Bethany Beach’s citizens on Friday, Oct. 20, were treated to a new kind of town council meeting. After announcing each agenda item for discussion or council action, Mayor Carol Olmstead opened the floor for public comment on the issue at hand.
It was a stark contrast to a policy change under the previous council, where public comments were confined to a single period prior to the bulk of council business, in an attempt to better organize council action.
That policy had elicited complaints from some citizens, who said they wanted to hear more information on agenda items before giving their input.
There, also, has come change, with public agendas for meetings now including the same kind of brief synopses of proposed ordinances and council actions as the council members themselves have received.
Council Member Lew Killmer discussed the changes Oct. 21, at the town’s Planning Commission meeting, saying that the council had become more mindful of these issues and was trying to increase its interaction with the public during council meetings.
Killmer said the council had agreed that they would allow the separate comment periods for items on each meeting’s agenda, then proceed to council discussion, motions and votes — and hold off any additional public comment so that the council could complete its business without interruption.
“That could extend the meetings,” he warned.
Killmer also said the council was planning to continue its new council workshops, in an attempt to get additional discussion done outside its regular monthly meetings. And there are also “workshops-without-agenda” (WWAs) in the offing, Killmer said.
WWAs have been common practice in nearby Fenwick Island for some years now — started as an attempt to get more public input and make council members more accessible to the citizenry. Killmer said former Fenwick Island Mayor Peter Frederick had praised the practice.
Killmer said some coming workshops could also include invitations to town department heads to report to council members on the workings of their departments, to learn about ongoing projects, address any problems and plan for the town’s future. At those workshops, he said, the public would also be able to ask any pertinent questions.
Citizens appeared surprised but appreciative of the shift in public comment policy at Oct. 20’s council meeting.
Also at the Oct. 20 meeting:
• Council members unanimously (Wayne Fuller absent) approved donation of the $5,000 in unallocated town grant funds to the South Coastal Library’s capital campaign.
• Unanimous approval was given for the town’s plan to spend $18,770 for antenna equipment at the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company next to town hall. The agreement for that expenditure was part of a compromise solution that halved the height of the BBVFC’s proposed antenna tower.
• Council members unanimously approved at $22,500 contract with FutureTech, which has already been installing the town’s new server and backup computer systems, this time for redesign and relocation of the town’s Web site. Vice-Mayor Tony McClenny said the town had been told that no payment would be requested until the Web site redesign was done and the town was satisfied with the result.
• The council also approved a $12,228 contract with FuturTech for laptop computers to take the town to a “paperless” system, with each council member to be issued a secure laptop that could connect to the town’s new internal network. Council Member Steve Wode protested the decision, saying, “I don’t want another computer. I have four or five already. I don’t intend to use it.” Wode said he would not connect remotely to the town network and would use his own e-mail address to respond on town business. Wode was the lone dissenting vote in a 5-1 decision on the contract.
• Council members unanimously approved a $11,859 contract for the finishing of hard surfaces on the property next to the town hall. Three tables for public use will be located on the finished property, with Wi-Fi computer network access to possibly be provided in the future through a Bethany business.
• Council Treasurer/Secretary Jerry Dorfman reported on the town’s finances through Sept. 30, with some 57.8 percent of budgeted revenue collected and 47.45 percent of budgeted expenses having been spent. That was compared to 62.99 percent of revenue collected at the same point in 2005, and 49.86 percent of planned expenditures made. Dorfman noted a continuing in real estate transfer taxes for the town but said its revenue was still exceeding its expenses.
• Olmstead offered condolences on the passing of long-time resident Martha Jean Addy, who died Oct. 7 at 93.
• Olmstead reported that the town had sent a letter of concern to the Delaware Department of Transportation, expressing concerns about pedestrian crossings on Route 1, which DelDOT decided not to improve during current roadwork.
• McClenny sounded the alarm for those living on the east side of Kent Avenue and farther east, saying insurance providers were in many cases ceasing to issue new policies on the seaward homes, though existing policies were still being renewed. (Read full coverage of this issue in next week’s Coastal Point.)
• Council members unanimously approved the town’s new committee appointments.
• The council discussed and took public input on whether the town should consider municipal recycling through the Delaware Solid Waste Authority’s new curbside recycling program. Future discussions with DSWA are to take place, with an eye toward possibly tailoring the program to Bethany’s unique needs. Some concerns were expressed about the suitability of the program for renters and about sanitation, but the DSWA has already made efforts to assuage those concerns with other coastal towns and may be able to resolve the issue to the town’s satisfaction.