Communications committee goes down checklist

It was a meeting full of wrap-ups for members of the Bethany Beach Communications Committee on Monday, April 25.
With most of their recent ideas for improving communications from the town in various phases of completion, Mayor and committee chairman Jack Walsh acknowledged the committee’s agenda was starting to get thin and might indicate possible reason to cut back on the committee’s monthly meetings — at least for the time being.

The committee’s informational brochure is in the final stages of proofing prior to being sent out for printing. Committee members had found limited fine-tuning needed since their previous meeting, and Town Manager Cliff Graviet said he would ask town staff to give it a final look before it was actually delivered to the print shop.

Work on updates to the town’s Web site has similarly neared completion, with all requested changes made barring a select few.

With the council’s makeup due to change in the coming weeks as Robert Degen’s resignation goes into effect, photos of individual council members and the collective council will be set for the council’s May 20 meeting. The new council member will receive an official council shirt after the other council members pick Degen’s replacement at a 2 p.m. meeting.

The mayor and his wife are also continuing their efforts to update the town’s Web photo album with shots of the new boardwalk clock and lighting, as well as the blooming bulbs that now beautify the town.

An update to the online business map is also in the works, with the town’s new businesses being added for the coming summer season. Applications for the town’s police force and junior lifeguard program are also being added to the site, while updates have been made to the navigational system and a full site indexing is in the works.

Based on a previous decision by the committee, the town will also be considering a special informational bar for the site to highlight the upcoming fundraising raffle by the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company.

With those updates coming into shape, Graviet also asked the other committee members whether they felt an update was needed for the site’s home or “splash” page. Graviet said he felt the existing collage design was perhaps a bit homespun or outdated, having been in place for a few years. He suggested the town consider a new theme, such as the sepia-toned historical photographs now on display in the office areas of the town hall.

Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead said she liked the homey appearance of the page, but Walsh agreed it could have a bit more pizzazz and suggested Graviet continue to look for some new ideas and check into the possibility of finding a Web designer to do an update.

The possibility of bringing a live weather display into the site was also discussed at the April 25 meeting, with general agreement among the committee members present that the town’s existing agreement with the University of Delaware’s statewide weather monitoring system would likely prove adequate.

“Given what we have now,” Graviet said, “I’m not sure why we’d be looking at something else.” He noted that plans remain in place to install a tidal gauge in the boardwalk area, further enhancing the information available through the UD system. That would include a “live” weather reading updated at five-minute intervals, as well as the tidal information.

Committee members also agreed Monday to table the concept of a town forum or social, at least until the end of the summer. The idea had arisen out of a suggestion that the council members might need additional opportunities to be available to citizens on an informal basis. But concerns arose in discussion of possibly following Fenwick Island’s model of a regular “workshop without agenda” (WWA).

Previously asked to review the legal issues involved in such gathering of council members outside formal council meetings, Graviet said he felt such a meeting would require prior advertising and notification to avoid conflicts with the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA). A social gathering, he said, would require no such notification, as no formal council action or opinion-sharing would take place.

Further, Graviet said he felt the town’s existing “public comment” section of the town council agenda allowed for citizens to bring any issues of concern to the council members for consideration. He said the town’s Web site had also opened up communication on such issues, in addition to the option to contact town officials by telephone.

Also, based on the previous night’s sparse turnout at a presentation of concepts for improving the town’s bicycle and pedestrian safety system, Graviet said he wondered if such additional meetings would generate enough interest to make them worthwhile.

Olmstead emphasized that June and July were also particularly difficult times to start such an experiment in the town, and she recommended the committee hold off until at least September to consider holding either a social or an open forum. That idea was supported by all committee members present at the meeting.

Walsh said he had received some replies from various council members as to whether they felt the communication between council and Graviet’s office was sufficient. Olmstead said she had felt it was sufficient and had thus not made any response. But Walsh said he wanted to contact other council members who had not yet replied to Graviet’s inquiry to ensure their feelings had been taken into account.

With the town’s summertime newsletter also nearing its completion and mailing date, Olmstead told the committee members she and Maureen Killmer (wife of Council Member Lew Killmer) had proceeded with efforts to organize a volunteer corps in the town.

Olmstead said she had recruited Maureen Killmer as a coordinator for the volunteers and worked with her to develop a volunteerism letter that would be mailed out with the newsletter. The two had rejected the idea of a formal skills assessment questionnaire, as had been done in the past, instead focusing on first finding volunteers who were interested and available to help with a variety of town projects.

Walsh recommended the letter include a space for volunteers to list any special experience or talent that might aid the town, as had been done in a more focused way with the skills assessment.

He said he had found that skills list of use to him at several times in the past and that it might prove helpful in any future committee membership selections, as a way of helping to bring in skilled citizens for participation on pertinent committees.

That progress left all existing committee projects in various states of completion, and Walsh said he’d give consideration to whether a May meeting was needed. He said he would notify committee members of his decision in the coming weeks.