Full Time Legislator?

Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst

Valerie Longhurst was elected to the House in 2004 and became Majority Leader in 2012.  In January 2018, she accepted the position of Executive Director of the Delaware Police Athletic League (PAL). She served on the PAL Board for several years before that. The PAL Board which selected her included four former or current colleagues in the General Assembly.

Her current General Assembly bio reads, “Occupation–Executive Director, Police Athletic League of Delaware.” However, here’s a January 28, 2021 screenshot of her bio when it read “Occupation–Full Time Legislator.” Three years after accepting the PAL job as Executive Director, she was still misrepresenting her occupational status.

Longhurst’s PAL salary is $75,000.  Those earnings are in addition to her salary as a State Representative.  She has not recused herself from voting on Grant in Aid or on the budgets of state agencies which provide increasingly generous funding for PAL.

The appropriateness of legislative leaders accepting nonprofit executive jobs has been challenged by advocates and journalists as representing obvious and significant conflicts of interest, but no official action has been taken.

Fertile Ground for Corruption

In 2013, the Center for Public Integrity published an article titled “State Legislators Ties to Nonprofits Prove Fertile Ground for Corruption”The article stated:

“Over the past few decades, state governments have increasingly outsourced many functions to community-based nonprofits in an attempt to provide more effective, flexible social services. But the result, some say, has been the creation of what is essentially another arm of government.

…in state after state, open records laws are laced with exemptions and part-time legislators and agency officials engage in glaring conflicts of interests and cozy relationships with lobbyists. Meanwhile, feckless, understaffed watchdogs struggle to enforce laws as porous as honeycombs.”

The phrase “laws as porous as honeycombs” certainly resonates in Delaware.  Click here for a review of Delaware’s ethics laws and how they fail to provide oversight for the Delaware General Assembly. 

The “Honor System” in Action

In response to a 2018 article in the Delaware State News which raised the conflict of interest issue for both Longhurst and Poore, Longhurst is quoted, “I don’t know if it’s a conflict of interest compared to anybody else that gets money through grant-in-aid and votes on bills.”  

Majority Leader Longhurst said she would not use her new position to advocate for PAL. When asked if she would abstain from voting on grant-in-aid, she said she would have to see and noted she has voted for grant-in-aid while serving on the nonprofit’s board for several years.”  Her justification is that her past practice justifies her failure to recuse in spite of statutes and rules to the contrary.

The article continued, “Rep. Longhurst said she was hired because of her volunteer work with PAL and her human resources background. Nobody handed me this job,” she said. “The job was publicly posted, and three or four other people expressed interest”. 

Nevertheless, Longhurst may have been on the inside track for this job.  The PAL Board which selected her included four former or current colleagues in the General Assembly including Bill Oberle, Roger Roy, Terry Spence and John ‘Larry’ Mitchell.  PAL apparently values political influence in selecting both Board Members and Executive Directors.

Three or four candidates seems like a modest level of competition for a $75,000 job.  We don’t know what was on those competing resumes, but it wasn’t “House Majority Leader”.

Valerie Longhurst and the Police Athletic League (PAL)

The chart below presents PAL’s expenditure of state funds from FY 2017 through 12/22/2020.  For both Grant in Aid and the Online Checkbook, PAL is divided into two operating units labelled “Delaware” and “Wilmington”.  These units are combined below. During this period, the PAL Grant-in Aid budget was $336,869 for every year except 2018 when it dipped to $296,110. 

Police Athletic League–Total State Online Checkbook

FY 2017FY 2018FY 2019FY 2020FY 2021*
* Expenditures through 12/22/2020

Under Longhurst’s leadership, PAL has become a state spending juggernaut.  The agency almost doubled state expenditures from 2018 to 2020.  Based on year-to-date data for FY 2021, PAL’s expenditures will more than double between FY 2019 and FY 2021.

In addition to Grant in Aid, during this period PAL started receiving funds from Delaware Departments including Education, State, Transportation, and Children, Youth, and Families.  The Department of Education contributed $461,903 in 2020. With $536,668 year-to-date in FY 2021, DOE funds spent by PAL should top $1 million this fiscal year.

The other factor which has propelled PAL’s rapid increase in expenditures is overspending the Grant in Aid budget.  As an example, the chart below combines State Online Checkbook data for both PAL operating Units for FY 2020.

PAL–Online Checkbook Expenditures 2020

By DepartmentPAL WilmPAL DEPAL TotalGIA
GIA Over
Other Elective $153,269$247,600$400,869
By Expense Category
Purchase of Care$338,224$0$338,224
Grants in Aid$217,596$400,801$618,397$336,869$281,528
Other Prof. Service$46,695$0$46,695
Fed Grant Sub Rec$27,112$0$27,112
Instructional Supp.$0$73,679$73,679
Instructional Serv.$0$50,000$50,000

This chart provides additional insight regarding the virtual doubling of expenditure from FY 2018 to FY 2020.  First, two Departments (DOE and DSCYF) contributed over half a million to PAL’s expenditures.  Second, with GIA expenditures of 618,397 and a GIA budget of only $336,869, PAL overspent the GIA budget by $281,528 or 84%.

