New Police Chief
SC Online Content Editor
Fenwick Island's new police chief, Colette Sutherland, saluted and hugged her officers during a ceremony at the town hall on Friday, June 27, 2003.
Sutherland, a 25-year veteran of the Rehoboth Beach Police Department, takes over a department decimated by a period of high turnover punctuated by the dismissal in March of Chief George Dickerson, who has filed a wrongful termination suit against the town.
She is believed to be one of only a handful of female police chiefs in the history of Sussex County. Dana Shifflet was chief in Ocean View for a couple of years in the late 1970s.
Sutherland was sworn in before friends and family by Police Commissioner Edward "Buzz Henifin." She was chosen from a field of 38 applicants. Henifin said he was "so pleased and so proud" to introduce her to the residents present at the meeting, and read a prepared statement listing some of her accomplishments.
Before coming to Fenwick Island, Sutherland was Rehoboth Beach's top sergeant, was that department's second-in-command and on many occasions served as acting chief.
She joined the Rehoboth Beach squad in 1978 after graduation from the Delaware Police Academy -- one of the first women to do so. A graduate of Delaware State College, she is an expert in Domestic Violence, and is a certified police instructor. In fact, Henifin said, she had been hired to conduct classes for several new Fenwick Island officers.
Sutherland greeted the residents after her swearing in and said "I hope in the coming weeks I get to know each of you," although she added that she would need some time to get to know the town and the police force. "I won't have all the answers for some time yet," she said.
In addition to Sutherland's family and friends, members of the Rehoboth Beach Police Department attended the ceremony, and presented her with a pen stand engraved with her name. The Fenwick Island officers presented her with an afghan featuring the police department's logo, with Cpl. William Boyden quipping that "it can get chilly in the town hall."
After Sutherland left to celebrate her appointment, residents sought an update on Dickerson's lawsuit -- asking whether it was possible that Dickerson could win, and that the town could in effect have two police chiefs.
Several council members vehemently responded "No," when asked if the town could be in the position of paying two chiefs' salaries for a time.
"We do not anticipate that that will be a problem," council member Peter Frederick said when asked what would happen if Dickerson wanted his job back.
Council vice president Harry Haon said the town is in the midst of "very critical and very sensitive negotiations and discussions," regarding Dickerson's lawsuit.
Frederick said Dickerson's appeal of his firing is "being handled through the judicial system. What happens from now on is a function of that the lawyers do in the courts," Frederick said. The council declined to give more details on the status of the chief's case. "At this point in time, it would not be in the town's interest to have an open discussion of that," Haon said.Fenwick Candidates' Forum OKd
A Fenwick Island citizens' group will hold a candidates' forum in the town hall, now that the town council has in effect overturned its president's refusal of the group's request.
In early June, Fenwick Island Concerned Citizens member Chris Clark sought permission from president Peg Baunchalk for use of the town hall for a candidates forum for the Aug. 2, 2003 election.
But in a letter from Baunchalk to Clark, dated June 9, Baunchalk said the council made the decision to deny the request at a June 6 special meeting. "Consensus reached was that town hall is not the appropriate place to hold political functions," Baunchalk's letter stated
Clark said the FICC "would like to do no more or less than what FISH does," referring to the Fenwick Island Society of Homeowners traditional candidate's forum, held in conjunction with the group's annual meeting when there is an election.
Clark accused Baunchalk of a double standard, saying she, then state Rep. Shirley Price, and other Democrats met at the town hall on Oct. 15, 2002 for an election steering committee meeting. Baunchalk was running for Sussex County Council at the time. "This place was loaded with people," resident Elsie Weistling said, recalling the event. "I do not understand where or how the fairness lies," Clark said.
Baunchalk and council member Richard Griffin did not attend the June 27 regular council meeting, but the other council members discussed the FICC request at length. The town has historically handled requests for the use of the hall by giving the council president the authority to decide. "We do not have a policy for the use of the town hall," council member Peter Frederick said. "We should, but we do not," Frederick said.
Frederick proposed that the council adopt a policy that had already been drawn up. It sets up guidelines for the use of the town hall, prohibiting, among other things, political activities such as fundraisers. "It doesn't matter if the FICC is a political organization or is not a political organization. I would say what they proposed doing is not a political activity," Frederick said.
Council member Edward "Buzz" Henifin said he objected to the fact that Clark, who is now running for town council, made the request on FICC's behalf. The FICC, Henifin said, "is nothing but a political organization." Clark said he was not officially a candidate at the time the request was submitted.
Council members Vicki Carmean and Theo Brans said they did not believe the FICC should have been denied the use of the hall for the forum. "I don't see any reason they should go someplace else," Brans said. Carmean remarked the decision "seems a little arbitrary."
Council member Harry Haon said "I'm torn. The concensus of this group was that we did not want partisan political activities" in town hall, Haon said. He said the FICC "has gone on record as opposing certain candidates," a charge members denied. FICC member Wayne Carmean said he did appear on a television report saying the FICC had six members on the ballot for the Aug. 2 election, but not that the group was endorsing any particular candidates.
After the 4-1 vote to enact the policy and give the FICC permission to use the hall, Haon said, "You got what you wanted." The FICC forum is set for Friday, July 25 at 7 p.m. FISH will hold its forum on Saturday, July 19, at 9:30 a.m.
The forums will feature statements by the eight candidates for town council, as well as question and answer periods. Nine people filed for the town election; one was found ineligible because he owns property in Fenwick Island as part of a limited liability company.
The names on the ballot will be: Virginia Borodulia, Theo Brans, Chris Clark, Carol Hughes, Martha Keller, Audrey Serio, Mark Tingle and Nicholas Valiante. Frank Minner had filed as a candidate but was ruled ineligible by the town's election board.
Brans is the only incumbent running for one of four open seats. Town Council president Peg Baunchalk, treasurer Richard Griffin and police commissioner Edward "Buzz" Henifin chose not to seek re-election.
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