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June 20, 2017     Cape Gazette
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2 TUESDAY, JUNE 20 - THURSDAY, JUNE 22, 2017 NEWS Cape Gazette By Melissa Steele melissasteele@capegazette.com In the wake of an audit of Sussex Tech- nical School District, top administrators with the district have been put on paid leave. Sussex Tech school board President Pat Cooper would not comment on which ad- ministrators were affected by the decision. A statement released by the district states Sussex Tech High School Principal John Demby and Assistant Principal John Sell are running the day-to-day operations of the district. “The board of education voted on June 12, 2017, to place senior administrators on adminstrative leave with pay pending the outcome of an investigation into matters raised in the Auditor of Accounts' report issued June 9, 2017,” the statement reads. “No further details will be provided in order to protect the privacy of personnel.” Superintendent A.J. Lathbury could not be reached for comment. In the June audit, the Auditor’s Office reviewed nearly $4 million in expendi- tures paid to Common Sense Solutions LLC of Laurel from 2011 through 2016, uncovering an overall lack of documenta- tion for invoices, numerous state budget and accounting violations, avoidance of fair procurement processes, and conflicts of interest. The Auditor’s Office identi- fied 105 payment vouchers totaling more than $900,000 that appeared to have been managed so as to stay below thresholds that require purchase orders and competi- tive bidding. Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner initiated the audit following an anonymous phone call in 2014. Before the latest audit was released, Cooper said Sussex Technical School Dis- trict would no longer use the services of CSS, owned by Michael Horsey of Laurel. Horsey was also the center of a previous audit released in December 2016 that questioned construction contracts and payments. “That was planned,” he said. “They're done.” Horsey could not be reached for com- ment. On June 9, Sussex Tech School District issued a statement saying its contract with CSS will end June 30. “There are no further plans to utilize CSS's [construction management] servic- es beyond that point,” the district stated. The audit states CSS was initially hired to perform contract management services that totaled more than $1.8 million, but the audit found CSS was paid more than $2 million more for additional construction- related services – with many expenditures made without proper review and approv- als. In addition, it states, former Director of Facilities Terry Little, who retired from Sussex Tech in 2015, was subsequently employed by CSS as project coordinator and liaison for Sussex Tech projects. The audit states the projects were the same contracts Little awarded to CSS and man- aged when employed by Sussex Tech. The report found Sussex Tech school board failed to enforce fiscal policies and procedures and that many expenditures had not been properly scrutinized. The report states the school board trusted Sussex Tech administrators to make deci- sions on construction projects without the board's involvement, creating a lack of accountability. The auditor’s report found these prac- tices and violations were still occurring as of June 9, and CSS continues to gain contracts from Sussex Tech. The latest audit comes about six months after a school construction audit raised similar concerns about CSS. The De- cember 2016 audit said the board never approved about $68,000 to Common Sense Solutions to renovate a shop and make improvements to storm drains. The audit also noted there were 23 change orders in fiscal year 2016 total- ing more than $180,000 that were not approved by the school board. The au- dit states Tech's policy is in violation of Delaware Department of Education School Construction Technical Assistance Manual policies, which say a school board must approve and document changes to construction projects and then submit written approval to the Department of Education. Cooper said the school board corrected the approval process in early 2017. Horsey was also at the table in 2013 when Sussex Tech School District at- tended a Preliminary Land Use Service meeting in Dover. At the meeting with PLUS officials, he discussed four parcels of land the district was considering to buy in order to construct a new high school. In a statement posted on the Sussex Tech website, district officials said shrink- ing staff has been an issue with operating the district. “Decreases in personnel over the years have led to many individuals wearing various hats and/or splitting job duties. This has presented challenges as all were learning and continue to learn their role and responsibilities. “Sussex Technical School District will continue to do the best job possible while serving our community.”   Sussex Tech places top administrators on leave Fallout from June audit continues FILE PHOTO TOP ADMINISTRATORS have been put on paid leave at Sussex Tech School District. statement, “Last Friday the Com- missioners of the town of Dewey Beach received a complaint that contained serious allegations of misconduct on the part of a town employee.  