Commentary: Paradee pushes back against ‘false narrative’

Numerous articles have been written in recent weeks about legislation that would allow Kent County Levy Court to impose a hotel lodging tax and direct those revenues to the DE Turf.

Most have raised issues about my family’s involvement.

Let me set the record straight.

My parents raised three hard-working children: one became a lawyer in the Governor’s Office, one became a prominent land-use attorney, and one became a state senator. Occasionally, our work responsibilities collide in this small state and even smaller county.

I categorically reject the false narrative that my family plotted to pass this bill. The truth is it was proposed by board members of the DE Turf and backed by members of Levy Court.

First, the hotel lodging tax was not my idea, and I had no part in drafting the bill’s language, nor did any member of my family. Second, the legislation does not implement a tax — it enables Levy Court to enact a tax after consideration in an open, public setting. Third, it was Sen. Colin Bonini, the Republican whose district includes the sports complex, who initially introduced the tax-enabling language in the Bond Bill. Fourth, the legislation was passed with near unanimous, bipartisan support. Fifth, none of this would have happened without the initial blessing of a majority of Levy Court commissioners.

Bill Strickland and Shelly Cecchett from the DE Turf had meetings in early 2019 with Levy Court commissioners Brooks Banta, Jody Sweeney and Terry Pepper to gain their support for a hotel lodging tax to benefit the DE Turf. Also present was Kent County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange, who later came to Legislative Hall on June 30 (presumably at the behest of Levy Court leadership) to speak on behalf of the legislation if necessary.

It is my understanding that those present at the meetings gave Bill and Shelly their blessing to proceed with the tax proposal. Commissioner Eric Buckson was subsequently briefed, and I have been told that he was also supportive. After receiving the green light from a majority of commissioners, Bill and Shelly began contacting members of the General Assembly for support. When I first met with them on April 17, 2019, I was told they had commitments for at least four votes from Levy Court.

Sen. Bonini’s effort to have the enabling language inserted into the Bond Bill failed, rightfully in my opinion, in the final weeks of the legislative session. The Bond Bill co-chairs insisted the hotel tax be voted on as separate legislation, just like every other hotel lodging tax that has passed without controversy in recent years.

With just a few days remaining in the legislative session, DE Turf asked for my assistance. Why me? Because in order to get a bill on the agenda with time running out, you need a respected member of the majority party as the primary sponsor. Six Democrats and four Republicans joined me as co-sponsors. Up until that point, my role was no different than any other Kent County legislator.

In hindsight, I wish there had been more time for me to carefully consider the legislation and potential conflicts, but my decision was made in haste and based solely on assurances that the commissioners supported the measure.

As hard as this might be for some to believe, my brother and I rarely discuss our work. When we do find an opportunity to chat, our conversations focus on our children, our mother’s health, and just about anything but work and board meetings. I was not aware that he was a member of the DE Turf’s volunteer board, and, as a successful land-use attorney, my brother is not legally permitted to discuss the work he does on behalf of his clients.

However, I take my reputation as an honest and forthright steward of the public’s trust very seriously, and I am deeply troubled by how my sponsorship of this bill is being misconstrued.

That is why I am calling on Levy Court to postpone a final vote on the lodging tax until the General Assembly reconvenes in January. In the meantime, I intend to file legislation removing DE Turf as the sole recipient of that revenue.

If Levy Court subsequently directs those funds to that public-private partnership at a later date, that will be their choice and their choice alone.

EDITOR’S NOTES: Trey Paradee, a Democrat, represents the 17th District, which covers parts of Dover, Camden and Wyoming, in the Delaware State Senate.

On Thursday, Kent County Levy Court announced it would cancel a hearing that had been set for Tuesday.

Facebook Comment