It’s rarely quiet in our little world of small-town politics here at the Delaware shore. If it’s not election rhetoric or budget debates, it’s controversy over taxes, utility service, the internal power struggles of municipal or county government, debates between the merits of growth and an existing way of life... The list goes on and on.
This week, the controversies are brewing particularly hot in Frankford and in Bethany Beach, over some very different issues.
In Frankford, there’s controversy over a decision to institute a rental receipts tax on landlords and over the council’s decision to put a little tighter muzzle on citizen particpation during council meetings. Both situations have been brewing for months or years.
In Bethany Beach, it’s the potential for growth and improving year-round appeal in a town where the belief in the ideas behind the phrase “Quiet Resorts” is near-religious.
In both cases, the rhetoric has sometimes been louder than the substantive discussion of the real core of the issues.
For Frankford, continuing controversy over water rates, billing and other matters has reached a level of vitriol that can derail council sessions every month. That’s likely only to be exacerbated by the rental taxes issue and, now, the council’s decision to limit citizen speech at their meetings to only comments on agenda items and then only prior to the main meeting. It’s fuel on the fire, feeding potential tempests in teapots.
In Bethany Beach, things are perhaps a little quieter, but the passionate voices behind the viewpoints could be heard this week at a public hearing on proposed zoning changes that could clear the way for a 100-room hotel to replace the existing 50-room Bethany Arms Motel and around a dozen rooms in apartments on adjoining parcels.
The merits and outcomes of these issues are for the two towns’ citizens and council members to decide. But the real challenge is when people are so locked in their views that they can’t hear other opinions or even information that contradicts what they’ve already decided. It’s symptomatic of not just our local issues, but the larger tangle that are our current national politics and the resulting deadlocked Congress.
Progress in such matters usually comes down to two things:?mutual respect and compromise. Both are all too often lacking. We need to re-learn how to agree to disagree, as well as to listen to the other side with respect and realize that we will get nowhere, or nowhere good, if two sides refuse to budge from lines drawn in the sand, or if only one side is willing to move.
Our local governments need to let their citizens’ voices be heard in other times and places than at the ballot box. Some of them do a better job of that than others. But listening is key for both sides! And our citizens need to allow government to move forward, with respect for the process. If you want things to be different and can’t find an acceptable compromise, organize, run for office and put your energy into making that change!