For the Sussex County Councilmen Doug Hudson and John Rieley, who both took office in January, life is bustling.
Not only are there council meetings nearly every Tuesday, but preparation for those meetings, events to attend, appointments to committees, family obligations and communication with constituents who call and e-mail.
Hudson, 59 — a Republican who won over Democratic opponent Paulette Ann Rappa last November — is retired from the Delaware State Police. He represents District 4, which includes areas in and around Ocean View, Bethany Beach, Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach. He had never held political office, but when he was appointed to the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission by former District 4 Councilman George Cole, “I started to like it and decided to run,” he said.
He and his wife, LouAnn, who works for the Cape Henlopen School District, have one son, a senior at West Virginia University.
Rieley, 63, defeated Democratic opponent Ellen Magee. He represents District 5, which includes the Millsboro, Dagsboro, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, Frankford, Laurel and Delmar areas.
He and his wife, Lou Ann, live in Millsboro, he said, and the men — as they undoubtedly have before — mentioned how unusual it is for both their wives to have the same name, even though they spell them differently.
“I got out of college, went to work in Washington, D.C., met my wife and we moved back here,” said Rieley, a retired financial advisor and father of 11 children who range in age from 16 to 36. His wife, whose family has a chicken farm and who, with her children, continues to operate it, was once named Delaware Mother of the Year.
Delaware, with a population of about 970,000, has a county government that doesn’t get as involved in local issues as county governments in other states. Mostly, explained Rieley, the county council handles land use and sewer matters, as well as constituents’ concerns — the most common being traffic and development.
“Those are our biggest issues. Traffic congestion is mainly in the summertime, but in the shoulder seasons, too. On the east-west roads — Routes 9, 24, 26 and 54 — coming from and getting to the beach can be difficult,” Hudson said.
Because roads are owned by the State, changes have to be approved by the Delaware Department of Transportation.
“DelDOT has several things planned in Georgetown at Routes 18 and 113. There has been talk about a Millsboro bypass since the late ’70s or early ’80s,” Rieley said.
“The big issue with the Millsboro bypass was obtaining land. It’s a tough situation. Millsboro is rough to get through. You have Route 24 as the main thoroughfare going toward the beach. There’s a big bottleneck in the summer,” Hudson said.
Agreeing, Rieley said constituents “want us to do something about the traffic, something to ameliorate conditions and improve roads.”
“It’s a factor in every decision we make. We are in the midst of redoing the Memorandum of Understanding that we have with DelDOT. We expect that to be done this year, to define the process a little bit, although I think it’s pretty well-defined now. But, hopefully, we will improve communications,” he said.
“There are a lot of projects in DelDOT’s queue, a long list of capital improvements,” Rieley said.
“For example, the Nassau development. There was a hearing on it last week. We submitted 15 questions to DelDOT that we have to get answers to before it gets resolved. Nassau will be 168 apartments on 15 acres off Old Mill Road, north of Nassau. We are trying to be responsible. We want to do what is fair, right and just,” he said.
Hudson said constituents often complain about rapid development.
“I hear it every day. I get phone calls and e-mails every day about wanting building stopped or slowed down. Sussex County is growing, and that growth is not going to stop,” said Hudson, a native of Bethany Beach who has lived in Sussex all of his life.
Like counties everywhere, Sussex County has been troubled by the nationwide opioid crisis that, in 2017 led to more than 47,000 overdose deaths in the United States. There are hot spots in certain areas in the state, Rieley said, including Seaford and Laurel, but Sussex County officials aren’t directly involved in tackling it.
The council did join the national lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, representing Sussex County.
“What that results in is hard to say,” Rieley said.
“The opioid problem started in the last 10 or 15 years,” Hudson said.
“When I was a trooper, I worked undercover three years and it was crack cocaine then. Kids started messing with pills — Percocet, Oxycontin. They got expensive, but heroin was cheap,” he said.
Solutions are in the hands of the state police, Department of Social Services and governor’s office, the councilmen said.
“Sussex mainly deals with land use, and we are heavily involved in sewer. I don’t know if our expertise is in opioids. Delaware is a small state. All the main agencies are organized for efficiency sake, so there are limited functions that we on the council have. That’s why property taxes are so low, because of the scope of our mission,” he said.
Hudson and Rieley are more likely to be involved in the growth of Delaware Coastal Airport — especially Hudson, who’s on the council’s Airport Committee.
“We want to see that airport grow. We are extending the runway to 6,000 feet. We will buy a piece of property that covers that runway protection zone. We have one more piece of adjoining property to buy so we can land larger planes there.
“I’m not sure bringing commercial flights is on anybody’s mind,” he added. “But the airport gets a lot of use. The state police have a hangar there. They fly medical, search-and-rescue, traffic crashes. They have a helicopter there. That’s where they are stationed for Sussex,” Hudson said.
Both councilmen said they want more tenants at the industrial park at the airport and said the council has made it more appealing by upgrading roads, the wastewater system, electric and electronics.
“I’d like to see more businesses there that are high-paying, more manufacturing and industrial-type things,” Rieley said. Hudson suggested UPS or FedEx.
When the councilmen ran for office, they had specific goals. Hudson was concerned about public safety, and Rieley wanted to be sure the County was on solid financial footing.
“The County is in a very good position,” Rieley said.
“We just added $10 million to the pension fund for County employees, so it’s close to 100 percent funded. It’s very good. We are looking out for the future, making sure the county is run well. We are meeting our obligations, so we aren’t in a situation in years to come where we say, ‘Oops. We didn’t see that coming.’ We were just upgraded to a AAA credit rating for the first time, which is incredible. You tend to see that for states, but not for counties. The County has little or no debt load,” he said.
Sussex County employs about 500 people — fewer than the 550 on the payroll 10 years ago.
“That was done through better use of technology and more efficiencies that result from that,” Rieley said.
“The County was recognized nationally for our county management practices. We feel comfortable we are going to be able to keep taxes in line,” Rieley said.
“I feel comfortable with all of that. We do things right.”
By Susan Canfora