Chandler questions agenda

A draft document recommending changes to a rarely-used procedure generated disproportional controversy — and a mild rebuke from Main Street resident William Chandler regarding town council’s handling of the matter — at the July 25 Dagsboro town council meeting.

Chandler’s draft policy covered the way in which the town issues certificates of compliance.

These certificates are little more than checklists. Whenever a local businessperson decides to go for a liquor license, a town official must first confirm that the establishment meets all applicable zoning codes, that the proprietor indeed has a license to conduct business in the town and doesn’t owe back taxes, etc.

Mayor S. Bradley Connor, or the mayor’s official designee, then reviews and signs the certificate of compliance and hands it to Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) Commissioner John Cordrey.

Residents from the immediate vicinity are given an opportunity to request a hearing, at which Cordrey can weigh arguments in opposition against the applicant’s legal rights. Then he issues the liquor license, or doesn’t.

Except, several months ago, he received a certificate of compliance for a Dagsboro establishment so “highly unorthodox,” as Chandler described it, that Cordrey was forced to terminate the process, denying the liquor license in the process.

That certificate of compliance appeared as a note, handwritten on a take-away menu from the establishment in question — in this case, Crabby Bill’s (Main Street). Connor was out of town, but he’d apparently given Council Member Clay Hall permission to sign off on the certificate. However, the paper trail was somewhat muddled.

In addition, according to Chandler, Hall should have distanced himself from the process, as the former owner of the Crabby Bill’s property.

With that as background, Chandler drafted a new policy and procedure for town issuance of certificates of compliance.

He requested it be included on the May council meeting agenda, but Council Member Jamie Kollock later asked him if they could postpone it until June.

Chandler said he’d agreed to delay and appeared at the June meeting ready to discuss the draft document. However, he learned that council had already made a decision to stick with the certificate of compliance policy already in place. (Other than the most recent incident, there’d never been a problem.)

Chandler said he’d been puzzled: When had council discussed the matter? He’d attended the May meeting and didn’t remember hearing anything. He went to town hall to review the minutes but found nothing.

Then he requested the minutes from the executive, “behind closed doors” session, where council typically discusses things like personnel contracts (protecting the employee’s privacy), legal matters and real estate purchases (maintaining the town’s edge in negotiations).

The town did release those minutes, and Chandler said he’d found the certificate of compliance issue within those discussions (as well as several other items he felt would have been more appropriately discussed in a public meeting).

As Kollock interjected, he’d left the May meeting the same time Chandler had (8:20 p.m.), didn’t know what was going to be discussed in executive session that night and wanted to clarify that he’d moved Chandler onto the June agenda for no reason other than the fact that the May agenda had been full.

Chandler received a cool reception at the June meeting, especially regarding certain elements in the draft policy calling for an additional public hearing as prelude to the issuance of a certificate of compliance.

As Hall argued at that time, the public already had an opportunity to weigh in before the ABCC. However, Council Member Kurt Czapp agreed to work with Chandler toward a compromise policy and procedure.

But on the July agenda, “Confirm and ratify the procedures that were taken for the compliance letter issued to Crabby Bill’s Restaurant” appeared near the top of the Old Business list.

“Consideration of request from Wm. Chandler to amend Zoning Code to obtain a ‘certificate of compliance’ for restaurants” appeared 10 items later, near the bottom of the list.

The surrounding circumstances perhaps lent political significance to this ordering.

At any rate, eight hours before the meeting, Town Clerk Stacey Long did move Chandler’s draft policy closer to the top of the list, ahead of any confirmation and ratification of the status quo.

And council gave him an opportunity to air his grievances on July 25.

Chandler said he wasn’t angry at council members, but he did feel a little betrayed — like they’d gone behind his back. He suspected any discussions about the draft policy were fated to fall on deaf ears.

However, despite everything that had come before, council members protested they did, in fact, want to work with him. Chandler asked whether they had come to a decision: Should Hall recuse himself from further involvement in Crabby Bill’s application for a liquor license?

Hall agreed to do so, and Chandler returned to his seat.