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.

33 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.”

  7. Would this Inspector General be compelled to investigate a legislator if they had sponsored a bill that directly impacted their spouse’s business? What if this legislator used their position to create a board whose purpose was to approve and recommend regulations for a specific industry, that industry being one their spouse owns a business in? Furthermore, what if that legislator insisted their spouse be appointed as chair of that same board by the Governor? Would the Inspector General be able to investigate if a claim of this nature was levied against a legislator who’d pushed through a bill on behalf of their spouse, then never disclosed that their spouse was one of the advocates promoting the bill, and hasn’t revealed their spouse has been on the specially created board since its inception? Asking for a friend…. but is this the type of perceived conflict of interest and impropriety an IG is looking to combat? If so, sounds like a good thing, so long as there’s no statute of limitations on when things can be investigated. Even if 8 years have passed without this legislation -and the troubling familial relationships and connections that clearly resulted in its passage – having come to light, action should still be taken. And especially if the legislator remains in office and their spouse continues to chair the board. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

    • That’s so cute, smearing someone without naming them or actually supporting your allegations with anything but innuendo. Do you do that for a living?

    • Also, too, it should be noted that this is pretty much SOP in Dover, although it’s usually the lawmaker him- or herself, not the spouse, who benefits. And it’s already supposed to be against the rules. So an IG only makes a difference if the office can file charges. But what are the charges going to be? There’s no actual law against it, just GA rules.

      So basically, unless you can show some monetary profit by what you describe, this is not in the same league as, say, the Paradee scam.

      • You are correct, not the same. Wasn’t there a story recently about that Levy Court bill that included a commitment to pass a bill to repeal it in January? Maybe I read that wrong, but it’s such a dumb nothing story it’s hard to pay attention to find the new content when they just cut and paste 90% of a previous article and you have to skim through all the retread to find the new point they are attempting to make. Meanwhile the example I shared hasn’t ever been acknowledged or addressed by the legislator. The spouse has also managed to run off every other person on their board that might disagree with them, leaving them with too few members to even meet at times. Regulations for this industry were stalled indefinitely because this spouse wouldn’t allow the board to do its job. So yeah, maybe not like that other scam because it’s actually worse.

        • cassandram

          What’s interesting about your smear attempt here is that you don’t care about it enough to name the names.

          How passive-aggressive Delaware Way of you.

        • You still haven’t shown any actual harm or monetary gain. So no, not worse. You clearly don’t like this lady — maybe you’re one of those she ran off — but anonymous allegations from someone who might have an axe to grind ain’t gonna get the job done. It just makes you look like — well, like what you are.

          Meanwhile, you’ve just given the Trump defense on the Paradee situation — he got caught, so no harm, no foul. It’s not a dumb, nothing story, but you’re revealing yourself as a dumb, nothing commenter.

          Of course, if you gave out any details it might show that you, not the legislator, are kinda skeevy.

  8. It’s really infuriating that there isn’t an online repository of legislation from the last two decades in Delaware, am I right? Especially if there was a key word search option and you could narrow it down by the year it was considered, now that would be super helpful.

    I miss the days when everyone wasn’t so lazy and/or stupid, and people would fact check claims for themselves instead of expecting everything to be handed to them. The internet gives us access to an unlimited amount of information at our fingertips, yet the majority of us can’t be bothered to try to find things on our own. Or we can’t remember how – not sure which one is worse.

    • cassandram

      I miss the days where people were not so scared of “what other people will say” that they would be really clear about their accusations. But then I’d need to move out of Delaware for that.

      • I’m totally clear on who’s she’s talking about. My gripe is she’s too chickenshit to come out and say it, and she’s also opaque on whether she has a dog in the fight.

        But, as you note, the list of Delawareans notable for bravery is a short one.

  9. I miss the days when people had enough balls to say what they mean without being assholes about it.

    You haven’t listed any “facts,” just a lot of biased assertions.

    The internet is also a place where anonymous trolls post things that read a lot like what you type.

    You’re nowhere near as clever as you think you are, and until you tell me who you are you’re just another disgruntled Delaware coward.

