CORC talks open seats

The Bethany Beach Town Council’s selection of Jerry Dorfman to fill the council seat vacated by Robert Degen means there are now two seats available to be filled on the town’s Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC).

The recent resignation of one committee member (due to schedule conflicts) left one seat open on the committee. And Dorfman’s selection as a council member would have resulted in four council members serving on CORC — fully half of its current number.

Appropriately enough, the question of a maximum for the number of council members serving on a committee was a topic of recent discussion for the committee and was also a major area of discussion at its May 19 meeting.

At the request of Mayor Jack Walsh, the committee had entered into preliminary consideration of a standard set of guidelines for committee membership in the town. Those guidelines were to be determined, but issues such as a maximum number of council members, overall committee size, resident/non-resident makeup and attendance requirements were key points to be addressed.

While no formal limit on council members exists (most committees aim for a maximum of three council members), the impact of the possible selection of Dorfman as the new council member was a topic of discussion prior to both the May 19 CORC meeting and the May 20 special meeting of the town council at which he was, indeed, selected.

Council Member and CORC Chairman Wayne Fuller noted at the May 19 CORC meeting that one council/committee member had already volunteered to leave the committee were that to happen. When asked, Lew Killmer offered that he had been that volunteer.

Killmer’s resignation from CORC would keep council membership on the committee at its current number — three — with Dorfman remaining there but resigning his seat on the town’s planning commission, where Killmer would continue to serve. (The commission is a state-mandated body and is limited to allow only a single council member in its membership.)

With those two CORC positions potentially vacant, Fuller asked the committee members what they felt was an appropriate number for its membership. Generally, committees have favored odd numbers for their membership, seeking to avoid tie votes. But most committees range between five and nine members — a range with which Fuller said he was comfortable.

Fuller had previously noted that he had received inquiries from community members interested in serving on the committee but had had no vacancies available to be filled at that time. At least two people were currently expressing interest in seats, he said, but how many could be added would depend on the number of overall seats on the committee.

Members supported the odd-number approach but were open to either five, seven or nine members.

The question for the committee soon became one of whether the vacancies should be advertised to allow additional citizens to come forward and volunteer, or whether the parties who had expressed interest already should be considered for the spots without further effort to determine if others were interested.

Member Kathleen Mink said she felt the committee should cast a wider net and expand its pool of candidates, rather than simply accept those who had previously come forward.

Tony McClenny emphasized that two candidates had been waiting in the wings for some time, indicating their strong interest where others discovered by advertising the positions had not yet spoken up.

Returning the discussion full-circle to the issue of committee membership guidelines, Council Member Harry Steele suggested that the two CORC vacancies be filled with an eye toward restricting committee membership to a maximum of two council members, rather than the current informal target of three. Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead, also in attendance at the meeting, seconded that suggestion.

McClenny, however, suggested that any formal changes to membership guidelines be held until October, when new council members will be selected and new committee chairmanships and member terms would begin.

Council members chair the town’s committees and select committee members, with council approval required for those members regardless of their council/non-council status, as noted by Walsh at the meeting.

In the end, the issue of CORC’s own membership was left up in the air, with Fuller free to appoint new members and request their approval by council, as usual.

But the overall issue of deciding such guidelines was discussed in depth by the committee at the May 19 meeting, with the presentation by Mink of an outline for areas in which guidelines could be established.

At the outset of the discussion, Olmstead requested the committee first get full council approval for handling the issue of committee membership guidelines and said she personally liked the “informal” way committees were currently operating. Committee member Jane Fowler said she feared stringent guidelines for membership could cause the loss of potential committee members.

Walsh explained that he had made the request that CORC tackle the issue because he felt there was a need for “some kind of limits or guidelines on how committees are formed.” The mayor said he was unsure how much recruiting had been or was being done to fill open committee seats but that he felt people were willing to serve.

Joining with Olmstead in questioning whether the issue should be on CORC’s agenda, Steele said he objected to a committee being tasked with developing general committee membership guidelines. He said he felt the setup of committees should be a council decision, with council creating any formal guidelines.

Steele further noted that he felt too much of the town’s work was being done by committees instead of the council, that council was “abdicating its duties in favor of committees.” The committees themselves should decide the detail of their day-to-day functioning, he said, but the larger issues of membership and mission should really be up to the council.

There also Steele objected to the process as had been initiated for the committees in recent months. He said that since committees are “formed at the discretion of the council, the council should dictate their mission,” not the committees themselves.

Indeed, committees were instructed over the winter to submit a mission statement to council, but the follow-through on those draft statements was never formalized. Only one of them has thus far been formally put before the council for approval (which was given).

Olmstead also agreed with Steele on that point, saying that a primary focus of the council as far as the town’s committees should be in acting on the existing mission statements submitted to the council by the committees. Once those were approved, she said, further consideration of membership issues could be taken.

McClenny, however, said he felt the development of mission statements by the committees was important, allowing each committee to develop a statement from its own knowledge of its work and workings and part of the bottom-up function of the committee-council relationship.

Returning to the issue of Mink’s outline, committee members agreed that a simplified version of the outline could be presented to council members as a “white paper” for their consideration of the overall issue, also involving the need for formal membership guidelines and whether CORC was the appropriate venue for developing any such guidelines.

Also at the May 19 meeting:

• Fuller noted that Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork had asked that the town look into its handling of the recording of deeds with Sussex County. The request was made after a problem with the recording of deeds with Kent County had come to Jaywork’s attention.

Fuller said Bethany Beach had proven to be ahead of the game in respect to that issue, with Building Inspector John Eckrich personally taking all deeds for properties in the town to be recorded with the county.

• McClenny presented to committee members a “white paper” regarding the issue of multiple owners as voters from a single property in the town. He recommended the committee table the issue to allow them to consider the paper before further discussion.

Fuller noted that the issue was being addressed too late in the year to impact the September 2006 town elections and emphasized a need for careful crafting of any changes to voter eligibility.

• Killmer presented a “white paper” regarding incorporation of the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) in the town’s code. Committee members unanimously agreed to submit the paper to council members for consideration in obtaining approval for further work on the project.

If approved by the council, Killmer suggested the “pick-and-choose” and “cut-and-paste” work of selectively combining the existing town maintenance code with the IPMC could be tackled by an intern or other outside help over the course of the summer.

• Committee members agreed to look into concerns about maintenance requirements for properties bordering on canals in the town, specifically as to whether property owners should be required to take steps to prevent erosion of their land to keep canals from encroaching on neighboring properties. Steele voiced concern about the time span on any such requirements, citing years-long permitting processes when potential work areas involve wetlands.

• Killmer noted that Jaywork had recently expressed his legal opinion that removing fine amounts from the town’s ordinances to a separate schedule of fees was not legal. Such a change was to be made to allow easier updating of fees over time and Jaywork did hold it to be legal in the case of fees — but not fines.

McClenny said he would like to see if the town council could pass an ordinance that would legally allow the town to separate the amounts of both fees and fines from the lengthy documentation of town code, in two separate schedules — one for fees and one for fines. Fuller suggested the three committee members meet with Town Manager Cliff Graviet to discuss Jaywork’s opinion on issue and any possible resolutions.