Five vie for Bethany council seat

For the second time in six months, Bethany Beach Town Council members are faced with the decision of who best to replace one of their own.

With the resignation of the council’s only non-resident member, Robert Degen, effective May 1, the council is again set to hold a special meeting at which they will select a replacement councilperson. In January, longtime mayor and council member Joseph McHugh resigned and was replaced on the council by then-Planning Commission Chairman Lew Killmer.

This time, the council sought applications of would-be replacements for Degen (a term ending in September 2006), with a deadline of 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18. They will hold a special public meeting at 2 p.m. on Friday, May 20, at which they will select from among five candidates who filed applications for the spot.

The exact mechanism of selecting a replacement councilperson is decided by the council at the beginning of such meetings, but the January 2005 meeting allowed for each of the candidates to briefly present their case to the remaining six council members. Those council members then took an initial ballot, seeking a four-vote majority for a single candidate to seal the decision.

When that initial ballot broke as three votes for Killmer, two for former mayor Bob Parsons and a single abstention (Degen), the subsequent ballot went 4-2 in Killmer’s favor and he was sworn in for a council meeting later that night.

While the council members will be free to change the selection procedure May 20, it is likely to follow a similar course to January’s meeting.

All but one of the names on the list of applicants has changed. Former council member Roger Street is the sole candidate from January who has thrown his hat back into the ring.

Parsons said last week that he had decided not to seek the open seat, particularly as Degen was the council’s only non-resident member and Parsons said he favored continued representation of non-residents on the council.

Lois Lipsett also said in recent weeks that she’d decided not to apply this time, citing commitments to the Friends of the South Coastal Library and a desire to serve on at least one of the town’s committees in the near future.

Street, however, did indicate his continued interest in serving on the council. During his presentation to the council members in January, Street acknowledged that he hadn’t been as involved in town affairs in the last decade as he had been previously, primarily due to his work overseas with the U.S. State Department over the period from 1990 to 2003.

However, he noted his previous service on the town council and as town treasurer, and he said his focus was particularly strong on the town’s financial affairs. Street also presented a list of concerns he felt were important for council members to address, including beach replenishment and growth.

Also filing applications for the open seat this time are Bethany Beach perennials Jerry Dorfman and Tracy Mulligan.

Dorfman currently serves on the town’s planning commission. (He was selected as a replacement for Council Member Tony McClenny on the commission, as a result of Killmer joining the council.) Dorfman is also a member of the Charter and Ordinance Review Committee.

Mulligan has been in attendance at many committee, council and commission meetings in recent months, often providing input or asking questions from his position outside of the town’s formal governmental structure. But he made an intentional effort in recent weeks to attend additional committee meetings, such as the Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee, and also get a feel for those committees’ work.

As Parsons expressed his hopes that at least one non-resident would choose to apply for the council seat, his wish was granted with the applications of non-residents Mulligan, Joseph Healey and John Gaughan.

Each will have their chance to make their qualifications known to council members and citizens at the May 20 meeting and seek the seat their fellow non-resident, Degen, vacated.

Regardless of which candidate is selected by the council, the new member will be asked to get up to speed quickly, with council pictures to be taken prior to the 7:30 p.m. council meeting that night, at which the new member will also take a seat at the council table for the first time after his appointment.

The other hopefuls can reevaluate their chances for a seat in September, when the next council election is scheduled to take place. At that time, and unlike Friday’s special meeting, citizens will be casting their votes directly for candidates for three open seats, terms to last until September 2007.