Angry words fly at Dover city council meeting







Robin Christiansen

Robin Christiansen

DOVER — The agenda for the Dover City Council meeting Monday night did not appear at first glance to have any controversial or volatile issues attached to it.

But appearances turned out to be deceiving as a shouting match between Mayor Robin Christiansen and City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. erupted near the end of the meeting.

The issue at hand was the inclusion of minorities as part of the newly formed Economic Development Committee, which replaced the city’s Economic Development Office on May 26.

Discussion about adding the chair of the Utility Committee to serve on the newly formed Economic Development Committee led to questions by Councilmen Sudler and David Anderson about minority inclusion on the committee.

The discussion eventually led to a heated exchange inside City Hall between the mayor and Mr. Sudler.

Roy Sudler Jr.

Roy Sudler Jr.

The mayor, who did not arrive until near the end of the meeting, said to Mr. Sudler, “I will be damned if I’m going to have you call me a liar!”

Mr. Sudler told the mayor, “I have a lot of respect for you but I will not tolerate anyone disrespecting me … I don’t care what their title is.”

While council meetings often are attended by only a few residents, they are shown live on local television.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when a shouting match began between Mayor Robin Christiansen and Councilman Roy Sudler,” said Howard Williams, of Dover, in a letter to the Delaware State News. “The mayor charged in the council chamber as if he was going to punch councilman Sudler and yelled ‘I am not a liar and do not appreciate you calling me one Mr. Sudler.’

“Then the yelling began between the two as something you might see posted on YouTube.”

Mayor Christiansen called the matter “just a difference in opinion” on Wednesday afternoon, saying he and Mr. Sudler have not really spoken since the exchange.

The mayor was vague when asked where he was during the majority of the meeting, saying, “Just say I was close by.”

The issue began when Councilman Anderson proposed adding two additional spots reserved for minorities on the Economic Development Committee.

“I have gotten several contacts including some business owners downtown who have asked for this particular amendment,” Mr. Anderson said. “I think the concerns are valid because things have changed in the city and it would be great to have something as vital as economic development basically be reflective of different perspectives of the city today. This is not the city 40 years ago.”

Mr. Sudler agreed with Mr. Anderson and said he had been approached by Clay Hammond, the chairman of the Delmarva Black Chamber of Commerce, and community activist Bobby Wilson, about issues with the Economic Development Committee.

“I did receive numerous phone calls from Bobby Wilson and also Clay Hammond and to my understanding they were somewhat guaranteed by the mayor a seat at the table or some type of more minority representation,” Mr. Sudler said, “not just the African-Americans, but they’re also looking at some Hispanic representation in other communities.

“They’re very upset with the mayor and they feel like the mayor sort of lied to them, and so they have voiced their opinion to Councilman Anderson as constituents and that’s why we’re bringing forth these concerns. It’s not our personal issue; it’s from our constituents and business owners of downtown.”

Mayor Christiansen eventually arrived at the meeting to defend himself.

“You know I’m not accustomed to being called a liar and I have been very inclusive and encouraged people to participate in this committee, and council established this committee,” he said. “We had a whole meeting that was dedicated to including the minority community in this committee.
“I’m not going to be called a liar and I’m not going to be represented as somebody who’s not working in the best interests of the entire community across the board, because that’s how I roll … That’s how I’ve always rolled.”

Mr. Sudler said to the mayor, “You’re still a man, I’m a man. Do not disrespect me. I did not call you a liar. I have a right to convey what my constituents have said.”

The heated exchange led to Councilman William Hare, who was filling in for Council President Timothy Slavin, to slam his gavel down five times and call for a five-minute break, which was struck down by other council members.

Mayor Christiansen then apologized as he left City Hall.

Ultimately, council voted against the proposed amendment by Councilman Anderson that would have added two additional spots on the Economic Development Committee.

“[The committee is] in the fledgling stage and I think we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves,” Mr. Hare said. “I’m not saying that we might not add somebody, we might, but we’ve got to get our feet on the ground before we decide which direction we’re going to go.”

Councilman Fred Neil said people appear to be concentrating on the wrong things when it comes to economic development in Dover.

“I’m not going to throw the mayor under the bus because I don’t know what he said or what he promised, but I know what this council can do and I don’t hear this discussion leading to aggressively going after business and bringing it into the city regardless if it’s white, black, female, male, whatever,” he said.

“That’s what this committee needs to do and what we’re talking about now is simply about ‘OK, who are we going to be nice to?’, ‘Who’s going to get a chunk of the business?’  If they’re on a committee I would expect them to be as aggressive at resolving the problems that they’re concerned about as well as bringing in business to the city. That’s what this economic development is all about.”

Councilman Brian Lewis said the confrontation between Mayor Christiansen and Councilman Sudler wasn’t the first time such an occurrence has ever happened — and he doesn’t expect it will be the last.

“I have the utmost respect for Mayor Christiansen and Councilman Sudler and believe they both have the right to defend and express themselves,” Mr. Lewis said. “This is not the first time that council members have disagreed with one another publicly.

“I myself have been vocal at times with certain members to try and get my point across. As I stated once before, we as elected officials do not lose our constitutional rights or freedom of speech after being elected.”

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