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6/10/2015
Embattled NCCo auditor files harassment claim; Councilman Weiner continues to seek independent legal guidance for County Council - News Journal

Councilman Bob Weiner has sought council approval to request an outside legal opinion on if Wasserbach's emails show any wrongdoing and whether the emails should have been made public.

The memo from Bullock's office noting Wasserbach's harassment claim was forwarded to Councilman Bob Weiner on Monday to explain why the effort to hire an outside legal expert would not be on the council's Executive Committee agenda Tuesday.

"I fail to see how a whistleblower protection application by our auditor, whom I respect, trumps the council's duty to seek legal advice," Weiner said at the committee meeting on Tuesday.

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.

Weiner told the council that he reserves his right to bring the issue back to council in the future.


Embattled NCCo auditor files harassment claim

Xerxes WIlson, The News Journal 11:40 a.m. EDT June 10, 2015

New Castle County Auditor Bob Wasserbach has filed a complaint of harassment with his superiors on County Council.

The specifics of the allegations are unknown at this time. The claim follows months of government debate over whether a selection of the auditor's emails with a business colleague should be public and assertions by County Executive Tom Gordon's office and some on council that the messages show ethical wrongdoing.

On Monday, an aide to council President Chris Bullock sent a memo to council members noting Wasserbach had provided to the Clerk of Council a statement regarding "alleged harassment and retaliation associated with his Whistleblower Protection Complaint" last week.

County Council staff and leadership are not talking about the specifics of the complaint and how it fits into the county government's protections for whistleblowers. The memo noted the complaint would be vetted internally.

Wasserbach did not return a call seeking clarification.

"It is a personnel matter. It is confidential. That is the way we are going to keep it," said Council Policy Director James Boyle.

Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick said she had read the complaint through her role on the council's Personnel Committee, but declined to comment on its specifics. She said the committee will vet the issue.

Wasserbach and his allies on council have previously accused Gordon's office of circumventing the authority of council in releasing a trove of the auditor's emails as part of a smear campaign. This saga was sparked by an audit of the county's investment practices released in April, which Gordon said was politically motivated.

Before the audit was finalized, Chief Administrative Officer David Grimaldi unsuccessfully sought to brief council about Wasserbach's business relationship with Dover lobbyist Rhett Ruggerio. The two own four rental properties together. Grimaldi claims the relationship is a potential conflict of interest because Ruggerio represents homeowners and council regulates development.

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.

Before the audit's release, council rejected a Freedom of Information Request filed by a Gordon ally seeking all the messages between the auditor and Ruggerio.

County Council has authority over Wasserbach's emails, but lawyers for the Executive Office controversially sent them to County Council members as the audit was about to be released. Ultimately, the Gordon's office sent them to the original requester.

The News Journal last month 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 on discussions to have the county contract altered in a way that could benefit Faithful Friends. Those emails were also distributed to County Council and The News Journal by the Executive's Office.

Councilman Bob Weiner has sought council approval to request an outside legal opinion on if Wasserbach's emails show any wrongdoing and whether the emails should have been made public.

The memo from Bullock's office noting Wasserbach's harassment claim was forwarded to Councilman Bob Weiner on Monday to explain why the effort to hire an outside legal expert would not be on the council's Executive Committee agenda Tuesday.

"I fail to see how a whistleblower protection application by our auditor, whom I respect, trumps the council's duty to seek legal advice," Weiner said at the committee meeting on Tuesday.

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.

Weiner told the council that he reserves his right to bring the issue back to council in the future.

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

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