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.”