Posted: Jan. 23, 2003
SHARP TO THE END
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
When Thomas B. Sharp retired from the Delaware
Senate last year, he left a little nothing for Karen E. Peterson,
the senator who replaced him.
Both Sharp and Peterson are Democrats. Days
after the Primary Election in September, when the candidate whom
Sharp backed had lost and Peterson won, Sharp drained his
legislative roadwork account of $457,716 on a final round of
projects before he left office.
Some of those last projects caught Peterson's
attention big time. The biggest was $100,000 for improvements to the
Fenwick Island Lighthouse. Another was $25,000 to replace a dock at
Camp Barnes, a summer camp run by the state police for disadvantaged
children near Bethany Beach.
These projects were not exactly in the 9th
Senatorial District, a sprawling suburban New Castle County district
that stretches from Newark to Newport. They were somewhat closer,
however, to the summer home that Sharp has in Fenwick Island in
"Now I have nothing against Camp Barnes or its
floating dock, but it's $25,000 of 9th district money," Peterson
said. "This is straightforward. The money belongs here."
Peterson also questioned how money that is
supposed to be spent on transportation projects could be earmarked
for painting and ventilation for a lighthouse or for a new dock --
inside or outside her senatorial district.
Peterson wants some of Sharp's final projects
de-authorized, and although she has not been able to do it yet, she
still is trying. The problem is that she has stumbled into one of
the all-time great legislative scams with a long history of creative
Today these legislative accounts, like the one
Sharp tapped, are known as Community Transportation Funds. It is a
relatively new name, replacing the old designation of Suburban
Street Money, which came to have such an unsavory connotation that
it was changed.
In the bad old days of Suburban Street Money,
some of it was directed to pay for air conditioning at a church
school, parades, youth sports leagues and an occasional political
organization. After federal investigators got interested about two
years ago, the rules were tightened to ensure the money was spent on
transportation-related projects with certain allowances for
Within those rules, each of the 21 senators
and 41 representatives gets $300,000 a year and largely has a free
hand in designating projects.
"There are no geographic limits, as long as
they're in Delaware," said Transportation Secretary Nathan Hayward
Tom Sharp didn't spend 28 years in the Senate,
rising to the top post as president pro tem, without knowing the ins
and outs of the roadwork account. It was his money to spend, and he
"You get all kinds of requests, particularly
when you're sitting in the president pro tem seat," Sharp said.
He said he wanted to fix the Fenwick Island
lighthouse because it is a state-owned structure that needs to be
maintained, even though it is no longer used for navigation. He said
he replaced the Camp Barnes dock at the request of a constituent
with a child who went to the camp as part of the activities for the
Stockley Center, the state's residential care facility near
Georgetown for the developmentally disabled.
"I don't know of any project in the 9th
Senatorial District that wasn't done," Sharp said.
Hayward, the transportation secretary, said
Sharp had the right to spend the money the way he did, and that's
the way it is.
"The only person who can stop payment on the
check is the person who wrote it," Hayward said. "Imagine your rich
uncle writes a check for $457,000 for -- I don't know -- the Cat
Society and mails it. Then he gets in his car to go play golf and
gets hit by a bus. You're his executor and his beneficiary, and you
may not like the Cat Society, but you can't stop payment.
"Your uncle did what he did."
Peterson was unimpressed. "That works if the
uncle was spending his own money, but he wasn't," she said.
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