S. Bethany candidates have the final word before Saturday

Four seats will be contested in the 2019 South Bethany Town Council election, scheduled for Saturday, May 25, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Terms all begin on June 1.

There are six candidates for three seats (carrying a two-year term): Jane Bonbright, Laurence “Larry” Budd, Darren Donohue, Richard “Dick” Oliver, Carol Stevenson and Frank Weisgerber.

There are two candidates for one seat (carrying a one-year term): Derek Abbott and Gerald “Jerry” Masiello.

Eligible voters must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years old by election day. They must either be a town resident (physically residing in town for at least 30 days preceding election day); a freeholder (property owner or trustee for at least 90 consecutive days before election day); or the spouse of a freeholder (whether listed on the deed, or not). No more than eight people may vote as a “freeholder” or “spouse” per property. There are no numerical restrictions to residents voting.

Absentee voting is available for those who cannot physically attend the polls on Saturday. Affidavits must be physically delivered to Town Hall by May 24 at noon. An absentee ballot will then be handed to the requestor and must be returned by May 25 at 3 p.m.

South Bethany Town Hall is located at 402 Evergreen Road, South Bethany, Del. Details are available by calling (302) 539-3653 or online at https://southbethany.delaware.gov.

Coastal Point has invited candidates to complete a questionnaire for voters going to the polls. Per Coastal Point tradition, Letters to the Editor regarding the election will not be published this week, in order to give candidates the last word. One group of candidates chose to submit one united response. Responses are presented alphabetically by name.

 

Derek Abbott, Jane Bonbright, Laurence “Larry” Budd, Darren Donohue

Q. Why do you want to be part of the South Bethany Town Council?

A. To aid voters, the New Voice candidates have chosen to respond collectively. We represent 93 years of collective ownership in South Bethany, and several of us come from multi-generational family owners. All of us value the nature of our Town and its unique experience on the Delaware shore. Initially we came together as a group of concerned citizens when we recognized upheaval in our Police Department in late 2017. We were interested to learn what was going on and we engaged to understand. During this process we felt our concerns, and those of other constituents, were not acknowledged and requests for information and engagement were disregarded. We recognize the need to evaluate expenses and options, but the decisions and the approaches taken resulted in the nearly complete attrition of the department with no perceived benefit. It took the reversal of the consultant’s recommendations in February of this year to finally correct the issues and enable the Town to start a journey to restore the level of safety and protection we previously enjoyed.

Beyond public safety, there is the continued focus on keeping South Bethany “The Best Little Beach in Delaware.” That means focus on the health of our canals and beach, continuing to attract renters and owners and improving the opportunity for both seasonal and full-time residents. Rental and transfer taxes represent almost two-thirds of our revenue base, and these grow with inflation, unlike our property taxes. Taxes and expenses go hand in hand, so it is vital we engage owners in a meaningful way to prevent taxes from rising.

Q. In a race that has felt so generally polarized, how are you as an individual qualified and worthy of serving on town council?

A. We are all accomplished professionals and part of generational ownership within South Bethany. Collectively we bring substantial finance, legal, operational and fundraising skills and share a commitment to what is best for our town. We care about South Bethany and have shared the concerns that motivated us to run for Town Council. The characterization of the race as “polarized” is indicative of the challenge facing the Town. Many owners feel unrepresented and disenfranchised. Their concerns have been variously labelled as self-serving, uninformed or not worthy of engagement. Many promises were made last year regarding engagement and transparency; however, it appears to us that those critical features of a government ‘by the people and for the people’ are trending in the wrong direction. For example, Town Council meetings are still not available via video streaming and there was no communication on a plan to rebuild the police force until January of this year (when we were down to two officers). Our ask is straightforward, we want owners engaged and informed. With this, the majority can voice their desires and be represented.

