Report confirms allegations against Harrington mayor, city manager

DOVER — Harrington Mayor Anthony Moyer abused his authority for personal gain, including having the city pay personal expenses, while fired City Manager Don Williams misused his flex time privilege and turned a blind eye to Mr. Moyer’s actions, according to the conclusions of an investigation by the state’s Public Integrity Commission.

The conclusions, which City Council voted to release Feb. 3, are the latest development in a months-long saga that’s put Harrington into the spotlight. The report is based off claims by city planner Jeremy Rothwell, who accused Mr. Moyer and Mr. Williams of varied misconduct. Among the allegations are violation of the Delaware Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, flagrant flouting of city code, time theft, bullying employees and use of office for personal gain.

After Mr. Rothwell presented the claims to City Council in October, council members voted to place Mr. Williams on paid leave, while Mr. Moyer voluntarily stepped away from his city duties.

In Mr. Williams’ absence, Police Chief Norm Barlow has served as acting city manager. Mr. Moyer returned to his role in December for unspecified reasons.

The Public Integrity Commission, which has jurisdiction over ethics complaints involving elected officials, agreed to look into the accusations after being approached by the city. While it’s unclear exactly when the investigation was completed — commission legal counsel Deborah Moreau said she legally could not offer any details — City Council voted Feb. 3 to make the conclusions public.

Following an executive session, which Mr. Moyer did not attend, the five members present voted in favor of making the findings public.

“It is 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 conclusions state.

“However, Mr. Williams is no longer working for the city and the city may pursue civil remedies to recoup any monies owed. The issue with Mr. Moyer is more complicated because he holds an elected office. The PIC cannot remove an elected official, even if the allegations are substantiated after notice and a formal hearing.”

Mr. Williams’ attorney disputes most of the claims about the ex-city manager.

Jeremy Rothwell

Chris Johnson, who is representing Mr. Williams, said Friday his client was fired in violation of the city’s charter, which states before the city manager can be removed, he or she must be given a written explanation and a public hearing. It does allow for the officeholder to be suspended before that hearing occurs, but Mr. Johnson said Mr. Williams was informed last month he was terminated with no reason detailed.

Harrington Vice Mayor Amy Minner said after a City Council meeting in January, Mr. Williams was given an unpaid suspension pending the hearing.

That hearing is scheduled for Feb. 18.

According to Mr. Johnson, the city isn’t the only party that kept Mr. Williams in the dark: The attorney said the Public Integrity Commission never approached the former manager for his side of the story. He also alleged Mr. Williams’ termination stems from an incident with Mr. Rothwell, though he declined to go into detail about the occurrence.

Specific findings

The conclusions made public also include 13 bullet points laying out the specific issues the commission found to be “more likely than not.”

The claims concerning Mr. Moyer are that he “regularly exceeded the authority granted to him by city charter,” used his position to block a stop-work order on a commercial property he owned, tried to have his driveway and the commercial property’s sewer line replaced, entered into a $3,500 contract with a friend without informing City Council and billed Harrington for a personal E-ZPass violation.

Mr. Williams, the findings say, “exhibited a conflict of interest as to Mr. Moyer that affected his ability to independently exercise his official judgment,” took “excessive” time off without reporting vacation time and should pay back the city for accommodations at a recent trip to Nashville, Tennessee.

The other bullet points state the city might have been billed twice for work on the gas lines at its Public Works Building, at least one city employee has leaked confidential information to Mr. Moyer, Harrington may want to be more stringent in who it contracts with and city employees are not aware of the proper division of power between City Council and the mayor.

Those statements from the report are in line with most of Mr. Rothwell’s allegations, claims made based off his employment by the city from December 2016 through June 2019 and by documents and video obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. Those documents, which were shared with the Delaware State News, appear to corroborate his allegations, although the video footage has not yet been verified.

Anthony Moyer

“The city manager throughout his employment has shown disturbing trends in his work ethic that constitutes fraud,” Mr. Rothwell wrote in a letter he presented to council members in October. “The city manager would come into work late and/or leave work early almost every day.

