Bethany narrows down referendum changes

Changes recommended for Bethany Beach’s referendum process after a successful call for repeal of the town’s height allowance for pitched roofs last year have been debated by the Charter and Ordinance Review Committee for months.

Narrowing in on a final version of the changes, committee members have met continued resistance from the man who led that petition drive, Dan Costello. And some of Costello’s concerns about the changes have now received support from Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork, resulting in a pullback of some of the alterations to the process as recommended by CORC.

Chiefly among those controversial changes has been the recommendation by CORC to limit every signing page of a petition to a single signature.

Vice-Mayor and CORC Chairman Tony McClenny, at CORC’s June 14 meeting, read from a response by Jaywork to the draft of the referendum changes, in which Jaywork noted his understanding of a petition as being “one statement followed by many signatures” as opposed to “one statement followed by a single signature,” as would be the case in the proposed referendum signature-collection format.

Jaywork questioned, without prejudice, whether the move to single-signature pages in the petition “served any valid purpose” — a question Costello has asked while criticizing the move as one that would increase the burden on petition circulators as the number of pages they would be required to tote would dramatically increase.

The move was a nod to privacy concerns that were raised during last year’s petition, wherein some expressed worry that their neighbors would see they had signed the petition or that others would feel pressured to sign if they found their own friends or neighbors had already signed.

“Those were the concerns of some individuals,” CORC member Chuck Peterson emphasized, while fellow committee member Fulton Lappatto noted the expectation of privacy that most voters have when subsequently voting at the polls on a referendum question.

While most of the CORC members at the June 14 meeting still said they supported the concept of improved privacy under the one-page-per-signature policy, they were not prepared to fight for the change in the wake of Jaywork’s suggestion it be dropped.

Also recommended for change by Jaywork: the date of eligibility as qualified voters for the signers of such petitions, moved from the day the petition is signed to the day upon which any referendum (if the petition were successful and a referendum was scheduled) would be held. CORC members agreed without objection to the recommendation.

Jaywork also recommended minor changes to wording regarding how the petition is counted and verified, and to format requirements for the petition template as provided by the town, to include any future standard formats rather than the ones currently accepted as standard. He also recommended a list of required items on the petition be restricted to contain only those items and no others.

Recommended for addition to the petition requirements were statements from petition circulators that they themselves are eligible voters in the town, as well as attesting that — to the best of their ability — they could confirm the identity of petition signatories as also being eligible voters at the time of any proposed referendum.

None of the recommendations from Jaywork raised any objections from the committee, aside from lingering privacy concerns over the more standard multiple-signature format her had recommended.

The committee voted to return the draft legislation to Jaywork for its final wording, upon which time it will likely head to the town council for possible adoption.