Levy Court drops consideration of DE Turf room tax bill

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Bill sponsor Paradee accuses newspaper of smear campaign

State Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, will ask Kent County Levy Court to drop consideration of a bill that would send all Kent County lodging tax revenues to DE Turf.

WBOC TV reported that Levy Court agreed to drop consideration of the tax, which had been on next week’s agenda.

Paradee says he plans to introduce a bill that would drop a provision that would send all county lodging revenues to the nonprofit operator of youth playing fields.

The bill had drawn opposition from the Delaware Hotel and Lodging Association.

The senator went on toharshly criticizeNews Journalcoverage, which he described as a “smear campaign” against his family.

The stories centered on the possible role of the family in the DE Turf playing field complex south of Dover.

Paradee posted the following on social media:

It is time to end the smear campaign against my family.

The News Journal has published multiple stories regarding legislation that would allow Kent County Levy Court to impose a hotel lodging tax and direct those revenues to the DETurf.

So far, the News Journal has uncovered two facts well known to most of Kent County. First, my parents raised three hard-working children: one became a lawyer in the Governor’s office, one became a prominent land-use attorney, and one became a State Senator. Second, our work responsibilities occasionally collide in this small state and even smaller county.

The rest of the story is the product of innuendo, willful omission, and false information provided by public officials who should know better. This notion of a grand conspiracy between my siblings and exists solely in the pages of The News Journal.

Let me set the record straight.

First, the hotel lodging tax was not my idea, and I had no part in drafting the bill’s language, nor did any member of my family. Second, the legislation does not implement a tax – it enables Levy Court to enact a tax after consideration in an open, public setting. Third, it was Sen. Colin Bonini, the Republican whose district includes the sports complex, who initially introduced the tax-enabling language in the Bond Bill. The News Journal is well-aware of this fact but has chosen to omit it from their reporting because it does not fit their narrative. Fourth, the legislation was passed with near-unanimous, bipartisan support. Fifth, none of this would have happened without the initial blessing of a majority of Levy Court Commissioners.

Bill Strickland and Shelly Cecchett from the DETurf had meetings in early 2019 with Levy Court Commissioners Brooks Banta, Jody Sweeney, and Terry Pepper to gain their support for a hotel lodging tax to benefit the DETurf. Also present was Kent County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange, who later came to Legislative Hall on June 30 (presumably at the behest of Levy Court leadership) to speak on behalf of the legislation if necessary.

It is my understanding that those present at the meetings gave Bill and Shelly their blessing to proceed with the tax proposal. Commissioner Eric Buckson was subsequently briefed, and I have been told that he was also supportive. After receiving the green light from a majority of Commissioners, Bill and Shelly began contacting members of the General Assembly for support. When I first met with them on April 17, 2019, I was told they had commitments for at least four votes from Levy Court.

Sen. Bonini’s effort to have the enabling language inserted into the Bond Bill failed, rightfully in my opinion, in the final weeks of the legislative session. The Bond Bill co-chairs insisted the hotel tax be voted on as separate legislation, just like every other hotel lodging tax that has passed without controversy in recent years.

With just a few days remaining in the legislative session, DETurf asked for my assistance. Why me? Because in order to get a bill on the agenda with time running out, you need a respected member of the majority party as the primary sponsor. Six Democrats and four Republicans joined me as co-sponsors. Up until that point, my role was no different than any other Kent County legislator.

In hindsight, I wish there had been more time for me to carefully consider the legislation and potential conflicts, but my decision was made in haste and based solely on assurances that the Commissioners supported the measure.

As hard as this might be for some to believe, my brother and I rarely discuss our work. When we do find an opportunity to chat, our conversations focus on our children, our mother’s health, and just about anything but work and board meetings. I was not aware that he was a member of the DETurf’s volunteer board, and, as a successful land use attorney, my brother is not legally permitted to discuss the work he does on behalf of his clients.

Most recently, the News Journal implicated my sister Jackie Mette, deputy legal counsel to Gov. John Carney, without a shred of evidence she was involved in any way other than she is part of a team that provides the Governor with a legal review of pending legislation.

I categorically reject the false narrative that my family plotted to pass this bill. The truth is it was proposed by board members of the DETurf and backed by members of Levy Court.

However, I take my reputation as an honest and forthright steward of the public’s trust very seriously, and I am deeply troubled by how my sponsorship of this bill is being misconstrued.

That is why I am calling on Levy Court to postpone a final vote on the lodging tax until the General Assembly reconvenes in January. In the meantime, I intend to file legislation removing DETurf as the sole recipient of that revenue.

If Levy Court subsequently directs those funds to that public-private partnership at a later date, that will be their choice and their choice alone.

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