South Bethany residents hear from candidates at meeting

With the final weeks leading up to South Bethany’s council election ticking down, candidates for the three open seats were given the opportunity to make their cases to citizens present at the May 13 council meeting. Those potential voters were also given the opportunity to question the candidates in a limited manner.

Incumbents Bonnie Lambertson and Richard Ronan, and challengers Jay Headman and former mayor Ted Marcucilli were each allowed five minutes to address those in attendance, leading up to the May 28 election. Each stated their qualifications for a council seat.

Headman focused on his experience in the Indian River School District, as well as a championing creative problem-solving achieved by listening to the input of others. Lambertson also pointed to her background in education and business, while emphasizing her experience with council committees and praising the current council’s ability to work as a team and reach a consensus.

Ronan focused on his love for the quiet community and presented a lengthy list of town improvement projects in which he had been involved over the years.

Marcucilli, with a background in government and management, also noted his history as a former mayor and council member in South Bethany. But he also said he felt some citizens of the town had been “excluded from the function of government because they don’t agree” with the current council members. He bemoaned the apparent demise of a rule from his time on the council that he said required a response to citizen inquiries within 24 hours of their receipt.

Despite his history with the town’s government, the question of Marcucilli’s qualifications for the position have been a focus during the election process and were put center stage during the question-and-answer segment involving the citizens in attendance.

Marcucilli has already moved his primary residence from South Bethany to Ocean View, and his former home is now being offered for sale.

Resident Hugh Dolans questioned Marcucilli’s intention to serve out a full term on the council, noting that he had resigned from the council before and had “pushed” the town into the expense of an election this year when the sale of his home in the near future would apparently disqualify him from serving a full term.

That issue was debated by Marcucilli, who said he didn’t read the town’s code to mean that he had to remain a property owner to stay on the council. Marcucilli emphasized that he was a property owner at the time of the election and fully entitled to run for a council seat, even though he still planned to sell his South Bethany property.

Further, Marcucilli cited the presence of outside members on corporate boards, saying there was reason for such arrangements. He said he wanted another shot at helping the town and also sought to unseat incumbents – a circumstance he said would improve the council and encourage more open-mindedness among its members.

On that note, the candidates’ portion of the evening was officially concluded, but Ronan quickly inserted a statement asserting that the council had considered the issue of eligibility to continue a council term after a non-resident property owner sold their property in the town. Over Marcucilli’s strenuous objections to the remarks, he said the code required ownership or residency to serve on council.

Mayor Gary Jayne cut off further comment from either candidate, emphasizing that the candidates’ portion of the meeting was over.

(Later in the meeting, Council Member Bob Cestone confirmed that if Marcucilli was to sell his property he would no longer be qualified to serve on the council. Further, Cestone stated that the town’s 90-day residency requirement could be another obstacle to Marcucilli’s service on council, were he to elect to move back into the town as a resident.)

The May 13 meeting also marked the final council session for Lloyd Hughes, and the veteran council member sought to make it an even more significant event by asking council members to approve $17,500 for the purchase of a computer model he considers vital for the further study of the tidal pump project he has championed for the town in recent years. He also requested council hire an engineer with ocean and sewer outfall experience to do further work on the project.

But Hughes’ final wish as a council member was not to be. Though the town has $9,030 in grant funds remaining for water-quality studies and would require only an additional $8,470 in funding to purchase the Entrex model, council members said they felt they needed to further examine information on the project before making a decision.

Hughes argued that the project had been in the planning and consideration stages for a long while, with no concrete progress, and he warned that further delaying real movement on the issue might cost the town some potential funding or support.

Council members championed having the town’s planning commission take a further look at the proposal, and it was suggested that Hughes’ motion be tabled rather than voted down, with discussion of the issue to take place at the council’s next workshop. But Hughes persisted, asking for a vote before his council duties were complete that night.

Pressed to the vote, Jayne cast the only negative vote, with Lambertson, Bob Cestone and Marge Gassinger abstaining rather than vote against Hughes’ motion. But the three positive votes of Hughes, Ronan and John Fields were not sufficient to carry the decision, which would have required a four-vote majority of council members present.

