The Sussex County Council on Tuesday reversed its previous position of opposition to House Bill 42, which was passed in the state’s House of Representatives last year but is still pending in the state Senate.
The bill would increase the number of members on the Sussex County Council from five to seven, with the two new members being at-large representatives.
Previously having voted 3-2 to oppose the legislation, council members on Jan. 8 moved to a 3-2 position favoring it and the addition of those two at-large members to their number. The vote came as part of a legislative review held by the council on bills not concluded in 2007, on the same day as the start of the new session for the Delaware General Assembly.
Continuing their opposition to the proposed change were outgoing Council President Dale R. Dukes (D-1st) and his successor, Finley B. Jones (D-2nd).
“I’m vigorously opposed to a larger number of members,” Dukes said of both the council and the county’s planning commission. The commission is proposed to increase to seven members also, through HB 39. (The council still opposes HB 39 on a 4-1 split, with all but Councilman George Cole (R-4th) preferring the commission to remain at five members but seeing an expansion of planning functions with a review board — something not included in HB 39.)
“Bigger government isn’t better government,” Dukes said of his position on the council expansion.
Councilman Vance Phillips (R-5th) disagreed about the impact of the move to seven council members.
“More members doesn’t increase the size of government,” he said. “With five members, you’ve increased the size of county government by 45 percent,” he added. “I think maybe a greater population demands greater representation,” Phillips said of the county’s booming growth in recent years.
Cole said he felt the council members not only represent the people in their district but also all residents of the county and that council makeup should allow for population expansion.
“The county’s population has doubled in the time I’ve been here,” Cole said. “Everything has gotten bigger. Two more people is not going to be a big deal.”
In his reluctant vote of support for HB 42 on Tuesday, Councilman Lynn Rogers (D-3rd) noted an increase in the number of constituents each council member is representing, which now makes their council districts roughly equivalent in population to that of a state senator.
“It’s going to happen sooner or later,” he said of the shift to seven members. “I would like to see it done by district, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen.”
Rogers also appeared to be reacting to pressure from coastal residents of his district who are seeking to gain more of a voice on the council.
“Everybody up here is representing the people they’re charged with at this time,” Rogers said. “This just represents the shift from the grassroots to people moving in.”
But Dukes said the pressure Rogers and other officials have been feeling for the increase in council members — and the at-large seats — has more to do with council members’ positions than with a pure need for expanded representation.
“I don’t think those people in Mr. Rogers’ district want more representation on the council,” Dukes said. “I think those people oppose who represents them on the council.”
Rogers didn’t debate the point, instead acknowledging that not all of his constituents agree with his stances on some issues.
It remains to be seen whether the Sussex County Council’s move to support HB 42 on a 3-2 vote will sway state legislators on the issue after their return to session on Tuesday. Legislation expanding the council has been discussed and considered in the General Assembly for a number of years but has largely been blocked in the Senate.