Says Letter Told Only
Part of the Real Story
The following letter from the Fenwick Island Concerned Citizens was mailed to Fenwick Island property owners and submitted to Sussex County Online for publication:
Dear Fenwick Island Taxpayer:
Recently the Fenwick Island Town Council sent you a newsletter, which attempted to explain the Council's actions during the past nine months. Now here is the rest of the story.
Freedom of Information Act Complaints -- FOIA policies insure tha all public business is performed in an open manner so that citizens can monitor the performance of public officials and have easy access to public records. Several employees, citizens and a Council member have filed over 20 complaints with the Attorney General's office within the last year because of this Council's reluctance to follow the rules and conduct business in a Democratic manner. The serious nature of these citizen complaints is reflected in this sampling of complaints:
- Failing to maintain minutes of the meetings in a timely fashion.
- Conducting public business behind the scenes using memos, E-mails and private meetings of less than quorum (still under investigation by the Attorney General's office).
- Delaying the presentation of the Audit Managemenet Letters to avoid informing the public about many bookkeeping irregularities (resolved at the March 7th meeting).
- Failing to hire the Officer in Charge legally in a public meeting.
Tax Increases -- Ignoring the fact the Council had violated The Charter (Section 20 by not auditing the Town's finances for four years, the Council passed two tax increases on to residents and business owners.
- Protesting residents and business owners felt very strongly about delaying any tax increases until the audit were completed. That request and the more than 120 responses to the Fenwick Island Concerned Citizens Survey were completely ignored by the majority of the Council when the vote was called for the business tax increase.
- When the Auditor, Mr. Sombar, gave his reports in January and March, it was obvious that for four years the monthly Treasurer's Report has not been accurate because errors had not been picked up in yearly audits.
The Fenwick Island Police Department -- Former Chief Dickerson's decisions to appeal the hearing outcome and continue with his civil lawsuit against the town are still pending. However, Public Safety Commissioner Henifin has proceeded to organize a Search Committee to hire a new police chief.
Along with the loss of Mr. Dickerson, four other dissatisfied officers have left since January, leaving the department understaffed again.
Since President Baunchalk testified against Mr. Dickerson and then failed to recuse herself from the judgment process during the recent hearing, there is a good chance that Mr. Dickerson may end up winning the final battles. The cost, of course, will be borne by the taxpayers and maybe the insurance carrier. So far, legal costs are over $33,000 against the budgeted amount of $10,000 -- and not all the bills are in!
The Audits for the Past Four Years (required annually by The Charter) -- Finally, completed by the end of February and presented along with the Management Letters after a lot of public pressure before the March 7th meeting, these audits revealed many bookkeeping irregularities, including the non-payment of State Withholding Taxes ($98,000) and Unemployment Taxes, some problems with Social Security payments, and unreconciled bank statements.
Presently, we are waiting for the State to come up with a final assessment of interest and penalties for the Town's failure to pay its taxes. Mr. Sombar estimates that this amount may total up to $75,000 -- and who gets to pay this? The Fenwick Island taxpayers, of course!
The Town Treasurer claims he knew exactly how much money the Town had, ignoring the obvious in that unaudited books and unbalanced checkbooks cannot possibly convey an accurate accounting of money.
The Change in Fenwick Island -- Yes, we can agree about this general idea, but for different reasons:
Citizens are now demanding more fiscal accountability, open government and a responsible administrative operation. The Charter, which is the "blueprint" for our councilmanic form of government, must be followed by the Council.
Employee evaluations must be done annually, using an understandable and uniform process designed to create a positive work environment.
Communicating with the public in a forthright and courteous manner must be a priority for all members of the Town Council. It's true that these are unpaid positions, however, if Council members really want to serve, they must feel committed to the citizens and improving services. At the same time, the Council needs to be held accountable for its actions.
This August we must vote for four new Council members since Ms. Baunchalk, Mr. Brans, Mr. Griffin and Mr. Henifin's two-year terms will be completed. We feel very strongly that new candidates should be willing to represent the best interests of the taxpayers.
As for the Fenwick Island Concerned Citizens, we are here to help. We will stay the course because we love Fenwick Island and believe it should be a quiet resort town, worthy of respect.
Friends, we want the story to continue! -- We would appreciate your support/comments so that we can continue these mailings and keep you posted about this summer's Town Council election. Also, if you are interested in running for office, please contact us. Candidates must file with the Town by June 17, 2003 (45 days before the election, which is Aug. 2, 2003) Thank you!
Members of the Fenwick Island Concerned Citizens:
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C. Mark Tingle
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