Posts Tagged ‘Sussex County Council’

Mike Vincent says his work is done

February 2, 2011

You really never know what will happen during a Sussex County Council meeting. If nothing else, it’s a great place for quotes.

During a discussion over a conditional-use application for Lawson’s Produce in Harbeson Tuesday, Feb. 1, something unusual occurred.

Council members Joan Deaver, Sam Wilson and Vance Phillips agreed to change three conditions recommended by the county’s planning and zoning commission. It’s rare that Wilson and Phillips see eye-to-eye with Deaver on anything. The three voted for the changes and for the conditional use to pave the way for a mulching operation.

The action prompted Council President Mike Vincent to comment on the historical event.

“I’ve only been president for one month, and I already have Joan, Sam and Vance on the same page. My work is done,” he said.

The comment drew smiles from the council and another comment from Phillips who said the quote would likely end up in this blog. He was right.

The Oracle of Sussex County

February 2, 2011

During the Tuesday, Feb. 1 Sussex County Council meeting, a familiar voice was heard. Joe Conaway, a former county administrator who is known for speaking his mind, got involved in a debate with Councilman George Cole over the merits of allowing time extensions to developers.

During the discussion, Conaway came up with this piece of advice: “Sometimes, even if you do it wrong, you have to do something.”

Based on his comments and observations, Cole called Conaway the Oracle of Sussex County.

It’s a title the jovial Conaway is probably proud of.

Walking wounded in Sussex County

January 6, 2011

The walking wounded – Dave Baker and J. Everett Moore.

Sussex County Council chambers is slowly becoming the room of the walking wounded, and it’s beginning to creep around the council table.

First, County Administrator Dave Baker fell off his deck Thanksgiving Day, broke a bone in his kneecap and has been on crutches ever since. Now, county attorney J. Everett Moore is sporting an eye patch following unexpected eye surgery to start off the new year. He said someone must have been playing a cruel joke on him during the Tuesday, Jan. 4 council meeting, as he had to read a stack of letters –many more than normal – to council.

Because the two sit side-by-side at the table, Councilman Sam Wilson might start worrying a little since he is third in line.

Suggestions for resolutions

December 30, 2010

I’m sure Sussex County Council members make their own New Year’s resolutions, but perhaps they should consider the following:

Sam Wilson will sit closer to the microphone in 2011 so people can hear what he is saying. (This is a repeat resolution from last year.)

George Cole will finally write a book called “Quips and Quotes from the Council Chambers.”

Vance Phillips, and others, will resolve to vote on every issue, but if they don’t vote, they will give a clear-cut reason for their action.

Joan Deaver will push to get an adequate public facilities ordinance passed in 2011.

Mike Vincent, who has a fairly decent track record in this regard, will make sure he travels to coastal Sussex on a regular basis.

I’m sure there are many people out there who come up with a list of their own.

Look out when Kramer gets on line

December 16, 2010

Dan Kramer of Greenwood, the most consistent county council meeting attendee in history, has done something he said he would never do. He has purchased a computer and plans to start his own blog on county matters in 2011.

If he is able to get the blog off the ground, it should make for some very interesting reading. Kramer used to address council members on a regular basis on a variety of topics, but he has been silent throughout most of 2010 because council instituted a new public participation policy. Under the policy, those who wish to speak to council must sign in and are restricted to three minutes more or less. In addition, those who speak are not permitted to address specific council members.

Kramer has a few choice words for the policy and as a protest has remained quiet. That could all change with Kramer’s musings on the world wide web.

It will be over soon

October 27, 2010

Soon, those terrible ads will stop. Soon, pundits will stop pointing fingers. Soon, we will be able to answer our phones without fear of taking part in a political survey. Soon, we can get our mail and not filter through the propaganda spouted out by politicians.

It will come to an end Wednesday, Nov. 3, after the mid-term election results are final, or at least most of them.

Political experts are predicting a Republican resurgence that could put the party back in control of the U.S. Senate and House. If that occurs, prepare for a wild ride during the final two years of the Obama administration.

On the local level, two Sussex County Council incumbents, Vance Phillips in District 5 and George Cole in District 4, are hoping they can ride the projected Republican tsunami into another four-year seat. Combined, the two have nearly 40 years of experience on council.

Partisan politics don’t influence as many decisions at the local level in Sussex County. Votes aren’t on party lines and land-use issues, which occupy most of county officials’ time, are not based on party politics. However, the political party of a candidate can matter in the voting booth.

Although the election can come down to a candidates’ party, since county council elections only occur in the candidate’s district, it usually comes down to how popular a candidate is.

Another alternative would be to allow council members to represent their district, but have the entire county vote in their respective elections since the decisions council makes are on a countywide basis.

No one other than someone in the Cole family has held the District 4 seat. George’s father, Charlie, was the first person elected to the position after the county changed from the levy court to the county council system in 1974. His mother, Kitty, finished out the last year of her late husband’s third term when he passed away in 1986.

On the Democrat side, Russ Melrath has a good organization and is working hard to get his name out to the public. He is also working hard to get his views on the issues out there.

