Who will lead Ocean View Town Council for the next three years?
In three weeks’ time, residents will cast their ballots, deciding to either return incumbent Mayor Gary Meredith or usher in challenger Wally Brown.
The Coastal Point interviewed the candidates on March 14, in an effort to provide the voters a side-by-side comparison.
Q. How do you view the relationship between town government and the citizens of Ocean View?
Brown: Strained. I believe that the town government, for some time now, has been acting on its own initiative, rather than pursuing what the residents of the town want.
For example, if you own a business, or better yet, if you own a property in the town, and you’ve owned this property for several years but you do not live here, are you allowed to vote? The answer is no.
The Constitution says you’re allowed to vote. The state government says you’re allowed to vote. The town government does not have the right to tell somebody that because they do not live here, they do not have the right to vote, when in fact they pay taxes on their property. No taxation without representation.
Meredith: I view it as being pretty good. The town is responsive to the requests for service, when they have drainage problems — at times, we can’t do anything about it, but I feel the town is responsive.
Whenever I run into citizens of the town, I know there are a couple of people who aren’t happy with the town, but I haven’t heard anything that leads me to think we’re doing things wrong.
Q. Regarding Ocean View’s central water system, do you favor mandatory hookup or some other way to guarantee revenues for debt service?
Brown: I was all in favor of water for the purpose of fire hydrants, and not against town water.
However, if you desire to hook up, it is your right to say yes or no. It is not the town’s position to form a monopoly and make you do it.
(The U.S. Department of Agriculture), we’re being told by the town, is insisting that the people hook up. The federal government, as a protector of the Constitution, is not allowed to take an action that is unconstitutional.
A government agency should not even be saying that this is a necessity. As long as they are paid back, there is nothing they can say — and they will be paid back, because everybody wants fire hydrants.
The town shouldn’t have considered taking the money if they were going to say, ‘This is what has to happen.’ They should have said to the federal agency that wants to give the money, ‘You have got to be kidding me if you think I, as mayor, am going to violate the rights of my citizenry, just so you can give us money based upon these conditions.’”
Meredith: “Mandatory hookup is a requirement for us to get our money.
I’m not crazy about forcing people to hook up to it, but that’s just the way it is.
It’s something we have to live with. I’m not crazy about the town having to force anybody to do anything, but in this case, if we want to have water, to have our loan approved, we have to go with it.
Sometimes you have to do things you don’t necessarily want to do.”
Q. Regarding the proposed Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) projects, do you feel the existing designs will sufficiently address infrastructure needs?
Brown: “No. It’s a Band-Aid.
Back in the late 1950s, early 1960s, the town council put forth a plan — a projection of where they were going, what they wanted to see happen, what did they believe was going to be needed.
A highway was actually drawn up and placed in the files for being used in future events. For one reason or another, that has not come to fruition.
I am thrilled they want to spend the money, but I believe they would better spend their money on a highway. Yes, it will take more money.
Here’s another related problem: As the developers are allowed to purchase farmland and put up houses, a highway becomes more and more difficult to obtain, because now you have to buy all of the peoples’ properties, versus a couple of acres from the farmer.
It should have been done some time back — there was no thinking ahead in that regard. It’s not too late, but we have to act immediately.
There are ways to do it, and as long as the government says to you, ‘We don’t have the money to do that,’ then you ask them, ‘Where’d the money go.’ If it always comes back to money, rather than what’s right, there’s a problem.”
Meredith: “I think it’s important to first get the local roads upgraded.
They’re in terrible shape now, and certainly aren’t going to be able to handle the extra traffic once people find out that’s the route to take.
As far as Route 26, the way it’s designed, I think it’s behind the times. I think it should have the third lane all the way out — we’ve sent from the town a letter to DelDOT (Delaware Department of Transportation) saying we agree with the [Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce’s] position that they should reconsider and look for a third lane.
We are a little cautious about that because we don’t want to slow the project down.
However, I think the chamber of commerce and others have a good point, that the third lane is pretty much essential, and I understand that DelDOT is now considering that redesign.
We have gotten DelDOT to improve Route 26 and Central Avenue. That would be done by Memorial Day, two southbound lanes on Central Avenue, and they’re supposed to put another light at West Avenue and have that timed with the Central Avenue light.
This has all been promised by Memorial Day — we’ll see whether that will happen or not. It’s out of our hands, but we’ve been pushing.”
Q. What do you see as the most important issue in the town?
Brown: “I believe we have to get back on track as far as responsibility, as far as accountability goes.
