Commissioners live up to their oath of office

September 22, 2017

Had you attended the Rehoboth Beach Mayor and Commissioners meeting last Friday you would have witnessed something almost as rare as a solar eclipse, the swearing-in of our first new mayor in 27 years, Paul Kuhns, along with longtime Commissioner Kathy McGuiness, who was re-elected, and newly elected Commissioner Lisa Schlosser. I congratulate them all for their success in the election which brought a 77 percent turnout of registered voters.

As each of them stood before the judge to take the oath of office, they swore to uphold the laws of the city, state, and U.S. Constitution and "that the powers of this office flow from the people." They further swore "always to place the public interest above any special or personal interests." Every commissioner takes the same oath, and citizens expect that they take their responsibility with great seriousness.

When it came time to vote for former Commissioner Pat Coluzzi, nominated by Mayor Kuhns to fill his open seat, three of the sitting commissioners - Mills, Gossett and Sharp - chose not to approve. The three then proceeded to nominate their own candidate, runner-up commissioner candidate Susan Gay in last month's election. This in turn was defeated, and was repeated two more times, ending in a stalemate. This came as a shock and surprise to all in attendance as well as the new mayor, who no doubt believed he had the votes. And it was most unfortunate and embarrassing to Ms. Coluzzi who had apparently agreed with the incoming mayor to serve a one-year term. All of this has caused quite an uproar in the past week by those who find the three commissioners' actions unfair, shameful, and/or illegal, and further, that the new mayor was somehow entitled to his choice.

Let me offer a variation on this perspective. First, I suggest that what the three commissioners chose to do is not only legal according to the city charter, but it is fully consistent with their obligations and prerogatives as commissioners under their oath of office. According to our charter, anyone on the commission, not exclusively the mayor, can nominate a replacement for an empty commissioner's seat, which then must be approved by a majority.

Not only was the action of the dissenting three commissioners legal and consistent with the charter, it was legitimate under their oath to act in the public interest and on behalf of the people of the city. None of us are inside the heads of these commissioners, or in the head of the mayor, so those who have opined about the motives of the three commissioners who voted against the mayor's choice are simply speculating.

Consider that Ms. Coluzzi, who will, I believe, confirm that I have supported her in all ways during her fine career in Rehoboth, was not a candidate in the August election. She chose not to run, nor was she planning to serve a full term but rather to do a public service by holding a significant position on a temporary basis for the convenience of the new mayor. Consider that Susan Gay, the other nominee presented, was a candidate for whom 637 citizens voted, which is a number greater than some sitting commissioners received in their own elections. The commissioners who nominated Ms. Gay felt that these voters should not be ignored by passing over her for a short-term appointed commissioner who did not seek, nor win, election this year.

Certainly both the mayor or individual citizens can prefer one or the other nominees but those who offered Ms. Gay were acting legally and appropriately on behalf of the people of the city. Had they quietly voted to approve the mayor's nominee for the seventh member, they would be guaranteeing they would be in a minority position on any number of key votes. It was completely legitimate and in the best interest of the people that these three commissioners, sworn to serve the citizens, would make the choice they did.

Going forward, there are only two pathways for all the commissioners: either continue to do city business with six members of the commission or find a way to agree on a seventh commissioner. With six votes on the commission, compromise will be required either way, and stalemate is not the only outcome. We need to come together and the commission needs to act collegially. Historically the commission has voted most often unanimously or close to it, and all of the other nominations by Mayor Kuhns were approved unanimously or by large majorities.

Even when dealing with the complex and confounding issues the commission has faced in recent years, our commissioners studied, deliberated, and arrived at the best options. And better legislation was the result. It may be more difficult, but we are all best served by such a process. I recommend we not continue to rail against those commissioners who acted consistently with law and their duty to the people. Instead we should give working together a try.

Guy Martin
Rehoboth Beach



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