Frankford discusses external audit, town vacancies

The Frankford Town Council held its regular monthly meeting on Monday, Sept. 14, at which point Councilman Marty Presley stated that he would be submitting a formal request on behalf of the Town, to the State of Delaware’s Audit Committee, to have the Town’s financial books completely audited.

“If they agree to accept our request — they say they’re running behind, three to four to five months before it’s completed,” he said. “If they deny our request, we have to get their permission to basically get an outside firm to come in… The first step is to get them involved and see what they say.”

Presley said he was uncomfortable giving any financial reports until the Town has been audited by the State.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to give any kind of update on the financials right now, because I have no clue what it looks like,” he said. “I think we need to get somebody in here from the State.”

Property owner Kathy Murray said that, if an audit is getting ready to be requested, she had questions regarding the reconciliation of the Town’s Sinking Fund.

“There are $6 every two months for each household that has water hookup. It was my understanding over the course of the last couple of months there was not enough money to cover the water tower maintenance,” said Murray.

“That’s what probed my question of the $6 every two months, times the almost 350 households, times 13 years, would have exceeded $113,000. Yet, when we get the report of the balance of the water fund, if memory serves me well, is somewhere between $11,000 and $15,000.

“My question is, what happened to the $100,000, because I had also been told that was a restricted account,” she said, requesting a reconciliation of the sinking fund going back 13 years.

At a recent monthly council meeting, the council had created a committee to discuss the possibility of hiring a town manager to oversee daily activities.

“Going the way we have been going all these years, or do we want to make the suggestion that the town hire a manager or a manager and a clerk,” asked Councilwoman Elizabeth Carpenter. “The council really needs to decide what kind of government we want. You all are the ones that put us here, so that’s a conversation that we need to have — how do you want your government run?”

Carpenter said if the townspeople decide they want to only have a clerk, they would be banking that the town council is always “active and involved.”

Elma Gray said she believed the Town needs both a town clerk and a town manager.

“I, personally, completely agree with you,” said Carpenter. “I think there are things that a town clerk should not be handling.”

She emphasized that the town as a whole needs to work together to decide what they want.

“If we hire a town manager, that means we as a town council is probably going to be handling off authority to that one person… from obtaining grants, approaching Legislative Hall in Dover, making hiring and firing decisions,” she said.

“And, frankly, we all need to stay and be involved. This is not one town owned by one family. I’ve heard of ‘Truittville,’ for example. I can tell you, I take this position very seriously. But in the same breath, I don’t want to be accused of making it Carpenterville in 15 years.”

Presley said there are pros and cons to having a town manager and town clerk versus solely a town clerk.

“You can have a great town manager who basically pays for his salary by going out and getting grants that we normally wouldn’t get… Get a good one, they’ll basically pay for their salary. If you get a bad one, you’re stuck with them for whatever their contract allows. Same can be said for a town clerk.”

Presley also said the Town has to decide how much they are willing to pay, if they choose to hire a town manager.

“Are we prepared to have our property taxes to go up to pay for the $80,000, $90,000 it costs to get a town manager in here? That’s 50 percent of our budget. Are we prepared to do that? There’s a lot of other things to weigh…”

Presley also made note that, to hire a town manager, the Town would first have to change its charter.

“A charter change is not something quick and easy. We’ve got to come up with the changes, have our lawyer look it over, submit it to the legislature, go through the legislative process… It’s a nine-month process if we started on it right now, today.”

Presley said he believed the pragmatic position would be to continue with their current charter for the time being.

With the resignation of former Town Administrator Terry Truitt, a temporary employee, Cheryl Lynch, has been hired to help in town hall.

“She’s been a humongous asset to our team in the last week, working with our CPA,” said Carpenter. “She has, with Tiffany Schrader, answered the phone, pretty much taught herself QuickBooks, has gotten all the accounts-receivable logged into the system… We are very grateful to have her join us.”

The Town is still lacking legal counsel, after Dennis Schrader resigned from the position in March. Although they had previously interviewed two attorneys, at their August council meeting, the majority of the council said they believed one candidate was not a good fit for the Town and had concerns about the other being Councilwoman Joanne Bacon’s employer.

The council had voiced their concerns regarding a potential conflict of interest, particularly with Bacon then serving as council president. They suggested the council reorganize, with Bacon no longer serving as president. Bacon did not step down, and stated she did not see a conflict. Her employer, noting the council’s concern about the appearance of a conflict of interest, then withdrew his name from consideration.

At Monday’s meeting, Bacon said the Town has one candidate to fill the vacancy of town solicitor, and the council plans to interview the attorney next week.

