Bethany group aims to provide information

A revamped Bethany Beach Communications Committee held its second meeting inside just a few weeks on Nov. 29, focusing on the group’s goals for improving communication between the town and its citizens.

Council Member and new Communications Committee Chairman Tracy Mulligan met with veteran member Monte Wisbrock, new members Mary Hope, Anthony Carmen, Jim Weisgerber and Rosemary Hardiman, and new associate member Cullen Langford, along with Town Clerk Lisa Kail, who also now serves as an associate (non-voting) member.

Committee members took another swing at finalizing a draft of their council-mandated purpose statement and scope of work, noting previous concerns that the committee would become a “filter” between the town council and citizens, and voicing support that they serve to aid a “timely exchange of information.”

Already under way for the committee is an effort to provide information about the town’s proposed and ongoing stormwater projects, as well as the challenges it still faces in that area.

Hardiman has taken the reins of the stormwater information project and told fellow committee members on Nov. 29 that she had already met with Stormwater and Drainage Committee Chairman Harold Steele, Town Manager Cliff Graviet and Public Works Supervisor Brett Warner for briefings and to begin collecting information for a written report to eventually be made available to the public.

She also noted that going through the information gathering and dispersal process for stormwater issues could help the committee establish a process for such projects in the future. And, specifically on issues concerning stormwater and flooding where there is citizen misunderstanding, Hardiman said, the committee can help provide clarity.

“This could be a prototype way to put together information with a review it for accuracy,” Mulligan said, while emphasizing the need for the committee itself to avoid a position of advocacy in such informational work. That, he said, would be for the council and other committees to do.

The project is currently in the draft stage, with additional up-to-date information to be provided over the next few weeks before a final draft is approved by the committee and forwarded on to the council for comment. Eventually, the finished document is to be made available to the public.

Hardiman noted that working on the project had already left her with an appreciation of the town’s employees. “It’s amazing how much the town gets done with so few people,” she said.

Map project could be revived

With that project well under way, committee members discussed other impending projects that need their attention. Topping that list for most is the town map project that dropped to the back burner at the end of the summer.

The previous makeup of the committee had soundly approved the notion of an advertising-supported map of the town created by an outside firm. The map would list local businesses and town information, as well as providing an advertising opportunity for businesses in the area.

The project would cost the town nothing and might even provide a small profit. The only requirement to the town would be to provide a desk and telephone for the company’s representative to use as a home base, as well as information used in creating the map and informational elements.

With that in mind, the committee had recommended the project be passed to the responsibility of the Bethany Beach Fourth of July Parade Committee, which operates independently of the town government. But the parade’s volunteer staff later turned down the offer, saying it was too much work to handle on top of the existing burden of organizing the parade and raising other funds to support it.

Thus the project languished, well beyond the target start date of September to begin advertising sales. Wisbrock, who had championed the project and currently organizes the annual updates of the town’s online business map, fervently suggested on Nov. 29 that it be followed up on immediately, while it might still be possible to carry off before the summer of 2007.

Wisbrock noted that the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce had decided to stop producing its own similar map this year, clearing the way for Bethany to take the lead on a project that could draw advertisers from around the area.

The Bethany Beach business owner said he planned to contact the company that had provided the previous proposal to the town and see if the idea was still workable for 2007. If it is, or even if the 2008 edition would be the first, committee members said they favored immediately forwarding the contract to the town council with a recommendation it be signed.

Information projects, Web revamp upcoming

Also at the top of many lists in terms of importance to the town is beach replenishment, with recent storm damage fresh on many minds and a planned Dec. 4 meeting with shoreline replenishment lobbyists Marlowe and Co.

Committee members said that would be their next target for an informational project, following on the heels of the work on stormwater issues.

The committee also returned to the lingering issue of the town’s unused “skills survey” of several years ago, and more recent efforts to garner a list of willing volunteers to help with various town projects.

Mayor Carol Olmstead, present at the meeting, said she felt the volunteer project was well placed in the hands of Maureen Killmer, who has already put some volunteers to work on projects such as decorating town hall for the holidays. But some committee members said they still favored additional efforts to bring in skilled volunteers who could help out on specialized projects.

Mulligan said that upcoming work to revamp the town’s Web site was one such project, where those with experience and skill in the subject could help consultants FuturTech develop the new site.

The revamp is the third stage of planned work from FuturTech, which is currently establishing a computer network and related systems for town hall and will soon begin work on the background technologies behind the updated Web site.

Kail said the main problem being reported by visitors to the site in recent times was the inability to find particular bits of information or documents — something that could be addressed in the revamp.

The committee remained open to seeking other types of skilled volunteers on a project-by-project and as-needed basis, as well as keeping itself and other town committees open to enhanced participation by the new non-voting associate members.

Also on their list of future projects from the Nov. 29 meeting: enhanced use of the town’s e-mail list, with more use and more information; efforts to enhance emergency preparedness information available to the public; and efforts to get the town’s business community more involved in issues and sooner.

On the last subject, Weisgerber — who owns several businesses in the town — said he had noticed that many business owners came to town projects late and that acrimony often developed between them and the town.

The result, he said, were late changes of direction in projects such as Streetscape, which was recently downscaled drastically over financial issues and parking concerns voiced by businesspeople.

“We need to draw people in earlier into discussions. We need to find a way to make the business community more active,” Weisgerber said, offering to spearhead efforts on the issue.

Finally, committee members set their own meeting schedule, selecting the fourth Wednesday of the month as their regular meeting date, to begin in January.