On a 5-1 vote of six Bethany Beach town council members, Jerry Dorfman was selected May 20 to fill the council seat recently vacated by Robert Degen. (Degen, previously the council’s only non-resident member, cited other demands upon his time in resigning, effective May 1.)
Mayor Jack Walsh, Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead and Council Members Tony McClenny, Wayne Fuller and Lew Killmer voted in support of Dorfman on the first ballot of the process, eliminating the need for a second ballot to obtain the required four-vote majority for a council member so elected.
Council Member Harry Steele cast his ballot in favor of non-resident Tracy Mulligan.
Dorfman will complete Degen’s term, set to expire in September 2006.
The new councilman has been a full-time resident of Bethany Beach for five years. He and wife Sherry have both been active in the town, serving on a number of committees and boards in recent years.
Dorfman himself has spent four years on the Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC), and worked with the town’s trolley committee, transportation and pedestrian safety committee and its Board of Elections.
He was most recently appointed to a seat on the Planning Commission, taking over the spot vacated by McClenny this winter. (State statues allow only one council member to serve on the planning commission. When then-Planning Commission Chairman Killmer was selected by the council this winter to complete former mayor Joseph McHugh’s council term, council members opted to have Killmer remain on the commission.)
Dorfman did accordingly have to give up his seat on the commission with the May 20 election. Walsh nominated Steve Trodden to replace him there, with unanimous support from the council. Dorfman will, however, remain on CORC, with Killmer stepping aside there to avoid crowding that committee with council members.
Asked whether he had any particular areas of focus or items on his agenda now that he was a council member, Dorfman again noted his service on so many of the town’s committees in recent years.
That involvement has already allowed him – at least to some degree — to tackle many of the issues he wants to, Dorfman said. But he did put particular emphasis on the need to retain the town’s traditional character, despite its burgeoning growth in recent years.
Dorfman also noted in presenting his case for his selection that he was determined to work hard and retain an open mind about issues, as well as to be accessible to residents and property owners in the town.
Dorfman has a background in real estate, working with large companies, and also owned and operated his own uniform company. He declared himself a self-starter who is good at working with people and wanted to give back to his community.
He received even more of a chance to do so, starting with his first council meeting the very night of his selection, May 20.
Former council member Roger Street delivered a sobering bombshell during his allotted speaking time at the special meeting Friday afternoon.
The only repeat candidate from the process that selected Killmer to fill McHugh’s seat, the former State Department employee acknowledge that little from his previous statement of qualifications had changed.
But Street then informed council members and those in attendance that just prior to leaving for the meeting he had received a call telling him that his previously diagnosed cancer had unexpectedly recurred.
Citing the demands on his health and time, and saying he felt he would be unable to serve as he might have wished, Street withdrew from the process. He said he hoped that his fellow Bethany West residents would be better represented on the council in the future, saying they felt like “second cousins” sometimes.
Walsh and the council joined together to wish Street well.
Non-resident candidate Joseph Healey also surprised council members, simply by not attending the meeting and promoting his candidacy.
That was not the case for fellow non-resident John Gaughan (pronounced “gone”). A property owner in Bethany West for 25 years, Gaughan said he’d been a long-time visitor to the area and had noted its tremendous growth over the years.
His own activism in the town he traced to 1994 and plans to open an Irish Eyes pub in the town. That idea had concerned him, he said.
The retired Coast Guard captain, government employee and maritime lawyer nonetheless acknowledged that he didn’t expect to get elected to the council seat May 20. But he said he felt it was important that he and other non-residents put themselves forward to serve to help maintain a diversity of residents and non-residents, as well as east-side and west-side residents, on the council.
While a resident was selected to fill the seat, Tracy Mulligan did prove to be the strongest non-resident candidate on the list May 20, receiving the single dissenting vote from Steele.
A property owner since 1998, Mulligan noted that since then he had made the effort of a six-hour round-trip drive to Bethany Beach to attend town meetings whenever possible. The travel issue had largely restricted that attendance to town council and planning commission meetings, he noted.
Indeed, with the election looming, Mulligan had been spotted in recent weeks at a number of mid-week committee meetings, in what he said was an effort to learn more about each of the committees beyond those whose meetings he regularly attended.
Mulligan said he had expressed his interest in serving on the town’s budget committee, citing its importance to the town. He also made efforts to comment on the last two versions of the town’s comprehensive development plan and did additional background work on the proposed budget to comment during the budgeting process.
Mulligan cited his background with a natural gas company, in long-term strategic implementation of policies, as a solid starting point for a council member. But he also pointed to his family’s connection to the town, as well as his own benefit from town services — a lifeguard rescue some years ago.
While non-resident representation on the council was a theme of many comments made at the meeting and in the weeks leading up to the decision (former mayor and resident Bob Parsons cited hopes for a non-resident councilperson as one reason he had decided not to apply again this time), the new makeup of the council is entirely full-time residents.
The next potential change to that situation will come in September, when formal council elections are held in the town. With four terms filled in the September 2004 elections, three seats will be up for election this year: those currently held by Fuller, Olmstead and Walsh.