Hanson unseated after a decade as commissioner

Dewey Beach Mayor Dale Cooke will keep his commissioner’s seat and be joined by two newcomers, T.J. Redefer and Paul Bauer, on the town council.

Three seats were up for election on Saturday, Sept. 16, including those of Cooke, Diane Hanson and Mike Dunmeyer. Dunmeyer opted not to run for reelection, while Hanson, who ties with Brooks Banta for the longest serving commissioner in Dewey Beach history, was unseated.

In an election in which more than half of 1,895 votes were absentee, Redefer, a full-time Dewey Beach resident, was the top vote-getter with 417 votes. He was followed by Bauer, who garnered 411, and Cooke, who garnered 399. Hanson earned 359 votes, while another newcomer, Jill Compello, earned 309.

The months leading up to the election in Dewey Beach were tense.

In June, twelve town employees, including Dewey Beach Police Chief Sam Mackert and Sgt. Cliff Dempsey, Dewey Beach Patrol Captain Todd Fritchman and Dewey Beach Building Inspector William Mears, demanded Town Manager Marc Appelbaum’s “immediate and permanent removal.” They submitted a signed letter to the town council listing complaints that included sexual harassment and racism.

Since that letter was delivered, six more complaints have been filed.

Much to the disappointment of the complainants, the commissioners opted not to suspend Appelbaum while the allegations were investigated by Wilmington attorney Max Walton.

Walton submitted his preliminary report to the commissioners just days before the election, and found that the original complaints were made, in part, in retaliation for inquiries Appelbaum had made into police department operations, and that several of the complaints were “inflated” or without merit.

There are two outside factors that may or may not have played a part in motivating the complaints against Appelbaum.

In April of this year, DBPD Sgt. Dempsey’s gun was stolen out of his vehicle in Millsboro. It has not been recovered. A few days before the complaints were submitted, Appelbaum informed the department that an outside consultant would be reviewing police policies.

In addition, Walton found that the original complaints were authored by Dewey businessman Alex Pires, who is also an attorney. Pires has unsuccessfully sued the town in the past, leading some to believe he had ulterior motives in authoring the letter and leading the commissioners to issue a statement questioning his involvement.

Walton also reported that it was likely Appelbaum had committed some egregious acts, including rubbing his bare foot on the leg of an employee and using the phrase “the brown people.” He also noted Appelbaum’s unprofessional decorum in the office, such as wearing pajama pants, not wearing shoes and using curse words.

Walton did not recommend firing Appelbaum. Instead, he recommended “formal reprimands” and “anti-harassment, anti-discrimination and effective interpersonal communications” training, and that the town expeditiously update its human resources practices.

 Both Redefer and Bauer said they looked forward to tackling the issue.

“The most important thing is we get up to speed quickly. That report was just preliminary; the commissioners had a three hour meeting where I’m sure they learned a lot more. We look forward to getting on the ground running and making decisive decisions,” Redefer said. “It’s not just Appelbaum as a person that’s the problem. I think we need to get our human resources [department] together from top to bottom. Clearly, there’s been a huge HR problem for some time.”