Fenwick talks committee to look at trustees

With a Fenwick Island Town Council election just days away, discussion of voter and candidate eligibility issues continued at the Town’s Tuesday, Aug. 2, Charter & Ordinance Committee meeting.

Committee Chair and outgoing Councilman Bill Weistling reported that Town Solicitor Mary Schreider-Fox had reported back after Town officials requested clarifications on issues regarding voting rights of residents, non-residents and trustees — those involved in property that is held in trust.

The crux of her report, he said, was that, “If we decide to make any changes, the Town must focus on the word ‘trustee’” in its voting regulations.

The issue of land held in trust came into sharp focus recently when two would-be candidates for town council — each of whom are part of a trust — filed to be placed on the ballot for the Aug. 6 election.

After consulting with Schreider-Fox, Town officials had determined that, since the two men were members of “artificial entities,” which are not “natural persons” according to the law, the two candidates — Charlie Hastings and Mark McFaul — were ineligible to run, because they don’t live on or directly own property in Fenwick Island. Instead, they are trustees in artificial entities that own properties in town. (Hastings’ trust is invested in a house, and McFaul owns Ropewalk restaurant).

With that issue clarified, attention shifted to eligibility to actually vote in town elections. Currently, votes can be cast by property owners, permanent residents of the town and members of trusts.

“At this point, there is some confusion about 50/50 trusts, which is the most common trust scenario in Fenwick Island, where a husband and wife are named as trustees on a property,” said Councilwoman Julie Lee, who chairs the town’s ad-hoc committee on voting issues.

The committee discussed various scenarios that could come up with trusts, such as what would happen if both trustees died and multiple heirs became the trustees.

Following a suggestion by Lee, the committee agreed to recommend to the town council that yet another committee be formed to study the issue, the new committee comprising members of the existing ad-hoc committee and members of the town council.

The next Charter & Ordinance Committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 6, depending on the wishes of the new council members who would be elected Aug. 6. Neither Councilwoman Diane Tingle nor Weistling filed for re-election.