Council members praised Hughes’ work on the tidal pump project — and his service to the town. Jayne said he trusted Hughes would remain involved in the issue as work with it proceeded into the future. He noted that Hughes would still be part of the council at the next workshop, where the model and project would be further discussed.

Discussion of Resolution 3-05 regarding a public hearing on building a town hall and new police building in the town was also postponed at the May 13 meeting, with Jayne saying the town needed to do “more homework” on the issue before formally scheduling a hearing. That discussion was also set for the upcoming workshop.

The need for a preliminary referendum to gauge support for that project prior to spending significant funds was also questioned, but Gassinger said current expenditures were being kept limited to those needed to gather information that would allow cost analyses and provide information to voters for a future referendum.

She emphasized that town officials knew something would have to be done about the town hall and police building, noting that the latter had already outlived the expected two-year lifespan of the temporary structure by one year.

Gassinger said work on the proposed town hall project was currently being held up by stormwater issues, with a need for the state to review the site.

Reporting from the town’s various committees:

• Regarding Assawoman Canal dredging, Cestone noted that the Environmental Appeals Board had met May 10 and declared that the cost/benefit analysis for the project needed to be redone. A written report from the board within 90 days of the hearing will spur the state to formally commence that new analysis, he said. He emphasized there were no other issues or problems with the project that had been mentioned by the board.
• The fate of the proposed “50-year” beach replenishment project for South Bethany and Bethany Beach remains in the hands of the U.S. Congress and budget appropriations, according to Ronan. He said the project was “in the hopper” and “looks good” for dredging to potentially begin in the spring of 2006.
• A proposed change to the town’s charter that would allow the South Bethany Police Department to extend its jurisdiction outside town limits may be moving forward, according to Cestone. He said opposition to the idea in the state legislature had been resolved and the issue moved forward to the committee level.

Also at the May 12 meeting:

• Some of those in attendance commented on the deterioration of the town’s landscaping and beautification efforts. Jayne agreed that the town was behind on such efforts this year, with landscaping contracts scaled back to include only mowing of grass and plans made to hire two employees who would supervise other landscaping issues.

“It doesn’t look so hot, but give us a chance,” Jayne asked of citizens. The current plan is for a temporary display of flowers this year, with long-term plans to possibly include the hiring of a horticulturist to supervise permanent plantings, as has been done in Bethany Beach.

• Jayne announced that the no-entry signs to the Cat Hill development would be put in place again for the summer, based on the results of a survey.
• The lack of a treasurer for the council was noted, with Jayne requesting any citizen with an auditing or financial background who was willing to serve in that position notify the town.
• A proposal for the York Road pedestrian path project was set to be presented at the June 10 council meeting. Town Manager Melvin Cusick also announced that algae harvesters were expected to arrive in the town to clean the canals at some point in the two weeks following the May 12 meeting.
• Cusick, serving as temporary treasurer, reported April income of $118,017.13, disbursements of $210,321.75, a balance of $2,503,295.35, total unspecified reserves of $577,622 and total reserves of $984,264.
• Fields noted that work on the town’s comprehensive development plan (CDP) was moving ahead, with the current plan being typed up by town staff for further review.
• Lambertson addressed basic issues surrounding the Indian River-area oceanic wind farm proposed by Winergy. She provided a memo containing a series of issues with such projects, as addressed in various resources, noting that they were not broken down into pro/con categories as some of the items might be pros to some citizens while they would be cons to others.

She said the installation would be visible from 27 miles away, with clear visual impact for property owners in South Bethany. There were also environmental issues to consider on both sides of the equation, she said.

Lambertson noted that the May 20 meeting scheduled with Winergy officials at the South Bethany Town Hall was designed to allow citizens to ask questions that would help them decide whether the town and its individual citizens should formally oppose or support the wind-farm proposal. Jayne emphasized that the town currently has no official position on the matter.

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. and it was noted that town hall’s seating capacity is limited, with officials of neighboring towns invited to represent their towns’ interests.

• Council members voted to move the planned June 4 organizational meeting from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. The workshop set for May 26 was also moved, to June 2 at 10 a.m., with the notation that Hughes would still be serving as a council member at that point, with any new council members able to attend the workshop as citizens prior to being sworn in at the June 4 meeting.