Bethany vote split on incumbents

Posted Saturday, September 9, 7 p.m.

Results: Tony McClenny – 446; Steve Wode – 446; Tracy Mulligan – 415; Jerry Dorfman – 407; Lew Killmer – 402; Harry Steele – 401; Charles Gravatte – 334; Joseph Healy Jr. - 311

Bethany Beach voters on Saturday, Sept. 9, changed the makeup of their town council by two members, retaining incumbents Tony McClenny and Jerry Dorfman but replacing veteran council member Harry Steele and 2005 appointee Lew Killmer with Planning Commissioner Steve Wode and part-time resident Tracy Mulligan.

Both Wode and Mulligan had said they decided to run for seats with the intention of shaking up the existing council and ensuring more attention would be paid to public input in the wake of some controversial decisions in the past year.

At a Bethany Beach Landowner’s Association (BBLA) event the night before the election, Killmer had fielded criticism about a recent vote to recommend but not require an 8-foot setback for commercial structure above 24 feet in the C-1 district, while Steele had continued to defend the council’s decision to create a new roof height allowance in exchange for a steeper roof pitch in R-1 – designed to enhance curb appeal.

Both decisions were at the core of recent dissatisfaction with the council from some citizens. And the residential height allowance is the subject of a referendum effort that could move forward as soon as Friday’s town council meeting, when organizer Dan Costello said he now plans to turn in completed petitions.

The council has also faced criticism about when, how and how deeply it has taken into consideration public opinion opposing some recent council stances, both before and after their votes.

The combined issues stirred deep anti-incumbent sentiment among some in the town leading up to and during the campaign, while others praised the time, effort and good intentions of the existing council members and chalked up the criticism to differences of opinion on how to carry out citizens’ wishes and to misunderstandings.

In the end, the voters split on the incumbents, ousting Steele and Killmer, who was heavily involved in both planning matters, and keeping McClenny and Dorfman.

McClenny, who will enter his second two-year term on the council at the Sept. 10 reorganizational meeting, topped the voting with 446 total votes. Wode, with his focus on infrastructure issues in the surrounding area, also received 446 total votes, sharing the lead with McClenny.

Mulligan came in third in the polling, with 415 total votes, and Dorfman narrowly beat out Killmer and Steele for the fourth seat, with 407 total votes.

The two ousted incumbents were close behind, with 402 votes for Killmer and 401 for Steele. Charles Gravatte, who has been absent from town office for several years after having served on the Planning Commission, received 334 total votes, while Joseph Healy Jr. received 311.

“It’s a shocker,” Mayor Jack Walsh said after reading the results posted on the town hall door. Walsh expressed disappointment that the council, which incumbents had urged voters to keep intact as a body that worked well together, had been changed.

BBLA Secretary Lois Lipsett, who had been critical of some council decisions, was equally surprised by the results, exclaiming, “Holy cow!”

Costello said he’d expected a 3-1 decision favoring the challengers but was pleased some change had been made.

Killmer, while visibly disappointed at losing his council seat, said, “It’s fine” – a sentiment he later repeated when asked about the voting.

Wode and Mulligan had both returned home after a long day of campaigning at town hall and received the results via phone calls from other candidates. Steele was out of town on Saturday.

If Killmer had been re-elected, the council would have been faced with the decision of whether to have him or Wode remain on the Planning Commission as its single representative on that body. But with Killmer not returning to the council, the option is left open for the council – if it so chooses – to keep both men on the commission.

Should the council make such a decision, Wode would serve as the council representative, while Killmer would return to the commission’s general membership.

“I’m disappointed for Lew. He works very hard,” McClenny said of Killmer’s ouster, echoing comments made recently by a number of town officials and citizens, and several times after results were revealed Saturday. McClenny said he was disappointed for all those who had lost, after the hard work they had put in. He said he wished the newcomers to the council well.

Regarding the possibility of Killmer continuing to serve on the Planning Commission, McClenny said, “That would be good.” Walsh also acknowledged the possibility.

Killmer said he would welcome such an opportunity. He could also be asked to remain as a citizen on the town’s Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC), as well as the Audit Committee, but CORC will be getting a new chairman with the change in council makeup.

There will also be some change in the town’s Stormwater and Drainage Committee, which Steele has led since his election to council in 2002. Drainage issues were central to Steele’s involvement in the town government from the start, and the current drainage project in Bethany West, as well as future plans, have had him heavily involved. He could, likewise, be asked to remain on the committee, though it will need a new chairman.

Those decisions will come after Sept. 10’s reorganizational meeting, at which the council will again vote for its officers, including mayor, vice-mayor and secretary-treasurer. The new council will hold its first regular meeting on Friday, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m., following a 6:30 p.m. workshop on the town’s Streetscape plan.