Everybody talks about the silent majority, everybody talks about, ‘You can’t fight city hall,’ or ‘Did you hear what they’re doing now, and it’s always, ‘Them.’
The point is, if the residents say, ‘this is what we’d like to see happen,’ it’s not up to ‘them’ to say they know better.”
Meredith: “Trying to control the growth outside our boundaries.
We have to watch how the possibility of annexation of other areas comes to us. We don’t go after them, they have to come to us.
We’ll have to strongly consider annexing so that we have control over what is build and how it’s built — the density.
We have ordinances either in place or in process to help control the density.”
Q. What qualities would you like to see Ocean View maintain, or move toward in the future?
Brown: “Currently what’s happening, in a roundabout way, guys like Bear Trap and several others are squeezing as many houses into as little acreage as possible. They are then approaching the town and asking that they be annexed, which means the residents are supposed to have police protection, you call up for somebody, you know that somebody is going to come.
Because of the plan — annex everything, don’t worry about how or who or what, because that was built before we took it over — the town government is looking for a tax base more than it is looking for quality of life.
We are blessed in our nearness to the beach. It is also a curse. The problem comes in that many people want to be here, and are now realizing it is in their benefit to own an investment property.
What happens when they show up, however, and they say, ‘Oh, look at that. I can develop that property. I think I can make a lot of money.’
To look across an open field is priceless. To see a deer standing at the tree line — you don’t have that in a city. That’s why they’re here. The beauty of the area is beyond the value, and it’s intrinsic. It’s beyond what you can honestly put a price tag on.”
Meredith: “The small town atmosphere, basically, and that’s why we’re trying to control the density. Just the friendliness of the town, and of the citizens of the town. And safety, with our police force.
I’d like to see the local restaurants and small businesses in town be able to stay in place and operate, because of the atmosphere when you shop (or dine) there.”
Q. What personal qualities or experiences make you a good candidate for mayor?
Brown: “I studied administration in college — public speaking, psychology, sociology, Robert’s Rules, the Constitution. All these things enabled me to be a better administrator, and I have used that throughout my career.
Again, in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, I used my administrative abilities and I have been a leader in that organization.”
Meredith: “I have a Bachelor’s of Science degree from the University of Maryland and worked in business all of my working life.
“Leading up to being mayor, I started out by being on the town’s charter review committee, then I was on the Planning and Zoning Commission for a while, Board of Adjustments, Town Council as Secretary and President.
Then, as elected Mayor, I’ve attended the SCAT (Sussex County Association of Towns) meetings and their steering committee meetings. I’m a voting member on that committee, and at the Delaware League of Government meetings.
I also attended numerous seminars at the University of Delaware, and received a certificate from the Institute for Public Administration (Academy of Excellence in Local Government Leadership).”
Brown: Originally from Long Island, N.Y., Brown joined the Marine Corps after high school. He served 14 months as a squad leader in Vietnam, from December 1966 to January 1968.
Brown studied administration at the Suffolk County Community College, on the G.I. Bill.]
He entered a 17-year career as a Long Island police officer (1971-1988). Brown served as president of the local Patrolmens’ Benevolent Association (PBA) for four years during that period.
He lives in Ocean View with his wife, Linda (married in 1985), and two daughters.
Brown said they’d moved to the area “sight unseen’ in 1992.
In retirement, he remains actively involved with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. As Commander, he led his flotilla to the coveted “Commodore’s Trophy” several years ago.
Brown teaches water safety classes at Lord Baltimore and Frankford Elementary Schools, and provides Coast Guard academy information for high school juniors and seniors.
Meredith: Born in Altoona, Pa., Meredith married his high school sweetheart, Bette, 46 years ago.
He earned his Bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Maryland.
After college, Meredith went to work for the Vitro Corporation (defense contractor) for 36 years. As part of middle management, he was responsible for negotiating company contracts, primarily with the federal government.
Meredith remained in Maryland throughout his professional career, and has three children — two sons and a daughter.
He vacationed at the Delaware seashore for more than 20 years before moving to the area. Meredith bought land in Ocean View in 1986, built in 1991 and became a permanent resident in 1997.
He first became involved in local government during his retirement, after attending meetings to find out how things worked in a small town.
In addition, Meredith helped found the Old Timers’ Softball League and the AARP bowling league in Millsboro. He also participates in Delaware Senior Olympics.
The town election is scheduled for Saturday, April 9, in the newly renovated Town Hall at 32 West Avenue, from noon to 5 p.m.