Delaware declines group’s donation of 4,600 masks, latest step in bizarre feud

Blaine Hackett, pastor of St. John African Methodist Church in Newark, holds several face masks donated by Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware. Delaware refused a donation from the group. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Delaware turned down an offer of several thousand masks from a private organization earlier this spring, believing the offer was not made in “good faith,” according to Gov. John Carney.

Asked during a news conference Tuesday about an attempted donation of 4,600 protective masks from Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware, the governor acknowledged the state refused the supplies. The masks would have gone to the Department of Correction.

“They wanted to tell the commissioner and the department how to use masks and for whom to give those masks, and frankly, the organization in my view has an ax to grind here because of a result that they didn’t get in our courts here and has made it a practice to attack our state,” Gov. Carney said. “We’ve worked with lots of organizations that have donated masks.”

Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware has angered plenty of state politicians and attorneys over the past few years with its frequent disapproval of the Delaware courts.

A 2015 Chancery Court ruling that was upheld in 2017 forced the constantly bickering owners of the translation services company TransPerfect to sell the business, angering co-owner Phil Shawe.

Legislation to prevent the sale went nowhere in the General Assembly.

In the wake of the 2015 ruling, Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware was formed. The group says it is composed “of more than 5,000 members including employees of the global translation services company TransPerfect, as well as concerned Delaware residents, business executives and others” intent on saving the business and bringing more transparency to the state’s courts.

In response to the governor’s comments, organization campaign manager Chris Coffey in a statement blasted the state:

“We are offended by Gov. Carney’s attempts to smear our efforts to donate thousands of masks to vulnerable inmates in Delaware’s correctional facilities. If by telling Commissioner DeMatteis what to do with masks, Governor Carney meant we asked they be given directly to inmates, then yes, the 4,600 masks we offered were offered based on that one condition. But that’s not the issue here.

“The issue is that Delaware’s government was picking and choosing organizations to take protective equipment from in the middle of a deadly pandemic that disproportionately affects vulnerable communities, especially inmates and people of color. It’s despicable that instead of accepting our direct offer of help, Commissioner DeMatteis and Gov. Carney chose to play politics and risk the lives of thousands of Delawareans.

“Even worse, now they’re trying to change the narrative and claim the offer wasn’t made ‘in good faith.’ How is a direct offer to provide the entire DOC inmate population with masks, with no compensation expected or strings attached, an offer made in bad faith?

“In fact, at the time the DOC turned down the masks, we had already given away 10,000 masks to community groups including Westside Family Healthcare, Sunday Breakfast Mission, and the Food Bank of Delaware. Even after the DOC took back their acceptance of our offer, we worked with Reverend Blaine Hackett of St. John Africa Methodist Church to distribute the masks because our group, unlike the DOC, refused to let them go to waste.

“The only person playing politics here is the governor, which is no surprise given his own DOC did the same thing at the expense of the inmates at Vaughn Correctional Facility, many of whom have written us asking for aid. While it’s mind-boggling that Gov. Carney is doubling down on a decision that made vulnerable Delawareans less safe during a deadly pandemic, it’s good to know he prioritizes politics over people’s lives.”

Emails shared by the group show an offer to donate 4,600 face coverings on April 29 was initially accepted by the agency. That was rescinded later that day, however, with a spokesman for the Department of Correction writing the agency had adequate supplies and encouraging the organization to provide the masks to nonprofits in need.

According to the Department of Correction, 140 inmates have caught COVID. Seven, six of whom had serious health issues, died.

Gov. Carney said Tuesday he is proud of how the state has kept its prisons safe during the outbreak, noting Delaware has reported fewer affected inmates than many other states.

While Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware claims its goal is to promote transparency, many officials and lawyers in the state feel it’s first and foremost focused on revenge. The group has criticized Delaware for several supposed major issues in the courts, such as a lack of diversity and judicial bias, even partnering with Rev. Al Sharpton to hold rallies urging change in the judicial system. It has also run ads taking personal shots at Andre Bouchard, the chancellor who ruled for a sale.

In October, Delaware State Bar Association President Bill Brady held a news conference to defend the state against the criticisms, noting the state Supreme Court upheld the ruling of a forced sale as “well designed to protect the other constituencies of the company — notably its employees — by positioning the company to succeed and thus secure the jobs of its workforce.” The Court of Chancery also found Mr. Shawe, who had been engaged to the other owner before that relationship collapsed, had destroyed evidence and lied under oath.

Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware is not grassroots but is funded by Mr. Shawe and his mother, Mr. Brady said.

“Unlike most people, he has an almost unlimited amount of resources at his disposal and has used that to fund a false and misleading smear campaign against the Court and chancellor. Recently, he has gone even further to include the Chancellor’s family in advertisements and commercials. As I mentioned in my recent message to the members of the Bar Association, we simply cannot stand for that,” Mr. Brady said, describing the claims Delaware is hostile to business as absurd.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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