Fenwick Island candidates get final word before election

Date Published: 
August 5, 2016

This year’s Fenwick Island Town Council election gives voters the choice of four candidates for three positions. Polls will open at Town Hall on Saturday, Aug. 6, from 1 to 5 p.m.

Voters can select three of the following candidates: Gardner Bunting (incumbent), Vicki L. Carmean, Kevin Carouge and Bernard “Bernie” H. Merritt Jr.

Council terms are two years. Current Council Members Diane Tingle and Bill Weistling did not run for re-election.

Two additional candidates were ruled ineligible because of property ownership issues. Charlie Hastings and Mark McFaul were deemed ineligible because they don’t live or directly own property in Fenwick Island, instead being part of artificial entities (such as a trust or LLC) that own property.

Voters must already be registered at Town Hall to vote in the election.

Election details are available by contacting Town Hall at (302) 539-3011 or online at www.fenwickisland.delaware.gov.

In preparation for the big day, the Coastal Point has polled Fenwick candidates on some of the issues. Their responses are listed alphabetically by the candidates’ last name. (Editor’s note: Per longstanding Coastal Point editorial policy, letters to the editor regarding the election were not published in this week’s issue, in order to allow the candidates to have the final word on their campaigns before the election.)

Gardner Bunting

Q. What qualifies you to serve on Fenwick Island Town Council?

Q. What is your opinion on voter/candidate eligibility? Do you believe that any of the following should or should not be allowed to vote/run for Town Council: Residents who do/don’t own property? Non-resident property owners? Artificial entities (LLCs, trusts, etc.)? Spouses of trustees?

A. I believe that any property owner that meets the voter requirement set forth by the Charter and Delaware voting laws should be eligible to run for office. Delaware LLC law prohibits the above, so we must abide by this or attempt to change the law. This would require the General Assembly to act and may be difficult.

Q. What is your opinion on the branding of Fenwick Island? Is it needed? Should the town pursue matching grant opportunity to hire a professional designer/consultant? Should the town pursue another direction?

A. Branding could be good for the business community, but we have already done some of the things that are needed. I would like to continue to work with Main Street Delaware in other ways to attempt to have good quality shops and restaurants and encourage property owners in the commercial district to enhance the appearance of their facilities.

Q. What do you envision for Fenwick’s future, including business development, housing or traffic/parking?

A. I would like to see a continuation of the quiet town atmosphere while encouraging business to flourish. Traffic is and will be an issue, since Route 1 is our Main Street. More sidewalks will help make it a better and safer walkable town along Route 1. The Town has attempted to make parking better by designating spots on the side streets, but space is limited by the original street design.

Q. What else should voters know about you or your goals for the next two years?

A. Sea-level rise, drainage, bicycle and pedestrian safety, sidewalks on Route 1 all need more study, as well as canal and channel dredging, and beach replenishment funding for the future.

Vicki Carmean

Q. What qualifies you to serve on Fenwick Island Town Council?

A. I am fortunate to live in a wonderful community where everyone can agree on one idea: they love Fenwick Island, all of it — the beach, the bay and the town. Yes, some change is inevitable, but like most of my friends and neighbors I am dedicated to preserving the best of this Quiet Resort so that it will be here for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.

As a full-time resident, I have the time, energy and enthusiasm to commit to the many meetings each month that are necessary to make the community successful. My previous 10 years serving on Council make me familiar with the importance of good leadership, legalities of governing, and problem solving. I have served as Council Secretary, Chair of Beautification, Parks & Recreation, Safety and Environmental Committees.

In addition, I have been a “worker-bee” on the Charter & Ordinance, Comprehensive Plan I, Election and Beach Committees. I have also been active with the Fenwick Island Society of Homeowners (FISH), not only as a member but also on the Executive Board. All of these experiences have broadened my knowledge so I can best represent what the voters want and thus make good decisions about what is needed in this community.

Q. What is your opinion on voter/candidate eligibility? Do you believe that any of the following should or should not be allowed to vote/run for Town Council: Residents who do/don’t own property? Non-resident property owners? Artificial entities (LLCs, trusts, etc.)? Spouses of trustees?

A. About a year ago I was asked to serve on the much-maligned Ad Hoc Election Committee for the purpose of developing an information document that could explain Fenwick’s complicated voter qualifications. After reviewing the Charter, the committee members noted that more was wrong than the voter qualification verbiage. However, we stuck to our mission to develop a push card that covered the essentials.

