Steve Maneri has one Millville Town Council meeting as mayor under his belt, but he’s still getting used to the position.
Maneri was elevated from deputy-mayor to mayor following the departure of former mayor Robert Gordon last month. In an interview this week, he joked that his biggest adjustment in his first meeting had been sitting in the middle of the council dais, instead of his “quiet little corner” on the end.
“I was always the quiet man,” he said.
He is, however, no stranger to town government, having served as deputy-mayor for two years and on the council since 2014. Before that, he served on Millville’s Planning & Zoning Commission for two years.
Maneri and his wife moved to Millville in 2011, from Orange County, N.Y. Why Millville? Well, he explained, when they decided to move from New York after he retired, “My wife gave me a five-hour limit.” What that meant, he said, was that they could move five hours from where two of his three children lived — the third lived in Arizona and didn’t factor into the equation, he said.
Millville made the cut (even though Maneri admits it’s a little more than five hours from their family members) and the Maneris moved to Millville By the Sea, where he said other residents, for the most part, are “in the same boat” — meaning “We’re all retired.”
“I like the area,” he said, mostly because “the people are fantastic,” but also because “you can’t beat the taxes.”
As for Millville itself, Maneri said he loves its “quaintness” and vows to do everything in his power to maintain that quality while he is mayor.
Sitting in the town hall on a quiet weekday morning, Maneri pointed to the newly completed mural by local artist John Donato, and admitted that pretty much everything he knows about Millville’s farming and maritime history he learned from the mural.
He also said volunteering at the Millville Volunteer Fire Company has been a good way to learn about town lore.
“I just soak it all up at the firehouse,” he said.
He said he hopes to add a note to that history by completing the long-delayed town park while he is at the council’s helm. Since he joined the council, the park project — due to break ground this fall — has been Maneri’s “baby” as he has chaired the town’s Parks & Recreation Committee.
He has openly expressed his frustration with the delays in the permitting process for the project but said he is cautiously optimistic that ground will actually be broken on the park, to be located off Dukes Drive, in the coming weeks.
“It should be a bag of shells,” Maneri said, which is a New York Italian phrase for something that should be extremely easy. “We should have it done in no time,” he said.
The park will include walking trails, indoor space for gatherings and recreation, a maritime-themed playground, pickleball courts, a pavilion and state-of-the-art fitness-challenge equipment.
This isn’t Maneri’s first park-building experience. As a member of a village board back in New York, he was involved with a park project in Monroe. Known as Airplane Park, it was not without its own controversy, Maneri said, due to differing opinions as to whether a Korean War-vintage plane on the property should be restored or removed when it became clear the plane needed repairs. The repairs were ultimately done, and the historic and beloved plane remains in its home on the park grounds.
That project was where Maneri first worked with GameTime, the company that will be constructing the playground and fitness area of the park.
Maneri had nothing but praise for the Millville administrative staff — particularly Town Manager Deborah Botchie. He said he has confidence in the town staff’s ability to keep town business humming along, and “there’s no need for me to be looking over anybody’s shoulder,” because they all know their jobs and do them well.
“I don’t want to micromanage anybody,” he said.
That attitude goes for the town council as well. Regarding decisions the town officials will face in the coming years, Maneri said, “I want to talk to the whole board, see everybody’s opinion before I make a decision,” he said.
One thing Maneri said he would like to see is more participation in town government by its citizens. As in many towns, Millville meetings tend to be attended by the same people every month, and Maneri said he would love to see that change.
“I’d like to see more people come to the meetings,” which are held the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. Workshop meetings are held the fourth Tuesday of each month, also at 7 p.m. The agendas for each upcoming meeting are listed on the town website at www.millville.delaware.gov.
Maneri said it frustrates him when residents come to meetings only when the council is holding a final vote on a topic that has come up in earlier meetings and then expect the council to make last-minute changes based on their comments.
He said he would also like to see more “locals” on the council, which is currently made up entirely of transplants who live in either Millville By the Sea or Bishop’s Landing, another new, large development in the town.
In general, Maneri said, he wants to better utilize the talents of Millville residents.
“There’s a lot of brains in this town,” he said. “We have a lot of very smart people down here.”
The council is currently considering three applications to fill the remaining 19 months of the term vacated by Gordon. Maneri’s own term ends in March 2020.
“I’m going to have to run for re-election,” he said.
Currently, the town receives 30 hours of police coverage each week from the Delaware State Police, and while Maneri said that seems to be enough right now, he foresees a time when the Town will have to address the possibility of greater need — possibly combining forces with one or more neighboring towns.
Maneri noted that a police study was done several years ago, before Millville’s current building boom, and said he would like to see the Town do another one in the near future.
“When things keep building, we’re going to have to look at it” again, he said.
By Kerin Magill