In response, the Town will promptly and  thoroughly investigate the matter and make its findings known when it is rea- sonable and responsible to do so. Time is required to compile the details that the complaint lacks in many instances.  The town will not rush to judgment.  The sen- sitivities of all parties involved will be an utmost consideration.” Calls to con- firm whether Appelbaum remains in charge were referred to t o w n a t - torney Fred Townsend, who could not be reached by presstime. Hanson said Mayor Dale Cooke, who is on vacation and the com- missioners will meet in executive session on the letter Tuesday, June 20. After being sent a copy of the letter hand-delivered June 16 to the Cape Gazette, Appelbaum said he was deciding whether to read it. “In the meantime, I’m going to take a walk on the beach with my wife and do my thing,” he said. Richard Cross, attorney for the employees who wrote the letter, said June 19 he hopes the town commissioners respond ap- propriately to the letter. He said the town should suspend Appel- baum pending an investigation. Cross said the commissioners have been aware of prior com- plaints about Appelbaum. “They have a duty to deal with this and not just bury their heads in the sand,” he said. The letter ends by telling the mayor and commissioners that if they ignore the complaints, they have exposed themselves individually, and the town as a whole, to legal liability because of Appelbaum’s actions. “If the mayor and commis- sioners do not take immediate action to remove Mr. Appelbaum and put an end to the toxic and abusive work environment de- tailed above, we, the undersigned employees, intend to seek legal relief in court,” the letter reads. “The eyewitnesses to the acts described below are prepared to testify under oath, and in court, as to the facts detailed.” Regarding legal action, Cross said that would be an option if the commissioners fail to take action but, “We’re not there yet.” “We’re confident the mayor and commissioners will take ap- propriate action,” he said. Sgt. Cliff Dempsey, the police department’s public informa- tion officer, confirmed that he was one of the 12 employees who signed the letter and that the letter is from the employees. He declined to comment any further, instead saying he would pass along the comment request to Cross. A letter to the mayor and commissioners signed, among others, by former Mayor Dell Tush, former budget and finance committee member Dave Davis and former Commissioner Joy Howell, called for an immediate investigation by outside inves- tigators. The letter also asks for Applebaum to be suspended from his duties. “If these allegations are true, Mr. Appelbaum’s conduct has been disgraceful and perhaps even illegal. He has put the Town at great risk both in terms of legal liability and reputation. He has been cruel and unprofessional to the employees. If you ignore this situation, you may also create the risk of personal liability for you as members of the governing body that has been made aware of the potential for serious, per- haps criminal, misconduct,” the letter says. Accusations against town manager In a document full of salacious accusations, the first one sets the tone. It reads, “Mr. Appelbaum wears pajama bottoms into the office, often without underwear, intentionally making the outline of his penis visible to female employees.” That’s one of nine complaints dealing with various levels of sexual harassment. Another ac- cuses Appelbaum of not paying his female employees equally, but rather, the letter says, he rewards and pays fairly only those women who submit to him. The letter then moves onto abusive conduct. It says after town commissioners vote to approve the budget for the next year, Appelbaum makes significant changes as a means of controlling and punishing employees. The letter accuses Appelbaum of actively obstruct- ing town employees from doing their jobs. The letter further accuses Appelbaum of interfering with police officers by directing them to take selective enforcement actions against individuals and businesses. It also says Appel- baum attempted to force Mackert out when the chief was home last summer recovering from a heart attack. The letter also accuses Appelbaum of interfering with the Dewey Beach Patrol. Most recently, the letter says during Memorial Day weekend, Fritch- man scheduled 31 lifeguards to work, but Applebaum reduced the number to 8. “Mr. Appelbaum’s decisions are made without regard to the safety standards applicable to open water lifeguarding,” it says. The letter also accuses Ap- pelbaum of using the town’s permitting process as a weapon to punish his enemies. It says Appelbaum has forced Mears to change the building code in order to deny applications. The letter also accuses Ap- pelbaum of using permitting fees, that are supposed to be earmarked for Mears’ office, for other purposes. Mayor Dale Cooke said June 16 that he was unaware of the letter or complaints contained in the letter. Town attorney Fred Townsend has not responded to request for comment. Dewey Continued from page 1 Marc Appelbaum Read the original complaint letter: capegazette.com »