Archive for May, 2009

Close the door on your way to the meeting

May 29, 2009

If nothing else, you have to give Sussex County Council credit for standing on its principles – even when those principles create controversy.

LESS TALK – Several months back the council put into place a more restrictive public participation policy. Anyone wanting to speak to council must sign in and limit comments to three minutes – unless Council President Vance Phillips grants more time.

In addition, there are restrictions placed on what comments can be made. Phillips makes a point to remind speakers they cannot criticize individual members of council and comments should be made on policy matters.

Before the Phillips’ administration, there was no public-participation policy in place and anyone who wanted to address council was permitted to speak with little or no restrictions.

When the policy was first put into place, Phillips also restricted any discourse between other council members and speakers. He has since backed down from that part of the policy and does allow council interaction with speakers.

Phillips is quick to point out that there is no law compelling council to provide time for public comment at a meeting. It’s something they do for the people – those folks who keep the lights on and sewer pipes full.

IT’S TRADITION – Since most can remember, the council has started each meeting with a prayer, most recently the Lord’s Prayer. And for 32 years, the council has endorsed and participated in a successful prayer breakfast.

Using the word prayer and government in the same sentence sends some people into a stupor, yet it doesn’t seem to bother most members of county council. It doesn’t bother most people who live in the county either.

Even when confronted with the fact that saying a Christian prayer or promoting an event aimed at one religion could be violations of the U.S. Constitution, they won’t back down.

It’s tradition, Phillips says.

Part of that tradition is telling outsiders who mettle in county business to stick it in their eye.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS – When called on the religious issues by Americans United for Separation of Church and State for a second time in two years, someone decided the matter was not for the public to hear and should be discussed behind closed doors. The letter from the group was not supposed to be made public. Councilwoman Joan Deaver thought otherwise and sent it out to her constituents.

In a well-written letter to the editor in the Friday, May 22 edition of the Cape Gazette, Phillips explains the reasoning for not discussing the letter in public session. It could lead to potential litigation, he says.

And yes, government officials, under state law, can go behind closed doors to discuss matters that might involve litigation.

But, when you stop to think about it, just about decision county council makes could end up in court, so with that reasoning every discussion they have should be behind closed doors.

Public officials need to use some discretion when they go behind closed doors; just because they can doesn’t mean they have to.


Sussex County: A land divided and invaded

May 21, 2009

There is no doubt Sussex County is a land divided – a diverse landscape separated by Route 113.

There are easternsussexians and westernsussexians, and never should the two mix. I guess those who live in the middle could be called middlesussexians, although they tend to side more with those on the west than on the east.

Technically Seaford is the largest town in the county, not counting summer populations in beach towns of course, and Milford’s bi-county population.

And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county is defined as the Seaford Micropolitian Area. So those people who think the world revolves around the First Town in the First State or the Nation’s Summer Capital are dead wrong. At least according to Uncle Sam, Sussex County is anchored by Seaford – on the western side of the county.

Yet most easternsussexians have never taken the 40-minute drive, without beach traffic of course, to the largest town in the county.
Heaven forbid should anyone from the east ever venture west across Route 113 or across Route 13 into hillbilly country. But, believe it or not, most of the people who live there do have indoor plumbing and wear shoes – at least when they go to town on Saturday nights.

All kidding aside, most people agree that soybean Sussex and sand castle Sussex are two different places. Generally, people in the west are looked on as more conservative while those in the east are more liberal. While there are many exceptions to this generalization, that is pretty much the case.

People in the west tend to keep their opinions to themselves, or at least close to home, while those in the east tend to broadcast those opinions at every available moment.

People in the east tend to be a lot more passionate about everything – from saving stray cats to school board elections.

People in the west seem to be more reserved and more laid-back, and actually more in touch with the environment around them – although most easternsussexians would dispute that.

I know. I have lived on both sides of the county.

When I left my hometown in Seaford of 50 years and moved to Lewes, it was a bit of culture shock.

But not as much as most would think. I grew up during the heyday of the DuPont days when the company attracted some of the best and brightest engineers and scientists from all over the world to the then sleepy town of Seaford. It was soon called the City of Seaford.

They brought with them smart kids, progressive ideas and a penchant for community activism and they made lots of money that helped the community prosper.

They also brought a worldview to a rural town. Those who were willing to listen learned a lot. Some of the most influential people contributing to Seaford’s growth between 1945 and 1990 were DuPont employees, who were encouraged to get involved.

Since the sale of the DuPont plant and a large-scale cutback in employees, down to fewer than 600, the influence the plant had has evaporated.

But in eastern Sussex, the influx of newcomers has been happening over the past decade, but on a much broader and diverse scale.

Retirees, and some who work from home or even commute, from the Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Pa., and Baltimore, Md., metropolitan areas are bringing their big city attitudes and lifestyles to rural Sussex.

Others have come to the area to open businesses to take advantage of the strong tourist market. Many of those who are in the forefront of significant movements are from somewhere else – not Sussex County.

There is only one born and bred Delawarean on the Lewes City Council, yet the same does hold true in western Sussex – at least not now.

However, the invasion of eastern Sussex is spreading westward as people discover that life on the other side is not really that bad, and actually a little cheaper.

The world according to Sam

May 19, 2009

The world according to Sam Wilson is a little different than the world of most of those who sit and listen to him in Sussex County Council chambers each week.

To Sam, who has been around the block a time or two in his seven decades, the world is not that complex. He looks at the state of affairs from the point of view of someone who works the soil and thanks God for the bounty.

As one of the newest members of county council, Sam is not shy when it comes to professing his Christian beliefs.

