Fenwick council talks politics, legal fees, summer plans

A very large check was presented to Town of Fenwick Island on April 22.

Representatives of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) came to present a $21,293 matching grant for Fenwick’s new playground equipment, sponsored by the state Outdoor Recreation, Parks & Trails Program.

The playground was just completed in April.

“Fenwick Island Community Park is my poster child for parks,” said Bob Ehemann, grants coordinator. “When somebody tells me there’s not enough space, it’s not possible, I tell them to go down to Fenwick Island, which has packed many amenities into a ‘postage-stamp’ sized area.”

In 15 years, the Town has benefitted from hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Ehemann. He commended Town Manager Merritt Burke for his dedication to the application.

DNREC Secretary David Small reiterated the agency’s committeement to being a resource for towns, and said he wished everyone a “Happy Earth Day.”

Talking (not typing) politics

Mayor Gene Langan clarified his personal policy on communications, favoring in-person debate over Internet arguments.

“I do not respond to letters to the editor,” he stated. “Secondly, I will not and do not respond to emails about personnel, including staff here, council or committee members. If an email doesn’t need a response,” he said, he will file it into a pros/cons folder on the debated topic.

“If you want to talk to me, call me. I’ll meet you,” said Langan, who also rejects anonymous letters, such as those from the Fenwick Forum website editor. “If you have questions of me, you can ask me during the public participation.”

“Whenever you read anything on the Internet, consider the source, why they wrote it and whether they’re qualified to write it,” said Councilwoman Diane Tingle. “Anything that doesn’t have a name [attached], I would never respond to.”

“My personal philosophy is it’s much better to meet in person, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes,” Langan concluded.

In other Fenwick Island news:

• The farmers’ market will have a new home this summer, since the vacant property it has inhabited is expected to be sold. As a result, the market will move to the Warren’s Station restaurant parking lot on Coastal Highway on Mondays and Fridays, June 17 to Sept. 5, from 8 a.m. to noon.

• Lifeguards are coming soon to a beach near you. The Fenwick Island Beach Patrol will be on duty May 28-30 and June 3-5, and then full-time from June 10 to Labor Day. Lifeguards will again provide access to the beach for patrons using the beach wheelchair, ATV and side-by-side vehicle.

Junior lifeguard program registration continues, with the first session June 28-30.

• The Fenwick Island Police Department’s Lt. John Devlin and Sgt. Brian Parsons have completed an FBI executive development course. The three-year program prepares them to move up the ranks in leading law enforcement. They were lucky to have a Delaware-based course, Town officials noted, as some officers have to travel the country to catch all the week-long seminars.

• As a follow-up to the ordinance on increased building height with freeboard that was recently enacted, the Charter & Ordinance Committee will begin discussing the possibility of elevating properties, not just houses. Councilman Bill Weistling said the town is full of good and bad examples of raising a property without stormwater runoff affecting neighboring properties.

• Regarding an earlier dispute between property owners about changes to the town code that appeared to be pro-development, Weistling and Building Official Patricia Schuchman reviewed several recent changes. For example, in a subdivided commercial building, the size of a sign was increased recently from 1 to 1.5 square feet per linear foot of each shop front. One apartment is permitted per 6,500 square feet on a commercial lot. Many of the changes were requested by the Business Development Committee, they noted.

• Why has Fenwick Island paid double the budgeted amount for legal services this year? asked resident Lynn Andrews.

This fiscal year, Fenwick has paid an additional $16,303 beyond of its original $15,000 budget. That’s 109 percent higher than budgeted, with four more months to go in the fiscal year. That’s the result of unexpected legal threats, Langan said. This winter, the council feared a lawsuit after voting to reduce the hotel/motel size restrictions.

“That’s one of the problems with people opposing things,” Langan said. Although a lawsuit didn’t materialize, legal help was needed to protect the Town, Langan said.

(Councilwoman Julie Lee took exception with his phrasing. Langan clarified that he meant that’s the problem with people threatening to oppose the Town in court.)

But the hotel situation wasn’t the majority of the expenses, Lee said. Weistling added that every ordinance change, as well as any land acquisition, requires legal perspective.

The budget is a guideline, not the law and it’s hard to foresee the entire year during budget time, Weistling said.

Additionally, the attorney, who doesn’t regularly attend council meetings, is paid more than $150 per hour from the time she leaves her desk, said Councilman Gardner Bunting. And that’s for one of the closest municipal attorneys in the area.

• The Board of Election was appointed for 2016: Inspector Audrey Serio, and judges Faye Horner and Carl McWilliams. The Town Council election is scheduled for Aug. 6.

• The first Earth Day cleanup was a success, with 25 participants collecting trash in the hot sun. But in their civic spirit, they collected 30 bags of garbage from Fenwick streets.

• The Environmental Committee is composing a letter to properties affected by pine beetles, encouraging them to remove sick trees before neighboring trees are infested.

Also, Fenwick has retained its Tree City status for another year.

• Community events are planned for Columbus Day weekend. The Business Development Committee is considering pumpkin carving on the beach, a noncompetitive beach walk/run and other events.

• The festival shouldn’t interfere with a beach wedding the town council approved for that weekend. The vote was necessary because it’s a special-event permit for more than 75 people. About 100 are expected.

• Grad student Katy Maglio completed her GIS study for a class project at Salisbury University and presented it to the Town. She studied the Town’s possible uses for GIS, making recommendations for how the Town could benefit from the mapping software.

• The council approved budget amendments, adding another $5,000 to the Comprehensive Plan consultant fee and $3,800 for a new shuffleboard mat (to ease the burden of repainting the court).

• A voter information “rack card” was approved. It’s intended to explain town election laws without sending voters to a website.

The next regular town council meeting is May 27 at 3:30 p.m. The June meeting was rescheduled for June 17.