Gov. Carney's office won't say whether Paradee sister did legal review for DE Turf bill

Sarah Gamard
The News Journal

Gov. John Carney's office would not comment Monday whether Jacqueline Mette, deputy legal counsel to the governor and Sen. Trey Paradee's sister, conducted the legal review for her brother's controversial DE Turf hotel tax bill.

Mette serves on Carney's four-person legal team that reviews all bills passed by the General Assembly before the governor considers them.

The hotel tax bill, should Kent County officials approve it, could benefit a proposed development championed by John Paradee, brother of Trey Paradee and Mette.

John Paradee also sits on the board of DE Turf, a private sports complex near Frederica that would receive all of the tax revenue, estimated to be about $1 million a year.

Trey Paradee, a Dover-area state senator, sponsored the bill, which was pushed through the Legislature during its final hours in June.

More than half of legislators who voted in favor of the bill and responded to Delaware Online/The News Journal said they would have reconsidered their yes vote had they known of the potential conflict. Many others said they would have pressed for more details. 

REGRETTING THEIR VOTES:Some Delaware lawmakers second-guessing their yes votes

Mette did not immediately respond to an email from The News Journal for this story.

"We don’t comment on details about the governor’s deliberative process," wrote the governor's spokesman, John Starkey, in a text Monday. "The governor has confidence in his legal team and their ability to give him straightforward advice."

Governor John Carney signs a bill during the last day of legislative session Sunday, June 30, 2019 at Legislative Hall.

The governor's office also did not comment about whether Mette conducts legal review for any legislation authored by her brother.

The bill, which the governor signed into law in mid-July, allows Kent County to tax hotel stays up to 3% of room rates. It would give the resulting $1 million in revenue to DE Turf. That revenue would help the facility attract more tournaments and, according to backers of the tax, bring tens of millions of new dollars into the county.

The General Assembly scrambled through three versions of the bill in the week before overwhelmingly passing it on the final day of the legislative year, June 30.

It came just as John Paradee moved forward with plans for Asbury Square, a hotel, restaurant and retail development on a 21-acre field adjacent to the sports complex.

John Paradee

The News Journal reported in August that John Paradee filed an application with the state for the development two days after his brother's bill passed. On the application, there were three listed owners of the 21-acre property, all limited liability companies.

John Paradee's name is listed on the LLC's filings. He has represented at least one of the entities, JMER Properties LLC, at municipal government meetings.

BEHIND THE DE TURF BILL:Hotel tax proceeds would go to private entity, raise questions about potential conflict

Kent County Levy Court plans to publicly discuss the DE Turf hotel tax during its Nov. 5 meeting, though an agenda is not yet set in stone. Commissioners will not vote whether to implement the tax during that meeting, and there will be a chance for public comment, according to a county spokesperson.

DE TURF PUSHED THE BILL:Kent County commissioners say they did not ask for proposed hotel tax

Former Republican Sen. Greg Lavelle, who has been outspoken against the DE Turf bill, said the Paradee family's involvement in the legislation is a "symptom of the disease" in the General Assembly.

He's referring to the flurry of bills that inundate the state's lawmaking body near the end of the legislative year. 

"The number of bills increases almost exponentially," he said. "In that rush, in that chaos, people take advantage of it. This is an example of that. ... There's probably other examples we're not even aware of."

Trey Paradee, D-Dover after being sworn in for the start of the 150th General Assembly at Legislative Hall in Dover in Jan. 2019.

One lawmaker – Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark – admitted to The News Journal after the DE Turf bill passed that he did not read the entire bill before voting for it.

Another lawmaker, Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, said that the General Assembly would ideally know every time a bill could directly benefit an official's family. But the hectic nature of the final month of the legislative year makes it hard for lawmakers to scrutinize every bill, he said.

"If the Paradee family does not think this is the appearance of a conflict of interest, they're certainly just not paying attention," Lavelle said. "It puts them all in a bad light. They're a good family."

The DE Turf Sports Complex in Frederica

"There's 61 other legislators down there," Lavelle said. "It's not like he had to do the bill."

In August, when The News Journal began reporting on the hotel tax, Sen. Paradee said he had "no idea" about his brother's involvement in the development or that he sat on DE Turf's board.

But in 2014, when plans for the sports complex began to move forward, The News Journal reported that John Paradee was one of the developers of Asbury Square.

"I would love to see the sports complex be built there," John Paradee said at the time. "It would obviously benefit a lot of my clients and potentially myself, as well, but that's not why I'm involved."

Have a story idea about politics or state government? Contact Sarah Gamard at sgamard@delawareonline.com or (302) 324-2281.