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January 16, 1998     Cape Gazette
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January 16, 1998

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'1'1) - E'GAZETFE,-l+Haa,ff'l'6--Jh'L+',7/''2,"199  Sussex councilmen continue to spar over ethics issue By Michael Short After another round of debate this week, the Sussex County Council will not adopt an ethics code. The debate surfaced last week when County Councilman George Cole said that the businesses of two councilmen, Dale Dukes and Lynn Rogers, do business with the county. He argued that that gives the appearance of a conflict of in- terest and said it just isn't appro- priate. Both Dukes and Rogers have said they don't care if they never make another thin dime from Sussex County. The debate flared up again on Tuesday, Jan. 13, although with less passion. At the end of another long debate, county council decid- ed not to adopt a code. Instead, the county will simply follow the existing state code of ethics. That code states that county em- ployees shall not make more than $2,000 per year in business with the county. Purchases of more than $10,000 must go to public bid. Sussex County was not aware of the first provision, although the county did follow the bidding re- quirement. Although the county employees can make $2,000, the county has decided to not allow any purchases. County Finance Director David Baker said the county has decided that it will conservatively interpret state code to make sure Sussex County is complying with that code. When a monitoring system has been established, the county may raise the limit to $2,000. But there is also an exception to the $2,000 limit. Dennis Schrader, assistant county attorney, said that that limit does not apply to "arms length" negotiations. The cotlncil struggled with that concept. But Schrader said an "arms length" negotiation is one in which neither party has an un- fair advantage. It is as if the two parties met on the street and de- cided to conduct business, he said. For example, it is considered an "arms length" negotiation if the county makes a purchase from a county employee if the material is not available elsewhere or if it can be purchased more cheaply from the employee's company. - For example, the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) bought a special left-hand lock from Dukes Lumber. The lock was not available at other companies and Dukes had to call the manufacturer and have the product made especially for the EOC. "You almost need to be like my wife. Read the ads and buy where it is cheapest," Schrader said. In 1997, the county did $6,256 worth of business with Dukes Lumber and $31,817 with Rogers Signs. Both men said the county business is only a fraction of their business. Both also said that they did business with the county long before they were elected (much of the 1997 spending at Rogers Signs was contracted before Rogers was elected to council). Schrader was asked point blank if he thought the county intention- ally violated the state code. Schrader characterized the coun- Sussex attorney says councilmen must be allowed to vote on issues By Michael Short Sussex County Council re- adopted its code of conduct on Tuesday, Jan. 13, with only a smattering of cosmetic changes. At issue was whether or not a Sus- sex County Councilman could vote if they had neither attended a public hearing nor listened to the tape recording of that public hear- ing. The issue first surfaced two weeks ago. County Attorney Eu- gene Bayard said that you cannot stop a county councilman from voting, although he cautioned that you should probably not vote if you aren't familiar with the appli- cation. County Councilman George Cole set off a small tem- pest of protest when he said he would vote on a rezoning applica- tion two weeks ago when he had not attended the meeting. County Council president Dale Dukes said that would not be ap- propriate and that it would set the stage for potential legal action. Cole countered that he was famil- iar with the area and could not be denied the right to vote. He even- tually did not vote on the applica- tion. County council sessions have been testy ever since. Bayard said that county council- men have to be allowed to vote. County Councilman Finley Jones then asked why public hear- ings should be held if council members don't have to listen to them. Councilman Lynn Rogers said that although a councilman could vote, it would mean 'the county has a weak defense if challenged. "It is not my idea of a day at the beach," Bayard replied. Dukes asked that the official conduct of council members be read aloud, a reference to the oc- casionally heated give-and-take between council members. "I am not pointing fingers," he said. "I am as guilty of this as anyone." That session of the code reads that "when a member of county council desires to speak, that member shall address the presid- ing officer arid shall not proceed until recognized and granted the privilege of the floor. The presid- ing officer shall recognize the member of county council who is the first to address the presiding officer. No member of county Continued on page 13 ty's actions as sloppy, but said that he "found nothing to make me believe there was any inten- tional violation." Dukes said that since last week, the county bought an item at a similar store for $4.32 more than he stocked it for. Whilea small amount, he worried that the policy might cost Sussex taxpayers more in the long run. That prompted Cole to say that officials "have to make the sacri- fice or not get involved with coun- ty government." "I can't be bought," Dukes said. Rogers said that the county offi- cials don't need more govern- ment. Instead, they need to vote their conscience, he said. "When I came to this position I asked these questions," Rogers said. "I have no skeletons in my closet. I came here to represent the people." Councilman Finley Jones, speaking after the meeting, said that his constituents have told him they can't believe that county council doesn't have something more important to do with its time. Schrader's advice to the council was to ask themselves if they had potential conflicts of interest. If they aren't sure, then they should probably consider it a conflict. While attention has focused on county council, the most direct impact on the county will be its decision to stop doing business with Charles Rogers. Rogers is the Register of Wills, one of several row offices in Sussex County. He also runs Rogers Graphics and his printing business supplies envelopes, letterhead and other supplies to Sussex County. In the last three years he has done $17,000, $18,000 and most re- cently $26,000 worth of business with Sussex County. Baker said that the county is currently shopping around to find printing suppliers, but said that some of that business will proba- bly have to be done out of Sussex County. "It's not a gigantic percentage, but it impacts my business and my employees," Rogers said. Rogers called himself one "of the largest victims" of the debate. He noted that he can make no pol- icy, unlike members of Sussex County Council. And he added that the Register of Wills office does not buy any printing mated- als from his company, because it might not be appropriate. This is his third year in office, but he has done business with the county for 25 years. "Long before I become involved in coun.ty poli- tics, I was doing printing [for them]," he said. At County Bank We're C0mm00ty People You live, work and play here, so why not save here, too? Now's a great time to take advantage of our Sizzling Hot 6 .month term CD at 5.83% A.P.Y. with a minimum deposit of $5oo. 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