A series of spats over construction work has bruised Kirby Delauter’s relationships with town leaders, losing him the support of two mayors and a town commissioner in the council district he is striving to win.
In tense email exchanges with Thurmont officials, Delauter has threatened the mayor with legal action, demanded public apologies for a slight to his construction company and excoriated a town employee for being as “arrogant as an old lady waiting on chicken.” Writing from his Frederick County commissioner email account, Delauter also suggested that town leadership eliminate the employee’s position and hand the duties over to a private contractor.
Work performed by Delauter’s construction company on Myersville’s sewer pipes also created tension with the town mayor, who felt Delauter exhibited a lack of respect and a bullying attitude.
Republican leaders in Myersville and Thurmont were among the four municipal officials who recently announced they were crossing party lines to endorse Delauter’s Democratic opponent for election to the District 5 council seat.
The run-ins with Delauter aren’t the only reasons the municipal officials are supporting Mark Long. Thurmont Commissioner Wayne Hooper, who voted for Delauter four years ago, said he doesn’t believe the county commissioner has been an effective advocate for the northern part of the county. Myersville Mayor Wayne Creadick said Delauter has been notably absent from community functions and town meetings over the past four years.
However, these municipal leaders said their sour interactions with Delauter shed light on a temperament they believe is problematic in a public official.
“I think one of the things to look for in people who govern our community are people who can be levelheaded and not have a short fuse that goes off in an instant,” Thurmont Mayor John Kinnaird said.
Though Delauter has spoken as a business owner during most of his run-ins with town leaders, his temper has also flared several times in his role as commissioner. In 2012, he stormed out of a hearing after a county employee interrupted and disagreed with him. On another occasion, a commissioners meeting was adjourned amid a blow-up between Delauter and a resident who had challenged his integrity.
Delauter says he hasn’t lashed out in anger at town leaders but has simply defended his business reputation against unfair attacks and done his best to cope with senseless town bureaucracy.
And many town leaders in County Council District 5 are standing behind Delauter. The Republican council candidate has picked up endorsements from Emmitsburg Mayor Donald Briggs, Thurmont Commissioner Martin Burns and Thurmont Police Chief Greg Eyler.
Burns, former mayor of Thurmont, said he supports Delauter as a fiscal conservative who followed through on his promises from the 2010 commissioner campaign. Lack of polish is no reason to vote against someone whose policies are solid, Burns added.
“I more than any other politician have put my foot in my mouth,” he said. “But it’s not about whether you like somebody or don’t like somebody. ... It’s where you stand on the issues. Kirby Delauter hands-down stands with me on the issues.”
Thurmont construction project
Municipal leaders who are opposing Delauter believe his actions as a businessman speak to his fitness for public office.
In one case involving Thurmont, a threat of legal action against Kinnaird erupted from a disagreement over how the town was handling a project to build a new Advance Auto Parts store.
A land transfer necessary for the project was getting bogged down because, under local zoning law, an existing structure was too close to the new property line. However, project partners argued they couldn’t remove the building until they acquired the property. One of the people involved in the construction effort wrote to Delauter at his county address in late January, calling the situation a “Catch-22.”
Delauter asked county staff to look into the situation and indicated he would “appreciate the Town’s assistance in moving this project along,” according to an email sent by the commissioner’s assistant. The new auto business would bring jobs and tax revenue to Thurmont, the message explained.
Delauter then followed up with a February email from his county account castigating the town’s zoning and utility inspector for an obstructionist attitude. Kinnaird believes the comments were improper, but in a phone interview, Delauter maintained that the post is unnecessary to the town.
During the email exchange, obtained by The Frederick News-Post through a public information request, Delauter wrote that the employee “has never been helpful to anyone. I’ve lived that scenario and he can be as arrogant as an old lady waiting on chicken at the buffet line.”
“My next comment will be that of a taxpayer, not an elected official. I would take the zoning administrator position and eliminate it. ... Not one person (well maybe one) would miss the zoning person mentioned above. In my opinion, they have milked the taxpayer long enough,” he later continued.
Then, in late March, Delauter’s company applied for permission to demolish the old structures to make way for the auto parts store.
At an April town meeting, Kinnaird noted that Delauter had landed the contract to tear down the buildings and said he found it strange considering the commissioner had pressed town leaders to move along the Advance Auto Parts project.
“I think it’s just very coincidental ... that he would inquire about that and then have the actual job himself,” Kinnaird said during the meeting.
Kinnaird acknowledged, however, that he didn’t know if Delauter had the demolition contract when he was corresponding with town leaders about the project.
Delauter condemned Kinnaird’s comments as slander, saying the statements implied that he had used his position as county commissioner to benefit his business. W.F. Delauter & Son was not yet involved in the project when Delauter urged the town to work with the construction partners and was asked to bid on the demolition weeks after his February emails.
“You don’t drag somebody through the mud in a public meeting when you don’t have the facts,” said Delauter, who notified Kinnaird that he could face a legal backlash for making the statements.
Delauter asked for a public apology by email and also in person during a town meeting about a week later. Kinnaird’s no-comment response has prompted Delauter to label him a coward, although he has not filed a lawsuit against the mayor.
Myersville sewer line replacement
Myersville’s mayor, Creadick, also argues that Delauter’s actions as a businessman raise concerns about his leadership ability.
Delauter’s company was contracted to replace a sewer line as part of work to construct a new gas compressor station in Myersville, and problems with town officials started almost as soon as work began in mid-July.
For instance, officials couldn’t get the contractors to provide a timeline for the construction and sensed that Delauter was brushing off their efforts to safeguard the town’s main water and sewer lines, Creadick added. Emails to Delauter show the town also believed the company had trespassed on private property and damaged stream banks.
The Myersville officials expressed concern that heavy construction equipment driving over soft soils might damage the town’s sewer line, and in response, Delauter wrote that “we will not be responsible for any damage to your line due to soft soils.”
Later, amid mounting frustration about the inability to coordinate meetings between the town manager and company representatives, Delauter wrote that “I’ve done everything but drive him to the site and buy donuts.”
Delauter says he tried to make time to talk with town officials, but they were being unreasonable, in one instance providing only 15 minutes’ notice of a site meeting. He said he believes town officials were delaying progress because of their general displeasure with the compressor station project.
Ultimately, Creadick said he had to issue a cease-and-desist order until the company addressed the town’s questions. Throughout the experience, Creadick said he felt Delauter disregarded rules and failed to take responsibility for his employees.
“He never showed me the respect that I thought I deserved as a mayor,” Creadick said.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.