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Open government advocates urge ethics oversight in wake of Kent County lodging tax questions

Milton Pratt
Delaware Public Media

State Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover) plans to amend legislation he sponsored giving revenue from a new lodging tax to a Kent County sports complex.

The lodging tax bill Paradee sponsored earlier this year allows Kent County Levy Court to implement a 3 percent hotel lodging tax solely benefiting DE Turf, a privately-run facility near Frederica.

Paradee’s brother John is on DE Turf’s board and has an interest in an adjacent retail complex. Paradee denies he sponsored the bill to benefit his brother. He said he intends to introduce a measure removing DE Turf as the only recipient of the lodging tax revenue in January.

The Delaware Coalition for Open Government’s John Flaherty said he takes Paradee at his word. But his group is also pushing legislation creating an Inspector General so lawmakers avoid future appearances of conflicts of interest.

“We’re modeling our efforts about a bill that passed in 2007 to create an Inspector General," he said. "It was sponsored by State Rep. Bill Oberle.”

Flaherty said state legislators could also give the Public Integrity Commission authority over ethics violations.

Paradee did not respond when asked if he supported additional ethics oversight.

State Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark South) said he supports making it harder to rush bills like this one through on the last day of session. He also backs legislation creating an Inspector General. He supported a similar bill in 2007.

“I was one of the sponsors on that bill to create the office of an independent Inspector General for the very specific purpose of overseeing any chance of us having mishaps, missteps, or deliberate ignoring of conflicts of interest,” he said.

The House passed the 2007 legislation without opposition. Three representatives did not vote, including now Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach). That bill died in a Senate committee. Schwartzkopf said he didn't vote on that bill because lawmakers were having to cut millions out of the state budget and this had a substantial fiscal cost. He had no comment when asked about the renewed interest in creating an Inspector General office.

DE Turf is in debt nearly 21 million dollars from the construction of the complex in 2016.

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