The South Bethany Town Council has a plan to get more public involvement. They voted, 6-1, on May 30 to request that Delaware General Assembly amend the South Bethany town charter to permit chairs of town committees to be individuals who are not council members.
But one morning of discussion about the issue was not enough for Councilman George Junkin, who gave the only vote against requesting the change.
“I have a problem with 10 minutes of discussion going to the state legislature,” he said, looking at the May 30 agenda, which allotted that amount of time to the issue.
“We haven’t discussed this and the ramifications,” said Junkin, adding that he wished the Charter & Code Committee had reviewed the proposal beforehand.
Mayor Pat Voveris noted that that committee’s chair isn’t even a councilperson and could therefore be unintentionally biased.
Although several committees are currently headed by non-councilmember chairpersons, Junkin said he feels the Town is violating its charter, and he prefers that a councilmember present committee proposals to the council.
Meanwhile, he said South Bethany has no rules for non-councilmember chairpersons to follow. For example, councilmembers are required to attend all council meetings.
When asked why discussion of the topic was removed from the May 8 agenda, Voveris said there were only six of seven councilmembers attending the meeting, and she knew Junkin opposed it. (The agenda stated “Information was not available at the time of the original posting.”)
“I just felt like I would wait. It’s new council business, anyway,” Voveris said.
“You were waiting for new blood that has no council experience…” Junkin began.
“You don’t need council experience to understand the logic of this,” Voveris countered.
“That’s your opinion. Not mine,” Junkin said.
Junkin asked if Voveris had lobbied the three new councilmembers privately. She denied that and said she had only asked if they understood the proposal. They indicated they would prefer to learn about the positions before chairing a committee, Voveris said, and the council would be spread thin if a councilperson headed every committee.
Additionally, the public could perceive mandatory chairmanship as overreach of the council, Voveris said.
Councilwoman Sue Callaway said she liked the idea of more people in town leadership. Plus, she said, it’s been practice for three years.
“We’re picking and choosing where we want to abide by things,” said Councilman Tim Saxton, arguing that the point of writing policy is for future councils to operate as such. “We’re operating outside of what our charter says today.
“I would have no problem voting for this if we’re willing to follow our charter as it’s written,” said Saxton. Not following the charter in the past doesn’t mean council has a right to bend the rules now, he added.
The charter currently says, “The mayor shall appoint such standing and other committees, as the Town Council shall require, provided that a member of the Town Council shall serve as chairman of each standing committee.” The council also approves the budgets.
According to the Town’s website, a council member currently heads four committees: Budget & Finance, Canal Water Quality, Community Enhancement, and Sea Level Rise & Storm Surge.
Before the last election, councilmembers served on, but did not chair, two committees: Charter & Code, and Communications & Public Relations.
The Planning Commission is chaired by a non-councilmember, although it had a council liaison. The Board of Adjustment, as is the case statewide, is designed to be independent of the council and has no councilmembers as members. Both the commission and the BoA are required under Delaware law.
Most property owners who spoke at the May 30 meeting said they preferred the flexibility of non-council chairpersons, including Planning Commission Chairman Dick Oliver.
Some were concerned that mandatory council membership for chairs could lead to a line responsibility item for future councilmembers. Others said that potential chairpersons could test the waters of public service, and later decide to run for council.
But a few citizens were hesitant.
“There is not a clear statement of responsibility,” said former councilman Jim Gross. He felt confusion would arise because of multiple lines of communication, from chairperson to mayor and from council liaison to the town council.
Tony Caputo said there are two issues at hand: changing the charter, which he said he opposed with so little discussion, and committee rules, which he didn’t necessarily oppose.
After 35 minutes of talk, Lora Caputo suggested that more official discussion is needed on the roles of committee chairpersons.
In other Town Council news:
• Council members will receive committee assignments at the June 25 workshop.
• South Bethany’s new council members were sworn in, including Wayne Schrader, Carol Stevenson and Frank Weisgerber.
• Sue Callaway was appointed mayor pro-tempore. (The town charter specifically calls for a president pro tempore to function as mayor during the absence or disability of the mayor.)
Saxton was again appointed as treasurer, and Junkin as secretary.
• Joseph P. Petito and George Reese Jr. were appointed to the Planning Commission.
• In the calendar, future regular council meetings will remain on the second Friday of each month at 7 p.m. However, council workshops will be on the fourth Thursdays, now at 2 p.m.
December’s workshop and January’s meetings are tentatively canceled for winter break, but council can still call meetings, if need be.
FEMA and the new Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) will be the subject of the town council’s next meeting, on Friday, June 12, at 6 p.m. Residents will be able to learn about maps, dune system, insurance and more.