Archive for January, 2010

One-man stand against gambling

January 28, 2010

Georgetown resident Eric Bodenweiser stands on his convictions, and is persistent as well. Last week he made an impassioned plea for Sussex County Council to pass a resolution against expanding gambling in the county. After not hearing anything from council, he returned to speak at the Tuesday, Jan. 26 meeting.

Bodenweiser also had an online petition opposing sports betting. In his mind, gambling only leads to troubles.

It appears he’s not going to stay away until he gets an answer. Although he asked for the item to be placed on the Tuesday, Feb. 2 agenda it was not.

Bodenweiser said at first, he had overstepped his bounds by asking council for the resolution against new casinos. “But you are concerned with addiction because you provide human service grants involved with addictions,” he said.

He said the council had donated thousands of dollars to at least six organizations. “There is no better way to prevent addiction than to stop it before it starts,” he said.

Bodenweiser said he was convinced if gambling expands to the county, some residents would stumble into addiction and lose their homes, jobs and families. “Then it will be too late,” he said.

He urged the council to follow the lead of the Indian River School District board that voted to oppose the construction of a casino in Sussex County.

Three groups have casino licenses pending in the county. The fate of new casinos in Delaware depends on General Assembly action, but it appears as if at least one will be given the green light to begin construction.

“Today I appeal to you through our shared faith in God,” he said. “You can take a stand for what is right and show you are the leaders I think you are. I humbly ask you to place this on next week’s agenda.”

He said it didn’t matter what reasons were placed in the resolution. They could include increased crime, gambling addiction or traffic problems, he said. “Or you don’t have to give a reason,” he said.

Deaver comes clean on ‘real zoning’

January 27, 2010

Joan Deaver

During Sussex County Council discussions about land-use issues, Councilwoman Joan Deaver refers to “real zoning.” During those discussions, no one ever asks her what she means. So I did. Here is what she says:

“Real zoning. Real planning. Assign zones to the land. Plan how you want the county to look and zone accordingly, especially around the towns. Around the towns it’s a regional plan that’s put together by the town and county with public comment. Of course that’s a long procedure designed by planners and presented at a series of public hearings.

“But leaving the county all zoned AR-1 is absurd. AR-1 gives no one any peace unless they have purchased a home surrounded by a state park. Then I hear that state parks may also be used in the future to accept treated wastewater, so there’s little peace to be had without proper zoning.”

AR-1, or agricultural-residential, is the base zoning for the entire county with about 75 percent of the land zoned AR-1. Under Sussex County’s AR-1 zoning, two homes are permitted on one acre of land. That particular zoning is among the least restrictive on Delmarva, yet it has been in place since zoning was established in the county some 35 years ago. During that entire time I don’t think any council member has made a serious move to amend that zoning ordinance.

Sam calls it as he sees it

January 21, 2010

You may not agree with Sussex County Councilman Sam Wilson, a Republican from Georgetown, but you have to agree he keeps things lively in council chambers.

The right-winger wears his conservative values on his shirtsleeve and is not afraid to snap back when he feels backed into a corner. You have to understand that he has lived on the same farm outside Georgetown his entire life.

Sam Wilson

His comments go from the outrageous to down-home common sense. He says the only way to protect what happens next to your property is to buy it, and he didn’t make many friends in Lewes when he called their actions mob rule. He muttered under his breath that he probably shouldn’t have said that.

He couldn’t get elected town street sweeper in Lewes, but what he stands for must be all right with those who live in and around Georgetown. That shows how divergent opinions are in Sussex County.

Sam calls stormwater management “bunk” and urged people with water problems to pray to the Lord for relief because he controls it all.

In the face of hundreds of people claiming traffic would be appalling in the Lewes area if the Village Centre project were approved, he said he wasn’t convinced there would be traffic issues.

He and Councilwoman Joan Deaver, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat, not only sit on opposite ends of the council table, they are light years apart on just about every issue. When Joan says the sky is blue, Sam says it’s white.

It doesn’t take long to discover that Sam believes a man’s property is his own, and he can do pretty much whatever he wants with it. He has voted for nearly every subdivision, rezoning and conditional-use request that has come before him.

He’s tough when it comes to handing out county money and struggles with just about every councilmanic grant given out at the end of each meeting. When he was first elected he, as well as Deaver – they did agree on at least one thing – questioned many of the grants. He has since learned the grants are political leverage and he goes along with the rest of council, although his grants are usually small compared to others.

And here is the real kicker. All of the tidbits above were not compiled from months worth of meetings; they took place during the Tuesday, Jan. 19 meeting.

