Substance Or Perception ?

  Last night I was contacted by a person who will remain anonymous, in regards to what they said was a breaking story. They told me that a story would be coming out today concerning the FEC report for the Glenn Urquhart campaign and the fact that it showed that the current Sussex County Council of Delaware president, Vance Phillips, is on the payroll of the Urquhart campaign.

   I must admit that at first I was concerned with the perception of a conflict of interest, the person who gave me this lead, also stated that they felt that this was un-ethical.

  I put in a call to Mr. Phillips so as to get his side of this controversy. He returned my call within a couple of hours . I spoke to him about the concerns that I myself had and those raised by the person who had alerted me. Mr. Phillips informed me that the same person had been calling other news outlets around the county and possibly the state.

  Mr. Phillips stated that, yes he was indeed on the payroll of the Urquhart campaign as an advisor. He let me know that there was nothing currently in front of the Sussex County Council and nothing pending that concerned Mr. Urquhart or any of his private concerns. Mr. Phillips also stated that if anything were to come before the council, that he would recuse himself from any votes involving Mr. Urquhart.

  At the time I was speaking with Mr. Phillips he was in fact at an event in support of the TEA movement and was with Mr. Urquhart. I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Urquhart on this matter and he also let me know that he had no business pending , and no business planned to come before the Sussex County Council. Mr. Urquhart also told me that he had not had any dealings with the council for several years past. Mr. Phillips did make a good point, that if Mr. Urquhart were attempting to buy influence on the council, this was a poor way to go about it, since he would actually be losing a vote by having Mr. Phillips recuse himself. Also Mr. Phillips is known to be a pro property rights vote on the council already.

  After speaking with Mr. Phillips and Mr. Urquhart I came to the conclusion that, at this time, this would seem to be a non- issue. I was not even going to post on this issue, but felt that since, in such a small state, this could seem to be a big story. I felt that it would be a good idea to post my opinion of this.

  So now here is my opinion. If the person who informed me of this, or anyone else , has actual evidence of misconduct on the part of Mr. Phillips, I ask them to contact me and I will be the first to post it. All too often in the political arena, perception becomes more important than substance. In this case ,at this time, I see no substance to make any charge of misconduct. The problem that Mr. Phillips and Mr. Urquhart are facing is that there are some people out there who wish only to project the perception of misconduct, for whatever reason.

  I’m sure that myself and others will now be paying closer attention to Mr. Phillips votes at County Council, but for myself, until I can prove through substantive evidence, this would seem to be all smoke and no fire.

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11 Responses to “Substance Or Perception ?”

  1. judson bennett Says:

    Dear Frank,

    As a dedicated political pundit, I feel obligated to pursue this issue. Substance some because the Public Trust is at stake here–Vance represents all the people and if he has to recuse, it should not ever be because of a monetary deal made with a developer who is running for office. Someting like a brother or a neighbor is the only reasonable recusal situation–otherwise it is wrong.

    That being said, I received a call on my cell phone today from Congressional Candidate Glen Urquhart who has employed Sussex County Council President, Vance Phillips as a paid consultant in his campaign. Urquhart is clearly known as a developer and Phillips runs the County Council as its President and votes on land use decisions which can involve millions of dollars.

    As per his brief phone call to me, Glen Urquhart had this concise statement which I am quoting accordingly:

    ” I have not had a development for quite some time and I’m now a Candidate for U.S. Congress. I am not in the development business right now. If I did have somerthing before the Sussex County Council, then Vance Phillips would have to excuse himself from voting. I see no conflict of interest or the appearence of an impropriety with Vance Phillips being my paid consultant whatsoever.”

