Delaware

Time for some Open Government Reforms after the DE Turf Affair

By now, every one is aware of the dust up over Senate Bill 178 and the DE Turf facility in Kent County. For those that do not know the backstory, here goes.

SB 178 “allows the Kent County Levy Court to impose a lodging tax, not greater than 3%, in Kent County.” This bill was introduced late in the session, on June 26, 2019, and was passed almost unanimously, by a vote of 37-2-2 in the House and 20 to 0 in the Senate (Briggs King and Collins voted no, Postles and Yearick did not vote due to a conflict, McDowell was absent). Senator Trey Paradee was the prime sponsor of the bill, which makes sense since he represents the Dover area and Kent County in the Senate. The bill seemed perfectly fine and your standard bill that authorizes a local government to raise taxes to provide revenue for those local governments.

However, SB178 also two additional provisions that distinguished it from other similar bills allowing local county or municipal governments to institute a lodging tax. It had two sections added that directed how the revenue raised from the new lodging taxes was to be spent. Section (b)(2) says “the moneys collected under paragraph (b)(1) of this section must, when collected, be directed to the Kent County Regional Sports Complex Corporation, which operates the County-sponsored DE Turf facility located in Kent County near Frederica.”

Section (b)(3) says “The Kent County Regional Sports Complex Corporation shall use the moneys directed under paragraph (b)(2) of this section exclusively for the DE Turf facility to allow the facility to remain competitive by advertising, promoting, and providing incentives for use of the facility, to establish a program to benefit youth by providing to youth organizations and scholastic institutions the opportunity to use its facility at reduced cost, and to maintain, improve, and support the facility through the payment of costs, expenses, and associated debt.”

DE Turf is in debt nearly 21 million dollars from the construction of the complex in 2016.

What apparently was not known at the time is that Trey Paradee’s brother, John Paradee, was involved as an attorney for those involved in the DE Turf project since at least 2017. John Paradee is also a member of the DE Sports Turf Board Of Directors.  He has denied that he in any way financially benefits from the passing of the legislation, though, as an attorney for individuals and LLCs involved in the DE Turf expansion, you would assume he receives payment for his services as result of his work as attorney. It would also be beneficial to Mr. Paradee that DE Turf would now have a means to pay down its $21 million debt.

This has led to the definite appearance of impropriety, of unfair self dealing, or a brother helping out a brother, even if there was no corrupt intent at the start. This has also revealed a problem with our General Assembly. This bill was introduced in the last days of the session while legislators are working day and night to plow through all the bills they have to pass before July 1. I guarantee you that the vast majority of the legislators did not read the bill and only read the synopsis, which allegedly at the time did not reference the two provisions that said that DE Turf was to be the sole recipient of the revenue.

Trey Paradee has denied any wrongdoing and has now asked Kent County to hold off on implementing the bill until the next session so he can pass an amended bill in January that removes DE Turf as the sole recipient of the tax revenue. That’s all good, but this latest adventure of “Well that doesn’t look good at all” has revived good and open government reformers.

State Representative John Kowalko has sent a release today stating as follows:

I am challenging all of my colleagues in Dover to join me in reforming Delaware’s lawmaking process. I am asking them to join me in supporting rule changes that disallow last minute votes on bills that have not been adequately vetted. I am asking them to support rule changes that disallow the use of “suspension of rules” to bring bills to the floor that have not been vetted by a committee or the general public. I ask them to pass legislation that will create an independent office of Inspector General that will be able to oversee and investigate possible corruption, ethics violations and hidden conflicts of interest.

All of our constituents expect and deserve an elected government that is open and transparent. Delawareans expect and deserve answers as to why their elected public servants voted for or against issues and policies and they expect those decisions to be made in their best interests.

Delaware’s government has often failed to deliver that transparency and openness in its decision making process. Delaware rules, or lack of rules, has often allowed special interests and lobbyists who represent the most powerful and richest groups in the state to dictate policies and decisions.

One cannot have good government without open and transparent government. One cannot guarantee good government without independent oversight and scrutiny of the lawmaking process and an accounting of the agendas and interests of lawmakers’ decisions.

Delawareans deserve to have a lawmaking body that has a common sense process that allows just and timely consideration of all legislation and guarantees that motives, intentions or agendas of every lawmaker involved in this process can be scrutinized to ensure ethical and honest decisions.

The Delaware Coalition for Open Government’s John Flaherty says DelCOG is now pushing legislation modeled after a bill that passed the House in 2007 but failed in the Senate that would create an Inspector General so lawmakers avoid future appearances of conflicts of interest. Flaherty said state legislators could also give the Public Integrity Commission authority over ethics violations. Kowalko says he also supports such a bill “for the very specific purpose of overseeing any chance of us having mishaps, missteps, or deliberate ignoring of conflicts of interest.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

6 comments on “Time for some Open Government Reforms after the DE Turf Affair

  1. cassandram

    Interesting to me is that debt repayment is literally the last thing on the list that this tax could be used for. I’d try to focus it directly on debt repayment and let the revenue generated by this facility pay for all of the other overhead costs.

