Sussex County Delaware

F.I. Chief's Fate to
be Subject of Hearing
 
Fenwick Island Delaware

Fenwick Council Accounts
For Chief's Absence

By KERIN MAGILL
SC Online Content Editor

After more than three weeks of silence regarding the status of Fenwick Island Police Chief George H. Dickerson Jr., the Town Council announced on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2002, that he has been suspended with pay since Aug. 26.

A two-paragraph prepared statement faxed to Sussex County Online by Mayor Peg Baunchalk stated that Dickerson was "relieved of his duties" and suspended with pay effective Aug. 26, "pending a public hearing on termination in accordance with 11 Delaware Code, Section 9301."

The statement said the hearing has yet to be scheduled but will be held in town hall on a date to be announced.

The statement also said the town police department currently has five full-time, Delaware-certified officers "who will continue to provide standard around the clock police protection."

The statement is the latest development in several months of tension between the police department and the town council. Until the Sept. 18 statement, all the council had said about Dickerson's absence was that Sgt. Michael Bruette was in charge of the police department, that Dickerson was still a town employee, and that police services would be provided as normal.

On Monday, Sept. 3, the council voted to hire former Bethany Beach Town Manager Glenn Hudson as a consultant for the police department; on Friday, Sept. 13, the council voted to spend up to $1,000 for a financial audit of the police department. Both votes were held in special meetings following three-hour closed sessions.

Dickerson and his second-in-command, Major William Manning, had been at loggerheads with the council, particularly with Police Commissioner Edward "Buzz" Henifin, after the two filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaints against the council in March.

The complaint alleged the council violated Delaware's FOIA when it met in closed session to discuss the manpower shortage that followed the resignation of three of the town's six police officers in January. The departures left Dickerson, Manning and Bruette to patrol the town through much of the spring and summer.

In May, the office of Attorney General M. Jane Brady issued an opinion on the FOIA complaint, in which it cited six violations. Since March, Henifin has become increasingly involved in the day-to-day operations of the department, requiring, among other things, that the chief submit weekly work schedules for his approval.

At a June council meeting, Manning publicly criticized the council for its handling of the department in the preceding months, and the council called Dickerson's record into question by intimating that his personnel file contained reprimands preceding the FOIA complaint. At the July council meeting, two residents claimed they had examined the chief's file and found no such reprimands.

Dickerson's Aug. 26 suspension followed a one-day suspension the week before, when he appeared at a meeting with Henifin and another council member, Richard Griffin. Dickerson said he wanted to tape the meeting, on the advice of his attorney.

Henifin and Griffin suspended him on the spot, but he was reinstated the following day, Thursday, Aug. 21. When he returned to work that day, Dickerson refused to take responsibility for the department's files and evidence storage. He said he had been forced to hand the department keys and codes to Henifin before he left the office the day before, and claimed the evidence could have been compromised while the keys and codes were in the possession of someone other than a sworn police officer.

Dickerson has been chief of the Fenwick Island department for nine years.

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