The five candidates vying for three Fenwick Island council seats in the upcoming Aug. 5 election paraded in front of a full meeting room at town hall on Saturday, introducing themselves to their potential constituents at the annual meet-the-candidates event and general meeting of the Fenwick Island Society of Homeowners (FISH).
Former town council members, town employees and a host of town residents sought answers to questions about a possible town manager-based government, a struggling budget and the town’s controversial floor-area ratio (FAR) ordinance, which was enacted last month.
Forrest Boettcher, a Fenwick Island homeowner since 1969, started the ceremonies, talking about FAR, an ordinance controlling the size of new homes built in the town.
“The FAR issue has really split the town,” noted Boettcher. He said additional building code, such as re-adjusting height limits to better accommodate flooding risks, should have been evaluated before FAR was introduced. “It should never have been passed through.”
Bill Weistling Jr., a 16-year full-time resident of the town and another candidate in August’s election, seemed to disagree, saying “massive homes” congest the town.
“We have control over the town,” Weistling said, saying he approves FAR “so we don’t have some of the massive homes. All of us are here because we love this town. Keep congestion out.”
Tom Smallwood, a full-time resident since 2001 and the youngest candidate at 38, said he opposed FAR because “I don’t see how FAR is going to create more open space.” But Smallwood also focused on the minimal amount of public participation with the issue.
Although more than 400 town property owners voted in the recent FAR survey, narrowly approving of the ordinance in that non-binding count, Smallwood said that is not enough.
“I don’t think that’s that hard a problem to fix,” said Smallwood, suggesting that the town send notices via e-mail, including offering PDF-format files of minutes and agendas, which would also be posted to the town Web site. “That really dismayed me on such a big issue.”
But FAR wasn’t the only “big issue” discussed Saturday. The five candidates again seemed to disagree — sometimes with each other, sometimes the crowd — on whether the town should hire a town manager, an issue a town committee and council members continue to investigate.
“We need a professional,” said Diane Tingle, council candidate, member of the Town Manager Search Committee and wife of Selbyville Town Council Member Clarence “Bud” Tingle. Diane Tingle is a former teacher with a master’s degree in human resources, and she opposed FAR, citing issues with how the ordinance was developed.
“The town employees want a town manager. They support one. They want one person, not seven,” Tingle said, referring to the council members, who have managed the town through mayoral and commissioner duties.
Gardner Bunting, a former Selbyville councilman looking to get back into town government, said that he “would like to be involved in the implementation of a town-manager government.”
The town would be then “dealing with a pro that is trained to run the town. Councilmen don’t necessarily know how to do that,” he said.
The few townsfolk who spoke against hiring a town manager, though, asked funding questions. Fenwick is already struggling with money, many said from the crowd, so why add another expense?
Fenwick Island resident and businessman Jack Childers, referring to himself as “a concerned resident” in a letter addressed to the candidates, estimated the cost of hiring a town manager at $80,000 to $100,000. Other estimates have been upwards of $60,000 annually, not necessarily including insurance and other benefits.
“I can understand hiring someone to run day-to-day business” of the town, Boettcher said. But, he added, the town needs to “look at the budget, the decreasing revenues. The town needs to take a good look.”
The five candidates vying the three spots on Aug. 5 don’t include any of the three incumbents, who were initially expected by most in the town to re-file for their seats. Mayor Peter Frederick and Councilman Harry Haon did not file, and Councilwoman Vicki Carmean withdrew her name before the June 21 deadline.
“I appreciate the opportunity to have served and would hope to serve again,” Frederick told the Coastal Point in an earlier interview. “But the council wasn’t working well and I thought the best thing for me to do was to step back and let everybody else step back, and let a new group in and see if they can get things going again.”
Three of the five candidates will have a chance to make a go of that opportunity. And Fenwick Island voters will be able to make their choice from among the five, based on everything from FAR to town management to fiscal issues, when they go to the polls on Saturday, Aug. 5, between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. (Voters should bring a picture ID. Absentee ballots are available by calling Donna at 539-3011.)