We are worthy of serving South Bethany because we offer collaborative thinking, measured logic, interest, energy, a commitment to engage owners and devotion to keeping South Bethany “The Best Little Beach in Delaware.” We deserve the chance to serve as new voices in an atmosphere that has been rather closed to newcomers. ALL owners and residents deserve the right to participate and be heard.

Q. How would you work to repair schisms that have divided the town?

A. Most importantly, we are all neighbors, and we are all united by a love for South Bethany. If nothing else, we share that broad and deep common ground and that should guide our behavior. The current tensions are unfortunate and really were avoidable. However, to understand how to repair them we must understand their history. These issues predate the current election cycle and have their roots in the months leading up to last year’s Mayor and Town Council races, and perhaps before that. There was too much negativity in that election regarding the character of some of the individuals running, all of whom were experienced current council members. While much of the concern has been related to the changes to the Police Department, this was only one factor. The negativity and disregard for those seeking information caused surprise and shocked some to the point of engaging when historically they had not. We believe it is incumbent on all elected officials to ensure that all sides are heard, and all views considered. That does not mean in any way that everyone gets their way, but everyone will understand the process used and feel they were heard.

The path forward for South Bethany is the same as the platform for which we are running: engagement, transparency and accountability. This is not related to “personnel issues” that have been so dramatized lately, but transparency on intent, plans and challenges. These were promised in last year’s pre-election commentary, however too often the limited outbound communication lacked adequate details and a sharing or acknowledgment of challenges. We commit to engaging and informing owners so they can choose to participate. For example, we mailed the Absentee Ballot request form to property owners. Many thanked us as they were unaware this was an option and were happy to engage. Until we have a Council that engages and communicates with all, trust issues will remain.

Q. What do you feel are South Bethany’s three biggest challenges for the next few years, and how will you address them?

A. We see the top challenges and opportunities as:

1. Ensuring that we continue and expedite the progress to rebuild our police department to the point it can resume 24/7 police services.

2. Repairing the rift and polarization described above requires meaningful engagement and reestablishment of trust. The foundation for this is to value candid discussions and debate about issues of importance to South Bethany.

3. We have talked to many in town and we hear common interests as well as some specific ones by area. One of the strongest we heard was to keep the natural feel of our Town.

• Shared interests: improved beach access, beach maintenance, Rt. 1 speed and traffic control, quality TV & internet access, and planning for sea level rise.

• Area specific interests:

a. Cat Hill area — Thru traffic management (especially on Black Gum entrance), limiting street lighting

b. Canal area — Water quality for wildlife and swimming, adequate canal navigation, limiting street lighting

c. Ocean Side area — Protecting pedestrian traffic on Ocean Drive, water and sand management between the dunes and the ocean front houses, protecting rental and property values.

 

Gerald “Jerry” Masiello

Q. Why do you want to be part of the South Bethany Town Council?

A. My wife and I have enjoyed the serenity, wholesomeness and physical beauty of South Bethany for the past 17 years. We have wallowed in the congeniality and friendliness of the town and have discovered that the total environment is beneficial to the head, heart and soul.

Over the past six months the town has been sharply divided with regard to some basic issues, which has resulted in derisive and vitriolic discourse among our citizens. I am saddened and disappointed to witness this change. After all that South Bethany has given me, I feel that it is my responsibility to devote my energies, experience and knowledge to reestablishing the congeniality of our environment. I strongly feel that my expertise in law enforcement, in dealing with people and groups and strong lay knowledge of our judicial system will enable me to help create and maintain a mutually beneficial environment.

This being my first foray into an elected position with the town, I feel that I can bring an infusion of fresh ideas and points of view that can be beneficial to the town.

Q. In a race that has felt so generally polarized, how are you as an individual qualified and worthy of serving on town council?