    Still. What would happen to the process if they disallowed “suspension of rules” within 30 days of the end of session?

  2. mediawatch

    Cassandra,
    Three outcomes, in sequence:
    1. May 30 would become the new June 30. (If they really wanted to grease the skids, they could create a “suspension of the rules consent calendar.”)
    2. Sponsors of suspect legislation that is approved would press the governor to sign immediately.
    3. At least once a year, snookered lawmakers would race before June 30 to introduce a bill that would rescind legislation hastily passed on May 30.

  3. I say get rid of the suspension of rules altogether. Stop wasting time on bills like the whole Poledancing as the state dance and superficial crap like that. While legislators don’t make a ton of money they are elected officials. Why they hold committee meetings one day of the week is beyond me. Why not Mondays or Fridays as well? There is no reason why each and every single bill should not go through a complete and public process.

  4. John Kowalko

    My most recent Facebook post on the subject:

    I am challenging all of my colleagues in Dover to join me in reforming Delaware’s lawmaking process. I am asking them to join me in supporting rule changes that disallow last minute votes on bills that have not been adequately vetted. I am asking them to support rule changes that disallow the use of “suspension of rules” to bring bills to the floor that have not been vetted by a committee or the general public. I ask them to pass legislation that will create an independent office of Inspector General that will be able to oversee and investigate possible corruption, ethics violations and hidden conflicts of interest.
    All of our constituents expect and deserve an elected government that is open and transparent. Delawareans expect and deserve answers as to why their elected public servants voted for or against issues and policies and they expect those decisions to be made in their best interests.
    Delaware’s government has often failed to deliver that transparency and openness in its decision making process. Delaware rules, or lack of rules, has often allowed special interests and lobbyists who represent the most powerful and richest groups in the state to dictate policies and decisions.
    One cannot have good government without open and transparent government. One cannot guarantee good government without independent oversight and scrutiny of the lawmaking process and an accounting of the agendas and interests of lawmakers’ decisions.
    Delawareans deserve to have a lawmaking body that has a common sense process that allows just and timely consideration of all legislation and guarantees that motives, intentions or agendas of every lawmaker involved in this process can be scrutinized to ensure ethical and honest decisions.
    Representative John Kowalko

    https://www.delawarepublic.org/post/open-government-advocates-urge-ethics-oversight-wake-kent-county-lodging-tax-questions
    https://whyy.org/articles/law-to-give-taxpayer-money-to-delaware-sports-facility-would-benefit-sponsors-brother/

  5. “supporting rule changes that disallow last minute votes on bills that have not been adequately vetted”

    Agreed. This should be supported for all bills as a principle of basic good governance. For example, if a Substitute bill is introduced, there should be a mandatory 48 hour waiting period before any vote can take place in order to allow the bill to be vetted.

    However, I can name at least one bill last year alone where not a peep was raised by Senate or House Democrats about the use of the last minute Substitute bill. Look it up – SS1 to SB48.

    One hour before the vote in the Senate language was introduced that mandated automatic 5 year debarment for any company in the Public Works sector that violated any rule of the now mandatory apprenticeship program. Of course, this draconian punishment was not in the original bill that had been floating around for several weeks.

    The reason for the Substitute bill in this instance was obvious – because the debarment language (5 year debarment for violating any rule) wouldn’t have received the votes if it was known what was in the bill.

    Yet the fact is Rep. Kowalaka did not oppose the use of the last minute Substitute bill in this instance.

    So let’s be against deceptive tactics in all cases. Not just on bill that a Rep. opposes.

  6. FYI. the Civic League for NCC is joining DelCOG in supporting legislation for an Inspector General for Delaware. DelCOG has done a massive amount of fact-finding to bring to the table to try to get this initiative through the legislature in the 150th General Assembly. We do need an office that is independent watch dog mainly because the AG by policy MUST advocate on behalf of government agencies and not members of the public when addressing civil complaints.

    CLNCC is having John Kowalko as our speaker on Tuesday, November 19th at our monthly meeting in Christiana. We are live-streaming his presentation if anyone wants to catch it live or later.

    https://www.facebook.com/events/463871071151296/

    “Speaker: State Rep. John Kowalko on the proposal for a Delaware Inspector General given his experiences at Legislative Hall, especially with the Paradee family conflict of interest surrounding Delaware Turf as a dedicated recipient of a Kent County lodging tax.”

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