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7/14/2015
Ethics panel won’t issue opinion on Auditor Wasserbach's conduct; Councilman Bob Weiner blocked from seeking investigation of Auditor's criminal activity by the Auditor's Council allies

Councilman Bob Weiner has unsuccessfully sought council approval to request an outside legal opinion on whether Wasserbach’s emails show any wrongdoing and whether the emails should have been made public. Weiner’s latest attempt to bring that proposal to council was delayed by Wasserbach filing a complaint of harassment and retaliation associated with his Whistleblower Protection Complaint.

Ethics panel won’t issue opinion on Wasserbach conduct

Xerxes WIlson, The News Journal 9:30 p.m. EDT July 14, 2015

The New Castle County Ethics Commission has ruled that it cannot write an opinion about whether county Auditor Bob Wasserbach’s business relationship with a lobbyist constitutes a conflict of interest. In the ruling, the commission said opinions are for “proposed conduct,” not actions taken in the past.

The seven-member panel investigates allegations of misconduct and violations of the county ethics code. Rulings do not identify the people involved, and the cases are anonymous, although Wasserbach has said he asked the commission to investigate his case. He is identified in the ruling as a “senior county official.”

Wasserbach made the request after he came under fire from the administration of County Executive Tom Gordon for his ties to Dover lobbyist and friend Rhett Ruggerio. Wasserbach at the time was conducting an audit of county investments, an investigation Gordon said was politically motivated.

Later, a Gordon ally filed a Freedom of Information Act request for emails between Ruggerio and Wasserbach’s county address. The county Executive Office released about 300 emails.

Wasserbach and Ruggerio also co-owned four rental properties.

The ethics panel, however, said an opinion couldn’t be rendered because “the conduct described by the requestor was either in the past, or was too speculative for the commission to issue an advisory opinion on the questions posed.”

Opinions are often sought by officials before making a decision to ensure ethical rules won’t be broken.

The commission said a complaint, which deals with actions by an official, would have to be filed in order for an investigation to take place.

Wasserbach did not respond to an interview request.

Wasserbach and Ruggerio have denied the potential for a conflict of interest because Ruggerio has rarely interacted with County Council and Wasserbach has little sway over council’s policy decisions.

Chief Administrative Officer David Grimaldi has said the relationship is a potential conflict of interest for Wasserbach because Ruggerio represents homeowners and council regulates development.

The News Journal in May reported about emails showing that 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.

Councilman Bob Weiner has unsuccessfully sought council approval to request an outside legal opinion on whether Wasserbach’s emails show any wrongdoing and whether the emails should have been made public. Weiner’s latest attempt to bring that proposal to council was delayed by Wasserbach filing a complaint of harassment and retaliation associated with his Whistleblower Protection Complaint.

Council officials have declined to speak about that complaint calling it a “personnel issue.”

 

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