A. I was formerly involved with the town government as a member of the Board of Adjustment and in that capacity came to know and understand the citizens of South Bethany, the efficiency and dedication of the town’s administrative staff and the extant laws which govern our neighborhood. I was and have been heartened by the efficiency of our governing system and feel that it has served our public extremely well in the past. I fully intend to utilize every skill that I have acquired in 40 years of professional law enforcement service, liaison capabilities, factual research and system creation to ensure that the quality of life in South Bethany continues as it has been.

The electoral slate of which I am a part contains individuals who have dedicated a great deal of time and energy to creating programs and projects which are geared towards ensuring the future welfare and convenience of our town. I am anxiously anticipating collaborating with and supporting my fellow Council members in building an ever-improving south Bethany. I also strongly feel that I would be remiss if I did not concentrate my efforts in assisting the successful completion of the rebuilding of the South Bethany police department.

Q. How would you work to repair schisms that have divided the town?

A. It is my heartfelt opinion that social/political divides serve only to create an untenable living environment and that in most instances explanation and understanding both serve to ameliorate those situations. We are a community of retired intelligent professionals who have led successful lives and obviously have the capacity and intellectual prowess to understand and apply reasonable standards in their thinking processes. Those who speak critically without getting full information do not promote the public welfare. I will be accessible for questions and conversations and amenable to listen to questions, and ready to provide information so that people can make informed decisions.

I, as an individual, would be remiss in my responsibilities if I were not accessible to the citizens of this town and did not have the time or patience to enumerate and elucidate the workings of our government and the goals of this council.

Q. What do you feel are South Bethany’s three biggest challenges for the next few years, and how will you address them?

A. As previously stated, the successful rebuilding of our law enforcement community is of paramount importance to our citizens. The continued treatment of our canal water quality, which has already begun under this Council, will ensure cleaner and navigable water ways into the foreseeable future. In addition, improved beach access for our aging community, which is another recently initiated project, will add a measure of convenience to citizens and visitors alike. I would like to do this in an atmosphere of openness and trust. The renewed maintenance of the town’s street surfaces to prevent frost heaves and road deterioration is also in the offing. I intend to assist my fellow Council members in continuing and perfecting these initiatives. Future funding plans will be kept in place by establishing expenditure priorities that place emphasis on continued fiscal responsibility.

Safe streets, high environmental standards, and contented citizens are my main goals while on Council as well as affording the people, whether as individuals or groups, the kind of transparency they deserve within the limits of the law. In this vein, I would also encourage increased participation by the residents on matters that come before the Council for discussion and vote.

 

Richard “Dick” Oliver

Q. Why do you want to be part of the South Bethany Town Council?

A. Some days I ask myself the same question. I know I am signing up for a lot of work, but I know I have more to give. I have chaired the Planning Commission for seven years, walked for the South Bethany Neighborhood Watch with my wife, Margaret, for 10 years, tested water for the Citizen’s Monitoring Program for 10 years. My position as chair of the Planning Commission when we developed the 2016 Comprehensive Plan gave me a unique perspective and a deep understanding of the issues and challenges facing the town as we move forward.

Q. In a race that has felt so generally polarized, how are you as an individual qualified and worthy of serving on town council?

A. My experience in government as a manager, a business owner and as chair of South Bethany Planning Commission will enable me to continue to serve the town effectively. I do not believe that the town is as polarized as the very small group of “new voices” have tried to make it appear. They are a single-issue minority that has little or no vision or even awareness of the other issues facing the town such as water quality, beach access and street maintenance. Their performance at the recent candidate night amply demonstrated their total lack of experience, and engagement in town affairs as well as that they are totally barren of ideas.

Q. How would you work to repair schisms that have divided the town?

A. A small group of, I think, well-intentioned, but ill-informed people created an inordinate amount of controversy over alleged “lack of transparency” that simply did not exist. There were problems with the police department that the mayor and council are resolving as quickly as possible and with as much candor as possible under the circumstances, given that they involve personnel issues which they cannot legally discuss. I believe that once our police department is fully-staffed, with a new chief, which will happen very soon, the “schism” will disappear.

