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Concerns Over Town of Dewey Beach's Independent Investigation into Town Manager Claims

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Dewey Beach Town Hall (Photo: WBOC) Dewey Beach Town Hall (Photo: WBOC)

DEWEY BEACH, Del. - Days after the Town of Dewey Beach's commissioners announced they appointed attorney Max Walton to conduct an independent investigation into claims against their town manager, the independence of that investigation has been called into question.

Attorney Rick Cross--who represents the 18 complainants and plaintiffs in the Chancery Court Lawsuit against the town and Town Manager Marc Appelbaum--says emails from 2009 show Walton and Appelbaum had a prior working relationship. The emails are between Appelbaum and past town officials and refer to separate litigation where Walton was involved. Appelbaum calls Walton "terrific" refers to himself as the "point person" for town litigation.

"Please let Max know how much I respect and appreciate all he is doing to help the Town out in these difficult time [sic]." 

Cross says the emails raised a red flag. 

"We're concerned that the employees aren't gonna get a fair shake in this--that [the town is] essentially stacking the deck with an investigator who already has a prior working relationship with Mr. Appelbaum and it's going to taint the investigation," Cross tells WBOC. "It's going to give the appearance of due process." 

Cross says he wrote to Dewey Town Solictor Fred Townsend expressing his concerns and to Mr. Walton asking him to recuse himself. Walton, meanwhile, tells WBOC he is fully capable of doing the investigation. 

"Around 2009, I represented a certain individual and one of the town boards in a pair of cases relating to the Town of Dewey Beach.  That ended several years ago," Walton told WBOC in a phone interview. "My prior representation of that board and the individual defendant in that case--none of which were Mr Appelbaum or any of the complainants--does not in any way limit my firm's ability to conduct the interviews, or represent unbiased review of the complaints made against the current town manager."

Cross says if Walton does not recuse himself they will take legal steps to call for his removal.

"If [the town is] trying to have an independent investigation, find a lawyer that has not previously done work for Mr. Appelbaum," Cross says.

Calls to Dewey Beach Mayor Dale Cooke and Town Solicitor Fred Townsend were not returned. At last week's town council meeting, Cooke said the council would not make comments to the press pending litigation, and Townsend read a letter from Appelbaum's lawyer stating Appelbaum and his council will not be speaking about this matter either.

Additionally, on Wednesday Cross sent a letter to Walton alleging that Appelbaum met with town employees who Walton was set to interview, and that Appelbaum had closed door meetings with members of town government.

"I have no reason to believe that you were aware of Mr. Appelbaum’s meetings, but the fact that it took place further taints the investigation," Cross writes. "Mr. Appelbaum should be separated from everyone and anyone who you intend to interview until the investigation is complete as well as the town council. If he needs to meet with people in the course of his job, he should not do so in closed door session."


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