The upcoming South Bethany Council election has generated considerable interest, and rightly so, because substantial issues impacting the future of the town are involved.
The incumbent team of Frank Weisgerber, Carol Stevenson and Jerry Masiello, plus Dick Oliver, head of the Planning Commission, offer an experienced, energetic path forward to fiscal and town management stability, while the “new voices” slate urges a return to failed past practices, to be enacted by candidates who have not previously involved themselves in volunteer or community service in the town.
As I see this election, there are three major issues at play:
First, fiscal stability must underpin all future endeavors of the Town. The current mayor and council have managed the annual budget to generate a surplus, and have established a 10-year Capital Plan to bring discipline and anticipation to future expenditure, such as roads, canals and water quality. The candidates for council are among the incumbents who made this progress possible. Dick Oliver, though not an incumbent, led the formation of the 2016 Comprehensive Plan.
In contrast, the prior administration did financial planning on a one-year basis, never established a long-range Capital Plan and ignored the prior Comprehensive Plan. In addition to these omissions, the prior administration liked to spend “other peoples’ money” (read taxpayers) on unplanned projects.
They did not even flinch to spend $25,000 on an appeal of the new FEMA flood certification, affecting a small group of homeowners, which was so clearly doomed to failure by the FEMA rules that the company managing the appeal felt a legal responsibility to warn of near-certain denial.
Second, the brouhaha over police department and police chief has generated rumors, unsigned postcards and vague innuendos. The Town Council kept silent on confidential personnel issues involving the police department, as it is legally mandated to do, while others tried to portray this as a lack of transparency, and the police chief inappropriately availed himself of a press interview.
The recently retired chief seems to be a pleasant fellow, liked by most, but the Town has a regulatory and business structure, and he was not a good manager. After two formal outside surveys by law-enforcement organizations recommended a reduced structure for the police department, the chief resisted, setting himself against the civilian structure to which the police must report.
He undertook a consistently inappropriate series of management actions, which are pointless to detail since he is now retired. The town manager, to whom the police chief reports, took necessary action. The current council is on its way to rebuilding the department on a more secure basis.
In contrast, we have the histrionic charges of some residents and former elected officials that the “destruction” of the police department was planned, ignoring the actions of the chief that brought the department down. There have been fiscal and legal issues with police departments in multiple Delaware beach towns, resulting from police chiefs being independent of town authority. The new South Bethany police structure will circumvent such issues.
The third issue is more shadowy but must be mentioned. The prior administration took many actions that divided the town, including scheduling council meetings at times that only retired full-time residents could attend. Actions on many issues were said to be based on “overwhelming email support,” but numbers were never produced.
The choice of language pitted “residents” vs “part-timers” or “second home” owners, seeking to enlarge divisions by suggesting freeholders had different agendas or did not care about the town. Recently, the anonymous “Friends of South Bethany Police” group was actively spreading misinformation.
Moreover, the “New Voices” slate is still trying to stir up emotions around the police department issue, even though they have obtained FOIA information about the failings of the chief that led to the current situation. In fact, the electronic campaigning for the “new voices” slate has come repeatedly from the ex-mayor, whose management policies led to defeat in the last election.
In contrast, the current administration moved council meetings to a more convenient time for all, communications are directed at all owners, and periodic activities are organized to bring all owners together.
Although the “new voices” slate, backed by the ex-mayor, appears intent on misinformation and undermining the path forward for South Bethany, I hope that the census residents and freeholders of this town will be unified in staying the course and voting for experience and fiscal responsibility by re-electing the incumbent slate.