This controversy, however, demonstrates that the council needs to continue to search for better ways to better communicate with citizens knowing that most do not attend council meetings, read the minutes or other messages or articles from the town. It is a difficult problem but one we need to focus upon in the future.

Q. What do you feel are South Bethany’s three biggest challenges for the next few years, and how will you address them?

A. There are three: 1. Recruiting a new police chief and staffing up the police department. This is well on its way to being accomplished, and the town’s progress in this respect are well-documented. 2. Maintaining the town’s fiscal soundness in a time of limited resources and continuing to fund capital reserves for planned future needs. 3. Continue to work on improving water quality in the canals and pay attention to climate change and its potential effect on sea level rise.

 

Carol Stevenson

Q. Why do you want to be part of the South Bethany Town Council?

A. I want to continue to be a part of the South Bethany Town Council because I would like to give back to a community that has been such a wonderful place to live. It has been an honor to serve South Bethany as an elected official of the Town. By continuing to serve, I believe I can use my experiences, talents and energy to make South Bethany an even better Town.

Q. In a race that has felt so generally polarized, how are you as an individual qualified and worthy of serving on town council?

A.I have demonstrated my dedication to South Bethany and the Town Council through many years of experience as a volunteer for our Town. I have encouraged volunteerism and developed programs that engage residents and guests in activities including Pot Luck Suppers, Independence Day Floats, Beach Parties, Boat Parades, Yoga Classes, Boot Camp, Fitness Classes and an Anniversary Party. My goal is to create a positive sense of community and to make opportunities to build memories of South Bethany that will last a lifetime. I actively participate in the South Bethany Women’s Club and the Historical Society. Throughout these activities, I have listened to members of our Town and have developed an understanding of their concerns. Being a member of the Town Council does mean listening to all residents who have an issue in the Town. Town Council members explore problems and conduct research necessary to form opinions. Sometimes it means forging ahead to do what one believes is right even when others in the Town disagree. We have had some very contentious issues in the recent past. In the end, most folks understand that we are trying to do what is best for the entire Town. This became even more apparent in my door-to-door campaign throughout town. I believe I have held the welfare of the Town first and foremost, even in the face of opposition. 

Q. How would you work to repair schisms that have divided the town?

A. Schisms created in our Town may be difficult to repair. A negative campaign was created by a slate of “new voices.” I am not sure how to address the behavior of opponents who deceptively mailed out a letter purporting to be the personal opinion of a 93-year-old former South Bethany mayor, when in fact the letter was ghost-written by this same set of opponents. I wonder how I should address the fact that these opponents deliberately created and encouraged discord. How can I understand why anyone would establish and lend their names to a Facebook page that was deliberately masquerading as a government and civic “police support” organization, while allowing inflammatory and threatening statements to remain there? My opponents have professed to promote “transparency”; however, their actions contradict it. I believe our Town deserves better representatives than these. I would accept their apologies for their past “mistakes” and hope to be able to learn to trust them through examples of their future hard work for the Town. 

I believe I have given residents, property owners and guests the opportunity to become involved in the community. I will work to continue these programs and explore other means for residents to become engaged with each other and with Town government. We have developed a new website this year with the objective of making information about South Bethany easier to access.

Our Town has to be well managed, and all residents and property owners must be treated fairly. Personnel issues with employees are rightly private issues; they will never be “transparent.” The Mayor and Town Council are elected to represent the citizens of the Town and to make decisions in the best interest of the Town. Our Town deserves a well-run, competent police department. The Town Council bears a large portion of this responsibility, and I believe we have put ourselves on a path to that end. A well-managed, safe town will be a town united for the common good.

Q. What do you feel are South Bethany’s three biggest challenges for the next few years, and how will you address them?

A. Sound finances are vital to South Bethany, now and in the future. Our Town income has variables which make it imperative that we keep a close watch on our spending and our capital reserves. I promise I will work to maintain our Town on a sound financial footing.

