Fenwick election issues discussed as campaign comes to a close

After two would-be Fenwick Island town council candidates were recently deemed ineligible due to confusion over the eligibility of trustees under the town charter, Councilwoman Julie Lee emphasized the importance of straightening out and clarifying the charter in the next year.

As she said at the July 22 council meeting, every property in town is guaranteed at least one vote, by any full-time resident, deed-holder or artificial entity (such as a trust, which is currently considered to be one owner, no matter how many trustees there are, and therefore entitled to only one vote).

But that means Fenwick’s voter rolls technically include many non-persons (trusts or corporations, whose one vote is determined by a power-of-attorney).

“I know it’s a work in progress … but we definitely got into a quagmire here, and it needs to get cleared up,” Lee said.

About a decade ago, when Delaware and town election laws were changing, Lee said, then-Town Solicitor Tempe Steen recommended that the Town create a second elections body to arbitrate any concerns with elections, separate from the Board of Elections, which runs the election itself. Perhaps the council should now consider making the Ad-hoc Elections Committee a permanent board, Lee suggested.

As for the Aug. 6 election itself, Lee proposed there be no campaigning at the farmers’ market, piggybacking on someone’s prior request for no campaigning at the Town bonfire.

This is only the second contested election after a long hiatus for elections in in Fenwick. Nonetheless, there has been some contention, Lee said, as people “remove signs and replace them with other signs. Neighbors are putting pressure on other neighbors to take down your signs and … unsubstantiated letters to the editor.

“I do not understand why we cannot have a campaign based on facts instead of coercion, innuendo and false statements. I am just asking again for civility in this town as we move forward in this election. We only have two more weeks.”

When asked about campaign signs for another candidate in her own yard, Lee said she posted them after seeing campaign signs in other current councilmembers’ yards.

In regard to his July 22 letter to the editor of the Coastal Point, resident Jim Simpson shared his frustration with not having been published on the Fenwick Forum blog, which is run by a group of Fenwick citizens.

“They operate in the shadows,” Simpson said of Forum bloggers. “They will not tell you of connections within this group [and with council members]. It’s about time that you opened up, came out of the darkness and owned what you’re doing.”

Lee responded that she is a member of the town council, not of the Fenwick Forum. However, the list of founding members is on that website, she said.

Simpson demanded to know who makes the decisions on whether to publish letters there. Forum member Richard Benn said Simpson’s comments will get a response, but the editorial board rejected Simpson’s letter because it included “baseless accusations against an unknown person.” Moreover, he said, “There is no economic benefit to anyone in our group… The candidates are not involved in editing or creating anything other than what they want to put on our website in their name.”

In other Fenwick Island Town Council news:

• Hunting is now officially banned in town limits, decided unanimously by the council. The police chief encouraged the council to adopt the new law (Article IV, Chapter 116-15) after hunting occurred on the bay side of town.

• Passing its first reading was a proposed surface- and stormwater management bill, which would, among other things, require a professionally engineered drainage plan for any building improvement that affects property drainage, as well as for new construction and substantial improvements.

The proposal is intended to “add teeth” to the code so the Town building official has more power to enforce drainage policies.

• The council passed a first reading of a real estate tax law (Article I, Chapter 146-1), which codifies a policy for tax collections, delinquencies and fees.

• Led by Richard Mais, the new Ad-hoc Financial Committee will study the gross receipts tax, beach funding, canal dredging and, now, sidewalk funding.

• The recently renamed Emergency Management & Infrastructure Committee will expand to monitor major state or county projects that come through town.

After Labor Day, Sussex County will begin repairs to a sewer pumping station between the police station and the town park, outgoing Councilman Bill Weistling Jr. reported. A temporary pumping station will be set up so the town’s system won’t shut down during renovations to some older equipment. There should be no effect on traffic, except when the project cuts across Cannon Street, officials said.

The Town has no control over the work, but the emergency committee will stay updated, in case there are unexpected consequences or costs to the Town.

• One resident asked whether the town council has thought about green space, in terms of its future growth. On Bunting Avenue, the big houses block the breeze, she said, which makes the street little better than the city. She asked if there’s intention to bring back green space. Councilwoman Diane Tingle said narrower houses were once considered, but there was uproar just over raising the houses by two feet.

The Environmental Committee will take up the discussion of green space.

• Due to inclement weather, the Town had a two-part bonfire, which raised about $8,000 for local lifeguards to compete in California.

• The council approved $14,223 from the 2017 fiscal-year budget to pay for milling on the beachfront street ends, which officials said lays better than the current stone dust. The funding will come from State-provided Municipal Street Aid funding.

• A number of black pine trees have suffered from beetles and nematodes, which infect and kill weak trees. However, the Environmental Committee reported a good response from property owners about removing dead trees to prevent the infestation from spreading. Letters were recently sent to owners of trees suspected of having an infestation.

• This was the last meeting for Tingle and Weistling, who are both retiring after 10 years on the council, and for Town Manager Merritt Burke, who recently took a new job as CEO of the Sussex County Association of Realtors (SCAOR).

Police Chief Bill Boyden will be the interim town manager during the search for his replacement. Applications for the position are due Sept. 9.

The town council’s next regular meeting is Friday, Aug. 26, at 3:30 p.m.