At the end we decided to take the additional step of asking the Charter & Ordinance Committee to define both “bona fide resident” and to reverse a 2008 Charter change that included trusts with artificial entities (LLCs and corporations) when they were given a vote, even though there was no legal requirement for doing so. This change limited votes for many non-resident property owners.

Unfortunately, this request was viewed as a move to subvert the rights of existing voters. Actually, the committee was trying to make the voting process easier. Now that some candidates have been declared ineligible because of confusing Charter language, I would hope that the Council will move forward to research what is or is not allowed by Delaware and federal regulations in order to bring Fenwick’s Charter into compliance with the law, as well as the expectations of the 21st century.

Q. What is your opinion on the branding of Fenwick Island? Is it needed? Should the town pursue matching grant opportunity to hire a professional designer/consultant? Should the town pursue another direction?

A. I am totally supportive of the business community, which is an integral part of Fenwick’s charm. In fact I can’t stay away from the wonderful retail stores and outstanding restaurants available here.

So I made it a point to attend the July 22 workshop where I learned that “branding” is a merchandising technique designed to bring visitors and their money into a community for the purpose of making businesses more prosperous.

A dozen Sussex County towns were listed as “branding participants,” none of which were coastal towns but rather inland communities that needed to boast their struggling economies. Since I lived in one of those towns for years, I am aware of how much time and money have been spent on redoing streets, landscapes and store appearances over the last 30 years in order to rejuvenate the business sectors. The branding program, which offers to post attractive pictures on the website with special fonts and color schemes for signage, should be an appropriate final phase of a much larger effort.

As such, I am concerned that the Business Development Committee is pushing branding before taking a look at the big picture and some unintended consequences for Fenwick. The $10,000 price tag is a lot of tax money ($125 per property) for a town with a limited budget and unofficial plans to increase taxes/special fees for next year.

During her pitch for branding, the spokeswoman also made vague references to a future monetary commitment once the Town moves forward with the branding program. The unknown total cost would be in addition to any expenses for the new lighthouse decorations on Coastal Highway and the $1,200 estimated increase in the electric bill to keep them lit all year.

Meanwhile, there are other areas in the commercial zone needing attention, such as the once-beautiful median strips that are now full of weeds. Plus, for over 10 years there has been talk but no action about adding sidewalks with landscaping in the commercial zone; these would not only enhance the town’s appearance but also insure pedestrian safety. Residents (who are required to have enclosed trash areas) have been urging regulations to enclose dumpsters in the commercial zone so that trash does not spill into the streets and onto other properties. How are these going to be funded?

And finally, I have strong reservations about the impact of more visitors on Fenwick’s infrastructure, especially regarding traffic, public safety and the limited parking. Only four parking spaces of any size are available, and all of these are privately owned. Furthermore, Coastal Highway, which is about as wide as it can get, becomes a slow moving-parking lot in the summer season except when traffic stops completely for a red light or an accident.

In conclusion, while I am not against “branding” per se, I am concerned that it is not a quick fix for improving the commercial zone and the town’s appearance. I believe thoughtful community input is needed first to develop an action plan.

Q. What do you envision for Fenwick’s future, including business development, housing or traffic/parking?

A. As I mentioned before, business development is important, especially when it adds to the well-being of Fenwick. The commercial zone is an essential part of a basically residential town that has bayside and oceanside sections on either side. I believe that changes in one area cannot be made without impacting the other parts of the town. Therefore, I would like to encourage a thoughtful review of what is actually needed in the commercial area and how these plans would impact the residential community.

The town itself has only four traffic lights along a one-mile and three blocks-wide strip of land. Except for a few special businesses, Fenwick’s “high season” for business depends on summer visitors wanting to enjoy the sun and fun on the bay and beach. I would like to see a step-by-step plan developed and carefully implemented.

Housing is not in short supply for this town … in fact, all kinds of housing is available, from fabulous castles to charming cottages, several condos and many rentals. On the bayside, stormwater runoff has become a problem as vacant lots are built up and inadequate drainage systems do not carry off the water. Silted canal areas also need attention. On the oceanside, beach replenishment and dune protection are extremely important and must continue.

I want the Town to be proactive in convincing state and federal authorities to fund vital programs that protect our community. Flood insurance rates have continued to rise; however, the Town has taken steps, such as the freeboarding regulations, to mitigate some of the increased costs.

Traffic/parking issues probably have no “perfect” solutions that are practical and affordable. Parking is limited and Coastal Highway is not going to get any wider. Some businesses have developed reciprocal parking arrangements. Meanwhile, the town police do a very professional job of handling accidents and traffic problems, when they occur. The FIPD also actively provides pedestrian and bicycle safety programs. However, crossing Coastal Highway where there is no traffic light remains risky at best. Most of the serious problems occur during the summer season.

