Two candidates for mayor and four candidates for three town council seats gave residents at the Friday, May 11, South Bethany Town Council meeting a snapshot of their hopes for the Town during a candidates’ forum.
The mayoral candidates are incumbent Mayor Pat Voveris and Councilman Tim Saxton. Council candidates include incumbents Don Boteler, Sue Callaway and Tim Shaw, and challenger and former councilman Wayne Schrader. (Saxton’s council seat is not up for election this year.) Each candidate had three minutes to make a statement.
“I think you should vote for me because I’m a reasonable person. I’m a pretty good listener,” Boteler began. “I do like to work hard and find common ground, find consensus,” he said.
Boteler noted that he relishes working through issues with people who don’t necessarily agree with him.
“It’s easy to work with people you agree with,” he said. “We’ve had some successes on that score; we’ve had some failures — we’re human.”
Boteler pointed to his professional life, which included senior roles in management in the private and public sectors, as good preparation for his role on town council. He said that he is “currently retired” but serving on two boards — one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, with for-profit, public sector, public corporations.
“I’ve kind of learned a valuable lesson and that is the difference between an oversight role and a management role,” Boteler said. “We have to respect that border between ourselves — as our council and our mayor and our very competent and very capable management staff and other staff.”
“We’ve had a lot going on in the last couple of years, as everyone knows. I think it’s critical that we get back to very simple fundamental basics,” he said.
As town treasurer, Boteler said the Town needs to continue to find ways to cut costs. He also said the Town needs to set aside a general reserve fund for unexpected expenses and specific funds for large projects, such as for maintenance of beach access and canals, and water-quality issues.
Sue Callaway told the audience she has owned a home in South Bethany for 17 years and has volunteered for the town for 10 of those years.
“I have served with three different mayors and a variety of council members,” she said. “I have met the challenges of FEMA, water quality, floods, house fires, fire pits, feral cats, Junebugs, codes, beach replenishment, parking, police, and I’ve worked hard to address many other issues,” Callaway said, “especially those that are brought forward by our property owners.”
‘My passion has been and will be community enhancement,” she said. “I firmly believe that’s the key to maintaining a vibrant and desirable community. Through my leadership and with the help of very many volunteers, we have changed the landscape in South Bethany, both literally and figuratively.”
Callaway said she believes the primary issue facing the town right now is “working on a solid budget plan that prepares us for the future, providing leadership that promotes sound and competent administrative government operations and a strong police department, and maintaining a quality of life that everyone values.”
Tim Shaw’s remarks were the shortest of the candidates. He reminded the townsfolk that he has been on the council for two years, and that “we have committees in this town; they do a lot of work. We need volunteers,” Shaw said.
“We have the most amazing thing in this country — the right to vote — and it’s a shame when people squander it. Please don’t. Whether you vote for me or not, please show up and vote.”
Shaw also praised the efforts of South Bethany Property Owners Association President Joe Mormando in keeping residents informed on town issues and events.
Candidate Wayne Schrader was not present at the meeting, but Councilman Frank Weisgerber read a statement that Schrader had submitted for the record.
“I bring to the position a slightly different perspective than that held by other council members. If elected, I will be the only council member who is a part-time resident,” Schrader said in his written statement.
“The perspectives of part-time and full-time residents may not always be aligned,” Schrader said. “Thus, it would be useful to have at least one member who sees through the lens of a part-time resident.”
Schrader also said his 25-plus years living in the Cat Hill neighborhood “may give me a slightly better chance of representing the unique interests of people who live in that section of South Bethany.” He added that he “would also hope that my 40-plus years of legal expertise would add value. I believe I am the only candidate who actively practices law.”
Current Mayor Patricia Voveris has owned a home in South Bethany for more than 20 years, and said “seven and a half years ago, I decided I needed to more than just enjoy it.”
While walking her dogs four times a day, she said, she became aware that “Ocean Drive was in serious disrepair.” She said she put together a petition asking the council to address the situation, “gathered 40 names, brought it to the council and, voila, the road was paved.”
That experience led Voveris to run for council herself, and she served three years on the council before being elected mayor.
“I quickly learned there’s nothing natural about being the mayor, at all,” she said. “It’s a daunting experience. It does not come with a manual, and you never know what will befall you from week to week.
“We’ve had four action-packed years here,” Voveris said of her time as mayor. She pointed to some of the challenges she and the council have faced, including finding a new police chief, a FEMA mapping issue and subsequent appeal, a traffic study in Cat Hill, “progressive code changes” including prohibiting smoking on the beach, hiring a new town manager and new town clerk, “and now getting ready for beach replenishment.’’
“I will continue to support our town manager and chief,” Voveris said. “I will help evaluate our road maintenance and possible dredging of our canals.”
She added that she would also like to keep working with the Association of Coastal Towns, which addresses issues facing all of Delaware’s beach towns.
Saxton, who is challenging Voveris for the mayor’s seat, called himself a fiscal conservative, and said he has taken the Town through very difficult times, back in 2010.
“I also know the true story behind Ocean Drive,” he said.
Saxton said he met with former town manager Melvin Cusack about the Ocean Drive issues and Cusack “explained to me that he was afraid State (Municipal Street Aid) funds would dry up. We had about $200,000 in MSA funds. He said, ‘Let’s spend some now,’ because he was afraid the state government would not continue to give us those funds if we wouldn’t utilize them.”
Saxton cited his “desire to bring a fresh perspective, new leadership” and added that his strength “is to work collaboratively to solve issues by listening to different opinions so that the best resolution can be found.”
He added that he “would use this approach… to create a positive culture in which all can successfully contribute. The past year,” Saxton said, “we had many discussions around the police department. I believe the department is the correct size today to provide 24-7 coverage, as required by the comprehensive plan.”
Saxton continued by adding that “any changes to such coverage and resources should require approval of the public and not be up to the town council for any of it.”
He also said the council, faced with multiple large capital projects, should develop a long-term capital plan, and should present it to the public “so they can help us prioritize.”
Saxton said he feels the council should revisit the time of town council meetings, which is currently 2 p.m. on Friday afternoons, “so part-time residents can participate in town council meetings.”
He also urged the council to “define our workshops as workshops,” and said the council should not vote on anything during its workshops. Instead, Saxton said, workshops “should be a time when the council works together to resolve issues.”
He concluded his remarks by saying he believes the Town should “restore full funding of reserves so we can fund future projects. In the past two years, we have missed those targets.”
He also told the audience at the meeting that “five of six of the current town council members are supporting my mayoral candidacy. I believe that sums things up on the need for leadership change.”
The election for mayor and council members will be held on Saturday, May 26. Polls open at 9 a.m. Voters should bring ID with them to the polls. Absentee balloting is available through the town offices.
By Kerin Magill