Sussex County Delaware

Public Participation on
OIC Position Postponed
 
Fenwick Island News

Council to Discuss OIC
in March 1 Meeting

By ERIC MAGILL
SC Online Publisher

The agenda for a special meeting on March 1, 2003, has been revised by Fenwick Island Town Council again.

The agenda was amended on Feb. 24 to remove a period of public participation regarding the re-vote on hiring Glenn Hudson as a full-time officer and as officer-in-charge of the police department as directed by the Delawar Attorney General's Office.

That public participation session will now be held during council's regular meeting on Friday, March 7, at 3:30 p.m. Council will still consider the position of officer-in-charge at the special meeting at 3 p.m. on March 1, according to the agenda for that meeting.

The original agenda for the special meeting to vote again to hire Glenn Hudson as a full-time police officer and as officer in charge of the Fenwick Island Police Department caused concern in the Delaware Attorney General's office.

In a return call on Monday, Feb. 24, 2003, Deputy Delaware Attorney General W. Michael Tupman said his office granted the town an extension for holding the special meeting within 30 days of his order to do so on Jan. 21, 2003.

What had Tupman concerned, however, was a note on the agenda for the Hudson meeting that said the meeting will be held on Saturday, March 1, "or the next day following the completion of the chief of police hearing."

Although council voted on Feb. 14 to continue the termination hearing for suspended police chief George H. Dickerson Jr. until its conclusion on Feb. 28, Tupman said such a line on an agenda "does not satisfy the notice requirements of FOIA." Council eventually fired Dickerson following the conclusion of testimony on Friday, Feb. 28.

"You can't keep the public in limbo," said Tupman. "They (public) have to make plans and when they show up, you can't keep telling them, 'We're not ready yet'."

Tupman said he would be "firing off a letter" to town attorney Tempe Steen regarding his concerns about the agenda as posted.

He added that if the town is unable to hold the meeting on March 1, it would have to republish the notice of the meeting and give 7 days notice, which would cause the town to miss the new deadline of March 7.

The original deadline passed on Thursday, Feb. 20, but Tupman said he had granted the town an extension and the ability to hold the Hudson meeting during its rescheduled regular council meeting on March 7, rather than in a special meeting.

Tupman said the town requested the extension in a letter on Feb. 18 due to the amount of time consumed by the Dickerson hearing and the number of special meetings council has had in recent months.

Tupman originally ordered the town to hold the special meeting in his conclusion on Jan. 21, 2003, to a FOIA complaint filed by retired Major William Manning.

Tupman ordered the town to hold the special meeting and post a period for public participation on the agenda within 30 days of his letter.

That deadline was Thursday, Feb. 20. The deadline passed with no word of the scheduling of such a meeting until late Friday, Feb. 21, when council posted the agenda for the meeting, including the public participation session.

The agenda for the 3 p.m. meeting in town hall now includes the following:

  • An executive session to discuss personnel and potential and pending litigation;

  • Consideration of possible action following the executive session;

  • Consideration of the position of officer-in-charge of the police department.

On Friday, Feb. 22, Steen said the town had been in contact with Tupman regarding the meeting. She said that due to last week's snowstorm and the ongoing termination hearing for the chief, it had been difficult to find a time to schedule the meeting in time to meet the deadline.

Earlier on Friday, Delaware Attorney General M. Jane Brady did not have any indication that the town had been in touch with Tupman. She said her office had received several emails inquiring about the meeting.

In his opinion on the FOIA complaint filed by Manning, Tupman cited council's failure to prepare minutes of the meeting in which Hudson was hired. Noting that the minutes failed to reflect the vote by individual members of council, Tupman wrote:

"As remediation for these violations, we direct the Town to hold a special meeting within thirty days of the date of this letter to vote again whether to hire Mr. Hudson on a full-time basis. Because the Town has previously allowed public comment on the issue, the agenda for that meeting must include a reasonable period of public participation open to all citizens."

Brady noted that her office did amend its opinion on Manning's complaint in response to a request for reconsideration by town council.

The new opinion changes several lines in the AG's response to note that the town's failure to hire Hudson properly referred to hiring Hudson on a full-time basis. The words "full-time basis" have been added to several passages in the revised response, including the remediation passage.


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