John Henrik Clarke once wrote that: “History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be.”
Sussex County has a rich and deep history dating back to William Penn. It has been influenced by Southern gentility and strong roots in a Puritan work ethic, but like all landscapes, Sussex County’s cultural geography has evolved.
This evolution is felt especially strongly in Coastal Sussex, which has emerged as the site of a regional “great migration.”
It is not hard to understand why so many thousands of people want to relocate to Coastal Sussex: it has much to boast about, including its beautiful natural resources, friendly and affordable communities, and laid-back pace of life.
Coastal Sussex’s civic and cultural life has undoubtedly been enriched by the new influx of people moving to its beautiful communities. But, like any community undergoing rapid growth, Coastal Sussex has also experienced the growing pains that come along with that growth.
Unfortunately, Sussex County Council has not effectively responded to these important growth pains. They include: significant traffic problems, infrastructure burdens associated with over-development, environmental problems and the increased threat of contaminated water.
For too long, Sussex County Council has relied on the same tired practices to address these new problems. Their “solutions” have been both ineffective and inequitable: ineffective because, as any coastal resident will tell you, traffic around the beach is enough to occasion a real meltdown; and inequitable because Coastal Sussex County has been disproportionately footing the bill for the rest of the county for some time now.
It is time to recast history:
It is time to demand smart, coordinated growth. It is time to approve a Transportation Improvement District.
It is time to acknowledge sea-level rise and have the County explore alternative practices to preserve property and life from the encroaching water, instead of shifting blame to the coastal residents for choosing to live near it.
It is time to widen our buffers, replenish our marshes, and plant forested and/or landscaped buffers in order to preserve our environment.
It is time to clean our private wells so all County residents have healthy drinking water.
It is time to alert our residents of any threats to their health and well-being and institute a Public Health advisory committee.
It is time to give back to unincorporated areas in the County the ability to plan and regulate development in their own community with the use of a Hometown overlay because a one-size-fits-all planning and zoning doesn’t apply to all areas.
It is time to elect a County Council that reflects the diversity inherent in Coastal Sussex County.
The quote from Clarke that began this essay ended with an invitation: Use history, Clarke suggested, as not only a device that tells you where you have been, but more importantly, use it as a device that tells you where you must be. In this way, history is forward-looking as much as it its backwards-looking.
Unfortunately, the dual character of history is not very well reflected in the composition of County Council. It is almost entirely backward looking, not only in its public policy but also in its membership. In the 300-year-old history of Sussex County, the County Council has not reflected the diversity that resides in the County, neither by gender, race or sexual orientation.
Governing is about representing and crafting decisions that reflect the balance of the varied perspectives that populate this County. This balanced approach to public policy has been largely absent from County Council. This lack of balance should provoke a pause in us to consider why the Council has not reflected the rich dialogue that mirrors all the faces County Council serves.
I am running for County Council. Lots of distortions and negative press has been visited upon my candidacy on the airways after a discussion of the lack of gender diversity was discussed during a recent debate. I am here to tell you that my gender is much more than my anatomical role.
I am running for County Council because I believe my skills, talents and intellect will benefit County Council and the residents of Coastal Sussex. And, yes, my gender will benefit County Council, too, because my gender is defined by my experiences and perspective. I bring to the table my abilities to problem-solve, to organize, to manage, to listen and to provide that differing viewpoint to the issues confronting the County.
My solutions to those problems are outlined above. My qualifications are undoubtedly more important than my gender, but it is also important to remember that my gender would increase the diversity of County Council. Diversity is part of our future. Inclusive and diverse is what we must be. Clarke captured that sentiment well in the quote that began this essay.
Republican Treasurer Ken Simpler put it even more succinctly when he told participants at a UD conference: “Put a bunch of guys together, and you are going to end up with decisions that are inferior than when women are present.” It is time for Sussex to have decisions made when women are present. It is time to change history on Nov. 6.
Paulette Rappa, Candidate
Sussex County Council, District 4