Was Foxtail hearing just a wild goose chase?

    John Watson has followed the Delaware scene from his radio talk show perch for decades. He has an opinion on the Foxtail concert controversy and why Velda Jones-Potter may deserve another chance.

    Here is John Watson’s commentary:

    Every one had hope that having a Wilmington City Council meeting on Monday September 30th would clear the air about the controversy surrounding the Foxtail Fest hip hop event on the Wilmington Riverfront in Tubman-Garrett Park. Who did what? Wrong or right.

    During the City Council TV broadcast of the meeting, we kept getting different versions of the same story from the testimony given. The meeting lasted over six hours of testimony, and here we sit, still wondering about it all.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    In the beginning, Councilman-At-Large Mike Brown wanted some of the Mayor Dennis Williams officials to resign because of what we were hearing about who was guilty of what. The list included Wilmington Police Chief Christine Dunning, Fire Chief Anthony Goode, Public Works Commissioner Cauley, and Charlotte Barnes, Special Assistant of the Mayors Chief of Staff John Matlusky. (More about them later)

    So, where did that leave us? We ended up with Councilman Brown’s list of possible wrong-doers and more questions than answers. Every one put aside their conclusions about the matter until City Council had it’s meeting on the matter.

    Perhaps they realized how wrong they were in criticizing a mother’s love for her son. Was it just Velda Jones-Potter helping her son Brandon Potter with this Foxtail Fest? It was his “first time event”. He said these events “typically” get city support. No one has said otherwise. As a matter of fact, in the first News Journal piece about this, Mayor Dennis Williams defended using public funds to pay for some costs of the all-day Foxtail Fest, arguing that other events also received city services that weekend.

    This could be a problem for Williams later on.  As for Velda Jones-Potter, she said her meetings dealing with the Foxtail event were made “unofficially, as a private citizen.” She was on vacation and personal time.

    Others testified during the City Council meeting that she was viewed by some as their superior, acting officially. It occurs to me that if they felt that way, why didn’t they ask her about it? I’m sure she would have reminded them that she had already made her unofficial position clear.

    As pointed out in the City Council meeting on the matter, and in earlier News Journal accounts, Brandon Potter never asked for 20 police officers for security at the event. He had arranged to pay for 20 private security guards. Wilmington Police spokesman Corporal Mark Ivey is quoted as saying police department officials wanted city police on duty because of the expected size of the crowd and “the event had the potential to be a public safety concern”. He added, “Private security guards don’t have the authority to arrest people.”   He emphasized police officials felt sworn officers were needed to secure public safety.

    Corporal Ivey also said Foxtail organizers had talked to the police about reducing the security count because fewer tickets were sold, but police said the event “footprint” was large enough to require 20 officers.

    And as I remember it, those 20 police officers took turns visiting all of the events, not just the Foxtail Fest. During the City Council hearing in a some what heated exchange, Wilmington Fire Chief Anthony Goode said he directed EMS coverage to the Riverfront events in question covering several events, not just Foxtail Fest. That’s more evidence to me that those saying the Foxtail event received special treatment were wrong. Maybe they have been wrong from the beginning of this “confused” waste of time in my point of view.

    City Council President Theo Gregory said at the council meeting, that the information gleaned from their investigation backed up his belief that a “misstep was made.” He went on to say, “We do make errors as human beings.” How more correct can you be than that? And it seems to me that’s what we have here. It’s a lot of missteps that too many people are using for their own gain of some type. I smell some rats.

    Should the Foxtail even be billed for the 20 police officers used at the event? The Special Assistant to the Mayor’s Chief of Staff John Matlusky, Charlotte Barnes testified at the council meeting that she told Velda Jones-Potter that the Foxtail Fest would not be billed for the number of police used at the event because police overtime is a city obligation. No one is billed. This kind of information came up several times during the council’s meeting, but some people insist on spreading the misinformation that the city gave Foxtail Fest special treatment. I hope this clears up the matter, but I doubt it.

    So now we have Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams, trying to wash his hands of any involvement with the Foxtail Fest event. He claims when Velda Jones-Potter, his Chief Strategy Adviser, called him about the problem with providing police security in and around the Riverfront, it seemed to be a real crisis, so he told her to work it out. He said Foxtail never came up, and he didn’t know anything about what was going on with it because it was a private mater, and he doesn’t get into that.

    Williams also denied information that he would contact the police chief to insure more officers, saying Jones-Potter “misrepresented” his statement when she said that. The Mayor said he would never have “authorized police coverage in a for-profit event at the city’s expense.”

    He said he had no idea Jones-Potter was representing Foxtail Fest in city meetings.  Well, Mayor Dennis Williams, which is it? You do or you don’t use public funds to pay for some city events, as you said you did according to the Friday, Sept. 20th News Journal on the front page? You didn’t say it was for police coverage, but public funds are public funds for what ever they are used for. I guess Williams forgot that.

    And finally, we have the last fatal blow against Velda Jones-Potter. It comes from John Matluski, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff.  During his testimony, Matlusky said he was stunned at some of Jones-Potter’s justifications about her conduct. When asked why no one questioned her about her possible inappropriate behavior, Matlusky said, city employees were told how to conduct themselves from day one when they are hired. What’s in and what’s out of bounds. He made it clear if Jones-Potter had any questions, she should have gone to the city solicitor to find out how to properly conduct herself. Sounds like a bunch of nonsense to me. Velda Jones-Potter, not only could teach Matlusky and the rest the Williams administration how to act appropriately, that’s how she always conducts herself.

    Sounds to me like the Williams Administration’s two biggest guns have just shot Velda Jones-Potter in the back. In giving her City Council testimony, Velda Jones-Potter insisted that she was not sure of how many public resources ended up in the Foxtail Fest, despite what those from other departments said.

    In her closing remarks that Monday night, Velda stood her ground, not giving an inch, saying “I trust it is evident as is the case, and as is the fact, that I, Velda Jones-Potter, did not authorize or otherwise request special service treatment for Foxtail Fest. I did not give the order to deploy the Wilmington Police officers to Foxtail Fest, nor could I have. Nor did I make or direct any decisions related to the deployment of other city services to Foxtail Fest”.

    The one big sour note in all of this is that those around her didn’t understand, even though she made it clear that she was not acting in an official capacity at the Foxtail Fest meetings.

    In a written statement Mayor Dennis Williams recognized City Council’s efforts in doing the due diligence in investigating this matter, saying “issues involving fairness, integrity and the public trust are significant for the entire city government”

    City Council President Theo Gregory said, before the Council meeting, “If everybody is not talking, and there was a misunderstanding, that’s a different thing, but we won’t know that until we hold our hearing to get to the bottom of it”

    Good thoughts from both city officials, but I wonder if we got to the bottom of the issue with the City Council hearing? A good friend of mine has a great idea, about reaching the bottom of it all. She is Mrs. Delaware 2014, Kamika Bost-Bell, and she says Wilmington City Council should hold an open forum meeting to see what the public thinks about this.

    Many of Velda’s supporters were at the city council meeting, but were not allowed to speak. As for me and my house, I know Velda very well, having interviewed her several times when she served as State Treasurer, and when she campaigned for the office.

    She was not elected, because of misinformation about her conduct in office, which was all wrong, and it looks like it’s being done again.

    I can understand why Mayor Williams forced Velda Jones-Potter to resign, based on what appears to be political considerations. I think he is taking the wrong path. He is a very good Mayor, and he should admit his mistakes and bring her back to work.

    John Watson invites your comments.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal