Dewey Beach Commissioners Respond to Lawsuit in Town Manager Cas - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Dewey Beach Commissioners Respond to Lawsuit in Town Manager Case

Posted: 07/14/2017 20:42:00 -04:00 Updated:

Dewey Beach, Del. - The Town of Dewey Beach formally acknowledged the case against them and Town Manager Marc Appelbaum, just one day after a lawsuit was filed in Chancery Court.

Ahead of the commissioners' regular monthly meeting, the commissioners went into a private executive session " to hold strategy sessions involving legal advice with respect to potential litigation where an open meeting would have an adverse effect on the Town's litigation position." Once the open meeting began at 6 p.m., the commissioners announced they would vote to suspend public comment for the evening's meeting. 

"The problem with public meetings is where people may might just be stating opinions," said Commissioner Courtney Riordan. "The meeting could devolve into kind of a debacle." 

"I believe that public comment does help our meetings in most cases," added Commissioner Diane Hansen. "But because this meeting relates to personnel and litigation I think it's an appropriate decision." 

The commissioners then voted 4-1 to suspend the public comment, which was met with groans from the audience. Mayor Dale Cook was the sole opposing vote. Shortly after the vote, Mayor Cooke read a statement on behalf of the commissioners (the entirety of which is published at the bottom of this article) addressing the allegations of misconduct, sexual harassment and discrimination against current Town Manager Marc Appelbaum. 

"As a council, we are committed to a thorough and professional investigation into this matter, one that respects the due process rights and the sensitivities of all parties involved," read Cooke. "The residents, property owners and employees deserve no less." 

Cooke read that preliminary information suggests that the town's independent investigation can be complete by the end of August. He said they take all complaints very seriously and will inform the public of the "mechanics of the investigation" once its formalized. He also announced some changes to Appelbaum's duties. 

"With the town manager's support and for the benefit of all parties, until further notice the Assistant Town Manager will serve as the point of contact for any interactions with the police chief, the captain of the beach patrol and the building official" said Cooke. "Council anticipates that a resolution of this matter, given the complexity, will require a period of weeks. Your patience is appreciated."

Cooke then said the council would not be making any more comments because of the newly-filed lawsuit. Town Solicitor Fred Townsend then shared his thoughts on the recent filing, saying Attorney Rick Cross' filing causes the Town of Dewey Beach to retain an outside council which will cost the taxpayers more money. 

"These tactics of his are clearly designed to frustrate the process that the commissioners have elected to engage in," he said. "These tactics are going to cause a considerable amount of delay and a waste of valuable town resources."

Townsend said that Cross advised his clients not to participate in the investigation, but Cross told WBOC afterwards that that's not the case.

Townsend then read a letter from Appelbaum's attorney, acknowledging his absence and take on the matter at hand. 

"Marc Appelbaum is currently out of state attending a wedding. While he's unable to be present this evening he wanted it noted that he's looking forward to and will be cooperating with the investigation being undertaken by the town," he read. "He has confidence that upon conclusion of the investigation, his good name and reputation will be restored as a result of the dismissal of the unwarranted allegations that have been made against him."

The letter then finished with Appelbaum's attorney stating neither he nor Appelbaum will speak to the press so as not to interfere with the investigation. Townsend then addressed claims by the Chancery Court suit that the town violated FOIA by taking a secret vote to retain Max Walton as the lawyer to conduct the independent investigation. Townsend said that simply isn't true.

"I am authorized to perform those services," he said. "We did it in an appropriate manner that is legally defensible."  

After the meeting, Cross told WBOC that Townsend's statement was contrary to statements that Mayor Cooke made to the press and in town emails in the past.

"We are still concerned there's a FOIA violation and that now going forward it's somewhat tainted by that," Cross said.

Townsend said once underway, the full investigation will be provided to the commissioners. The council then voted 4-1 to retain Walton, with Commissioner Courtney Riordan voting no due to the concerns Cross listed in the suit. After the vote, many Dewey Beach residents left the meeting, disappointed and angry. 

"To hire Max Walton is pretty tainted because Max and Marc already have a relationship because Max represented the town," said past mayor Dell Tush. "So it's a bad situation. They need an independent who has no dealings with Dewey Beach. Period."

"The only layers of expense being added is these commissioners not taking action. They could cut all the expense out immediately by doing the appropriate thing," said past mayor Richard Solloway. "I've not heard any of them come out and make a comment about the victims in this case. That bothers me greatly." 

Shortly before the town council meeting, the Chancery Court denied Cross' call for a temporary restraining order in the case, calling for the removal of Townsend from the matter due to an alleged conflict of interest, and the temporary suspension of Marc Appelbaum. Cross said despite the denial, progress was made.

"The case is going to move forward," he said. "[The judge] wants to get a scheduling order so that we can begin discovery and start getting our interviews and depositions."

Cross said his clients will fully participate in the town's independent investigation once Walton identify the terms of the investigation.

The full statement from the town, read by Mayor Dale Cooke during the meeting, is listed below.

"I would like to acknowledge the independent investigation of complaints against the town manager. As a council, we are committed to a thorough and professional investigation into this matter, one that respects the due process rights and the sensitivities of all parties involved. The residents, property owners and employees deserve no less. At the end of the day, the commissioners will likely sit in appeal to protect the integrity of the independent investigation this meeting and those that ensue cannot serve as a platform for debate of the matters under investigation. To do so would be inherently unfair to everyone concerned and would reflect very poorly on the town and the employees that we commissioners are sworn to protect. Later tonight we will have an agenda item regarding the town solicitor's engagement of a law firm Connolly Gallagher....Preliminary indications suggest that the investigation can be complete by the end of August. Your patience and cooperation and understanding is greatly appreciated. The council recognizes that the personnel complaint submitted on June 16th is serious and warrants thorough and independent investigation, and that includes every complaint that's been made so far. Once formalized, the mechanics of the investigation will be made public. The council is firmly committed to a process that is full and fair to the complainants and to the subject of the accusations. With the town manager's support and for the benefit of all parties, until further notice the Assistant Town Manager will serve as the point of contact for any interactions with the police chief, the captain of the beach patrol and the building official. Council anticipates that a resolution of this matter given the complexity will require a period of weeks. Your patience is appreciated while the Town Hall continues to meet the demands of approaching busy summer season.

 

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