Fenwick Island talks elections, dredging, communications

The Fenwick Island Town Council election is over for 2015, but discussions of it aren’t quite in the past.

Having reviewed the 2015 election with the town solicitor, Mayor Gene Langan addressed the public at the council meeting on Sept. 25: “There were some minor issues which have already been corrected. We’re not going to change the number of votes for artificial entities or public trusts,” said Langan, noting that, before 2008, “none of these entities were allowed to vote. So the Town in no way suppressed the vote. It actually increased the number of people who can vote.”

“The election was two months ago, so it’s time to move on. So that’s the last time I want to talk about it. Alright?” he concluded, beginning the council meeting.

But later in the meeting, newly elected Councilwoman Julie Lee broached a related topic. She suggested (and was approved to begin) a type of ad-hoc election committee, separate from the Board of Elections. The goal will be to put Town guidelines on paper that “clearly define the process,” of who can vote, how to register and so forth. Then people won’t have to trudge through the town code for the rules.

“I would like to get this information ready, on paper, no later than the first of the year, so everyone has ample time to vote,” said Lee.

Dredging up the past

Town Manager Merritt Burke IV on Sept. 25 was asked to research dredging in the Little Assawoman Bay. “I’m not quire sure the canals have ever been dredged,” he noted.

The Town’s first step would be a meeting with Tony Pratt of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources. Burke said DNREC would probably be interested in using the dredged materials to rebuild Seal Island, just outside town limits.

“With the sea-level rise study just being completed last year, and with a quasi-nor’easter bearing down on us [this weekend], rebuilding Seal Island could act as a wave break” in Little Assawoman Bay, said Burke.

Fenwick Island could foot the bill or request a state dredging project, “but you would do neither until you had a feasibility study performed.”

“South Bethany paid $40,000 in 2003 to analyze their canals,” Burke said, anticipating that Fenwick could pay $10,000 to $75,000 for a similar analysis. If dredging was done, the cost of the dredging itself could approach the millions.

Fenwick began this conversation with local legislators and DNREC years ago, and “We got absolutely nowhere. But, as I understand, there is some general interest in creating wave breaks on the federal level, so I think we should pursue this.”

Say what? Town communication is spotty

New rules for public participation were also laid down at the Sept. 25 council meeting.

“There’s gonna be new rules for public participation,” Langan announced. “Each speaker’s gonna get three minutes to speak. I want you to address questions and comments to council, not to our employees, and I don’t want anyone criticizing our staff in public.”

Under the new rules, questions may not be directed to others in the audience, and the council will decide who (if anyone) will answer a given question.

Citizens took the opportunity to express their frustration about Town communication, down to the last wire. (Council members were asked to speak more loudly into the microphones.)

There was also some discussion on the website and electronic communication.

Meanwhile, agendas are sometimes quite vague, said Lee. But Burke pointed out that council packets, or “blue books,” for each meeting are posted on the Town Council information page on the Town website. Also, the Agendas/Minutes page is listed in alphabetical, not chronological order.

The Technology Committee will hear a proposal soon on a new web service to better organize documents online.

Burke suggested Town Hall host another website tutorial for residents.

“If there’s something that doesn’t make sense, bring it to our attention, and we’ll make it better,” Burke said.

Town survey coming soon

A town survey regarding freeboard will soon be distributed to residents.

“Freeboard” is traditionally a nautical term referring to the distance between a ship’s main deck and the waterline. As it pertains to construction on land, freeboard means the number of feet a house is built above the flood line.

Former Mayor Audrey Serio had suggested the survey when she still mayor, Langan said, “because we can’t get a handle in town of what everybody wants. … We want to find out what the rest of the people think. We have to do what’s right for the people. And that’s one way for us to find out.”

Lee asked about council input. If the survey is coming from the Town, she said, she felt council should have official input.

Langan disagreed, saying Burke was leading the project, with Langan’s wife assisting (as she has a doctorate in education and “She’s done this done this many, many times,” he said).

“Certainly, council can see the questions and comment on it … We want to get this thing out,” Langan said, not wanting a drawn-out affair.

“I just feel, if it’s a questionnaire” it should be council-reviewed,” Lee said. “I’m not questioning [anyone’s] ability to develop a survey questionnaire. … If this is a campaign promise from you or Audrey…”

“It’s not,” Langan said.

Committees coming soon

Committees will be named at the council’s October meeting, for terms lasting from Nov. 1 to Oct. 31, 2016.

But the council voted down Lee’s proposal to change the way committees are formed. Typically, the mayor selects a chairperson, and that person selects his or her committee members. She proposed that council members be able to appoint people to the committees.

“I just think it would be nice to have some rotation, to have some new and different ideas,” Lee said.

The proposal was voted down, with only Lee and Roy Williams voting in favor.

“I’m sorry to see the council vote to exclude citizens from the committee,” said resident Vicki Carmean.

“New people will be included in the committee,” Langan said.

Afterward, Lee said chairpersons are usually those favored by the mayor, and the committees have remained mostly unchanged because there hasn’t been an election for several years. With applications coming in, Lee said she wants to broaden participation and is concerned that applicants won’t be equitably used.

“There’s going to be new people on the committees,” Langan later told the Coastal Point. “There were new people who volunteered.”

Langan clarified that volunteers renew their applications every year, and the mayor gives final approval. Most committees have seven to 10 people, preferably an odd number, for tie-breakers. If there is no quorum, groups will still have informal discussion, but not vote on anything.

That being said, Councilman Bill Weistling asked that the council formally appoint a Charter & Ordinance Committee chairperson. After the former chairperson left, “I just sort of naturally fell into this position and have been doing it for nine years,” Weistling said. “I think council should consider that on yearly basis” with the other committees.

Weistling was officially and unanimously appointed to chair the committee.

In other Town Council news:

• Fundraising continues for Cpl. Stephen Lowe, whose wife is pregnant with their son, who has a congenital heart defect that will require surgery almost immediately after his birth.

“Our healthcare covers all this, but the out-of-pocket expenses are accumulating,” said Chief William Boyden.

“A little child brought in a $5 bill and didn’t even want us to know his name,” Boyden added. “The support has been incredible.”

• The first reading of the new Chapter 116, a gun ordinance, was approved. If it receives final approval as written, it would prohibit anyone from openly carrying a firearm into Town buildings, properties or any location being used by Town personnel on Town business.

“This ordinance does not infringe on anybody’s right to bear or own a firearm under the Constitution,” said Boyden, explaining the need “to safeguard our employees and the facilities.”

The second reading (and entire ordinance) may be voted upon at the October council meeting.

• Tim Collins, who owns Southern Exposure, thanked the Fenwick Island Police Department for advising him on how to bring about a legal resolution with a repeated shoplifter.

• The council agreed to a three-year extension of the lifeguard agreement with the Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation. Fenwick will receive $45,000 to continue patrolling State Line Beach.

• Town Hall will be getting a minor facelift, including more-secure doors and safety glass, for a “more professional and secure entrance,” Burke said. “It’s not to make the facility unfriendly,” he emphasized.

• Fenwick Island is a Tree City USA, which makes the influx of tree-destroying beetles even worse, said Mary Ellen Langan of the Environmental Committee. She reported that pine trees that become lighter, yellowed or rusty may be infested.

“There is no insecticide that can kill these, because they get in the bark and destroy the trees,” she said, requesting that the council hire an arborist and that homeowners remove trees that may be infested.

The next regular Town Council meeting is Friday, Oct. 23, at 3:30 p.m.