    Interestingly, I received a comprehensive e-mail message on this subject from the former Republican Senate Minority Leader, John Still shortly before Urquhart’s phone call. Here’s what he says about the Phillips and Urquhart relationship:

    —– Original Message —–
    From: DFGGroup@aol.com
    To: pilotajb@dmv.com
    Subject: Re: COUNCIL PRESIDENT TO RESPOND ON WGMD RADIO

    TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

    “I remember when, as State Senator Minority Leader, I assisted a bonafide candidate in his race for State Senator of the old 14th district in the Smyrna-Clayton areas. As a part of my leadership position, it was and is standard practice to recruit and assist viable candidates for offices. For example, I also encouraged and assisted other candidates who fortunately were elected from time to time. For example, some in kent county were: Donna Stone (R), realtor, Pam Thornburg(R) small businesswoman and Farm Bureau employee, Nancy Wagner (R), Teacher and Adminstrator, etc…

    At no time was I compensated for my volunteer efforts, none was expected, none was offered, and none should be provided for, and I would never have taken any form of compensation from such candidates…period.

    The one candidate from the Smyrna-Clayton area was and is a long time realtor and developer. However, I did not assume a key position as campaign manager nor was I paid as a consultant nor independent contractor. Also, that candidate did not bring land use issues to me for consideration, nor a vote, nor was any advice nor counsel in such matters considered by me at any time. That is not apparently the case here between Mr. Phillips and Congressional candidate, Mr. Urquhart.

    in my opinion, Mr. Phillips is free to do as he pleases with his own time, but not the public’s time. Upon being elected, he is held to a high standard of conduct, as denoted on his swearing in pledge required each and every time a candidate runs and wins and is sworn in. : Most importantly, every effort is to be made to avoid potential, real, and/or the appearance of a conflicts of interest. Based on what I am reading and hearing this is not what is happening.

    If compensation, emoluments, or other financial arrangements are in consideration or offered or being promised or actually being paid…a decision by Mr. Phillips and the candidate needs to be made that is in the public’s interest..First and foremost—Land use, comprehensive planning, rezonings, etc…are issues typically conducted at the county and/or municipal level. And therein rises the tainted potential for conflicts.

    An elected official whose principal duties revolve around such measures and activities cannot simply recuse themselves from doing their duty as an elected official. They knew what the job entailed when they were elected and to consequently, after being elected, say that they simply would recuse themselves from a potential conflict is both naive and shortsighted. This appearance of conflict is happening precisely because it may give rise to a conflict. Whether or not it is a real conflict depends on the facts of the situation(s). But why would an elected official put oneself in such a negative position?

    In my opinion, simply saying you will recuse oneself from a vote on this candidate/ developer’s (Mr. Urquhart) projects, if and when they come again, is not the answer and going not voting means an elected official is not effectively representing the public to whom he/she has sworn allegiance.

    I recognize that certain situations, after you are elected, arise where a recusal or not voting decision is warranted, but not in this case…Mr. Phillips has created this situation and can correct it swiftly and accordingly…and should without delay.

    The candidate, Mr. Urquhart, should also know better by putting a highly regarded elected official in such a negative light and thus it tells me where, unfortunately, certain priorities are with his campaign. His personal and campaign ambitions take a priority over the public’s required allegiance from an elected official.

    Avoiding the perception or appearance of a conflict is as important as well as any real conflict. Sometimes things happen out of the control of elected officials..but not in this case. If any emoluments, compensation, or other financial arrangement is involved that should be reason enough to not enter into such an arrangement.”

    Sincerely,

    John Still
    Retired Senate Minority Leader
    1988-2008

    As I sometimes do in 2nd guessing my thoughts on certain subjects (especially after hearing and reading the comments from these two polarized individuals), I called my friend, lawyer, and former Sussex County Republican Chairman, Bruce Rogers on the Vance Phillips/ Urquhart scenareo.

    Bruce had this to say, ” not only is there the perceived potential conflict with Vance being on the Council and Urquhart having potential development projects, it goes much further than that—Vance is expected to maintain the public trust for all the people he represents and as an elected official it is unethical for him to be paid to work in a partisan political campaign for money regardless of what Mr. Urquhart does to make money.”

