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5/20/2015
Weiner calls for investigation into Wasserbach - News Journal

County Councilman Robert Weiner on Tuesday said he plans to introduce a council motion next week to spend up to $20,000 to hire outside lawyers to investigate New Castle County Auditor Wasserbach's conduct and how a request to release his email correspondence was handled. Lawyers for County Council and the executive office have been at odds since March over a Freedom of Information Act request for Wasserbach's emails.

Weiner originally proposed the county hire outside lawyers to investigate Wasserbach in the weeks after the emails were released to the council. The county Executive Committee voted down the plan 6-6 on April 28. Councilman Bill Bell was absent.

"In order to best protect New Castle County Council, all emails and conflicting legal opinions should be presented to outside legal counsel to provide guidance," Weiner said.

Weiner, an attorney who has been on the council for about two decades, said he plans to file his motion on Tuesday. If approved, a law school would be hired to examine the Wasserbach correspondence and the different legal opinions presented by the executive office and council lawyers.

Weiner said it's important County Council gets impartial legal advice. "A dispassionate legal opinion from a respected regional law school will provide the necessary clarity the council needs," he said.

 

Weiner calls for investigation into Wasserbach

 Xerxes WIlson, The News Journal 11:21 p.m. EDT May 19, 2015

New Castle County Auditor Bob Wasserbach came under increased scrutiny Tuesday, with demands for independent investigations into how he handled an audit of the county's animal shelter contractor and whether his emails should be made public.

A three-day series in The News Journal revealed issues investigators have now been asked to examine.

The News Journal on Monday reported about emails showing Wasserbach used his position to guide a 2013 county audit of the Kent County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which provides dog-control services for New Castle County. Wasserbach was on the board of another animal shelter group, Faithful Friends Animal Society, where he now is president.

The emails indicate Wasserbach was in discussions to have the county contract altered to benefit Faithful Friends.

Wasserbach has denied any wrongdoing. He did not respond to requests to comment for this story.

Officials for the KCSPCA, which was renamed First State Animal Center and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, on Tuesday morning called for an independent legal investigation into the audit.

Executive Director Kevin Usilton said the emails show the audit was prejudicial and resulted from opposition to the shelter's policy to euthanize unwanted animals. Faithful Friends euthanizes only sick and dangerous animals.

"When you live under a veil of secrecy, it is easy to get persuaded away from the right and good and I think [Wasserbach] was persuaded by others and used," he said.

He said the emails also highlight Wasserbach was motivated by trying to get the animal-control contract.

Usilton said he wants to "have an effective animal welfare program set up in Delaware that is transparent and not run through secret societies carrying out their personal agenda."


County Councilman Bob Weiner speaks during a County Council meeting in April. Weiner on Tuesday said he will introduce legislation to investigate the conduct of county Auditor Bob Wasserbach. (Photo: KYLE GRANTHAM/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

Separately, County Councilman Robert Weiner on Tuesday said he plans to introduce a council motion next week to spend up to $20,000 to hire outside lawyers to investigate Wasserbach's conduct and how a request to release his email correspondence was handled.

Lawyers for County Council and the executive office have been at odds since March over a Freedom of Information Act request for Wasserbach's emails to business partner Rhett Ruggerio, a lobbyist. The FOIA request, from a Gordon ally, was for 10 years of correspondence from Wasserbach's government email account to Ruggerio.

State code also bans auditors from being actively involved in partisan political activities.

The request came after executive office officials for months criticized Wasserbach's audit of $92 million in county investments, questioning whether the investigation was politically motivated. David Grimaldi, who is Gordon's top aide, has said Wasserbach's ties are a conflict of interest because Ruggerio has lobbied the County Council on land-use issues. Wasserbach and Ruggerio also co-own four rental properties.

A lawyer for the County Council, which oversees the Auditor's Office, rejected the FOIA request, saying it didn't ask for documents related to public business. An attorney for the executive office later overruled the decision, forwarding all of the emails to the council for review.

The resulting 1,017 pages of emails showed Wasserbach talking to Ruggerio about donating to the gubernatorial campaign of John Carney and seeking an administration position in 2008; planning to campaign for Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker in 2008; and inviting Bruce Crescenzo, a member of the county Audit Committee, to a golfing fundraiser. The vast majority of the emails deal with non-political issues.

Weiner originally proposed the county hire outside lawyers to investigate Wasserbach in the weeks after the emails were released to the council. The county Executive Committee voted down the plan 6-6 on April 28. Councilman Bill Bell was absent.

At the same meeting, the committee voted to ask the Attorney General's Office to examine the correspondence. The agency later responded that it does not provide county governments legal advice.

"In order to best protect New Castle County Council, all emails and conflicting legal opinions should be presented to outside legal counsel to provide guidance," Weiner said.

Weiner, an attorney who has been on the council for about two decades, said he plans to file his motion on Tuesday. If approved, a law school would be hired to examine the Wasserbach correspondence and the different legal opinions presented by the executive office and council lawyers.

Weiner said it's important County Council gets impartial legal advice.

"A dispassionate legal opinion from a respected regional law school will provide the necessary clarity the council needs," he said.

Wasserbach has said he has sent his conversations with Ruggerio to the county Ethics Commission in an effort to clear his name. He has not taken action on the KCSPCA emails.

The seven-member panel investigates allegations of conflicts of interest by public officials and employees. The commission does not comment about whether a complaint has been received.

Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or xwilson@delawareonline.com. Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter.

 

 

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