The Milton mayoral candidates and a large group of Milton voters came together at the Bay Leaf Restaurant Feb. 16 for the first of two candidate forums leading to the Saturday, March 2 election.
The two-hour event, hosted by Neighbors of Milton United, featured debate, occasionally heated, between candidates Mayor Cliff Newlands and Councilwoman Marion Jones and several members of the public. The informal question-and-answer session was moderated by resident Jeff Dailey, who allowed residents to direct questions to a specific candidate. Many residents used the forum to air their frustrations with Newlands' three years in office as well as other issues they would like to see the winning candidate address.
Among the hot topics of the afternoon were the police department, Cannery Village and code enforcement.
The candidates disagreed during the forum, as they have during the campaign and during town council meetings for the last two years. Jones said she supported Newlands three years ago, but she has since found it difficult to have her voice heard.
“I don't think anyone in the town of Milton needs one leader and one vision,” she said. “I think your leader is responsible to encourage and support ideas for your community going forward from all citizens. In order to do that, you have to be open to those ideas – you have to listen, and you have to retain them and you have to put them into motion.”
Jones said she has heard many citizens bring forth good ideas, but none has been put into action. She said she would put an emphasis on that as well as accountability if elected.
As an administrative assistant to the police chief of the Rehoboth Beach Police Department, Jones said, she will not be a fixture in town hall. Newlands said it is essential to have a presence in town every day.
“In the beginning, I immersed myself in town hall because government was new to me,” he said, noting he spent five hours a day at town hall. “Management was not new to me. I was a manager for over 20 years, so I know how to manage people, I know how to manage staff, and I know how to manage budgets.”
Jones said she's confident she can manage her full-time job and the office of mayor.
Newlands touted his accomplishments during his first three years as mayor, particularly the turnaround of the town's finances. When Newlands took office in 2010, the town's financial system was in such turmoil the state Auditor's Office needed to step in to help out. The latest audit for fiscal year 2012, presented to council earlier this month, received a clean opinion. He also pointed out his ability to cut expenses by about $300,000 to balance the budget in fiscal year 2011 by eliminating administrative positions and renegotiating contracts. Jones, elected to council in 2010, was also part of that budget process.
Newlands was critical of the council's recent vote to withdraw from the Community Oriented Policing Services grant that paid for an 11th police officer, calling it politically motivated. Jones was one of four council members who voted to approve withdrawing. He said the number of complaints the department receives each year justifies the need for additional officers, and the town is receiving enough revenue from new homes to pay for the officer when the grant ends.
Jones said she does not have a personal agenda when it comes to the police department. Her problem, she said, is with the amount of money being spent each year.
“My issue is the overspending,” she said. “When it has been brought to the attention of the mayor and council that we can do business in the police department for less money, the spending continues.”
The candidates will engage in further debate at the Milton Chamber of Commerce's candidate forum from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Feb. 23, at Goshen Hall. The election will be held from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, March 2, at town hall.