Phillips, who has been active in Republican politics since he graduated from college, has run for national office and been a member of council since 1998, being elected president in 2009.

On the Democrat side, county retiree Denny Cordrey is running on the premise that as a former county employee, he knows how the system works.

There is a lot at stake in the council election. Should one of the two incumbents lose, there could be a swing to more anti-development stands by council. Currently, several votes on key projects, zoning changes and conditional use applications have been 3-2 votes. It appears both Melrath and Cordrey lean more to the camp that supports growth in areas with appropriate infrastructure in place.

Both Democrats have an uphill battle against incumbents who have been in office a long time and have a strong base to build on.

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It will be over soon

Soon, those terrible ads will stop. Soon, pundits will stop pointing fingers. Soon, we will be able to answer our phones without fear of taking part in a political survey. Soon, we can get our mail and not filter through the propaganda spouted out by politicians.

It will come to an end Wednesday, Nov. 3, after the mid-term election results are final, or at least most of them.

Political experts are predicting a Republican resurgence that could put the party back in control of the U.S. Senate and House. If that occurs, prepare for a wild ride during the final two years of the Obama administration.

On the local level, two Sussex County Council incumbents, Vance Phillips in District 5 and George Cole in District 4, are hoping they can ride the projected Republican tsunami into another four-year seat. Combined, the two have nearly 40 years of experience on council.

Partisan politics don’t influence as many decisions at the local level in Sussex County. Votes aren’t on party lines and land-use issues, which occupy most of county officials’ time, are not based on party politics. However, the political party of a candidate can matter in the voting booth.

Although the election can come down to a candidates’ party, since county council elections only occur in the candidate’s district, it usually comes down to how popular a candidate is.

Another alternative would be to allow council members to represent their district, but have the entire county vote in their respective elections since the decisions council makes are on a countywide basis.

No one other than someone in the Cole family has held the District 4 seat. George’s father, Charlie, was the first person elected to the position after the county changed from the levy court to the county council system in 1974. His mother, Kitty, finished out the last year of her late husband’s third term when he passed away in 1986.

On the Democrat side, Russ Melrath has a good organization and is working hard to get his name out to the public. He is also working hard to get his views on the issues out there.

Phillips, who has been active in Republican politics since he graduated from college, has run for national office and been a member of council since 1998, being elected president in 2009.

On the Democrat side, county retiree Denny Cordrey is running on the premise that as a former county employee, he knows how the system works.

There is a lot at stake in the council election. Should one of the two incumbents lose, there could be a swing to more anti-development stands by council. Currently, several votes on key projects, zoning changes and conditional use applications have been 3-2 votes. It appears both Melrath and Cordrey lean more to the camp that supports growth in areas with appropriate infrastructure in place.

Both Democrats have an uphill battle against incumbents who have been in office a long time and have a strong base to build on.

Time to make some decisions

October 13, 2010

We all know government moves at a snail’s pace, but some recent inaction by Sussex County makes snails look like rabbits.

County council has yet to hire a county planner, although the job has been posted. Insiders tell me the amount budgeted for the position, about $42,000, is not enough to attract a registered planner. In the meantime, the county is relying on a consultant from Urban Research and Development Corp. in Bethlehem, Pa. The county has been without a full-time planner since the retirement of Rick Kautz in May 2009.

Neighboring Kent County, which is smaller than Sussex County, has five certified planners with one vacant position. Sussex has nearly 40,000 more people and 300 square miles more than its northern neighbor.

Here’s another telling statistic from the U.S. Census: In 2009 Sussex issued 1,555 building permits, compared with 806 issued in Kent County. In addition, Sussex has more than 118,000 housing units, compared with 64,000 in Kent County.

Council President Vance Phillips is on the record saying hiring a planner is not a high priority under current economic conditions. Not everyone agrees with that opinion, including council members Joan Deaver and George Cole.

Council has also been dragging its feet on the appointment, or reappointment, of two members of the county board of adjustment. The terms of Dale Callaway of Milton and John Mills of Laurel ended June 30. Ironically, Callaway remains as chairman of the board.

Councilwoman Deaver has made it clear she will not renominate Callaway for the position, one he has held since 1992 (Mills was appointed the same year). Council shot down her first nominee, John Walsh of Rehoboth Beach, and a vote has never come up on her second nominee, former Lewes Police Chief Beau Gooch of Milton. The appointments have until now been low key and made without any discussion, but I don’t think that will be the case anymore.

Some residents are upset the board has an approval rate of more than 80 percent, and they want some new faces. These same residents want the board to follow its own rules and regulations and grant variances only when all criteria can be met. Board members admit that is not always the case.

One can only wonder why council is dragging its feet on these decisions, which are deemed critical in many circles. Could it have something to do with what happens the first Tuesday in November?

The facts mam, just the facts

August 19, 2010

A recent workshop meeting between Sussex County Council and the county’s board of adjustment was informative if nothing else.

The board of adjustment, which meets twice a month to settle disputes over setback violations and special-use exceptions, has come under fire recently for approving too many applications. It’s odd that the board is being questioned now because its approval rate has held steady at about 85 percent since it was formed by state law in 1973.