All you have to do is sit and listen.

Council’s most important task is land use

January 18, 2010

Growth is a tough thing to put your arms around.

A certain amount of growth is needed or an area or community becomes stagnant and unattractive to newcomers and new businesses.

Too much growth drives people and businesses away. Finding that perfect balance is a tough job, but it’s the main job of the Sussex County Council.

The five council members’ main task is to make decisions on land use, which is just another term for growth.

Sure they determine policy, deal with employee and constituent issues, determine budget matters and ponder over county projects, but their main focus zooms in on land use in Sussex County.

What experience does this august body have to make these all-important decisions?

Their experience is more than most people realize. Two members, George Cole and Vance Phillips, who usually vote on opposite ends when it comes to growth issues, have been on council for a combined 30-plus years. The other three members have been on the council for a combined three years.

But all three have been involved in governmental issues. Mike Vincent has a background in the fire service and served on the Seaford planning and zoning commission and city council. Joan Deaver, who moved here from the Annapolis, Md., area has an extensive business background and has been an activist most of her adult life. Sam Wilson runs a farm and has been deeply involved in Republican politics most of his adult life.

In other words, they have some background to support their decisions.

What grade would you give the current council on making land-use decisions? The answer to that question depends a lot on where you live. Residents on the western side of the county would probably give the council a passing grade; some of those on the eastern side would give them a failing grade.

Growth, even in a weak economy, is a lot more pronounced on the eastern side of the county; there is absolutely no doubt about that.

Decisions on growth are the most important council members make because they not only influence what happens today, but also what happens tomorrow.

A failure to communicate

January 12, 2010

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

That famous line from “Cool Hand Luke,” a movie filled with quotable lines, applies to what it occurring behind the scenes of Sussex County Council.

The recent nonaction on the Lingo-Townsend rezoning application is a prime example of what occurs when public officials stop communicating or choose whom they speak with.

It was Councilwoman Joan Deaver’s mission to get the application, which, if approved, would pave the way for the Village Centre shopping and office complex, on the Tuesday, Jan. 12 agenda.

And according to council protocol, because the application is in District 3, which she represents, she has the right to set the timetable for it. Deaver said she spoke with Council President Vance Phillips about placing the item on the first agenda for the New Year, but conceded for the second meeting.

Somewhere along the line, it was either taken off the agenda or never placed on it without Deaver’s knowledge. That’s gap number one in the communication miscues related to this matter.

Deaver said she did everything she was supposed to do according to the rules of procedure to get the application on the Jan. 12 agenda. But because Councilman Mike Vincent requested a few more weeks to mull the matter over, it was not placed on the agenda. That was after Deaver told her constituents and announced in public it would appear on the Jan. 12 agenda.

No one told Deaver of Vincent’s concerns; she read his comments in the Cape Gazette. That was the second communication miscue.

Phillips claims Deaver did not instruct the clerk of the council to place the item on the agenda; Deaver claims she did. There is another communication question.

It appears in this case, Deaver did not have the final say when the application is placed on an agenda.

Vincent asked for 60 more days back in October and he was granted the time; the 60 days expired the last week in December. That motion implied the matter would be placed on the first agenda to start 2010.

She said the matter should be on the Tuesday, Jan. 19 agenda.

There is a bigger issue here than an application on an agenda. It appears Deaver is not privy to some communication between other members of council. Regardless of which side of the fence council members sit, open communication is paramount to proper governing of the county.

And another oft-quoted line is apropos as well: communication goes both ways.

Winter wonderland

January 11, 2010

Fort Miles

Tower, Cape Henlopen State Park

Rehoboth Beach.

Say a prayer for Dan

January 6, 2010

If you follow Sussex County Council, you know that sitting in the back of the room is Dan Kramer of Greenwood. Dan has not missed a meeting for more than 15 years.

We all need to say a prayer for Dan as he undergoes some medical procedures to start the New Year. Knowing his feistiness, he won’t be down for long.

In fact, I think he has planned everything so he won’t miss a council meeting.

Dan is one of those unique Sussex County individuals who is not afraid to speak his mind to anyone who will listen. But, ironically, since the council changed its public participation policy he has not spoken during a regular meeting. He will talk during public hearings, but refuses to utter a word until council rescinds the current policy.

Under the policy, speakers must sign up at the meeting and restrict their comments to around three minutes. In addition, all comments must be general in nature and not aimed toward a council or staff member. In other words, you can’t call out someone at a meeting.

It’s not that he can’t speak his mind in three minutes, he says the entire policy restricts free speech.

