Henifin refused to comment.
When he was suspended in August, Dickerson protested having to turn over those keys to Henifin and said then that he felt the evidence locker became tainted when it passed out of the control of the police department.
As for Jordan's termination, she said she was given a letter from the council by one of the newest members of the police force, who had been given the letter by Henifin to give to her.
In a Monday, Nov. 11 telephone interview, Jordan said she had previously resigned her position as "terminal agency coordinator," for the department, which meant she was responsible for the department's computers. "(Hudson) and Henifin wanted to view the crime reports," she said. "The chief and I both said (they) can't look at them."
Jordan's other duties included screening calls for the department, handling grants, maintaining department records, handling department mail and sending copies of crime reports to the state Attorney General's office.
When asked on Monday, Nov. 11, who is performing those duties now, Henifin initially said "no one." Then he said the tasks are being divided among the police officers.
On Sept. 13, the council voted to spend up to $1,000 for its auditing firm to perform a financial audit of the police department. Meanwhile, it was revealed the town's finances have not been formally audited in four years. The auditing firm is currently working with town staff members to catch up on the audits.
Sherry Jordan submitted the following letter regarding her firing as administrative assistant to the Fenwick Island Police Chief to Sussex County Online. We are printing in its entirety below:
I was employed by Fenwick Island for 5 1/2 yars as the Administrative Assistant to the Chief of Police, George H. Dickerson Jr. My responsibilities were vast, varied, and important. During my tenure, I was a loyal, well-disciplined employee to the town and police department. I got along with all the town employees and town council (or I thought), never missed work, never used my annual leave or had ever been chastised, but on Wednesday, November 6, 2002, I was fired.
The council will spin this as usual and say they eliminated my job for economical reasons, yet they hired a person to set up the files in the front office, at what price? They recently drew down $1,000 to audit the (police) departent books and I don't know why. There is nothing wrong with them, but they are paying an audit firm to do the town books because the council has failed to audit them for the past 3 years. What is this costing the taxpayers?
Then, this "consultant", a civilian, had the town pay for his firearms training. In case you're wondering, the consultant, Lloyd Glenn Hudson, is slated to be the next Chief of Police, after the the town council gives Chief Dickerson a fair hearing on December 4, 2002, and then hangs him.
And why hasn't someone asked the town council how many thousands of dollars they have spent on lawyer's fees this past year, at their secret executive meetings each week, and never tell the public anything.
I was fired because I support the Chief, the Major and the officers of this town against the backstabbing work environment the town council thrives on and now I, too, am a victim. The Major will be next.
The town council, through Councilman Henifin, has destroyed the structure of the police department, but not the integrity of its men. They have maligned the Chief, but can not defeat his honesty. Why hasn't anyone asked Major Manning what's happening or why he isn't Officer in Charge? It's because he openly supports the Chief, his men and me. He tells Henifin and the town council what he thinks of them for the way they have railroaded the Chief and now me. Ask him. He'll tell you the truth.
The way they fired me was just as important. Councilman Henifin called our newest officer into the hallway at the rear of the building and in a dark corner, gave him an envelope and told him to give it to me at the close of business and then Councilman Henifin left. The officer didn't know he just handed me my pink slip. What cowards. But that is Fenwick Island Town Council. They did me a favor.
Sherry A. Jordan
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