During the workshop, board members admitted they violate their own mandate when making many of their decisions. Variances must meet five standards, yet the majority fails to make the grade and are approved anyway. Why is this?

Over the years, the board has been given direction, either directly or by no one on council complaining, to go easy on applicants. So it has. Most decisions are based on emotion rather than the strict standards of the regulations.

That’s wrong, but many people would have made the same decisions given the same facts the board hears. One of the most violated standards is one that states the applicant cannot create the reason for a variance. What a lot of people don’t realize is the “applicant” is responsible for what the builder does.

The two county governing bodies have come up with some possible changes and updates to make the board work a little more efficiently and possibly change some of what the board rules on. Changes won’t be easy because most will need to go through the Delaware General Assembly.

Board attorney Richard Berl said it’s not fair to judge the board on statistics alone because it’s not always black and white – there is a lot of gray area during board meetings. Denials and approvals have both ended up in court on appeal. He also said if the board stuck to its guns and the five standards, most variances would be denied. He asked the council if it was willing to stand behind the decisions, take the criticism and handle the phone calls. “They’ll be knocking on your door,” he said.

In other words, it’s hard to tell someone who has built a house two feet over the setback to tear part of it down.

I’ve attended several board of adjustment meetings over the years and have seen what the board has to deal with. Many applicants are not prepared and can’t even answer basic questions. For the pleasure of being embarrassed they pay a $400 application fee. But that’s not justification for what is going on. No one is disputing the board has a tough job, but the time has come for the board to move closer to making decisions based on the standards instead of the heart.

Let them eat nothing

August 18, 2010

When more than two members of Sussex County Council gather together in the same room (except in a legal executive session), it’s the same as if they were gathered together for their weekly meeting in council chambers. That means the meeting is open to the press and public – even if they don’t want to come.

That’s a hard concept for many people to grasp. So when a special interest group or other organization schedules a meeting, luncheon or dinner with county council they can’t have council all to themselves. Accommodations have to be made for the press and public as well. That doesn’t stop some from trying either out of ignorance of the law or blatant disregard for the public’s right to know what their elected officials are up to.

The council has at least three, and probably more, of these type of functions on a regular basis with the Sussex Conservation District, the Sussex County Land Trust and the Sussex County Association of Realtors.

Over the past two years, the Realtors, or at least someone on staff, have refused to allow members of the public and press to attend the annual Sussex County Appreciation Day luncheon. This year’s event took place Tuesday, Aug. 17. Last year, I called the office and was told the luncheon was a closed event. I didn’t pursue it because I couldn’t attend anyway. But this year, I was determined to dig in my heels, read someone the Freedom of Information Act and find out exactly what was going on at this “closed” event.

I didn’t have to. Rehoboth Beach resident John Walsh asked to attend this year’s luncheon and received the same answer I did the previous year: no way. Walsh contacted county officials and a long chain of emails ensued. To make a long story short, after some intervention from Chip Guy, a former journalist who is now the county’s director of public information, and Councilwoman Joan Deaver, the luncheon went from closed to open. It appears there was a misunderstanding.

Four of us showed up as observers and were seated in the back of the room against the wall. We were told we could not partake of the buffet, even though there was enough food left to feed dozens more. Ruth Briggs King, state representative and executive vice president of the association, was kind enough to hand us all programs. The entire affair, which featured a report on county housing statistics, was over in about an hour.

I don’t totally blame the association for its action. Someone from the county should have explained to the association that county council meetings are open to the public. Perhaps they forgot.

Small lots lead to big problems

August 11, 2010

Those who follow Sussex County government have a hard time understanding why county officials struggle so much with issues involving manufactured homes. The issues range from the practical – problems with setbacks – to the unreal – how to replace an existing shed.

There is even an issue with what to call homes. I had no problem living in a trailer back in the 1970s. Somewhere along the line, the name was upgraded to mobile home, and now even that carries a derogatory connotation. Manufactured home is the term in vogue, but eventually the word “manufactured” will have to be removed to keep everyone happy.

After years of being bashed over the head by some outspoken manufactured home park residents, the county got smart and formed an official ad-hoc committee to come up with suggested improvements in county code to alleviate some of the perceived and real problems.

The committee met three times and, thanks to allowing input from those in the audience, hit all the hot buttons. Unfortunately, the recommendations for possible changes don’t reflect all of the discussions and don’t go far enough – at least that’s what some are saying.

I doubt anyone has a clue just how many people live in manufactured homes. In the Long Neck area alone, there are tens of thousands in parks all over the place. How many of those are dissatisfied with their living conditions? It’s a safe bet that the vast majority could care less about lot coverage and setbacks, and they don’t complain about the monthly rent.

So why the fuss?  Some residents, particularly those living in older parks, do have legitimate concerns that the county has overlooked for years. The rules and regulations were written without much concern for parks with smaller lots. Of course, no one could have predicted that large, doublewide manufactured homes would have nearly the floor space of small stick-built homes, dwarfing the tiny lots in older parks.

The council will address some of the issues with a set of proposed new ordinances, which is a great first step. The committee may need to go back in session because more work needs to be done.