South Bethany to consider releasing police reports

In 2017, the Town of South Bethany paid thousands of dollars to have its police department and employment policies evaluated. The reports prompted the town council to change policies, police rankings and even the town charter.

Now, in 2018, the police chief and town manager will finally get to see the results of those studies.

The town council voted unanimously to give redacted copies of the Dr. Gregory A. Warren report and the Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM) report to Police Chief Troy Crowson and Town Manager Maueen Hartman.

Although Crowson and Hartman have said they’d prefer to see the whole report, they’ll get the redacted version for now.

Because the June 2017 letter from some of the Town’s police officers, alleging they had not been properly paid or promoted and demanding corrective action on the Town’s part, is still floating around, council members said, the town council will evaluate which sections of the reports to leave redacted based on their attorney’s advice.

In May, they will review a “highlighted” copy of the redactions, deciding whether to give more information to the managers or, eventually, the public.

“Anything that has to do with attorneys, communication with attorneys — I’m not interested in,” Crowson said, “just the actual study. … I’m just only interested in the data that was derived from those studies.”

The town council had requested the CPSM study be submitted to South Bethany’s employment attorney, rather than to them, so the document could be kept private under attorney-client privilege. That, they said, is because the reviews started before, but continued after, they received the police demand letter from June 2017.

“We have never resolved the situation with the police demand letter. … Legally, we’re still sitting here with that over us,” Mayor Pro-Tem Tim Shaw said.

Indeed, the council rejected the complaints made by six fulltime police officers (excluding the chief) regarding holiday pay, promotions and pension issues. The officers never followed up with official legal action.

Both of the letters are already available to the public. People can request to see the documents by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to Town Hall.

Prior to the letters being submitted to the council, both reports had already been started. Crowson and the council had wanted to clean up an employee handbook that was sometimes at odds with itself, due to years of writing and rewriting laws and policies.

However, the reports and attorney’s notes were partly clouded by the demand letter, especially because the CPSM report was delivered to town council through the attorney.

There are also some potentially private or embarrassing details in the reports. But, the council said, the police chief and town manager are professionals who deal with confidential employment matters on a regular basis.

“We just did have a request about two months ago from a constituent to release the report,” which was rejected, Councilman Timothy Saxton said. “Troy has asked us repeatedly to be able to see the report because it helps him with managing his staff. … I think we need, to at this point, honor Troy’s request to see it. I do believe it will help them.”

Additionally, seeing the reports may help the management understand why the town council decided to take certain actions.

“We didn’t take every recommendation that CPSM made by any means. So, you can look at the whole report and obviously see what changes we didn’t make,” said Councilwoman Carol Stevenson.

“I think it’s time for closure,” said Councilwoman Sue Callaway, who supported immediately releasing the report to Crowson and Hartman. She emphasized the value of having clarity so the chief and manager can pick areas of improvement from the report while rewriting the Standard Operating Procedures. “That’s what you do when a consultant does something. You pick and choose” how to use it.

The town council has already viewed the full reports and voted months ago on policy changes.

Councilman Don Boteler agreed that working under attorney-client privilege allowed the elected officials to work privately, “but I think we signaled an intention to share once the dust had settled.”

Discussion will likely continue May 11, during an executive session.

Even after the managers read the redacted report, and if they’re given an un-redacted report, and if town council makes the report open to the public, the documents still won’t be posted on a bulletin board or online.

“You have to request it” via Freedom of Information Act paperwork at Town Hall, Councilman Frank Weisgerber said.

“And at this time, no one in the public can submit a FOIA report and get it,” Hartman said.

Both Crowson and Hartman said they are ready to move forward together, as they’ve accepted contract renewals for another two years of service.

“I am pleased … our Town is well-served with these dedicated professionals at the helm of operations,” Mayor Pat Voveris wrote.

(Maintenance Supervisor Don Chrobot, however, will be retiring in August.)

Town waiting on approval of charter changes

The Delaware State Legislature is deliberating the proposed amendment to South Bethany’s town charter. Although it passed the Senate, the House added a clarifying amendment, which the Senate must consider.

Primarily, the charter change would specify that all departments, including the Police Department, report directly to the town manager regarding administrative, personnel and financial decisions. (However, the police chief will still be in charge of law enforcement-related policies and matters for police officers, although he’ll keep the town manager informed on those also.)

Further housekeeping changes outline the town manager’s responsibilities for the police department; eliminate the need to use an ordinance to appoint a town manager; and eliminate the organizational details of the beach patrol.

The changes are already in place, but staff are awaiting formal process of the charter change, expected this summer.

Meanwhile, the town’s police station may be getting renovations soon. Bids are scheduled to be opened on May 7, and the town council will review them at the May 11 meeting.

This is the second time South Bethany is accepting bids for the proposed renovation, although officials said they hope the amended plans will produce lower bids than the first round.

The goal is to redesign the floorplan and reduce some major liabilities in the building. By changing a few rooms and walls around, Crowson hopes to improve safety of staff, visitors and detainees; personal privacy; weapons safety; evidence security; and escape prevention.

And with two vacancies on the police force, town leaders are interviewing to fill one position, but leave the other empty, which returns the SBPD to staffing levels of just a few years ago.

The council has also agreed to take the fulltime dispatcher position back to part-time. Crowson requested that as he prepares to train a new dispatcher and said he would like more flexibility before making it a permanent position with benefits.

The individual would also work as a weekday administrative assistant from late morning to early afternoon. Beyond that, telephone calls would be forwarded to the duty officer’s cell phone. Most Sussex County 911 calls are already dispatched through SUSCOM in Georgetown.