The council also discussed consolidating and creating committees. The health care and employee handbook committee were rolled into the Employee Benefits Committee. A Police/Public Works Committee that will include the water department, maintenance, parks and streets.

Carpenter also proposed this week that a charter committee be formed, consisting of two council members and at least three citizens. A potential committee makeup could include residents Greg Welch, Jerry Smith and Robert Murray, along with council members Presley and Carpenter.

“I think that we would want to make all changes to the charter at one time and submit it in its entirety, instead of making piecemeal by piecemeal, going back to Dover over and over again,” said Carpenter. “I would like to see landowners have voting rights, but that can be proposed by the committee.”

Resident Jason Taylor said, as the formation of the committee was being discussed for the first time, that more citizens should have the opportunity to learn about the committee and have the opportunity to get involved.

“We can do a flier. We can do whatever you guys think would be appropriate,” said Presley, noting it could also be posted at town hall and Frankford’s post office.

“We have to get our website working again,” added Smith.

Nick Evans recommended that the Town create its own Facebook page for people to get updates on Town meetings.

“If we create a Facebook page, it could become a closed Facebook page and only the members you accept would have access to that,” said resident Winnie Spicer to the council.

“Please, even though we have the three [citizen] minimum, if you’ve got three minutes and you know we’re having a meeting, stop in. This is open for everyone to put their opinion in. If you don’t like the final product, you have no one to blame but yourself,” added Presley.

During a meeting break for an executive session, Taylor clarified his concerns.

“More people should be let know what is going to now. Some people in town might not know they can come and be on these committees. It needs to be open.”

During his report to the council at the meeting, Frankford Police Chief Michael Warchol reported that James Joles has officially been hired as the Town’s second police officer.

However, Joles, who started last week, will soon be deployed in the military for six months. Warchol said he is in the process of transferring Joles’ Florida police certification to Delaware before his deployment.

During Joles’ absence, Warchol said, he hopes to hire a part-time person to give the town additional police coverage.

“One of the requirements of the federal grant you got for hiring Nate [Hudson] was that you’d keep a full-time officer for a year after the grant money was disbursed,” explained Warchol. “The year was never completed. You have to have a full-time officer for a full calendar year. In this case, we have James now as a full-time officer, taking up that bandwidth.”

Warchol said he is currently working with Delaware State Police Troop 4 to take over any investigations of crimes that occur within Frankford town limits during the hours the Town does not have police coverage.

“It is my belief that the Town hired me to be its police chief. The police department should be investigating incidents that occur in town.”

He added that he was given an estimate of $12,700 to install a video surveillance system in the town park.

During the meeting, Carpenter asked for an update on the Town’s pension plan.

“The pension plan is basically done,” said Presley. “It’s a matter of signing the Town up for it, and I can do that this week. And then we’ll schedule a meeting with the employees to explain it and how the mechanics of it works.”

Also at the Sept. 14 meeting, the council addressed the fact that the Town’s budget for the 2016 fiscal year must be amended.

“We do need to amend the budget because of the operation transfer — it wasn’t correct on the budget that we approved,” said Bacon. “We do have to, at some point in time, amend our budget.”

“Do we know how that happened? It was just a typographical error. Did it magically make the books balance, or…?” asked Presley.

“Not to my knowledge, Marty. I don’t know. It was an error, obviously, but why? I don’t know,” replied Bacon.

There was no further discussion of a budget amendment at the Monday meeting.

Presley said the Town will contribute 5 percent of pay to a pension plan for all full-time employees.

In other Frankford news, the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company will be hosting a Fall Festival on Oct. 31. A park/tree-lighting ceremony will be held Nov. 28 to kick off Christmas in the Park, which will be held on Wednesdays through the month of December and give area kids the chance to meet Santa before Christmas Eve.

Bacon recommended the Town consider donating to the events to show financial support.

“I think they’re going to be two good events for Frankford,” said Presley, noting the event organizers are still seeking sponsors.

The council also held an executive session that was added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting; however, they failed to meet Freedom of Information Act requirements.

Delaware Code Title 29 § 10001 requires that: “All public bodies shall give public notice of their regular meetings and of their intent to hold an executive session closed to the public, at least 7 days in advance thereof. The notice shall include the agenda…” and requires that the agenda include, “a statement of intent to hold an executive session and the specific ground or grounds therefore…” requiring that “the purpose of such executive sessions shall be set forth in the agenda.”

The executive session, which lasted for more than an hour, did not result in any decisions or votes taken.