Fenwick forms town-manager search commitee

The change to a town manager-style of administration has long been under discussion in Fenwick Island, and that remained the case at the town council’s Feb. 24 meeting. The move to finally make the change was set to take a giant leap forward at the meeting with the formation of a search committee, but extended discussion and council division on the process to be used to find a town manager nearly killed the effort.

Mayor Peter Frederick provided the council members with an outline of the process, dictating the formation of two committees — the first to research the job of a town manager in order to frame an actual search, and the second (comprising the first committee, plus additional members) to advertise, search, accept applications and make a recommendation for three candidates for the position. The council was then to decide from among those candidates.

But there were objections as to the level of council involvement in the process and at what stage — and in what format — that should take place.

Council Member Harry Haon said he wasn’t sure that enough had yet been done to determine what the town wanted the town manager’s job to be. He said he felt the town council should be included at the initial stage of the first committee’s research, to get the council’s input as to the job requirements, versus having them go out into the community to discuss the job parameters with University of Delaware experts and other town managers and councils in the region.

Frederick emphasized that the outline of the committees’ work included council input as part of the research process, but Haon said he felt that should be a starting point, not come after the committee had started to form a job description for the council to approve.

Haon and Council Member Vicki Carmean also strenuously objected to the idea of council members meeting individually with the committee, versus as a group. Frederick said that had been designed to reduce the amount of time wasted and arguing that would undoubtedly take place between council members when discussing the issue.

But Haon said he wanted to know what other council members thought about the issue, and Council Member Martha Keller also endorsed the value of that experience, saying, “We get a lot out of that bickering. We really do!”

Carmean emphasized a need for consensus building and questioned whether two separate committees were needed.

There, Council Member Chris Clark disagreed, saying he felt the second committee would provide a needed clear set of eyes to review the work the first committee had done. Otherwise, he said, “Things will fall through the cracks.”

Council Member Theo Brans said he felt a change was needed from current administrative practices of council members but questioned the need to involve those outside the council, citing their own high level of experience with such matters.

Extensive discussion brought the council members to few bits of common ground and nearly disrupted the entire project, with former Council Member Buzz Henefin — named to head the first committee — saying he would refuse to lead it, or even to serve, unless the process outline presented by Frederick was followed.

But the council coalesced around the persistent need for the town to make a change and around the members of the community named to serve on the two committees. In the end, they agreed that the committee should be formed as named, with further discussion and decisions to take place on the exact process. That would, according to the preferences of most of the council members, include early and group input from the council.

With a 6-0 vote (Audrey Serio absent), they appointed the committee members, with those other issues to be determined at a later date.

Council members also agreed with a 6-0 vote Feb. 24 to make a change to the proposed ordinance that would institute a floor-area ratio (FAR) limit on residential construction in the town. The change includes decks and porches in the floor-area calculation, but only at 50 percent of their actual size.

The council further expressed a consensus of support for an amendment recommended that week by Council Member Martha Keller. The second change would have included accessory buildings, such as sheds, in the calculation at a full 100 percent of their size. The council was divided, however, on whether the amendment could be or should be made at the Feb. 24 amended first reading of the ordinance.

Frederick said he believed the change could be made during the course of two public hearings on the ordinance, set for April 1 and May 6, as there would possibly be other changes needed as a result of those hearings.

Haon, on the other hand, expressed a need to get the suggested change in place on Feb. 24, as part of what was already an amended first reading, in order not to further delay the process.

The reading had been advertised to include an unspecified change to the definition of floor-area ratio that might have been interpreted to also include the accessory building measurement. And a letter describing the ordinance was due to go out this week, suggesting that planned changes be set before it went out.

But some council members were unsure that qualified as sufficient notice to the public, and in the end, the council opted be conservative and to leave the proposed amendment for a full discussion at the March council meeting and possible incorporation at that time.

Also at the Feb. 24 council meeting:

• Star Business Awards, from the town’s Beautification Committee, were awarded to St. Matthews By-the-Sea and the Rev. Bruce Miller, and to Surf’s Edge restaurant.

• Patrolman Steven Majewski received the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce’s Valor Award, previously announced at a special ceremony earlier this month.

• Financial officer Gary Taylor reported another slow month for the town’s transfer taxes, with only one $12,000 transfer amount being received by the town. He said rentals also appeared to be down, though rental taxes for the town appeared to be keeping steady. The theory is that fewer homes are being rented, but at higher rates.

• Council agreed to allot $7,000 from beach replenishment funds for 11 benches at the town’s new dune crossings. Frederick said the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) had approved locating the benches on the walkways themselves, but was still reviewing a town request to place them atop the dunes, where they might provide better views of the ocean. Council members were divided as to the best location but agreed, 5-1, to make the purchase with the location to be determined at a later time, based on DNREC approvals. (Carmean opposed without additional comment and Serio was absent.)

• Frederick announced plans to change the new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant dune crossover at Bayard Street, which has been determined to be non-compliant. While complaints have focused on it being too narrow (at 5 feet wide, the ADA standard) to accommodate two wheelchairs passing or two families passing, the compliance issue focuses on the slope. The eastern side’s 1/12 slope is compliant, while the western side is at 1/8. The Army Corps of Engineers agreed that is a problem and plans to ensure a compliant crossover is created, whether at Bayard Street or elsewhere in the town. With no town funds involved, the determination will be made between state and federal entities, Frederick said.

• Council members unanimously agreed to a recommendation to raise the seasonal parking permit cost, from $150 to $300, citing a value of $885 if used six hours a day throughout the summer. The decision was focused on controlling the number of cars trying to park in the town at any one time, particularly on the east side of town. Some 51 permits were purchased in 2005, compared to only 60 east-side parking spaces.

• Council agreed to look into revisions to the town charter that would allow it to borrow up to 25 percent of the town’s property value. Today, that would equate to $7.3 million, in contrast to the existing limit of $100,000, bonded, and $500,000 for operating expenses. In contrast to the current allowances, which require only a council vote, the new loan potential would require a referendum to employ.

• The town may also make a change as to how such a referendum would be counted, from the charter requirement that currently specifies one vote per $1 of tax paid. The Charter and Ordinance Committee is to review such a change in the future.

• Building Official Patricia Schuchman said she had worked with DNREC officials to clarify the impact of the department’s new building line in respect to waterfront property. She said she had been told only six properties in the town were impacted by the new line, all at the northernmost end of the town’s beach and involving what she termed “minimal impact.” She said if the five northernmost houses near King and Bunting were destroyed, they could be built even with the sixth house under the proposed new rules. Schuchman also said properties on the Inland Bays were not to be affected by the new rules. She advised anyone with questions or seeking to be notified of meetings in the future should contact Maria Sadler at (302) 739-9921. An additional hearing or workshop on the controversial changes was to be held this spring, in advance of their enactment.

• Police Chief Colette Sutherland announced the town had acquired child identification kits through a grant. She said she was asking for public input on how many kits might be needed for residents’ children or grandchildren before offering the remainder of the supply to the general public.

• Finally, Carmean noted that one of the town’s landscaping pots had accidentally been sold at the recent auction of the property formerly the home of Libby’s restaurant. She said she had been working with Emmert Auctions and the buyer to determine what had happened to the pot, worth $350 (not including the plantings), and they had agreed that the town would be reimbursed. The pot sold for $75 at the auction. “What a deal!” Carmean exclaimed, noting the high cost of the weather-resistant pots.