South Bethany is ready to update its town charter, relating to municipal elections. Next, they will need state approval to put that language into law. State Rep. Ron Gray (R-38th) is expected to sponsor the amendments at the state level, obtaining a two-thirds majority approval in Delaware General Assembly, plus the governor’s signature.
South Bethany Town Council finalized their proposal on Dec. 11, in which two of the biggest changes involve the election day and voter eligibility.
The annual town council election day will be switched from Memorial Day weekend to the second Saturday in May.
“Over the years, we’ve had a lot of people make comments that it’s a bad weekend … They’re renting their homes, some of them aren’t here, some of them have family here, they don’t really want to spend the day down here at town hall for election,” said Town Manager Maureen Hartman. “And we’ve had a lot of problems having people commit to working in the election … We are also the only municipality that has an election on a holiday.”
Instead, the second Saturday will typically occur on Mother’s Day weekend, but it won’t have the crowd and beach rush of the “first weekend of summer.”
It’s now official that eligible voters must specifically live in town (for 30 days) or own property in town (for 90 days).
Like many beach towns, property owners are still permitted to vote, if they hold a deed in name or in trust (although the archaic term of “freeholder” was removed from that definition). Not eligible to vote would be anyone who owns property in a corporation, LLC, partnership or as the beneficiary of a trustee.
However, a person is no longer eligible to vote just for being the “spouse of a freeholder, whether their name is on the deed or not.” Until now, for instance, a person who has never visited South Bethany could vote in council elections just by virtue of being married to someone that owns a house there.
Delaware law requires that voters be residents for 30 days before they are eligible to vote, which had already superseded South Bethany previous requirement of 9 months. The charter change will just make that official. This provision requires solid proof of Delaware residency — such as an updated ID, lease or utility bill — so the “resident” can’t just come and go, on a whim.
Up to eight property owners may still vote, per property. As U.S. citizens age 18 are free to vote in their hometown municipal elections, there is no limit on residential votes per property.
Qualifications for council members and mayor didn’t change much, except to clarify that they must be qualified as a voter for at least one year before they can be elected.
Several deadlines and details were also tweaked to fit state code.
While they’re opening up the town charter anyway, the town council poked around a bit more. In that vein, they streamlined some “Meetings” language to reference Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), public notices and public participation.
The council previously talked thorough other election rules (such as term limits, the eight property owners, or reducing the council size) but ultimately decided to leave those details unchanged.
Officially, the town council unanimously passed (with Carol Stevenson absent) Resolution No. 7-20, which amends the Town Charter (Section C-5, C-6 and C-7). They expect to make a few other administrative or procedural changes in February, but that doesn’t require state legislature approval. South Bethany already simplified the absentee voting process in the past year.
Celebrating staff greatness
Elected officials may come and go, but the Town Hall staff keep things running. After 15 years of service, Town Clerk Pamela “Pam” Smith retired in December. Besides her skill and dedication, Smith’s patience in educating newcomers was celebrated.
Years ago when Dick Oliver took over the Planning Commission, “Pam very patiently helped me along” to understand town code and Robert’s Rules of Order, “and I am eternally grateful for that.”
“In my short tenure here, Pam has just been terrific,” agreed Randy Bartholomew.
Hired in 2005 and becoming a Certified Municipal Clerk in 2009, Smith took the lead on public communications, from emails and news updates to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records and procedures.
“This was a wonderful experience for me. I love working here. I’m gonna miss it. Thank you to all the property owners and town councils I served under,” said Smith, also naming her colleagues, past and present. “It’s been an honor to work with everybody. Thank you so much for everything.”
“We express our sincere appreciation to Pamela for her devotion … and wish her sincere happiness,” read the proclamation in her honor.
After being deployed to the Middle East earlier this year, South Bethany Police Officer Shaun Baldasano has presented the Town with a U.S. flag that was carried in the Town’s honor aboard Air Force combat missions over Kuwait and Iraq.
“I find it absolutely amazing he’s there defending our country, working in Afghanistan, and remembers the town of South Bethany and flies a flag on the plane on this mission,” said Mayor Tim Saxton.
“The last thing I was thinking about was flying a flag and sending it to somebody back home,” agreed Councilmember Derek Abbot, who has also served in the armed forces.
In other news, Town Manager Hartman will be an ICMA credentialed manager in January, and she was voted in as the secretary for the City Management Association of Delaware (CMAD).
In other South Bethany news:
• Rebecca and Richard Mais of Fenwick Island also merited a proclamation, honoring their 35 years as founders and operators of McCabe’s gourmet market. They created a “warm and welcoming environment” for residents and visitors; sold SBPOA clothing at no cost to the organization; often catered or donated food to Town events; and now, have ensured the “continuing presence of a quality gourmet market” in town by selling the space to a partnership of two reputable restaurants.
• Republic Services was awarded a five-year contract for trash, recycling, and yard waste collection across town (Bid No. 21-01) with a low bid of about $1.74 million.
South Bethany Town Council meets Feb. 12 at 10 a.m. They typically take off in January, except for pressing business. Town council meetings are still being held remotely, via phone or web.