Committee revamps membership limits

Members of the Bethany Beach Charter and Ordinance Review Committee (CORC) made a last-minute change in their recommended guidelines for committee membership in the town Oct. 20 before forwarding those recommendations to the town council.

The most hotly debated among the guidelines — a restriction to two council members maximum per committee — was raised to a maximum of three council members as the three CORC members present at the Thursday afternoon meeting emphasized the value of council members’ contributions to committee work in the town.

Council Member and CORC Vice-Chairman Tony McClenny noted that the restriction had partially been sought over concerns about a quorum of the council discussing or voting on issues at a committee level. That four-member number had been ruled out entirely on legal grounds and further restricted in earlier CORC discussions to just two council members per committee.

CORC member Don Doyle championed the presence of council members at committee meetings while seeking to skirt the official limit by suggesting they serve in a non-voting, advisory capacity.

Council and CORC member Jerry Dorfman instead favored the limit being raised back up to three council members — short of a quorum but higher than two.

Dorfman said town committees need dedicated workers who were more likely found among council members. He said committee members from the community at large should be encouraged on that basis, but when the community was not able to field such dedicated workers, council members should be permitted to serve in that capacity.

McClenny said he’d noticed good input from council members when they were present at committee meetings.

Doyle responded to previous concerns about council members voicing their opinions on issues at the committee level by noting that the minds of council members couldn’t be “sanitized” whether they were attending committee meetings as members, as part of the general public or simply informed about the issues elsewhere.

McClenny, however, mentioned the notion that some other committee members might be intimidated by the opinions of council members serving on the committees, particularly if there was a consensus among those council members.

Council Member Lew Killmer, present at the meeting, said he believed the intimidation notion was unfounded and again noted that council members could not be excluded from committee meetings that were, by definition, open to the public.

Reversing the committee’s previous decision, the three CORC members voted to instead forward a limit of three council members per committee among the other guidelines they would recommend to the council.

Attendance of non-residents was a focus for another guideline — a loose suggestion that “allowances” should be made to ensure those living outside the town could participate in committee work.

McClenny noted that he had favored a Friday meeting time for the town’s Budget and Finance Committee to better enable non-resident committee members to attend by taking a single weekday away from their primary homes (and jobs).

The loose recommendation for “allowances” rather than a specific requirement to have such a weekend-oriented meeting time was made to allow committees to be creative in their solutions, with Killmer noting that teleconferencing was another method of accommodations.

Doyle noted that the efforts to include non-residents would allow committees to benefit from the expertise some non-residents might offer on particular subjects, even though those experts might not be able to attend all meetings of a given committee.

McClenny suggested committee terms be established as one-year terms beginning and ending as of the regular town council meeting each October, so that council members could approve new committee composition.

He further suggested committee chairpersons be appointed as of the September council meeting each year, to allow them to select recommended committee members and work with outgoing chairpersons before taking up their full duties in October.

The difficulty of transitioning between an outgoing committee chairperson and the new committee work for the new chairperson was noted, with Killmer pointed to as the prospective new chairman of CORC, despite not being a voting member of the committee at the Oct. 20 meeting. (Killmer will succeed outgoing CORC Chairman Wayne Fuller, who was not able to attend the meeting.)

CORC members also fine-tuned some recommendations from Mayor Jack Walsh as to the authority appointing committee chairpersons and members, as well as forming any new committees.

While Walsh’s wording provided for mayoral authority with council input, committee members decided to go with council confirmation instead, following existing practice. The issue was also raised as to who had the authority to remove or not reappoint a committee, with the consensus among CORC members that a similar council confirmation should be required.

Committee members noted that the mayoral position was simply that of one council member with one vote on the council but designated as mayor by the council as a whole. The position does not place that member above the rest of the council, Dorfman emphasized.

Other guidelines made for town committees merely cemented existing practices, such as following state guidelines for the establishment of an agenda and ensuring a record of meetings is kept.

The three CORC members unanimously agreed to forward the sum of the guidelines for council consideration as of the following day’s council meeting, commenting that they expected the increased council member limit would be controversial among the council as a whole.

(Council members did express surprise at the change when presented with the revised guidelines, showing division on whether two or three should be the limit. They elected to table the issue for discussion at the coming council retreat before making a decision.)

McClenny noted that much work had gone into the guidelines, with the input of many being included in the final set that was proposed.

And McClenny himself bid farewell to the committee at the end of the meeting. After five years on CORC, he is a casualty of the two council-member limit, with Killmer and Dorfman to serve on CORC in the coming year.

Both Dorfman and Doyle said they hoped a way would be found to keep McClenny on the committee, alluding to the three council-member limit they had just recommended.