South Bethany fills treasurer spot

South Bethany Mayor Gary Jayne revealed a little-known fact at the town council’s reorganizational meeting on June 3: the town had gone without any mayor at all for two days.

As it turned out, Jayne’s term expired May 31, and though he was returned to the position with no challenger for the May 27 election, a swearing in was technically required for him to continue in office. Once the oversight was discovered, a notary public had been called in to do the swearing in, giving the town an official leader once again on June 2.

That was just in time for Jayne to lead the June 3 council meeting and swear in the winners of May 27’s council election for three seats. Incumbents Marge Gassinger and John Fields again took the oath of their offices, while newcomer John Rubinsohn took the council oath for the first time, replacing Bob Cestone, who chose not to run for re-election.

Not only did the town have a mayor once again on Saturday, but the swearing in saw the filling of a council position that had long been left vacant — that of treasurer.

Rubinsohn, with an education and professional background in business, agreed to take on the role of treasurer for the council and had plans to immediately do a full analysis of the town’s fiscal condition and what impact the current slow real estate market may have on town finances over the long term.

Council members were pleased to have him fill the long-vacant treasurer position, greeting the official announcement with applause.

“We go from no treasurer to a Wharton School MBA,” Jayne declared with obvious pleasure, referring to Rubinsohn’s master’s degree from the prestigious business school at the University of Pennsylvania.

Jayne also appointed Gassinger to continue as mayor pro-tem, while Richard Ronan remains as council secretary, with a unanimous vote of council ratifying all three choices.

With the new council in place, council members reviewed council rules, clarifying the council’s policy on absences from meetings to allow a maximum of three unexcused absences from regular council meetings (not including workshops or special meetings) before council members can be dismissed.

After some discussion, they also voted to leave it to the mayor to decide what reasons council members could legitimately give for excused absences, rather than requiring a council vote on the excuses.

Councilman Jay Headman expressed concern about airing what might be private information at a public meeting, and the consensus was to grant the mayor the power to make such decisions on his own.

Though he voted in favor of the mayoral power, Ronin emphasized that, while current council members might not be an issue, there had been concerns in the past — and might be in the future — where council members might dispute whether absences were truly excusable if they didn’t vote. “This was not trivial in the past,” Ronin said.

Jayne concurred, adding, “This policy was developed because there were problems.”

Council members voted unanimously, though, with Councilwoman Bonnie Lambertson absent, to allow the mayor to decide on excused absences.

The remaining element of the June 3 special council meeting was to discuss, decide on and assign oversight of initiatives for the coming council term. Jayne had prepared a list of ongoing and new initiatives to get the discussion started, and most were easily agreed to by the council members as worthy of further study or enactment.

Among the initiatives:

• Possible town walkway projects, including the regularly discussed but as-yet-unplanned walkway in the Cat Hill section of the town. Jayne said property owner George Rosenberg had aired the additional idea of a possible walking path that might run behind some Cat Hill properties, on land owned by Freeman Communities that is not buildable. The proposed trail would be a nature trail and not paved, Jayne emphasized.

Also discussed was a possible realignment of Evergreen, to allow for a wider single path on one side of the roadway. Headman agreed to spearhead the initial research, while Jayne planned for Lambertson to take over the council guidance on the projects. Headman will now lead work on the town’s possible tidal pump project.

• Planning Commission follow-up on issues of “gray water,” impervious surfaces and various canal-related matters, with Fields continuing to act as council liaison to the commission. Also put on their agenda for consideration: underground utilities (acknowledged as “a tough road to hoe” by Jayne).

• Beautification efforts, continuing to be concentrated on Route 1, as part of a three-year plan. Headman also championed the town looking into a small sign to acknowledge the edge of Cat Hill as one of the town’s borders, while Jayne favored an arrangement of fences to narrow the same opening and thus continue to make it less attractive for through-traffic. Future beautification could also focus on the east side of Route 1 and the east side of Ocean Drive, if and when beach reconstruction is done.

• Financial issues will be spearheaded by Rubinsohn, with a quick crunching of numbers prior to this Friday’s scheduled council meeting and a more thorough analysis of the town’s position heading into the long term. Jayne emphasized, “We are not in a crisis. There is no emergency. There is no cause for concern.”

Even after planned expenditures for the new town hall and police station, canal dredge and other projects, Jayne said, the town was OK. But the town, he said, could do its homework, confirm its financial status and work to plan how to deal with drawing some 25 percent of revenue from real estate transfer taxes.

• Further exploration of propane service, with Town Manager Melvin Cusick continuing recent talks with Sharp Energy on the subject. Headman encouraged the town to look into how planned energy price increases on propane were being handled, with the town coming off a two-year fixed price.

• Rubinsohn will take over the council’s oversight of the Assawoman Canal dredge, which still has some legal decisions pending. Jayne will continue to oversee the town’s canal dredge plan. Ronin will continue oversight of the town’s support of beach replenishment and federal funding for the planned major beach reconstruction project.

• Along with liaison duties for the Planning Commission, Fields will oversee completion of the town’s comprehensive plan, as well as other anticipated charter changes.

• Gassinger will continue to oversee the town hall and police station plans, which she noted are currently awaiting the results of a study from Kercher Engineering Inc. (KEI) to satisfy state approval requirements.

• Lambertson will continue to monitor happenings on the proposed wind power projects for the Delaware shore area, but with council agreement will only provide updates as warranted, instead of at each regular council meeting.