Charter changes line up after CORC action

The Bethany Beach Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC) is finally seeing the end results of some of their hard work, with plans to submit changes in the town charter to the state senate, Town Council Member and CORC Chairman Lew Killmer reported at the committee’s Jan. 19 meeting.

The changes could include moving fines and fees from disparate portions of the town code to separate schedules of fines and fees, so they could more easily be referenced and updated. After months of wrangling over how to enact the change, it had its first reading before the town council Jan. 20 and could be voted upon by the council in February.

The charter change would also allow the town to assess fines in excess of $500 — the current limit, by charter designation. Recent updates of the fines included some (for larger offenses) that would exceed that amount.

Bundled with the charter changes is also a change in term for aldermen from two years to five years, as well as a new assistant alderman position.

Town code banning the transportation of raw sewage on town streets will also be removed, after the recommendation of CORC. The council voted unanimously to do so Jan. 20, realizing that the code conflicted with requirements for portable toilet facilities at all constructions sites, as well as law prohibiting the town from impeding commercial activities (such as sewage transport) on state highways, including Routes 1 and 26.

While not yet a topic for CORC to address, Killmer noted his recent attendance at a Sussex County Association of Towns meeting where the controversial changes to the state’s Title 15 regulations on municipal elections were addressed. Killmer volunteered to put forward a presentation on the subject for legislators at the group’s February meeting and he outlined his concerns about the new rules and their potential impact on the town — including no allowance for absentee ballots to be mailed to non-resident voters.

Town Solicitor Terence Jaywork has put the kibosh on a proposal to better hold contractors and others responsible when they damage private property in the course of their work.

The issue came up after damage was done to the entrance of the Turtle Walk community by a contractor but homeowners had difficulty getting him to pay for the repairs. CORC member Don Doyle, a Turtle Walk property owner, said the costs would have nearly bankrupted the homeowners group. In that case, the town interceded and got some reparations for the community, but Doyle had proposed a legal mechanism by which the town could ensure those causing damage would be held responsible.

But Jaywork told CORC that the issue was really more appropriate for litigation between the property owner and the damage-causer. The town could potentially hold up certificates of occupancy or get involved with action on a contractor’s license to operate in the town, he allowed, but that would punish a property owner in the first instance and fail to hold unlicensed contractors responsible in the second.

Jaywork recommended the town not get involved in such situations.

The town’s hefty code book is a new topic for the committee, with a proposal to split the 7-pound tome into at least two parts.

Committee members agreed that further streamlining of the whole code is needed — a move that will, hopefully, also lighten up the page count, at least for the short term. But Killmer and some others who routinely have to tote the book around still favored splitting it into two or three segments. A preliminary plan to do that is being worked on.

Finally, CORC members considered the possible need for further provisions to ensure the town’s executive elements are in order.

With Mayor Jack Walsh ill, Vice-Mayor Olmstead also having been ill for several days leading up to the Jan. 20 council meeting and Secretary/Treasure Tony McClenny currently residing outside the town while renovations are made to his Bethany Beach home, Council Member Wayne Fuller inquired as to whether changes were needed to ensure the town had an acting mayor.

McClenny, it turns out, is still eligible to serve as acting mayor, because he has lived in the town more than the minimum six months of the year required to serve as mayor. But the discussion revealed a concern that perhaps one more level of back-up might be a good idea.

The suggestion was made to perhaps split the secretary and treasurer positions to have a fourth council officer ready to take up the reins in a real emergency. Or, alternatively, a provision was suggested to allow the remaining four council members (mayor, vice-mayor and secretary/treasurer presumably incapacitated) to vote for an acting mayor from among their number in such circumstances.

CORC members agreed that the issue should be discussed by the council at a future meeting.