“Since my office window and desk directly faced the rear employee entrance to City Hall, I can testify to having witnessed the city manager consistently coming into work hours late and/or leaving work hours early on a regular basis. From June 20th to September 13th he claimed to have worked 474 hours, but actually worked only 375 hours.

“This discrepancy of 99 hours at $31.97 per hour (based on his initial contract salary of $66,500 per year) amounts to $3,165.14 in fraudulently claimed wages in only a three-month period, and I can testify under oath to having witnessed the same behavior throughout his entire tenure as city manager. Under Delaware law, theft of anything greater than $1,500 is classified as a felony.”

At a City Council meeting, Mr. Rothwell said the city manager’s calendar and time sheets indicate he took 58 personal appointments and seven days off between his hiring in February 2017 and June 2019 but did not use any personal or sick time.

The ex-city planner also cited a fall conference in Nashville attended by Mr. Williams. While the event lasted from Oct. 20 to Oct. 23, Mr. Williams stayed for seven days, bringing his family with him. He charged their travel costs to the city, ultimately reimbursing it after Mr. Rothwell first presented the allegations to City Council, according to the documents shared by Mr. Rothwell.

“This all constitutes fraud, and he should be criminally prosecuted for the before-mentioned crimes,” he wrote in a letter distributed to City Council.

Mr. Rothwell was fired from the city — improperly and motivated partially by a personal vendetta by the manager and mayor, he says. He has since filed a lawsuit against Harrington.

Mr. Johnson admitted Mr. Williams mixed business with pleasure on the Nashville trip and was willing to pay back the total, which came to around $900, but never received a bill from the city. He disputed, however, the allegation involving abuse of flex and vacation time policies.

Mr. Williams was hired as city manager in February 2017 after nine years with Milford in code enforcement and building inspection. He received a five-year agreement worth $66,500 in the first year, with pay raises of at least 3 percent in subsequent years, according to a copy of that contract provided by Mr. Rothwell.

Although Mr. Rothwell accused Mr. Williams of acting subservient to the mayor, his contract states he answers to the council.

According to Mr. Johnson, City Council never requested Mr. Williams report solely to it.

Mr. Moyer, who declined to comment after Monday’s meeting, was first elected in 2013 and then reelected four years later. He mostly has ceremonial duties, presiding over city council and recommending committee appointments but lacking the power to vote unless there is a tie.

Building issues

According to Mr. Rothwell, Mr. Moyer rented out space in a building he owns without the proper permits and failed to meet city standards for upkeep. In August 2017, he allegedly allowed a potential business owner to set up in his property at 40 Commerce St. despite failing to first obtain permits for renovations and to change the zoning from residential to commercial. Mr. Rothwell said he confronted Mr. Williams about the lack of certification, only to be told the mayor claimed the city planner informed him he did not require permits.

The mayor continued to assert this, even after Mr. Rothwell produced documents contradicting his statement, according to Mr. Rothwell.

Mr. Moyer then allegedly pressured the city building inspector into withholding a stop work order, which Mr. Rothwell termed a “gross and inappropriate use of the authority and influence of both the Mayor and City Manager.”

Another issue involving the building at 40 Commerce St. later arose due to unpenalized violations of the International Property Maintenance Code, such as chipped paint and peeling siding, Mr. Rothwell wrote in a letter presented to City Council in October.

The mayor also allegedly used his status to bend the rules regarding residential property inspections. In early 2018, according to Mr. Rothwell, he missed four mandatory property visits by the code enforcement officer — two more than needed for the city to issue a fine.

After the code enforcement officer informed Mr. Williams, he was instructed not to penalize Mr. Moyer, Mr. Rothwell’s narrative states. An inspection was eventually held on a Saturday — the only one to take place on a weekend — more than a month after the other rental units in the city had been examined.

In 2018, according to the letter, Mr. Moyer used a trailer owned by Harrington Parks and Recreation for personal use, driving it to New York. In the process, he received an E-ZPass toll fine for $55.70, which he billed to the city, the letter states.

City documents indicate Harrington did indeed pay $55.70 in April 2018 to the collection agency New Jersey uses to issue fines for E-ZPass violations. The Public Integrity Commission’s conclusions say Mr. Moyer did not recompensate the city until than more than a year had elapsed.