    There you have it Frank —two opposite perspectives from a former Republican Legislator and leader and a developer who wants to be a Congressman, and some words of wisdom from a dedicated Republican, a former GOP Sussex Chairman, and a Georgertown attorney.

    Will this issue develop further, does it have an effect on Urquhart’s chances in winning a Republican primary, could it effect Phillips’ chances of being re-elected if he runs again? Is this issue significant or doesn’t it really matter? Again perception is reality in politics. The appearence of an improprirty is as bad as the impropriety itself regardless of substance.

  2. frankknotts Says:

    Mr. Bennett, is it true that you were a paid consultant for the Clatworthy campaign while you were a sitting City of Lewes councilman? Weren’t you afraid of the perception of a conflict of interest? What if Mr. Clatworthy or one of his relatives or associates brought something before the town council? You would have had to recuse yourself and leave your constituents without representation.
    Let us remember that we are talking about perception, that is what the governing law states I believe, the perception of impropriety.
    Well perception can be different to different people. I see this issue one way and you see it another, even if we take it to an ethics board to decide, this sessions board could see it entirely different from the next board or from the previous one. The only perception that will matter is that of the voters.

  3. judson bennett Says:

    Yes it is true, I was Clatworthy’s Sussex Director, but it was entirely different.

    1) That was years ago and was then, this is now. There was complete disclosure up front and approval by the council and the City attorney. It is “apples and oranges” and not even similar.

    2) Vance Phillips is paid $22,000 a year plus health Insurance which kicks it up to $32,000 plus of the tax payers money. In Lewes, I was elected, but was a volunteer and received no compensation from the town.

    3} Ray Clatworthy was not a developer, did not live in Lewes, and the chances of a conflict were little or none, but with Vance the conflict is always there because his sole job is to rule on land use, and Urquhart is a developer and there already was an established relationship between the two with Isaaics Glen !

    4) Nobody ever had a problem with my relationship and if they did, I would have immediately resigned one of the positions. Vance refuses to do so, because for him it’s about money, money, and money–both from the tax-payers and Urquhart.

    5) Sorry Frank and all the petty detractors out there who think this smoke screen and ridiculous spin matters now–bottom line it’s not about Jud Bennett–I’m not running for office–Vance Phillips and Urquhart are and this deal is right now and is without a doubt improprietous.

    Unfortunately, it will affect Urquhart’s chances, it won’t go away, and it’s a mistake that will cost him the election of that I,m certain. The fact that he does not recognize the problem and liability here has to make us wonder about his judgement if ??

    Any reference to any past, possible or remote indiscretion in my life has no basis in this argument, because it’s not happening now and the problem is Vance Phillips, not Judson Bennett. I’m not running for office!!!!!! I’m not a Councilman, Vance Phillips is !

    Check out the Sunday News Journal Editorial page — I hear Ron Williams has his perception??????

  4. frankknotts Says:

    Well if Ron Williams says so, I guess the issue is over. My point about asking of your past is only to point out that perception is an individual matter. I would also say to others who may be pushing this issue to ask themselves, ” can I really afford the windows in my own glass house?” I guess in your view , since it happened in the past it no longer matters. Well the connection between Mr. Urquahart and the council is also in the past. There was no alligations at that time, and now there is only what if’s and could b’s . I wonder how you feel about campaign donations? You might want to check this blog tomorrow.
    It is okay for you to say that was then this is now, since it would seem that no conflict came up during your term. It is easy to say you would have resigned one of the positions since you didn’t have to. And I would add until such a conflict actually arises between Mr. Phillips two jobs all of this talk is just that, just talk.

  5. judson bennett Says:

    I can afford the windows–I don’t need a job, I don’t need money, and I’m not running for office or hold one now. I’ve made all the mistakes a person can make and been there and back. I figure nobody owes me and I owe nobody. Don’t care about perception concerning me, and enjoy being a pundit for which I earn no money. Bring it on. Speaking of talk–that’s what you do Frank–talk to hear yourself talk.

