Bethany committee axes moral turpitude laws

Where’s the dividing line, between sensuously graceful, self-assured strut — and scandalous shimmy-shake?

Hard to say, and the Bethany Beach Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC) members decided to let state law sort it out at the June 16 meeting. They forwarded a recommendation that council strike the passage in town code that levies fines on persons found guilty of “lascivious carriage” (“lascivious” — lewd, tending to arouse sexual desires; “carriage” — posture, the way one carries oneself).

CORC member/Council Member Tony McClenny referenced a 1979 memo, which had come to the town manager from one of the local businesses, reporting that there was a “professional woman” working in the town. Committee member Kathleen Mink jokingly asked, “A lawyer?”

No, not a lawyer, McClenny clarified. CORC member/Council Member Jerry Dorfman recommended they leave the passage in code, for levity’s sake if for no other reason. However, committee member Don Doyle suggested it was unenforceable, and the viewpoint that it should be stricken gained consensus.

As others in attendance pointed out, the matter was surely covered in state law, anyway. Indeed, the state covers such scandalous behavior in its prohibitions against loitering (in this case, with intent to solicit business, as it were).

CORC swept away a part of the same section, relating to the use of profanity, at the same time, and for the same reasons. CORC Chair Wayne Fuller noted additional enforcement difficulties (Constitutional rights to free speech), but state law does carry prohibitions against “making an unreasonable noise or an offensively coarse utterance, gesture or display, or addressing abusive language to any person present.”

Delaware Code notwithstanding, McClenny voiced concern. “Personally, as a member of the church that founded the town, I would hate to do away with the (laws governing) profane language,” he noted. However, his was the sole opposing vote (4-1).

CORC also unanimously struck the portion of code prohibiting tasteless swimsuits (undue or indecent exposure), but Bethany is unlikely to become another Rio de Janeiro any time soon — again, state law covers that issue.

Town council will now determine the ultimate fate of the strutting, cursing and skimpy swimsuit sections in code.

In more serious housekeeping matters, CORC members considered an administrative fee hike, to cover the town’s costs incurred while bringing something back into code compliance, when the offending citizens fail to fix the problem themselves.

The current fee is 10 percent – committee members voted 4-1 to recommend raising that to 25 percent.

For instance, if citizens go too long without mowing their lawns, and (1) the code enforcement constable notices, (2) the town sends a registered, certified letter, (3) waits for a response and then sends another letter, and finally (4) dispatches a work crew, he said.

All such work meant pulling people off their prioritized assignments, which likely created administrative costs as well, McClenny noted, and then there was billing. As it stands, if the average landscaper would charge $100 to cut that grass, the town would charge $110 ($100 plus 10 percent).

Doyle voted in opposition — he suggested 25 percent was still too low.

All other June 16 recommendations moved forward to council by unanimous consent.

On a related topic, the committee suggested housekeeping changes that would duplicate a particularly well-written section of code regarding “Remedy of violation by Town, costs” wherever the topic appeared elsewhere.

CORC also clarified a section covering diseased or rabid dogs, and discussed house numbers, emergency water shutoff, refund of permit fees, transportation of sewage, and post-event cleanup fees.

• House numbers (a la 911 addressing) are supposed to be 4 inches in height – some are, some aren’t. However, the committee rather focused on language to require they be placed against a contrasting background, and visible from the street. Building Inspector John Eckrich noted a related problem — some people were reluctant to put up assigned house numbers that included triple sixes.

• As it stands, a neighbor who notices a burst pipe next door and calls town hall, but can’t reach anybody (on a Sunday, for instance) may incur a fine for taking matters into their own hands. Unauthorized personnel are ordinarily prohibited from turning off the water at the meter, but under such extenuating circumstances, CORC recommended the fine be waived.

• The committee moved to grant Eckrich authority to refund building permit fees if, for instance, homeowners change their minds about starting a project. Presently, only town council can approve that refund.

• CORC struck a section in code prohibiting sewage transport through the town. As was pointed out, the town requires portable toilets at construction sites, so it didn’t make sense to forbid pump-out trucks. Committee members also struck a section referencing septic and/or holding tanks (none exist in Bethany).

• Finally, they passed greater discretion to the town manager to determine what sort of “performance bond” might be required as a post-event cleanup contingency. As it stands, town code references “may require” $2,500, but CORC suggested the town manager should be able to adjust that, up or down.

All of these topics came to CORC from the Budget & Finance Committee, which has been combing through the code in an effort to update fees and fines.

In other business, Mink presented a document targeting addressing basic elements of committee design. “Assuming the council decides that they want to continue working on it, this would be a guideline for discussion,” Mink pointed out.

Mayor Jack Walsh (both he and Council Member Lew Kilmer considered CORC deliberations, from the sidelines) indicated continued interest. “We need some sort of standard for committees,” he interjected. “Something we can use to focus on how we develop committees and how the committees should function.”

CORC Chair (and Council Member) Wayne Fuller suggested they postpone discussion on Mink’s paper until another meeting.

Fuller noted committee member Jane Brewster’s resignation (family commitments), but said they would be waiting until after town elections in September to fill her vacant seat, although they did have some candidates.

“We’re going to work on a process between now and then, to invite people to come, to see how we work, see if they want to be on the committee or not,” Fuller pointed out.

Mink once again asked for guidance regarding a complaint from Bob Cuff (Wiegand Lane), who had expressed concerns regarding the Loop Canal’s encroachment onto his property.

Ordinarily, that would be the property owner’s problem, but Cuff’s parcel is not immediately adjacent to the canal – he’s losing land to a widening ditch that passes through several lots before reaching his property.

Mink said Cuff had asked CORC to consider possible introduction of new language in the property maintenance code, authorizing town remediation.

“If he’s doing his part — he’s cut down his phragmites (nuisance reeds), he’s moved his shed out of the swale (in response to a letter from flood mitigation),” she explained. “Now that this canal has detoured all the way into his back yard, he’s saying, ‘Come on, guys — help me out here.’”

As committee member Jane Fowler noted, “I think this is much more important than whether the grass is cut short.” She suggested the problem was serious enough that town should try to figure out a way to step in.

However, no one disagreed CORC was probably not the most appropriate birthing ground for such ordinance, and committee members moved to forward the matter to the town manager.

As Mink later explained, draft ordinances can originate in any of the committees, not just CORC. Per town code, draft ordinances can be prepared by the town solicitor, the town manager, “or by or for any member of Town Council.” In all cases, they must be reviewed by the town solicitor, and usually by the town manager as well, and they must be sponsored and introduced by a council member.