Q. What else should voters know about you or your goals for the next two years?

A. An important part of this election campaign is my pledge to promote “Positive Policies” to encourage the voters, Council and Town to be part of a team that honestly works together. Ideally Fenwick will continue to be a Quiet Resort where both residents and visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of the sea and bay. However, I can agree that even in the best of places, room for improvement exists, especially when it comes to everyone treating others with courtesy and respect.

My agenda includes (BASIC) support for a balanced budget, accountability, safety and streets, infrastructure and common sense. I am not a politician or good poker player because what you see is what I am. I don’t believe in playing games with government responsibilities. I genuinely believe in working with people and building consensus with a shared decision-making leadership style. Together we can solve issues and retain the quaint charm of our Fenwick Island paradise. I ask for your vote on Aug. 6.

Kevin Carouge

Q. What qualifies you to serve on Fenwick Island Town Council?

A. I have been a property owner in Fenwick for nearly 14 years and have come to appreciate the features of our town that make it such a unique enclave on the Delaware shore. I have held many leadership positions in my career, to include division president of a publically traded company and chairman of the board of a non-profit organization. I am able to understand multi-faceted issues and drive to the critical elements required to make tough decisions.

Most important, I understand the value of working with all individuals on any issue and communicating before, during and once a decision is made. For the last several years, I have become progressively more active in Fenwick town government and have made a concerted effort to outreach to the community, making myself known and understanding what is important to the public.

Q. What is your opinion on voter/candidate eligibility? Do you believe that any of the following should or should not be allowed to vote/run for Town Council: Residents who do/don’t own property? Non-resident property owners? Artificial entities (LLCs, trusts, etc.)? Spouses of trustees?

A. I believe, as is true in America, that all citizens have the right to vote. In Fenwick, non-resident property owners, whether residential or business, should be able to vote, as each of us pays the taxes that support the town’s activities. Voting allows us to exercise input into how the town is being operated with the funds we provide.

I also believe that if a property is owned in a family trust, that there should not be only one vote allowed. This is similar to our national government, where all citizens in a household of legal age are allowed to vote, not just the person whose name is on the deed. With regard to LLCs, I believe that the council must convene and reexamine this issue to ensure that the intent of charter changes some years ago is completely understood. It would be inappropriate of me to weigh in definitively on this issue before gaining this information. I also believe that we should fully examine state and local law in this regard.

Q. What is your opinion on the branding of Fenwick Island? Is it needed? Should the town pursue matching grant opportunity to hire a professional designer/consultant? Should the town pursue another direction?

A. Fenwick Island has a unique brand already; “The Quiet Resort,” and its imagery is firmly planted throughout town signage through the use of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse, a unique and historic landmark. I don’t believe a “new brand” is needed or what makes a town.

For me, it is the look, feel, and charm of the community when someone passes through that makes them stop and take notice and makes people want to live and visit here. To me, this cannot be accomplished by a new slogan, a new graphic or bold lighting. Indeed, if one were established, it would accomplish nothing without a significant commitment of advertisement and promotion dollars, (i.e. visibility) by the town and the business community.

This expenditure, whether for an initial rebranding or an advertising campaign, is not in the best interests of all Fenwick Islanders given concerns over funding of future beach replenishment, tackling the problem of increased silting in the bayside canals and the need to possibly dip into the realty transfer tax for town operations.

Q. What do you envision for Fenwick’s future, including business development, housing or traffic/parking?

A. As I have said in my two townhalls, personal interactions with residents, in my Bunting Avenue information stand and in the Fenwick Island Society of Homeowners’ meet-the-candidate forum, I am for maintaining Fenwick as the Quiet Resort. To me, this means focusing on the look and feel of the community; keeping an eye on residential and commercial density, making the commercial footprint we have better not larger, keeping the diversity in homes and ensuring access to the beach and bay by all owners and visitors.

While on town council, I would like to work with the year-round residents, part-time residents and commercial business owners to establish a detailed comprehensive vision to guide our day-to-day decisions. I’d like to see the town increase its dialogue with commercial property and business owners to talk about ways we can improve the “wow” factor for people drive along Route 1. All of this would ultimately work to improve the value of all properties.

As I said in the Comprehensive Plan meeting, there is significant pressure building as Route 54 continues to be developed. The surrounding population is increasing, more shops and stores are being built to compete with Fenwick businesses, and the impacts go on. We must be better, not bigger, unique and not the same, and continue to be the Quiet Resort.

