eminent domain milford annette billings

City to court: Don’t postpone March 1 eminent domain hearing

Katie KazimirGovernment, Headlines

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annette billings

The city of Milford cited a billboard as evidence that Annette Billings has mounted a campaign against city officials in an eminent domain case. Photo by Katie Kazimir.

The city of Milford is opposing a move by Annette Billings to postpone a March 1 hearing on the eminent domain case that would take 8 acres of her property for a park and bike trail.

The city argues in a document filed Monday, Feb. 19, that Billings has launched a “campaign to besmirch and disparage the city of Milford, members of the Milford City Council, and employees of the city of Milford.”

“As a result of this media blitz, members of City Council and Milford employees have been verbally attacked and disparaged,” said the filing by Milford’s lawyer David Rutt.

The filing in Superior Court in Georgetown also says the case is simple and has two core issues: whether the taking is permissible and whether the landowner is being justly compensated. 

It’s legal, even though the land is right outside city limits, and Billings is being adequately compensated, the filing says.

The case has become a kind of cause celebre in Milford and Sussex County, drawing more than 100 people to a public comment session of the council and leading to a Milford realtor putting up a billboard accusing the mayor and council of theft. Council member Todd Cullota, who voted against the move, is not included.

Many of those who object to the move say they oppose any government taking of private property by condemnation so the government can impose eminent domain.

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Annette Billings

Annette Billings thanks people for attending a City Council meeting to support her in the eminent domain case.

Billings’ lawyer, Ronald Poliquin, asked for the continuance Feb.13 in a reply to the city lawsuit informing Billings of the eminent domain case.

Rutt argues that the March 1 hearing is necessary “so the true facts can be presented in public to counter the lies, distortions, and misrepresentations circulated around this matter.”

He also suggests that continuance was sought for the end of April to interfere with the city election scheduled for April 27.

“It would be prejudicial to members of City Council seeking election and to the City staff to extend the time to prohibit a true rendition of the facts to be presented and to permit the continued attacks to occur without response,” the filing said.

More eminent domain drama

Adding to the drama: Billings’ brother, Herman W. Sharp III, who was paid more than $500,000 for a parcel of land next to the property the city wants, has asked to be added to the city’s suit. He says the land is part of a family trust and he wants to make sure he gets his cut.

Rutt said the city had agreed to an extension of Billings’ answers to the suit. 

Milford and Billings now are waiting on Superior Court Judge Mark H. Conner’s answer.

Efforts were not successful to reach Rutt by phone.

“I’ve never seen public officials oppose a continuance based on residents speaking up,” said Poliquin, who believes the city’s response is an attack on the public’s First Amendment rights to free speech.

Free speech isn’t always eloquent, he said. It can be harsh.

“They’re elected officials,”  he said. “The public has a right to say how they feel. It’s free speech whether they like what’s being portrayed in public or not.”

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Annette Billings


Rutt’s filing cites examples of what he calls Billings’ campaign: “discussions on The Dan Gaffney (radio) Show, appearances on the Jim Weller (radio) Show, appearances on news broadcasts by WBOC-TV, WRDE-TV and WMDT-TV,” as well as social media posts.

Rutt submitted three exhibits of public ire:

  • A Facebook post alleging Chief of Police Ceclia Ashe served the complaint with the supposition that when acquired, the land would belong to Ashe. 
  • A message to Milford Parks and Recreation Director Brad Dennahy, a New Zealand native and a U.S. citizen, allegedly from Billings’ daughter,
  • A Delaware Live article about a billboard on Del. 113 accusing the council and city of theft.

Rutt’s filing also points out that Ashe did not serve Billings a copy of the suit. It was delivered by Sussex County Deputy Sheriff Pat Allegro-Smith. 

The land Milford wants are wetlands that lie in the Cedar Creek Hundred area.

RELATED STORY: Milford moves to condemn widow’s land for bike path

RELATED STORY: More than 100 show up to support Annette Billings

RELATED STORY: Billboard mocks Milford mayor, council as thieves

City officials had talked to Billings who allowed the city to do an appraisal, but then decided she didn’t want to sell the land.

It is considered part of the county, but the city’s charter allows it to take property outside its borders by eminent domain.

Under the Fifth Amendment, governments have the power to convert private property to public use.

Billings, who is the fourth generation owner, said the land was valued at $50,000 an acre in 2007.

Poliquin said Billings, a widowed cancer survivor who raises chickens for a living, has been stressed out and overwhelmed since being served the complaint.

“She really appreciates the public support as she goes through this,” he said.

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