Sussex County Delaware

Leader of County's
Readdressing Resigns

 
Sussex County Council ...

Assistant Also Resigns
Over Project's Handling

By ERIC MAGILL
SC Online Publisher

The controversial 911 readdressing project in Sussex County to make homes and businesses easier to find for emergency personnel has hit yet another stumbling block with the resignations of the leader of the project and his assistant.

Dennis Norwood, the Supervisor of Information Systems for the county who was leading the readdressing process, and his assistant on the project, Rita Pettit, have both tendered their resignations due to disagreements with county council and the administration over the management of the project.

The resignations of Norwood and Pettit, who are engaged to be married, are effective Feb. 22 and Feb. 25, respectively. Norwood has been out on sick leave under his doctor's orders since Jan. 17. Pettit is continuing to work for the county.

Norwood's resignation ended 12 years of employment with the county. Pettit, a CAD III Technician, had worked in his office for the past four years.

In her letter of resignation to County Administrator Robert L. Stickels, Pettit said she decided to resign after discussing the possibility of taking over Norwood's supervision of the project with Stickels and Dennis V. Cordrey, the county's Director of Personnel.

"When we discussed the addressing and NENA standards," Pettit wrote in her resignation letter to Stickels, "you made it clear to me that I would have to accept decisions made by administration that may not fall within those standards. When we discussed my position as supervisor, you made it very clear that if you had questions or issues that you would go to whomever you saw fit. Also, that it was okay for my immediate supervisor to make decisions on the project without first discussing them with me."

Stickels was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon. He did, however, announce at council's regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12, that Matt Laick will become acting supervisor of the readdressing project, while Eddie Sparpaglione will assume Norwood's duties with the Information Systems department.

Reached on Tuesday, Feb. 12, Norwood said the county still needs to deliver some 30,000 to 35,000 addresses. He said he was particularly frustrated by council's continued willingness to allow subdivisions to appeal their address changes. He said about 300 subdivisions still have appeals pending.

"As long as Sussex County continues to provide poor instruction, this project will never come through to its completion," said Norwood. "You can't have an addressing project where you continue to allow people to interrupt it. This whole project can't work without council relinquishing control of the decision-making process."

In response, Councilman Vance Phillips said simply, "The County Council answers to the people.

According to Norwood, the project basically came to a standstill when council ordered the original consultant on the project, 3Di of Easton, Md., to allow some subdivisions to keep their existing addresses in 2000.

At that time, Norwood said, his staff took over the subdivision appeal process for the county to analyze and determine if subdivisions had good 911 addresses. He then took over the entire project when council terminated its contract with 3Di in May 2001, leaving the current 30,000 to 35,000 addresses to still be delivered.

"Ever since council back in 2000 told 3Di to allow for subdivisions to keep their existing addresses, it pretty much came to a dead end," said Norwood on Tuesday. "They couldn't continue to address roads when subdivisions on the road could keep their addresses. They were working over and over on top of each other."

Norwood said that recently, it had reached a point where subdivision appeals were "rubber-stamped."

"No matter what type of addressing scheme they had, they were going to be rubber-stamp approved or we were going to spend more time designing a different addressing scheme for a particular subdivision because they didn't like the five-digit addressing. I felt like if we were going to have to change them anyhow, why not use an addressing scheme that we already have and that we won't have problems with down the road?"

In the letter of resignation, Norwood specifically cited the decision to allow the Canal Cochran development to keep its road names and addresses and council's refusal to heed his recommendations for the North Shore Development and for a moratorium on road name changes.

As for the Canal Cochran development, Norwood called council's actions a "blatant disregard of the purpose of an addressing system for Sussex County."

On Tuesday, he said that decision "blew it (readdressing) out of the water." He said that with two other roads named Canal within a mile of the Canal Cochran development, it was irresponsible of the county to allow another road named Canal there because of the potential confusion for 911 dispatchers and emergency personnel trying to respond to an emergency.

"That development is still under construction," Norwood said. "To allow the street name of Canal when there were already two other Canal's within a mile of it ... I said we couldn't change the names of the other (Canal roads) without a major impact on the people who lived there, but this one (Canal Street in the Canal Cochran development) we can."

In the case of the North Shore development, Norwood said, "My recommendation was ignored and efforts to try to work the existing addressing scheme into the addressing project were made. The subdivision still has an atrocious addressing scheme."

In regards to his request for a moratorium on road name changes, Norwood said, "Road name changes interfere with the efforts to continue to address Sussex County. Every time a road name changes, county personnel have to make changes to the address databases. These changes then have to be sent to other agencies that are responsible for keeping the 911 data up to date and accurate. Those agencies must then rework the data they have already spent many man-hours on."

Both Norwood and Pettit stated that they believed the county's current attitude toward readdressing will fail to provide the "Enhanced 911" system promised to county residents.

"The purpose of 911 addressing is to enhance the response and accuracy of emergency response personnel," said Pettit in her resignation letter. "The administration has shown a total disregard to the real purpose and instead has made it a 'Who knows who?' and political issue.

"With each exception, there is a delay in the completion of the project. With each delay in the project, there is an injustice to the residents of Sussex County. It is their lives that are being put at risk here solely for the purpose of political influence. It is very obvious that the future of the addressing project is not of the utmost concern to the administration.

"A project of this magnitude can not continue to survive with so many people making the rules up as they go. The need for consistency and uniform addressing standards is imperative!"

As for Norwood's replacement, Stickels said during Tuesday's council meeting that Laick has experience in mapping and addressing with the Burea of Land Management in Las Cruces, N.M.

Laick told council he will be meeting with Verizon on Feb. 20 to discuss issues pertaining to the county's readdressing project. He said other urgent matters involve resolving addressing problems in Section 1, delivering addresses to Section 3, and conducting field checks to develop an accurate database for Sections 2 and 4.

The controversial readdressing project brought out protestors last spring to demand a moratorium on the project. Just a week before that protest, the county terminated the contract of 3Di, which had already vacated its Georgetown offices with 30,000 addresses in a dispute over how much the county owed for the work that had been completed.

At the time, Councilman Dale Dukes, then the council president, called the readdressing quagmire "one of the worst things I've been through in 13 years on council."

Norwood said another request, for a backup system that could revive the county's telecommunications systems in the event of a major incident at the county offices, was denied. "The response to me was we do not have the money to do it without even knowing the cost or benefits of the system."

In his letter to Stickels, Norwood said, "I took great pride in my abilities and accomplishments. Though never given the recognition, I have been the catalyst for continued development of technology in Sussex County.

"Please allow me to take this opportunity to say how much I have appreciated the opportunity to make a difference in Sussex County. I will honestly miss working with you and the rest of the employees in Sussex County, whose exemplary dedication and skills will no doubt be more than able to serve my constituents of Sussex County after my departure."

As for his future, Norwood said he would continue to work part-time at Atlantic Liquors in Rehoboth Beach and possibly move on to full-time work there.

"I sure won't be able to find a job in the government sector," said Norwood. "The Good Ol' Boy network will shut you down."


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