During a discussion of drainage problems during a rare joint council and planning and zoning meeting May 12, Sam got a little perturbed when it was suggested the county needed its own drainage code.
He said the natural water system ebbs and flows – some years it’s wet and some years it’s dry.

“It’s nothing new. God designed that more than 5,000 years ago,” he said.

He said on his own farm near Georgetown there have been years when he’s had water issues and years when it’s been dry and years when everything has been in perfect harmony.

And it was that way when his father, grandfather and great-grandfather tilled the family farm soil – all the way back to the Civil War. “We’ve had wet and dry times, but we can’t change the weather,” he said.

Over the years, he has put in sophisticated irrigation and has water management ditches, but at best they are stopgap measures.

He says when there is too much water, the puddles eventually go away. It’s only natural.

He is confounded by the endless parade of stormwater management projects that come in front of county council – wet and dry ponds, underground infiltration, best-management practices and green technology.

Sam is the council’s liaison to the Sussex Conservation District, the agency mandated by state law to help plan, approve and inspect stormwater systems. Sam says he has been sent all over the country to look at how others deal with runoff and water.

He is still not impressed.

“We end up spending a lot of money on something we can’t do anything about,” he says.

To Sam Wilson, things are either wet or dry, and preordained to be that way.

Hard to stop high tide of change

May 7, 2009

I was reading a great article in the Delmarva Quarterly about the demise of the crab industry on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It’s sad that watermen are a dying breed and may soon be extinct.

People resist the loss of a way of life with every fiber of their being, yet no matter how hard we try, we can’t stop the tide of historical selection.

There are no more shipbuilders in Bethel, Milton or Milford. The waterfronts that thrived along the Nanticoke, Broadkill and Mispillion rivers remain only as memories in sepia-toned photographs. The canneries that dotted the rural Sussex landscape are gone. Most of the women who can remember working in shirt factories – nearly every town had at least one – are grandmothers or great-grandmothers.

Even the great DuPont Nylon Plant in Seaford, which employed as many as 4,500 people, is but a sliver of a remnant of its former self. It has been sold and fewer than 600 people work there.

Most people who drive to Cape Henlopen State Park have no idea the area was once the hotbed of the menhaden fishing industry. Industry, and even lifestyle, fall victim to time, economics, competition and the environment.

Change, although sometimes inevitable, is not something we always look forward to. We hate to see watermen go by the wayside just as much as we struggle with the loss of jobs at the nylon plant. We are all victims when the heritage of an area is decimated.

What’s most exasperating is change that is out of our control. We can’t stop a company from selling out or outsourcing to China or Mexico. We can’t stop technology from replacing systems or processes. We can’t stop greed and poor management that leads to business and plant closings.

But we can control change to some degree within our own small world of influence. Stopping a bad habit, losing weight, starting a new, productive hobby, getting in better physical shape, getting organized, mending personal relationships or simply having a better outlook on life are changes most can tackle.

We also need to understand what is important in our lives and have a plan to defend it from outside influences that might seek to change it.

TAKE STOCK – Thanks to the efforts of the Sussex County Heart and Soul campaign, there is a movement afoot to identify what is important so that it can be protected.

Bill McGowan, Heart and Soul organizer, points out during every presentation that if you don’t know where you are going, there is no way you can get there. In other words, if you don’t know what you cherish and protect it, it will pass by the wayside.

Go to for a lot of great information about the county. You can offer your own comments as well. If church dinners, roadside markets and walks in the woods are important to you, let them know.

George Cole: Wit and wisdom

May 1, 2009

To know George Cole is to love him, sort of. If nothing else, his wit keeps Sussex County Council meetings far from boring.

Take a recent exchange for example:

During a discussion about making a donation to the Delaware Lions Club Foundation, fellow Councilman Sam Wilson told Lions representative Charles Covington any money donated from the county must support people within Sussex.

“I understand that is one of our limitations,” Covington responded.
To which the sly Cole replied: “Sam is one of our limitations.”

Cole, who lives in Ocean View and represents people in that area as well as the Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach areas, has been on council for more than two decades. During that time period, the coastal region has developed beyond anyone’s expectations.

Housing developments of all shapes and sizes, hotels, restaurants, large shopping centers, commercial development along Route 1 and proliferation of traffic are the hallmarks of the last two decades in the Cape Region.

There is no doubt the landscape of the Cape Region has changed dramatically and will change even more if planned projects come to fruition.

Whether this growth spurt is good or bad is up to each individual, and people line up on both sides of the issue. Although the line on the side of “enough is enough” is starting to get a lot longer.

Through it all, Cole has been the lone voice in the wilderness repeatedly asking for special protections for the environmentally sensitive developing district – the area he represents.

Although he has not voted against everything, as some claim, he has a solid record of voting on the side of protecting the environment and not expanding sewer districts only for the sake of growth.

DINNER GUESTS – Cole, council vice president, was recently featured in the National Association of Counties newsletter Profiles in Service feature.

Cole’s favorite meal is fried oysters and chicken salad, favorite movie is The Godfather and favorite president is Ronald Reagan. He is most proud of having six beautiful children.

The three people (living or dead) he would most like to invite to dinner include Jonathan Winters, Don Knotts and Winston Churchill.

It makes you wonder. Whom would you invite to dinner? My dinner list would include just one person. Wouldn’t it be a great evening to sit and talk with Jesus? I don’t consider myself a religious fanatic, but I can’t think of any other person who could provide answers to life’s greatest questions.

I guess Lance Armstrong and Cal Ripken Jr. would do if I really had to have a trio on the list.