    Campaign contributions: Check out Vance Phillips since he’s been in office– It’s whos who in the development industry???? Indeed watch those windows Frank for some they indeed might break as this silly season moves on.

  6. Charles Says:

    Hello! Campaign donations are completely legal under Delaware law.
    Ask yourself Frank, Is thier an APPEARANCE of impropriety?
    If so, its against the law. That was easy huh?

  7. frankknotts Says:

    Charles, I agree. I also believe that I will be answering your point in my next article. And Mr. Bennett, I know you think a lot of yourself but this time I wasn’t talking about you.

  8. judson bennett Says:

    Good, I’m glad you were not talking about me. However read more about Urquhart and Phillips below: they tried to rough up the RNC Chairman. They are a couple of Yo YOs. Urquhart is toast and Vance along with him.

    FROM NEWS JOURNAL –RON WILLIAM”S WRITES in Sunday’s column:

    Urquhart campaign has issues :

    “Besides the recent ridiculous revelation that Sussex County Council president Vance Phillips is a paid consultant for the campaign of congressional candidate Glen Urquhart, there’s another tidbit concerning an apparent run-in between Urquhart and Republican National Chairman Michael Steele.

    According to Republican sources both here and in Washington, Urquhart’s recent visit to the national headquarters resulted in a chance hall meeting between the two.

    Urquhart apparently had an issue with Steele and a slight physical pushing incident ensued that required Steele’s security force to restrain Urquhart.

    There was also a correspondence to Delaware Republicans after Urquhart and Phillips visited the Congressional Election Committee seeking financial help. Whatever the discussion, the result was an e-mail asking Delaware Republican leaders,

    ‘ Where did you find these guys?’ “

  9. judson bennett Says:

    Although, I disagree with Frank and others on the appearence of an impropriety issue, under no circumstances will I malign a candidate if indeed I determine through investigation that the facts are not what was reported. Apparently, the story in the news Journal this morning is not true from my conversation with Kim Stevenson this morning who is Urquhart’s Press secretary. She is an old friend and she wouldn’t lie to me. As soon as I get the real story I will post it accordingly. Journalism should be honest, not a blatent misrepresentation under any circumstances. Opinion is one thing but presenting falsehoods is another. Stay tuned.

  10. judson bennett Says:

    FROM KIM STEVENSON FOR THE URQUHART CAMPAIGN:

    —– Original Message —–
    From: Kim
    To: Judson Bennett-Coastal Network
    Sent: Sunday, April 18, 2010 1:20 PM
    Subject: special for you

    According to Kim Stevenson:

    “Here is exactly what happened.

    Glen was in the RNC building waiting for a member of his party to catch up on our way to a meeting with members of the National Republican Congressional Committee when Michael Steele walked by. Glen called out to him in greeting, he turned and came over. Glen reminded Chairman Steele of the fundraisers Glen had for Steele in his home when Glen lived in McClean, Va. Chairman Steele acknowledged those meetings at Glen’s house and welcomed Glen to the building. Glen informed Steele that he was running for Congress and was hoping the RNC would reciprocate the help Glen has given in the past. Steele said he was sure the people at the NRCC would help us get the campaign going, smiled and shook hands. Steele then shook hands with the other members of Glen’s group, who included Vance Phillips, Dave Stevenson and Kim Stevenson.

    Steele then continued on his way, alone (as he had been the whole time), and we went on our way to a meeting in the building. That’s about as exciting as the whole thing got.

    There were no security guards, no pushing, no shoving – sorry, nothing rumor worthy at all.

    We appreciate the impartial and fact checking stance the Coastal Conservative Network is taking.”

    Sincerely,
    Kim

    Kim Stevenson
    Communications Director
    Urquhart for Congress
    http://www.Glen4Liberty.com
    302-588-2760

  11. frankknotts Says:

    Thank you Mr. Bennett, for posting that release, I was about to. This actually demonstrates my point about perception. It also demonstrates why we should be careful where we get our information. Ron Williams is not, in my opinion, a credible source when it come to covering conservative candidates.

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