  10. You have to love when one anonymous asshole (you) demands to know the identity of another anonymous person on the internet. Classic bullshit argument that my identity (or rather the lack thereof) speaks to my motivations but your anonymousness shouldn’t be impugned. For the record, I have no ax to grind and no personal vested interest in this legislator or their spouse. Or that industry for that matter. I just find the hypocrisy of it all completely disgusting. And I find it hilariously pathetic that jackasses with *clearly* unimpeachable integrity are more focused on the person relaying the info having suspicious motivations than on the info itself. It’s not as if I’m suggesting someone inappropriately intervened in a primary election while they were in a leadership role for their local state party organization. Because that would be silly and who would care, right? I’m saying that a legislator used their position and influence to grant their spouse direct access to the governance board for an industry that spouse worked in. If you’re cool with that, then I’m unclear what’s so nefarious about an unpaid volunteer board member of a local nonprofit having a familial relationship with an elected official.

    • Everybody knows who I am. I find it hilariously pathetic that you couldn’t do the research on that. Yet you slagged me for supposedly not knowing who you’re talking about. You are quite the asshole, dearie.

      I know the legislator involved and the issue involved as well, and I find your characterization of the whole thing incredibly one-sided — indeed, given your claim of not being involved in the industry

      “I’m saying that a legislator used their position and influence to grant their spouse direct access to the governance board for an industry that spouse worked in. If you’re cool with that, then I’m unclear what’s so nefarious about an unpaid volunteer board member of a local nonprofit having a familial relationship with an elected official.”

      And I’m saying that you haven’t shown any use of power and influence — it’s an unfounded allegation.
      There’s no money involved, you’ve shown no evidence of any of the bullshit about her “running off” other people, and if you think that’s the same as funneling millions in tax dollars to a private entity and to benefit a single industry, then you’ve got your head even further up your ass than I thought.

      So I really don’t give a fuck who you are, so since you won’t own up to it I’ll have assume your claims of having no dog in the fight are bullshit.

      If you want to criticize him, do it straight-up, instead of playing this passive-aggressive bullshit game, Heather.

    • So as a retired teacher, Accomplished teacher, I should never be appointed to an education board? One its face that is ludicrous.

  11. That unfinished sentence above should read, “…given your claim of not being involved in the industry, you seem to know quite a lot about this.”

  12. There is, of course, another possibility — you’re just a Paradee.

    Does anyone in Kent County have an honest private-sector job, or are they all General Assembly teat-suckers?

  13. Also, here’s the thing: If you named him, he’d respond right here. He does so frequently.

    My only interest in this is in making you either legitimize your attack or stand behind it. Doesn’t seem that hard, but you only seem interested in your little game.

  14. My goodness, four comments in a row. Did you get the rage trolling all out of your system and do you feel any better? Would hate for your family to have to deal with the douchebag angry asshole that you clearly are online while in person with them when you are home and not commenting on blogs. But that begs the question, are you ever not spending every waking moment spewing your old white guy bullshit opinions online because you are under the misguided belief they actually add value to the dialogue? Rhetorical question, no response required.

    • This is the quality WWF type of internet discourse i come here for.

    • No, there’s just no edit function. I’m not angry. And if there’s anyone in this discussion positioned to know about douchebags, it’s you.

      But keep deflecting, dearie. Your bullshit is out there for everyone to see now. Run back to your Paradee handlers and tell them what a great job you did trying to normalize their corruption.

      “Old white guy.” And you’re an aging white woman with so little imagination that that’s the best insult she can come up with. Pathetic.

      So back to the issue at hand: Why don’t you name the person, so the person can respond? Oh, wait, I know the answer — because you’re a compromised asshole who’s attacking someone for not liking your Paradee pal.

      I will say this for the stupid — they always come back for more. Just like you.

  15. Are people really as stupid as this Hez person is? Why do people think it takes all day to type a comment that takes about one minute?

    I blame this on the public education system in Delaware, which seems to churn out morons by the shit ton.

    • cassandram

      Apparently. Because who actually doubles down on this passive-aggressive bullshit when called out on it? If this fool cared about any of this, this fool would name names and be clear about where action should be pointed. But this fool is not interested in making any change, just in pretending that these mealy-mouthed accusations actually mean something.

  16. Robberbaron

    And guess who has run the public schools? The Leftists in the teacher’s union. Huh.

    • Guess who doesn’t give them enough money to do their jobs? People like you. You don’t have the brains to hang here, sport.

  17. Robberbaron

    Typical Leftist response….throw more money at it!

    • A lot smarter than the typical conservative response — throwing more money at billionaires.

      You’re not getting any smarter.

  18. Robberbaron

    Throwing money at billionaires? No, more like letting people keep what they earn and not stripping investment capital to support a welfare state.

    • Wrong again. Check the economic stats to see how wrong you are. The money is not being invested, and a welfare state is better for everyone. If you don’t like it I suggest you leave America. You don’t belong here.

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