Sussex County Council’s process for making appointments to the county Board of Adjustments and Planning & Zoning Commission will be up for discussion on Tuesday, June 15, when the council follows up on a proposed appointment to the BoA by Councilwoman Joan Deaver (D-3rd) from their June 8 meeting.
Deaver was scheduled to make an appointment to the BoA on Tuesday to represent her Lewes-area district. She announced that she would be appointing John G. Walsh to the post – a new appointment to a board whose members often serve for decades. Walsh currently sits on the county’s new committee on mobile home parks, which offered its formal recommendations to the council this week on dealing with ongoing planning and zoning issues in the communities.
Asked by Council President Vance Phillips whether she was making the appointment because sitting board member Dale Callaway was not interested in serving another term, Deaver said, “I’m exercising my right to appoint,” then confirmed that she had not checked with Callaway as to his interest in serving another term but had selected Walsh with an eye toward making a change.
That touched on a sore subject for Councilman George Cole, who for many years was a lone voice supporting controlled growth through many council votes with a 4-1 margin of three pro-development Democrats and Republican Phillips. His appointments often lacked support from his fellow council members, he noted this week.
“I didn’t get any support in the past, and we have new people here now,” Cole pointed out. “Like Mrs. Deaver,” he continued, “I was the political odd man out.” (The current council makeup is of four Republicans and lone Democrat Deaver.) “It was difficult get appointments made and to find out who [the candidates] are.”
That, Cole said, was the reason he was returning to a suggestion he had made in prior years.
“For many appointments, we don’t know who they are,” he emphasized. “I have advocated for years to have the applicant come in and have a Q&A, to give us the opportunity to meet them.
“I suggest make this the first one,” Cole continued, “and vote today to adopt a policy that all P&Z and Board of Adjustments appointments must come for an interview before the council before we have to vote. It also gives the community the opportunity to find out who we are appointing to these boards.”
Deaver, though, objected to her appointment being the first subject to the additional step.
“That would be for the future,” she asserted. “I wasn’t advised that that would be today.”
“I would like to start with this appointment,” Cole replied, saying it would provide a chance for Deaver’s appointee to be considered as Cole’s were not in the past.
Deaver referred the council to a two-page biography of Walsh she had supplied to council members in advance of the appointment, adding of Walsh, “He is here. Would you like to speak to him?”
“I would like give him an opportunity to prepare,” Cole replied.
With that said, Deaver failed to obtain a second to make her appointment on June 8. Cole suggested the council defer on a decision and discuss the appointment procedure at their June 15 meeting.
“I would request this be brought up next week,” Deaver said pointedly of the appointment. “If council is not going to vote for Mr. Walsh, I would have a backup person.
“I believe he has a right to be heard,” she added of Walsh and his presence on June 8. “No one else has had to do this.
“I would prefer to look at this in a positive light,” she continued. “I am very proud of this appointee. It will be a big improvement to the Board of Adjustments. We have had so many complaints about the entire board. He will do an excellent job for us.”
Councilman Sam Wilson on June 8 also referred the council to a rule that states that no more than three members of the Board of Adjustments can be of any one political party.
Walsh, a Democrat, would replace fellow Democrat Callaway, which might have eliminated the concern over party affiliation, but Phillips noted that the party affiliations of BoA members might not have been watched in the past, despite the rule, and asked staff members to check that the board doesn’t currently exceed that limit.
The council will discuss the proposed interview process for appointees at their June 15 meeting, at which Walsh is expected to have a chance to present himself to the council and answer any questions they may have about his qualifications.