I know that council members put little stock in what Dan says. They view him as a thorn in their side.

In reality, he is one of the few citizen watchdogs out there keeping an eye on county government. Sometimes he is the only member of the public at a meeting.

If Phillips runs, he will need a strong kick

January 3, 2010

Vance Phillips

The onset of 2010 is sure to begin campaign chatter. Not to get lost in the sauce is the Sussex County Council election. Council President Vance Phillips, R-Laurel, and Vice President George Cole, R-Ocean View, are both up for reelection.

The pair, although they disagree on almost every issue, has the most experience on council by far. Cole has been on council since 1986 and Phillips since 1998.

The combined experience of three other council members is less than three years.

I haven’t heard either one say they won’t run again, although Phillips is always looking up the ladder for higher office. While on the outside it would appear both are a lock for another 4-year term, it may not be that simple.

There is a ground swell under way in eastern Sussex County for some major changes in the way council does business, starting with cleaning house of members who don’t buy into their platform, which includes less development.

Phillips’ district is one of the strangest in the county because it stretches from west to east, so he is elected by voters in the South Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island areas, as well as those in Dagsboro, Millsboro and Selbyville and Delmar and Laurel. Cole’s district is totally on the east side of the county around the Inland Bays, including Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Long Neck, Millsboro, Ocean View and Oak Orchard.

There is also a ground swell to get more representation on council from the east side of the county, which could include the addition of two at-large members. Legislation in that direction has never gone far in the General Assembly.

It might not be a bad idea to have council elected as at-large members. They can still represent their district, and hand out councilmanic grants, but they are then beholding to everyone in the county.

Easterners argue that the powerbase of the council is on the west side of the county with three members living west of Route 113. A vast majority of the decisions made by council involve projects and issues on the eastern side in the two districts they have no real stake in.

Of the two, Phillips will have to work the hardest to get back on council.
Phillips’ stronghold is around his home base of Laurel, Bethel and Delmar where many people with long-standing rural roots share his strong conservative values and strict adherence to property rights.

That is the not the case among many of his eastern Sussex constituents. Many are transplants who do not share Phillips’ beliefs and are critical of his record of voting for most subdivision, rezoning and conditional-use applications.

Cole, on the other hand, has a track record of questioning development in the environmentally sensitive developing district. Although he doesn’t vote against all applications, he votes against a high percentage.

George Cole

One of the hot campaign issues will be development in eastern Sussex County.

One also has to wonder how the councilmanic districts will change based on the 2010 Census. There is no doubt they will have to change with the dramatic population increase in central and eastern Sussex County. The powerbase may move east.

A decade later, do we communicate better?

January 3, 2010

It’s the New Year and tradition dictates we take stock of what has transpired the year before and make resolutions that we will probably not keep.

The end of 2009 also marks the end of a decade.

I read an interesting story describing 50 significant items that helped to change our lives in the first decade of the 21st century. It’s hard to believe that so much stuff has been added to our lives in 10 years. It’s no wonder we are so flustered, and with the addition of so many innovations geared toward communication you would think we are getting better at it. In some ways maybe we are, but the good old-fashioned, face-to face communication is no better than it was two decades ago.

Blogs, Wii, YouTube, digital cameras, DVRs, Netflix, GPS, reality TV, APPS, texting, Twitter, Facebook and iPODS are just a few of the innovations we have come to consider as essential to modern living.

Around The Circle major changes have taken place. The county entered the digital, electronic age with an impressive website. In addition, residents can listen and watch county council meets live on the internet.

Many records are kept electronically and meetings are archived in audio format.

And it was just last decade that we didn’t have to take our shoes and belts off to get on an airplane. The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks changed the way we live forever.

Just as laptop computers are beginning to replace the bulky desktop models, large flat-screen, LCD-HD televisions are becoming the rage.

Widespread use of cell phones has changed our lives dramatically. While cell phones were available in the 1990s, their use exploded in the 2000s. It’s estimated that more than 85 percent of Americans have one. One can only guess what the future holds for cell phones in the upcoming decade.

It seems like yesterday that we were listening to cassette tapes and watching movies on VCRs – and we had to check the answering machine at home to get messages from the day’s phone calls while we were out.

Organics entered the mainstream in the 2000s and changed the way we shop at the grocery store.

One can only wonder what the next decade will bring. Things like voice-activated television touch-screen everything and something to replace HD and Blu-Ray are sure to come. Computers will get smaller, phones will get more complicated and TVs will get larger. Other electronic social networking will come along that will replace what exists today and it will probably be video-based with interactive, live-stream displays as the norm.