Dagsboro mayor takes ‘the next step’
Last week, Dagsboro Mayor Brad Connor filed to run as a candidate for the District 5 seat on the Sussex County Council.
“I’ve been in public service for 20-plus years. This is just the next step. I’ve always wanted to go to another level. The opportunity was available. With the election coming up I decided to go forward,” said Connor.
His two decades of service in Sussex County includes serving as president of the Sussex County Association of Towns (SCAT), vice president of the Delaware League of Local Governments (DLLG) and president of the Southern Sussex County Rotary Club in Selbyville.
Connor said that, if elected to the council, he hopes to bring better-paying job opportunities to the county.
“The main thing is the jobs… It’s just a huge issue, and that’s something I’ve got to get on right away. That’s my No. 1 focus. I am very concerned about the lack of good-paying jobs in the county. I believe that the county should try to provide a business-friendly atmosphere and work with potential employers to attract and establish more higher-paying technical jobs for our sons and daughters when they graduate from tech training or from college.
“Right now,” he said, “the County does not have a viable business plan, and the existing County Office of Economic Development is not currently staffed.”
Connor said that he would work on selling the county as an attractive area for businesses.
“We’ll have to open the doors and go out and sell this area to employers. Basically, what I do is sell. I’m a salesman, a community salesman. In this case, I’ll be selling jobs,” he said.
Connor said his time as mayor of Dagsboro has helped him work with many state agencies to accomplish such tasks as bringing central water and sewer into Dagsboro. “I have years of experience of working with funding sources. We’ll have to bring in the State, work with the powers that be to entice companies to come down here and offer some better-paying jobs.”
He added that he also hopes to help with safety concerns, specifically regarding police response times in the county.
“Folks are telling me that they question where the police are stationed and where they are being dispatched from. I believe the County needs to investigate these concerns and work with and provide sufficient resources to the state police to ensure that there is adequate and timely police protection for our citizens.”
He added that he would work to create new state police barracks around the county to help with response times.
“What I would look at first is putting a barracks … in the undeveloped areas to try to get a faster response time.”
As for what he loves about public service, Connor said it’s the ability to get things done for citizens.
“My past experience proves, when I take on anything, it gets achieved and the people benefit,” he said. “You take on a take on a vision and take it all the way through, and the people benefit in the end. That’s what government should be about, and that’s what I love about it.”
Connor said he has received nothing but support from the constituents in his district.
“Everywhere I’ve been going, everybody is excited and has encouraged me to do this,” he said. “I was approached by so many people all over the district, with the election coming up. It has been ongoing for probably a year. I thought about it, worked on it. Now, everywhere I go, the more people I talk to, the more encouragement I get. There’s nothing but positive.”
As a Democrat, Connor will first be running against fellow Democrat and current county Planning Commission Chairman Bob Wheatley for the party’s nomination. The Democratic primary is scheduled to be held on Sept. 9. The general election for the county council seat, currently held by Republican Vance Phillips, is Nov. 4.
During his campaign, Connor said, he hopes that citizens in District 5 will reach out to him about their concerns, and he hopes to serve them come November.
“I just want the people to call me. I want to hear what people have to say, what their issues are. I want input of the citizens of the district,” he said. “It’s very diverse district — it goes from Delmar to Laurel over to the beaches. It’s very diverse. I want input from the people on what their issues are, and I want to solve any issues presented to me.”
P&Z chairman looking to make a move
Earlier this week, Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman Bob Wheatley filed to run for county councilman from District 5.
“I’ve been a businessperson in this community for many years. I have always felt that community service is part of citizenship. It’s part of being a citizen in a particular area,” said Wheatley. “When you’re in the business of serving folks, no matter what your businesses is, it’s always good to give back something. That’s what I look at as this next phase for me, to give back to the folks who have supported me all these years.”
Having served on the Planning & Zoning Commission since 1995 and serving as chairman of the commission for nine of those years, Wheatley said he believes he is more than qualified for the position.
“I feel I’m particularly well qualified, having spent 18-plus years applying our ordinances to the planning and zoning process as a commissioner. The council, of course, is the one who makes the ordinances and changes the ordinances. I think I can be of some help there.”
