After months of turmoil, Harrington hires new city manager

HARRINGTON — 2019 was a banner year for Harrington. The “Hub of Delaware,” as the city of about 3,600 people is known, celebrated 150 years since its incorporation.

Daniel Tartt

But in October, allegations rocked City Hall, with controversy clouding the southern Kent County municipality for months thanks to claims of misconduct involving the city manager and mayor. Now, the community is looking to leave those issues in the past, starting with a new city manager.

City Council last week approved the hiring of Daniel Tartt, who, as manager, will be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the city and will report to council members.

Although not a native of Harrington (he was born in Florida and moved frequently growing up because his father was in the military), Mr. Tartt has made it his adopted home, settling here in 1993.

He’s never held a paid position in city government before but has chaired Harrington’s Board of Adjustments for more than a decade. In that role and other volunteer positions with the city, he has interacted with local officials and employees, experience he believes pairs well with his previous work in retail management.

“I already have an established working relationship with the department heads, and the support has just been tremendous,” he said.

Mr. Tartt is finishing his job with the Department of State, where he works in the Division of Corporations, and plans to officially start with the city May 26.

Coming in at a challenging period for reasons that go beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Tartt admitted he “can’t think of a more difficult time to become a city manager.” Harrington has been embroiled in controversy since October, when ex-city planner Jeremy Rothwell accused then-City Manager Don Williams and Mayor Anthony Moyer of misusing their posts for personal gain.

Based on his recollections and documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, Mr. Rothwell urged City Council to investigate the claims, which included time theft and misuse of city funds by Mr. Williams and abuse of authority and city resources by Mr. Moyer.

City Council suspended Mr. Williams, while Mr. Moyer temporarily stepped away from his city duties, although both men disputed the allegations.

In Mr. Williams’ absence, Police Chief Norman Barlow filled the role of city manager.

After an investigation by the state’s Public Integrity Commission found it “more likely than not that Mr. Moyer and Mr. Williams both engaged in conduct that would constitute violations of the State Code of Conduct,” the city fired Mr. Williams in January.

That termination was upheld after an appeal the following month, with City Council ruling he failed to preserve electronic evidence relating to Mr. Rothwell’s 2019 firing.

Mr. Tartt said he sought to remain neutral throughout the process, trying to educate himself on the allegations made by both sides while not getting involved or taking a stance. After unsuccessfully applying for the city manager job when it was open in 2017, he knew he would be interested in trying again should it become vacant, he recalled this week.

The new city manager, whose hiring was approved by City Council May 4, said he is eager to get started and hopes to meet with every city employee soon to hear their concerns.

Of course, getting to know everyone and moving the city forward is just part of the challenge. Like every other local government, Harrington’s budget is being completely upended by the coronavirus, which has also forced city employees to work on a rotational basis to limit contact with others, with City Hall locked, according to Mr. Tartt.

He said he has started going through the spending plan line by line, highlighting items likely to be affected by the outbreak. The city has until July 1 to approve a budget, and though the expected loss of revenue is still unclear, the impact figures to be huge.

Given all the obstacles the city has faced and is currently grappling with, Mr. Tartt is hoping Harrington residents can come together and forget the ugliness of the past seven months.

“The city’s been through a tough time here recently, and I think everybody here, citizens included, is ready to put that behind and concentrate on positives,” he said.