Improprieties and Revolving Doors
Below are profiles of three former legislators. We are not calling for further inquiry in these cases. These narratives are presented to demonstrate ethical issues which need to be addressed in reform legislation.
One primary issue common to these cases is the “Revolving Door” which refers to the practice of using your office as a legislator to “feather your nest” for career advancement following tenure in the General Assembly. Two of these cases also involve conflicts of interest.
Michael Barbieri—Conflicts During and After GA Tenure
In 1992, Michael Barbieri started Crossroads of Delaware, a Wilmington-based adolescent substance abuse treatment program. Barbieri was first elected as a State Representative in 2008. He became Chair of the Health and Human Development Committee which exercised oversight over his company’s budget. From 2011 to 2015, Crossroads’ state business increased by 57 percent to more than $1 million a year.
In 2015, Barbieri resigned from the General Assembly to take an appointed $144,213 position as director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. The job position was not advertised, and Barbieri and the Democratic Party of Delaware were criticized for cronyism.
In July 2017, Barbieri resigned from his director position after a patient at one of the treatment centers he oversaw died of neglect. Barbieri was also under scrutiny due to child sexual abuse allegations against a worker at Crossroads of Delaware which he owned at the time of the abuse.
Patricia Blevins—Delaware Helpline and Animal Welfare
Patricia Blevins was elected to the Delaware Senate in 2016 and represented the 7th district until she lost her seat in 2016. She was President Pro Tempore during her last two terms.
A former Elsmere councilwoman and mayor, Blevins spent nine years as Executive Director of the state-funded Delaware Helpline. Blevins headed up the helpline from 2001 to 2010 while also serving as a Senator. In 2007, when Blevins was Senate Majority Whip, the state passed legislation to set up a 211 number to connect residents with social services. Delaware Helpline was specifically named in the legislation as an agency to provide the service.
Following her loss in 2016, she served for 5 months as Director of the Office of Animal Welfare with a salary of $84,000. A 26-year Senate veteran, Blevins chaired a task force that was instrumental in creating the office she led.
Melanie George Smith–An Entrepreneurial Legislator
Melanie George Smith spent 16 years in the Delaware House where she eventually became co-chair of the powerful budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.
In September 2017, Melanie George Smith sold her home in Bear and purchased a home in Newark. However, she claimed that she continued to live in her District, renting a room in a Bear townhouse owned by her campaign treasurer.
Residency issues are common for Delaware legislators with one or two complaints filed with the State Elections Commissioner each election cycle. The Department of Elections does some routine checks, but lacks the resources to investigate whether an address is really the lawmakers primary residence.
No candidate has been disqualified in the last 20 years. Nevertheless, badgered by residency questions, on January 25, 2018 Representative Smith announced that she would not seek re-election for a ninth term.
On the same date she introduced House Bill 310 which allows companies to pay $250 a year for a “sustainability certificate” from the Delaware Department of State. In exchange, businesses are required to adopt “sustainability” standards and show they have posted an online list of “sustainability” goals and how close they are to meeting them. The bill passed and was signed by the Governor on June 27, 2018 with an October 1st effective date.
Three months after passage of HB 110, Representative Smith formed a limited liability company known as Sustainable World Strategies. She obtained a business license for the new company on Oct. 1 – the same day the legislation took effect. Smith claims she filed those documents then because she had just acquired her first client.
The same day HB 310 passed, Melanie George Smith published a blog post as president and founder of Sustainable World Strategies asking readers to contact her “to understand this legislation and its potential benefit or opportunity for your company or organization.” Smith began a media blitz that included podcasts and online articles in which she promoted both the certification program and her new business.
John Flaherty with the Delaware Coalition for Open Government has criticized Smith’s actions. “It seemed like a fluff piece of legislation at the time and everyone was questioning what the real purpose was behind it,” he said. “Now it seems obvious that it was meant to fit her purposes once she left office.”
Jesse Chadderdon, Executive Director of the Delaware Democratic Party was also critical. “Encouraging Delaware businesses to prioritize transparency and sustainability was – on the surface – a prudent measure that enjoyed broad bi-partisan support. But those motives are all but obscured by the revelation that the first person to directly benefit from HB 310 is the legislator that wrote it.”
In a “Letter From Our Founder and CEO” published on her company’s website, Melanie George Smith wrote, “Sustainability is the best of both worlds. It’s living in the business-world and deriving all of the pleasures from operating a successful business, including a healthy income, all while making the world a better place for your kids, family, community and people all around the globe.”
This letter clarifies that she intended and expected her new business to produce a “healthy income”. However, in response to a recent inquiry regarding sustainability certification, a representative from the Department of State indicated that, “There are no currently certified entities and only a single entity has previously applied for certification, but has not maintained the certified status…”
So, the entire certification program, and presumably Melanie Smith’s business, appears to have been a complete bust. She seems to have been unsuccessful at self-dealing and guilty only of attempted self-dealing.