The Middletown Action Network, a commission of the Town of Middletown dedicated to providing resources to those in need, was found guilty of violating the Freedom of Information Act by the attorney general's office when it did not advertise the meetings where it drew up its by-laws. With three new appointed members, MAN will continue its mission and held a special meting on June 26 to present the by-laws it drew up in the private meetings.
Since the Middletown Action Network was named an official commission of the Town of Middletown by the Mayor and Council in October 2007, it has experienced some birthing pangs.
Three of its founding members resigned and the Delaware Attorney General’s Office ruled its closed, un-advertised meetings in which the commission drafted its by-laws were in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.
According to documents from the attorney general’s office, the council ratified the bylaws of the commission on Jan. 7. However, between October 2007 and January, the commission held what the town said were two or three meetings to draft its bylaws. These meetings were not publicly advertised and no minutes were taken.
Kristen Krenzer, public relations officer for the Town of Middletown, said the meetings were not open and advertised because the MAN members did not believe the commission was official yet.
“None of us thought we were actually a commission until these by-laws were published,” she said.
In March, then-resident Chris Stefanadis alleged the MAN commission was in violation of FOIA because of this, and also because the mayor appointed two members not listed in the ordinance.
The attorney general’s office ruled MAN became official after the ordinance went into effect in October. Thus, the meetings were in violation of FOIA and the office stated the town must make amends for the closed-door meetings.
The mayor appointment of the two new committee members was ruled an appropriate executive action.
To make up for this, MAN held a public meeting on June 26, outlining its bylaws for the public.
The process of
creating the by-laws
MAN began when its founding members, along with volunteer Darren Blackston, made a formal request to the Middletown council to become a Middletown commission in August 2007. At the October approval of the new commission, Marvin Perkins, John Brown, Brian Lewis, Forice Lively and Roosevelt Nichols were named as members.
Nurruddiyn Muhammad, secretary and currently a committee member for MAN, said the group had also been working on the by-laws even before it was accepted as a commission.
Krenzer said Middletown Town Planner Tim DeSchepper, another volunteer for the commission, completed the first draft of the by-laws, which he showed at MAN’s first meeting.
The original draft of the document was about six pages long. It had long sections outlining the commission’s purpose with detailed powers of the commission and officer duties, outlined an executive committee within the commission, gave the commission the power to elect its own officers, its own sub-committees and an executive director to conduct the business of the commission. This draft went through some edits, which removed the executive director and executive committee.
Krenzer said the draft then went to Town Solicitor Scott Chambers. Chambers removed large parts of the original draft, including the rules for sub-committees and the commission’s ability to elect its own officers. Chambers also changed much of the language in the commission purpose to make the committee answerable to the mayor and council.
“He thought the by-laws gave an awful lot of power to MAN that he thought should be mayor and council’s job,” she said.
The by-laws were decided on, but some on the commission disagreed with Chambers’ edits. Members Nichols, Brown and Lewis resigned from the commission.
“[Nichols and Brown] cited their reason for leaving as they didn’t want to be micro-managed by mayor and council,” Krenzer said.
She said the two of them have worked on creating an independent commission since then. Lewis left to pursue other interests.
Krenzer said after Chambers returned the draft, the commission members went over the by-laws line-by-line.
“It was a lot of work,” Perkins said, “because all of us had an input.”
The final draft of the by-laws outlines first the commission purpose: to provide information for those in need in the community, to act as a referral service and to develop a survey for those who use MAN’s help for substance abuse that would have the benefit of informing the mayor and council about the measure of problems in the town. The commission purpose also states that the town’s by-laws must be subject to the mayor and council.
In addition, the by-laws outline the commission must have five members, three of which are chairperson, vice chairperson and recording secretary and states the basic duties. The by-laws state the meetings will be held on the second Thursday of every month, as well.
New members, moving forward
Krenzer said MAN is unique compared to other town commissions, which act solely as advisory bodies to the council.
“The Middletown Action Network is a little different because they want to do actual projects,” Krenzer said.
The primary goal of MAN is to act as a liaison and information resource for those struggling in the community. The four fields it covers include education/housing/employment, treatment for mental health and drug problems, early intervention and policing. Its far-reaching goal is to assist groups who wish to build resource centers such as shelters in the area.
“All the things we’re trying to do they’ve already done on the other side of the bridge,” said Marvin Perkins, chair of the commission.
MAN also will need to plan and document every bit of work they do, even for small projects, and submit them to the council. This can be as big as shelter assistance to as small as a pizza party for children.
With three open seats, Muhammad, Kris Gaunt and Rebecca Reyes were appointed to the commission. Krenzer, Town Planner Tim DeSchepper, Councilmember Robert McGhee and Gary Merkel, a Newark resident who is a member of Connections Community Church in Middletown, are also acting as volunteers.
Merkel said he wanted to volunteer because he was interested in connecting people in need with faith-based services. He found out about it when browsing Middletown’s Web site.
“I thought ‘Wow, that sounds like a useful thing to do,’ ” he said.
“There will also be volunteers all around town doing soup kitchens, doing community watches,” Krenzer said.
In addition to acting as a liaison, directing those in need to services through a hotline and building a resource guide, some of the plans discussed for MAN are to set up community events for kids, as well as partner with local community groups such as the Neighborhood House and the M.O.T. Big Ball Marathon.
“For MAN to work, we need all the support of Middletown,” Muhammad said.
Krenzer suggested at MAN’s last meeting the commission’s office and hotline be set up in the Old Academy Building. No plan has been made as of yet.