S.B. mayor and council seats up for grabs

South Bethany residents will go to the polls on Saturday, May 29, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the town hall, to elect a mayor and three council members.

This year’s candidates for mayor, with a two-year term of office going to the winner, are Joseph “Jay” Headman and Robert A. Youngs, both current council members whose current terms are to expire in 2011.

The candidates for the three council seats, also with two-year terms, are: Susan “Sue” Callaway, incumbent John P. Fields, George Junkin II, Michael G. Morabito, Andrew T. Ross and Mary L. Suazo.

Incumbent council members Diane Matera, who is completing the final year of a term of a former councilman, and Marge Gassinger, former mayor and current mayor pro-tem, did not file for re-election. Three-term Mayor Gary Jayne is term-limited and must take off at least one term before being eligible to serve again as mayor.

Absentee ballots are available for any resident who is not able to vote at town hall on May 29. Residents who need to obtain an absentee ballot by mail should call the town hall at (302) 539-3653 and an affidavit will be mailed to them. After receipt of the affidavit, the absentee ballot will be mailed. Voters may also come to town hall between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to complete the affidavit and receive an absentee ballot.

The affidavit and ballot must be filed with the town no later than 3 p.m. on the day of the election. Residents who may have questions regarding their qualification to vote in the town election should contact town hall.

Candidates make their cases

All but one of the candidates for both mayor and town council spoke briefly on the positions and qualifications at the South Bethany Town Council meeting on Friday, May 21, as well as answering questions from citizens present at the meeting.

Headman, a longtime educator and administrator in public school systems, has lived in the town full-time for 10 years. He said it was South Bethany’s small-town charm, peacefulness and the water that drew him there.

The five-year council member said he knows well the importance of teamwork and working together to solve issues, of knowing what the community wants and believes in.

Right now, Headman said, his priorities are on a balanced budget, continuing to work on financial projections and reviewing the town’s sources of revenue and expenses, and setting aside money for its future needs. It’s a platform that reflects Headman’s service on the towns’ new Budget & Finance Committee, which he is recommending become a standing committee for the town.

Headman said he also would like the town to look at enforcement of fees and taxes. He also has served as chairman of the Tidal Pump Committee and the Canal Water Quality Committee.

Mayoral Candidate Robert Youngs is also a sitting council member, elected in 2009 under a wave of concern about the town’s finances. Despite his modest length of service on the council, Youngs said, “I know how the town council works. I know how it’s supposed to work.”

For Youngs, that means the role of mayor is less of a centerpiece of the town than that of a lead council member. Referencing the town charter, he pointed out that – with only two exceptions – the charter refers to the mayor and council collectively as making decisions, without deference to the mayoral position as having more authority.

“We have a town manager form of government,” he said. “The town manager and staff are responsible for day-to-day operations and making sure the needs of the community are met. The mayor and town council make certain that those needs, wishes, desires and complaints can be brought forth in the town so the town manager can get direction so he can know what he needs to do.”

“It’s not up to the mayor and town council to run the town,” he asserted.

Youngs also noted on May 21 that he had decided to run for mayor to offer voters a choice, saying that he believes that there ought to always be multiple candidates on the ballot, “to remind the candidates who they work for,” he said. “Anyone who fills an elected position but is not elected, by virtue of being unopposed, can interpret that as representing something that it doesn’t.”

There are six candidates for the three council seats available this year. That’s not a record, but it is among the higher number of candidates that been seen in the town until recently.

Resident Sue Callaway has been a full-time resident in South Bethany for a year, but she and her husband have owned property there since 2001.

“It means more to us than we imagined it would,” she said of the town. “I want very much to work on the wellbeing of South Bethany and do whatever I can to promote South Bethany as a terrific place to live, to buy a home, and a terrific place to rent.”

Callaway said her priorities as a council member would be: to promote the maintenance and enhancements of the town’s beaches and canals; fiscal responsibility; communication; beautification; and increasing volunteerism.

Describing herself as a consensus builder, Callaway – one of the minds behind the creation of the Center for Missing and Exploited children – said she is also not afraid to take a stand on issues she feels are important.