Our Town’s assets and infrastructure must be protected and nurtured. I will continue to support improvements to beach access and replenishment, to canal water quality and to the preservation our beautiful green spaces. We must maintain our roads and spend our Municipal Street Aid Funds wisely.

Last, we need to review our regulations and ordinances. I want our town to be as attractive and comfortable as we can make it. Regulations that are so outdated as to prevent residents from optimizing their properties need to be evaluated in light of new products and new technologies. I propose that the Charter and Code Committee begin a study to modernize our regulations and ordinances. I want properties to be well maintained and code violations addressed in a timely manner. In this regard, I will work to assure that input from our citizens is encouraged and thoughtfully considered.

 

Frank Weisgerber

Q. Why do you want to be part of the South Bethany Town Council?

A. I’ve been a councilmember since spring 2015, I’ve been chair of SB Canal Water Quality since spring 2016. The main things people probably want to know about me are that I’m very financially aware, I don’t want higher tax rates, and I believe the best way to fund a low tax rate future is to increase demand for SB property. Our revenues are directly linked to this demand.

Each councilmember has an area of primary focus. Even though I must understand the issues related to the beach, our roads, policing and the finances, I’ve learned on the fly marine biology to head our water quality effort. My primary long-term goal is to produce noticeable improvements in water quality. My primary short-term goal is to help build a police operation that doesn’t need a band of self-serving individuals to explain its failures.

Q. In a race that has felt so generally polarized, how are you as an individual qualified and worthy of serving on town council?

A. Chairman of South Bethany Water Quality Committee … The Town needs someone to take on the responsibility of the caretaker role. Someone who is focused on canal water issues and willing to pursue answers/solutions. The canal waters impact the property values immensely. Even though I was trained as a mathematician, I’ve had to become an amateur marine biologist to deal with using artificial wetlands to oxygenate our water, using shellfish to filter our water and dredging the canals to reduce algae for 20 years.

Q. How would you work to repair schisms that have divided the town?

A. The best way to address the division and unrest in the town is to re-elect the people who have conducted themselves professionally throughout the name calling, rumors and false accusations. Over the past six months or so, many unfounded rumors have circulated, and continue to circulate. We have tried to set the record straight at several Town Council meetings and have sent news updates to formally refute these inaccuracies, provide some history and most importantly, to update on actions the current Council was actively working on.

Q. What do you feel are South Bethany’s three biggest challenges for the next few years, and how will you address them?

A. 1. Unfortunately, our inherently low crime rate had long masked severe operational/management problems in our police force. Identification of these problems by the council to the police chief resulted in little corrective action. It mainly fostered resistance, threats and abuse. The path that has been put in place for South Bethany police department needs to be supported and continued to produce a PD that serves the Town’s needs.

2. Since 2008 the South Bethany Canal Water Committee has been taking nutrient samples for analysis twice a month during summer and once/month in spring/fall. The high nutrient levels have caused significant algal blooms in the spring. The Woods Hole Grant Study confirmed that there is much nitrate and phosphorus in the canals’ sediment (muck) and removal via specialized dredging of the sediment is a recommended remediation. This remediation and Investigations of other possibilities to reduce nitrates/phosphorus and algae/widgeon grass needs to continue.

3. The audio/visual infrastructure in Town Hall needs to be investigated and upgraded. This will then support remote access that has been successfully utilized in the business world for some time. Town ordinance(s) need changes to support remote participation.

Experience … nothing beats experience. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge one has, the reality is that actually doing something is the value. I’m a more effective council member now than in 2015. As a councilmember I’ve lived through and learned what’s necessary to keep our Town “The Best Little Beach in Delaware”.

With the state and federal budgets cutting back funds, South Bethany needs to address how to manage this shortfall. We need to seriously prioritize what’s important to the town and budget funds appropriately to support those priorities.