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Legal action forces council to watch words

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Conciliation only clue in officials' cryptic action

Sussex County Council has approved the appointment of its president to a committee without specifically stating what action the committee will take.

Following a June 28 executive session to

" discuss pending litigation, council reconvened and voted 5-0 to appoint Council President Mike Vincent, R-Seaford, to a conciliation committee. In addition, on a motion from Councilman Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, council amended the motion to allow Vincent to invite other council members to participate on the committee.

Conciliation is part of the process used under the Fair Housing Act by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to bring parties together to attempt to mediate a complaint. The only recent action against Sussex County involving a housing complaint was one filed by Diamond State Community Land Trust over the denial of a subdivision applica tion for its New Horizons community near Laurel.

On Nov. 17, 2010, the land trust filed an appeal in Superior Court, and also filed complaints against the county with the state Division of Housing and Human Relations and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The case is pending.

County legal staff would neither confirm nor deny that conciliation involved the land trust's action. In addition, legal staff would not comment on the pending litigation discussed during the executive session.

Under the process, if the parties sign a conciliation agreement, HUD ends its investigation and closes the case. If either party breaches the agreement, HUD can recommend that the

U.S. Department of Justice file suit to enforce the agreement.

Contacted after the meeting, county attorney Everett Moore said although council used the word committee during its discussion, the group is not a committee per se. "It's a conciliation that may or may not take place, and if it takes place council was saying here is who should be there," he said.

Using cryptic language, Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, said the following when the meeting resumed: "I move that we follow legal counsel's advice concerning the pending litigation discussed in executive session."

After a second of the motion by Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach, Phillips asked what advice Cole was referring to.

"We heard attorneys talk for about an hour, and I'm not sure which piece of advice you aralking about," Phillips said.

After Moore told him he could be more specific, Cole answered he was referring to the appointment of Vincent to a conciliation committee.

"Are you saying that no other councilman should be there?" asked Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown.

Cole answered that others could attend but not participate; that's when Phillips suggested an amendment to give Vincent the authority to allow other coun-cilmembers to participate on the committee.

Vincent made it clear the motion was not a mandate.

Moore reminded council that more than two members at a meeting would constitute a quorum, which under law would require the meeting be open to the public.

"The idea is to keep this to a small group to deal with conciliation," Cole said.

Original Publication Date: July 15, 2011

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