Callaway is currently the second-vice-president of the town’s property owners’ association and its liaison to the Beautification Committee.

John Fields is the only incumbent council member running for re-election in 2010.

“I’m an incumbent. For me, that’s bad news,” he joked on May 21. “Voters in South Bethany aren’t always kind to incumbents. But, as my mother told me, ‘Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.’ If you appreciate what I’ve done, return the devil you know,” he advised voters.

Telling the story of one resident who spends much of her time picking up trash long the beach, Fields said his objective in serving on the council was much the same as hers in that effort: “to do something for the community we live in to make it a better place to live.”

Fields serves as the council’s liaison to the town planning commission. As such, he has been heavily involved in changes to the town comprehensive plan and ordinances in recent years.

Candidate George Junkin will likewise be a familiar face for many in South Bethany. He has vacationed in the town since 1953 and has lived there full-time since 2001. He is the editor and publisher of the South Bethany Property Owners’ Association (SBPOA) newsletter and set up an e-mail system for the group.

He has also been a member of the Canal Water Quality Committee since 2005 and a longtime member of the Planning Commission, of which he is currently vice-chairman.

Like many of this year’s crop of candidates, Junkin said his focus will be partly on town finances. A member of the Budget & Finance Committee, he said he will be working for fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget.

Addressing one of the more controversial issues in the town this year, Junkin said he personally favors adding a pavilion to the Richard Hall Memorial Park, but he said his real interest in the issue is learning what the citizens’ desires are in reference to the park.

“As a councilperson, I want to know: what does the town want?”

Michael Morabito was absent from the May 21 council meeting but offered his positions and qualifications in written form for all who attended. A full-time resident of the town for 23 years, he has also been involved in the Canal Water Quality Committee and the SBPOA’s Neighborhood Watch program. He is currently co-chairman of the town’s traffic committee and operations officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 12-01.

A tribal council member of the Assateague Indian Tribe of Delmarva, Morabito has also been a tribal police officer for 18 years.

He said his issues of focus as a council member would include maintaining the quiet charm and family-friendliness of the town, and protecting and enhancing the environment by mitigation of point-source pollution.

“As a resident for 23 years, I have watched the canals’ degeneration,” he said, “the oxygen levels falling, the loss of biodiversity in our canals’ ecosystem and large algae blooms. We can reverse these trends with innovative projects and the use of state and federal money. Believe it or not,” he noted, “there was a time when you could catch crabs all day long in our canals.”

Morabito said he also favors open government and full disclosure on all issues, and he issued a promise that, if elected, he will not vote to raise any taxes or fees.

Andy Ross brings his own expertise to the town’s environmental issues, as a professional arborist and a builder specializing in environmental sustainability. Noting the area’s exponential growth, Ross said he felt it was important to protect the town’s natural resources.

“I’m up to my knees in it,” Ross said of information on the subject of the environment. “There are a lot of natural resources we need to protect.”

Ross said he favors smart, fiscally responsible and environmentally friendly programs and initiatives in South Bethany.

The final candidate on the ballot for the council is Mary Suazo. She has owned property in the town since 1977 and has been living in the town mostly full-time since 2005.

Suazo, who noted she was not running against Fields in this election, said she feels the town needs to improve its communications, with moves such as publishing the Zephyr newsletter more often, and sending out more e-mails and letters to keep non-residents informed.

“We need to find some way to keep in touch with our residents,” she said, “and our part-time residents, including using the Web site.”

Suazo said she felt there had been some confusion on the issue of the park.

“It’s important when the town council asks the town if they want to have a park,” she said of the canceled referendum on the issue, “that they have researched the legal and financial issues and determined if the land can be built on or has to be purchased. … We need to do that before we ask the property owners what they want.”

Suazo also praised the work that has been done with the town’s budget recently.

Regardless of which candidate wins Saturday’s mayor race, one council seat will remain empty as they take office, since both candidates are current council members with a year left on their terms.

Under the rules regarding replacing council members in the town charter, the new council will be the ones to select the person to fill that seventh seat at the table. They can pick any of the unsuccessful candidates for council, or they can pick any qualified citizen to serve.