Wheatley has been a resident of Sussex County since relocating with his family from Maryland at the age of 21. A former honors student at Salisbury University, he purchased the Whayland Co., a commercial contracting firm, in 1993 and moved the company to Southern Delaware in 2000. He described himself as a fiscal conservative, as well as a successful businessman and commercial Realtor.
“Perhaps we can make Sussex County a better place to do business. I feel like, as a business man here in Sussex for the last 30 years, I kind of know what it takes to thrive and I know what part the government can take part in that. I’m anxious to help out and make it all work for the citizens of the fifth district.”
Wheatley is also involved or has formerly been involved in several charitable organizations, including the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Delaware and Sons of the American Legion. He also serves on the board of directors for the Bank of Delmarva and is the chairman of the bank’s regulatory compliance committee.
Throughout his years of service, Wheatley said, the best part has been being able to interact with people.
“I know when we have Planning & Zoning hearings — especially where 50 or 100 people show up — we try to give everyone the opportunity to speak, even if it gets repetitious, because people want to be heard and people need to be heard. I think I probably enjoy the interaction with the people more than anything else.
“People today need to know that you’re interested, that you care about them and care about what you’re doing,” he added. “The best way to do that is to show up at somebody’s doorstep, show up at events, to be available to ask questions.”
Wheatley said he was taught at a young age that community service is a key to being a good, active citizen.
“My father said being on the town council was a job that every man in town should have at one time or another. Everyone should serve — man or woman. It’s important for them to be involved,” he said. “Serving the public in an elected office, to me, is a privilege to be able to seek to serve folks. That’s how I was raised and what I truly believe. It’s important, and it’s part of being a good citizen.”
Wheatley said the county is facing a number of land-use issues, as well as employment and safety issues, that he hopes to address if elected.
“We have economic issues that we need to deal with. Those things are going to need to be addressed. A lot of the land-use issues we need to address sooner or later, before the state or federal government does it for us,” he said. “Job creation is a difficult task. The government really doesn’t create jobs. The government creates conditions where businesses can create jobs. It’s that philosophy that I would bring to the council.”
Wheatley will officially announce his campaign on Saturday, March 15, at 10 a.m. at the Georgia House restaurant in Millsboro. Members of the public are welcome to attend to hear Wheatley discuss his hopes for the county and meet him.
“We certainly invite any and all from the public that might want to come,” he said, adding that those who won’t be able to attend will have plenty of opportunities to speak with him. “I’m in it to win it. I will do whatever is necessary, which includes knocking on doors, being available by cell — whatever it takes. And I think it takes all of that.”
Citing the diversity of the fifth district, Wheatley said he hopes to speak to his many constituents as possible during his campaign.
“If you look at the fifth district, it stretches from the western border between Maryland and Delaware all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. It encompasses probably the most diverse group of folks and interests in the county,” he said. “It’s going to take someone who can listen, build consensus and develop solutions that serve everyone’s needs — to do that you have to be in touch with everyone. That’s what I would be seeking to do.”
Wheatley said an open dialogue with citizens is what is important in all forms of government.
“That’s something we need to work on, improving what is called intergovernmental coordination — simply improving and building on the relationships between the towns and the County,” he said. “We have organizations that do that, and I see that happening. We need to continue to build on that. We all want the same things. We just differ sometimes on how to get there.
“I want to know what people think, because that’s really the heart and soul of representing a group. There will be diversity, because it’s a diverse area. It will take someone to distill the best parts of that into a solution that works the best for everyone.”
The District 5 seat is currently occupied by Vance Phillips, who has yet to announce whether or not he will file for reelection. As a Democrat, Wheatley will be running in the September primary against Dagsboro Mayor Brad Connor, who filed to run for the seat last week. The party primaries are currently scheduled for Sept. 9, with the general election slated for Nov. 4.
Although serving the district may be challenging at times, Wheatley said he believes he’s up to the task.
“It’s important that, in this particular district that stretches from one side of the county to the other — you have folks who just moved here from a beautiful retirement home in Fenwick Island to the fourth-generation family farmer west of Delmar — everyone has a place, everyone should be heard. It’s my job to serve and find those solutions that serve everyone’s interest,” he said. “I have no illusions of what a daunting task that could be. But I believe I am up to it.”