Valerie Longhurst replaced Robert Jameson as PAL’s Executive Director.  Robert Jameson was also the registered lobbyist for PAL.  PAL currently doesn’t have a registered lobbyist.  The Delaware State News quotes Longhurst as stating, “she would not use her new position to advocate for PAL”.

Is this a conundrum for the PAL Board?  Normally the Executive Director would be expected to advocate for the agency, and now PAL doesn’t have a lobbyist in Dover.  It’s doubtful the PAL Board is losing sleep because state funding for PAL has flourished under Longhurst’s dual leadership of both the House and PAL.

Swampy Non-Profit Relationships

In 2017, when Longhurst was a member of the PAL Board, the State Auditor disallowed PAL from receiving funds from the Wilmington City Council.  Below are excerpts from the News Journal report.

Theo Gregory

“When Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory earmarked $40,000 in public dollars for his own nonprofit in late 2017, he violated three of the city’s conflict of interest laws, according to a state audit published Thursday. 

The grant to Student Disabilities Advocate provided seed money to Gregory’s post-politics venture months after he lost a bid for mayor. At least $15,000 of it went directly into Gregory’s pocket as a program manager. 

The Wilmington Police Athletic League, through which the $40,000 was funneled because it had 501(c)3 status that Student Disabilities Advocate did not have, is also disallowed from receiving council funds because the director failed to communicate with auditors.”

The Auditors report stated, “We contacted the PALW to discuss the $40,000 in funding received from Council and notified the PALW that we were authorized by Council to conduct these procedures. Our phone calls and emails were not returned.”

Taxpayer Funded Campaign Literature

Longhurst has also been accused of using her position to send out taxpayer funded campaign literature.  This practice was apparently common under House Speaker Terry Spence, but was discontinued under Robert Gilligan who was Speaker from 2008—2012.  Peter Schwarzkopf re-instituted this practice when he became Speaker.

These thinly-cloaked communications are allegedly legislative updates to constituents. They are sent on their personal House letterhead, in House envelopes, and through state mail. They are prepared in-house by state employees on state time.

The Fort Dupont Restoration and Preservation Corporation (FDRPC)

The Fort DuPont Redevelopment and Preservation Corporation is a quasi-public body created by HB 310 which passed the General Assembly in 2014.  Valarie Longhurst and Nicole Poore were the only two legislators sponsoring this bill as well as two subsequent bills refining the governing structure for FDRPC.

This quote from a July 2020 News Journal article summarizes some of the unique aspects of this project: “But unlike most coastal developments in southern Delaware, this one would be bolstered by millions of dollars of taxpayer funding and built in an area largely covered by wetlands that were once state park land.”

The same article reported, “Since fiscal year 2013, the corporation has received at least $12 million from the state coffers, according to the state Office of Management and Budget.”  The FY 2022 Capital Budget includes an additional $2,250,000 for this project making the total investment more than $14 million in state funds.

Richard Cathcart

Richard Cathcart, one of Longhurst and Poore’s General Assembly colleagues, joined the FDRPC Board as City Manager for Delaware City.  Cathcart had decided not to run for election in 2012 following a State Auditor’s report which found that he failed to follow competitive bidding rules while double dipping at Delaware State University.  Being ethically challenged, Cathcart would seem an unfortunate choice for FDRPC.  He left in 2017.

On January 20, 2021, Longhurst and Poore introduced HB 85 relating to FDRPC.  This bill includes a couple of ethics provisions and “requires the Executive Director to provide an annual written report of the activities of the Corporation.”  It also requires an audit as well as an oversight committee. 

So seven years and $12 million into this project, the state is now requiring reporting, auditing and oversight.  There seems to be some urgency as well.  Longhurst placed HB 85 on the House agenda for January 21, 2021 before it was approved by the Administration Committee at 11:00 that morning or even spell checked. 

The December 9, 2020 Board Meeting Minutes of FDRPC indicate that both Longhurst and Poore attended as “members of the public”.  Here are a few excerpts from the minutes:

“No changes have been made since last Board meeting, except for the Conflict of Interest policy, which is under further review.”

“VII. New Business – Audit. Mr. Scoglietti noted that it was voted during the last Board meeting to extend the audit from a one year to a five-year audit and that an RFP is being prepared.”

“VIII. Public Comment – Representative Longhurst commended the corporation for its progress and also the importance of annual audits. As funding from the state continues, annual audits will be required.” Better late than never.

Fort DuPont State Park No Longer Exists

Aside from the large public subsidy, privatization of a 320 acre State Park, and lack of accountability, the most fundamental issue created by FDRPC is development in a floodplain.  Here’s a quote from an August 2018 article in the Delaware Business Times.

The plan has critics, such as David Carter, a former administrator in the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, who said “building in a floodplain is a public policy position best described as stupid.” He said the project was borne out of a heedless pursuit of jobs and economic development.

“I am concerned this will be as big of a failure as Bloom or Fisker was in terms of economic benefits and cost to the public,” Carter said, referring to two failing or unprofitable companies that received millions in state subsidies. “Sooner or later, nature wins. It’s just a matter of which generation pays the cost for this bad decision.”

Valerie Longhurst is also quoted in the News Journal:

“I was informed that there wasn’t any issues. We have sea level rising everywhere because of climate change,” Longhurst said. “Do you not develop because it could happen?”

The Flood mapping view of Fort DuPont. Blue-gray areas are in the FEMA Flood Zones.