Q. What else should voters know about you or your goals for the next two years?

A. Our most important challenge in the next months will be the recruitment and hiring of a new town manager. I would like to use this forum to publically thank Merritt Burke for his service; his departure is an unfortunate loss to the town. The council will need to marshal its efforts to ensure we replace him with the right individual. That single action will help set the course for the town’s future.

Above all, I plan to be an active representative of all the stakeholders in Fenwick Island. I will lead open and active communication and outreach to the community, through the establishment of bi-annual comprehensive surveys of the property owners. I would increase proactive communication through the use of email, driving the community to our newly created, very functional website for additional information. I would use the town billboard to more frequently to communicate community meetings and other activities important to how our town evolves over the next 25 years. I am very excited to become a permanent part of our town government and look forward to serving your interests!

Bernard ‘Bernie’ Merritt Jr.

Q. What qualifies you to serve on Fenwick Island Town Council?

A. I am just like every other homeowner of Fenwick Island — I have a strong love and commitment to this community. My wife, Nancy, and I, along with our two girls, have been coming here for years and have created many special memories together as a family, with neighbors and getting to know the community.

As a property owner on the Bayside since 1999, I understand the issues facing our bay residents, but I also understand how we all cherish the beauty of the coast and need to continue to protect and replenish our beach. My hope is that I bring an unbiased opinion to the Council that can help stop the rhetoric of over-development while working with our residents and visitors who enjoy having local shops and restaurants within walking distance. I think a level-headed approach to local government is preferred over governing by emotions.

Q. What is your opinion on voter/candidate eligibility? Do you believe that any of the following should or should not be allowed to vote/run for Town Council: Residents who do/don’t own property?Non-resident property owners? Artificial entities (LLC’s, trusts, etc.)?Spouses of trustees.

A. We need to welcome as many people to the voting process as we can, but there are limits and laws that we need to follow. The town is waiting for comments back from legal counsel on voting privileges. As a governing body, we need to be cautious about making changes without counsel. Voting is a very important privilege and, regardless of my opinion, it may affect a Town Charter change.

Q. What is your opinion on the branding of Fenwick Island? Is it needed? Should the town pursue matching grant opportunity to hire a professional designer/consultant? Should the town pursue another direction?

A. The branding issue originated in the Business Development Committee meetings, and the plan now is for this committee to review the recommendations that have been put forth. Once they have an opportunity to review it again, with possible additional suggestions, it should be sent back to the Council and discussed in a public forum again. I think having the public weigh in would be an important part of any potential branding process moving forward. We don’t need to rush the process to meet a grant deadline.

Q. What do you envision for Fenwick’s future, including business development, housing or traffic/parking?

A. • Continue to address flooding and drainage issues on the bayside.

• Make sure our beaches have appropriate maintenance and funding for ongoing beach replenishment.

• Continue to research and look for grants to improve pedestrian/bike paths and sidewalks along Route 1. New commercial development is required to put in sidewalks.

• The height increase has been addressed by a public survey, and an election took place before the change. We need to respect the outcome and move on.

• Continue to enforce the town codes for residential and commercial building.

• Talk of restricting business development should be approached carefully and a fair balance needs to be in place and not be decided by the emotions of a select group. Families enjoy our restaurants and shops.

• For the first time in years, all retail units in town are rented, with new, quality stores and restaurants.

• Sensible retail development is a plus in our town and is something we have had for the last 63 years.

• Parking is always an issue in Fenwick. We have striped the streets to control parking.

Q. What else should voters know about you or your goals for the next two years?

A. As I mentioned at the FISH meeting on July 9, I don’t think things are so bad!

The town runs efficiently:

• We have a town government that works with dedicated and devoted employees.

• Trash and recycling are picked up on schedule; the town is dedicated to street repairs and has taken advantage of sharing grants for drainage on the bayside.

• We have two parks that have been updated and are quite popular with our families.

• Grants should continue to be pursued for sidewalk additions, and recent ordinance changes now require new construction in the commercial zone for sidewalks.

We need to remember that we are a town of mixed commercial and residential space. Commercial business affects us for three months of the year. Buildings are old in the commercial area, and minor problems do exist. Like all towns, things need to be upgraded and improved, but we need to work together in a cohesive and positive way to make improvements.

The Business Development Committee meets and makes recommendations throughout the year. Maybe the Council should send recommendations back to the Business Development Committee with the items that the public would like addressed. The key is to work in a positive manner with our residents and commercial partners to continue to make Fenwick the town we all love!

Thank you again for your consideration on election day!