Fenwick council wrangles with the details

The Fenwick Island Town Council will continue to hold its informal “workshops-without-agenda” (WWA) on the second Saturday of the month, with a decision made by council members at just such a meeting Sept. 10.

Recent WWAs have conflicted with other activities for some of the council members, including meetings of the town’s popular gardening club. Thus, Council Member Vicki Carmean proposed the council consider holding the meetings earlier, while Council Member Chris Clark proposed they be shifted to another Saturday.

Council Member Martha Keller seized on that idea and proposed the WWAs be held the Saturday following the regular council meeting, to allow the council and the public to continue to discuss items they did not have time to fully discuss at the previous day’s meeting and thus shorten the council meetings themselves.

That raised the issue of whether and when to limit public input periods at the council meetings. Clark supported the elimination of the public input, in favor of full discussion at the WWAs, while Mayor Peter Frederick noted that the WWAs had been created as a result of objections to limitation on public input at the formal council sessions.

In the end, council members opted to retain the current format for the two meetings and to keep the WWAs on the second Saturday of the month, but a compromise on the time will shift them to 8:30 a.m. instead of the previous 9 a.m. start time.

That bit of business concluded, Keller opened discussion among the council members as to lessons the town might have learned from Hurricane Katrina and its impact on coastal towns on the Gulf of Mexico.

Those lessons focused on keeping community members prepared, such as with an evacuation supply list that included important documents, prescription medications and other items that would be vital if residents needed to evacuate.

With some recent mention of eliminating or revising the existing “block captain” system, council members did question whether the experience of Hurricane Katrina changed opinions about the system’s usefulness.

Frederick noted that the county’s emergency center would serve to coordinate communication between emergency responders, such as police and firefighters, while Keller noted the block captains could provide additional manpower for those responders — particularly if the response from outside support were delayed.

Clark voiced concern that undue burden would be placed on those block captains, who would have their own properties and families to attend to in such an emergency. He noted that better communication tools have come into being since the block-captain system had been devised, eliminating some of the need for them.

Frederick emphasized that the town’s “trained professionals” would be in place to coordinate and provide support in such an emergency and recommended that the town make use of them rather than civilian block captains.

He also pointed to the list of potential “special needs” residents kept by the town’s police department in advance of an emergency. Those on the list would be targeted for assistance in evacuating, and anyone suspecting they might need additional help in an evacuation was encouraged to put their name on the list now.

Keller also took note from the disaster of the idea of a “shelter of last resort” and requested consideration be given for a “high-water shelter” in the town hall when design decisions are made about any renovations or possible construction of a new facility.

But Frederick noted that the neighboring Fenwick Island station of the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company has an upper floor and already maintains emergency supplies that would enable the building to serve as a last-resort shelter.

Finally, council members addressed streamlining the agenda process for their regular council meetings. A key target of the reforms is shortening the meetings.

Under the new rules, no items will be acted upon by the council unless they have been placed on the official agenda — ideally by the agenda deadline of noon on the Wednesday prior to the meeting, but definitively at least six hours before the meeting and duly advertised.

Any item that a council member wants to have the council take action on can be added to the agenda at their request, but it must be on the agenda.

Also, rather than having each committee chairperson make a verbal presentation on the work of their committee at each meeting, they will instead provide a written report that will be included in the meeting packet, with the freedom to highlight particular items or ask questions about the reports of other committees.

Frederick characterized the ongoing verbal presentations as “a waste of time,” noting that they generally reiterated items already in the written reports.

The report period will take place at the start of each meeting, in what council members hope will be an abbreviated format, and allow the council to proceed with actionable items as quickly as possible.