Harrington manager suspended; council orders investigation into allegations

DOVER — Harrington City Council voted to suspend City Manager Don Williams Tuesday while an investigation into alleged criminal and civil misconduct takes place. Mayor Anthony Moyer also will temporarily step away from his duties due to similar allegations.

It was not immediately clear who would conduct the investigation and whether the suspension would be paid or unpaid.

Harrington Police Chief Norman Barlow, who will serve as acting city manager during Mr. Williams’ suspension, said after the meeting he will have to determine what law enforcement agency will handle the probe.

Former Harrington planner Jeremy Rothwell, who worked for the city from December 2016 through June of this year, last week urged City Council to conduct an investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Mr. Williams and Mr. Moyer. He accused Mr. Williams of time theft, bending city rules for personal gain and improperly firing an employee and Mr. Moyer of using his office for personal gain, failing to follow city ordinances and bullying city employees.

Mr. Rothwell, whose allegations are based on his experiences while employed by the city, as well as city documents and video footage obtained through an open records request, informed council members Tuesday his attorney has been in contact with Harrington’s insurer.

While Mr. Williams was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Moyer presided over City Council as usual.

“I believe that I have done nothing wrong and I appreciate the confidence that has been expressed, but I think it would be best for the city, until this investigation is completed, I still retain my seat but I no longer do any city business,” the mayor, who was elected in 2013 and reelected four years later, said.

The vote by City Council followed a 75-minute closed door session by the six members of council and a few other city officials. Upon conclusion, the body invited the 11 remaining members of the public back inside council chambers and announced the results.

Originally, Harrington’s three-member Personnel Committee, not the full City Council, was supposed to convene Tuesday. However, the meeting was abruptly changed to a special City Council meeting the day before.

Tuesday, Harrington’s calendar of city events posted online included both the City Council and Personnel Committee hearings. The Personnel Committee agenda noted the gathering had been changed but indicated the exact same items would be discussed.

No agenda appeared when a user clicked on the City Council meeting.

However, the agenda presented at the meeting differed — even though the council clerk shared the expanded agenda Tuesday evening upon request and said it had been posted online Monday at 2:30 p.m.

The two agendas each started with the call to order and Pledge of Allegiance before jumping into a closed session to discuss the city manager’s performance, but the City Council agenda offered both members of the public and of council a chance to comment before the executive session. The City Council agenda also contained an item for action resulting from the closed-door meeting before adjournment.

Harrington’s charter states special meetings can be called at the request of the mayor or a majority of council members. While it requires the city to send a written notice to council members at least 24 hours beforehand, the charter notes a waiver approved “by all members of Council prior to or immediately upon the convening of such special meeting shall make the 24 hour written notice unnecessary and shall authorize and make valid the holding of a special meeting at any time and for any purpose named in such waiver, if the waiver so states.”

State law mandates public bodies provide at least seven days’ notice, and though exceptions are allowed, they must be announced at least 24 hours beforehand.

“A special or rescheduled meeting shall be defined as one to be held less than 7 days after the scheduling decision is made,” Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act reads. “The public notice of a special or rescheduled meeting shall include an explanation as to why the notice … could not be given.”

The state also requires the agenda be added at least six hours before the meeting and contain “the reasons for the delay in posting.”

City solicitor William Pepper defended the change after being questioned during public comment at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, saying the mayor is entitled to call a special session, which he noted is distinct from an emergency forum.

During the long executive session, the handful of attendees mingled outside, with discussion centering on the future of the city and what they see as an urgent need for revitalization and strong leadership.

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