The news reporters attending the Dewey Beach Civic League’s annual candidates’ forum Saturday night put down their pens, stopped taking notes, walked out frequently for a smoke, and some even left early. The story this campaign season has already been written. It is not about nuisance bars, pedestrian safety, flooding fears, the building height restrictions, or even the CDP. Regardless of how well Dewey’s image has improved under the current commissioners, this election is a referendum on the embattled town manager, Marc Appelbaum, and the town commissioners who support what they say is an important investigative process, while the newcomers are prepared to oust him or at least place him on immediate suspension.
The forum, hosted at the Dewey Beach Lions Club, was attended by about 80 property owners and was thoughtfully catered once again by Steve “Monty” Montgomery of The Starboard.
Even many of the critics agree that under Mayor Dale H. Cooke and Comm. Diane Hanson, who served as the previous mayor, the town’s image has been consistently improving. “We have had a long record of steady improvements and we would like to continue that progress,” Comm. Hanson stated. “I believe that people, some, not all, are upset about the situation with the town manager. But they have to trust us… that we are doing the right thing… that everyone is innocent until proven guilty… that they have a right to due process and that we will be through that process soon and we will have more information in about a week or two.”
Sitting beside Comm. Hanson was Mayor Cooke. “I want people to know most that I am an honest person and I am doing what’s right for Dewey,” Mayor Cooke stated. “I get paid nothing for doing this job, and I am doing it because I like Dewey Beach… The people who actually take the time and understand the situation know that we can only say so much. The other people can say anything they want and accuse us of anything they want and we can’t come back with anything because we’re limited because of the possibility of lawsuits and because of the rights of the employees and we are trying to protect all the employees’ rights and they’re using it as a wedge item for the election… We’re going to protect all the employees’ rights whether it gets me votes or causes me to lose the election, whichever way it goes… The employees are the most important thing,” Mayor Cooke added.
Comm. Hanson and Mayor Cooke are battling the three newcomers for the three commissioner seats up for grabs. The winners will decide the fate of the town manager. Jill Compello, Paul Bauer and T.J. John E. Redefer III, shown below, are anxious to take the Dewey bull by its horns and place Appelbaum on immediate suspension.
“There is only one thing we need to fix,” Bauer says, “and we got to figure out what we are going to do with our town manager to get this ship righted. That is the main problem we have been having. There are other things we can work on, but that’s the main one.”
Although they sounded similar, Redefer describes the three of them as “independent candidates, but will work together in an effort to hit the reset button.” Each candidate plans their individual campaign signs, but they will also have a few that feature all three names as well. “We will also be saving money by sending our individual fliers out together,” Redefer said. “If I am elected,” he added, “we will immediately take action to correct this human resources spectacle that is going on right now.”
“I represent change for Dewey Beach,” Compello states. “I want to see things change here. I think that there are a lot of great people here… The Town of Dewey is amazing. I don’t want Dewey to change. I want the way that government is taking care of business to change… I think he [Appelbaum] needs to be suspended with pay and that needs to happen immediately because if not, his contract is going to rollover, and we are going to have him for two more years… I think that Paul and TJ are with me and my feelings about change and a change of leadership is needed in Dewey Beach.”
This past week, Richard Cross, the attorney representing the town’s employees who lodged the complaint against the town manager, accused employees in town hall of shredding documents pertinent to the investigation. See Chris Flood’s Cape Gazette article for details. But Comm. Hanson said nothing relevant to the investigation was shredded and that “Cross accuses us of something daily just to keep the press involved and make town hall look bad.”
Comm. Hanson is so far the only candidate to be hosting a public event. She is once again inviting Dewey Beach property owners to a reception at her home to meet her and Mayor Cooke next Sunday, September 3, at 5 Van Dyke Avenue between 4 and 7 p.m. Please RSVP via e-mail.