Milton mayoral candidates address the issues

Election set for March 2
Mayor Cliff Newlands and Councilwoman Marion Jones will face off for the mayor's seat in the Saturday, March 2. BY NICK ROTH
February 22, 2013

With only a week to go before the Saturday, March 2, mayoral election, Mayor Cliff Newlands and Councilwoman Marion Jones are making a final push to win voters. The winner will sit front and center at council meetings for the next three years, joined by John Collier and Michael Coté, who both ran unopposed for seats to be vacated by Vice Mayor Leah Betts and Councilman Norman Lester.

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at town hall, located at 115 Federal St. A registered voter who is unable to vote in person on the day of the election must complete an affidavit prior to receiving an absentee ballot. The completed affidavit must be received in town hall by noon Friday, March 1.

Absentee ballots can be mailed to registered voters, who have completed an affidavit, through Monday, Feb. 25. All absentee ballots must be received by the election board by the close of the election polls.

The Cape Gazette posed five questions to the candidates. Answers were limited to about 150 words and were edited for clarity.

Tell us about yourself, including age, educational background and work experience

Marion Jones, 58, began work at the Rehoboth Beach Police Department in 1993 and is currently the administrative assistant to the chief of police. I moved to Milton in 1993. I was elected to town council in 2011 and currently chair Milton's Economic Development Committee and am a member of the personnel committee.

I served two terms on Milton's board of adjustment and the historic preservation committee. I belong to Milton Historical Society, am a past member of the Milton Garden Club and support the Milton Cat Snippers. I am a graduate of Cape Henlopen High School and attended Delaware Technical & Community College, majoring in agronomy.

Cliff Newlands, 61. I've lived in Milton almost seven years, and I have been mayor for three years. I served on the Wagamon's Civic Association and Milton Leaders group. I have some college and spent 37 years in the information technology field as a software engineer, with the last 20 years as director and vice president, managing 70 software engineers.

The police department has been under fire from both the public and members of council for the last several years, what changes do you believe are needed?

Jones: Before I comment on just the police, I believe the scope is broader than that. I have participated in two budget preparations and the taxpayers in Milton have called for an end to wasteful spending. If we, the Town of Milton, would hold our department heads accountable for creating their budgets as well as scrutinizing their spending all year long, we would have folks who are more plugged in to the importance of their contributions.

Specifically in the matter of the police, sending officers to training on their day off, thus creating a need to pay them time and a half, just doesn’t make sense. I think we need to look at scheduling first. Getting that right and providing 24/7 coverage will reduce overtime. The police department makes up at least 51 percent of our entire budget, I believe it is wise to step back and look at their spending habits.

Newlands: Knowledge. Citizens need a better understanding and knowledge of how the police department works. We should hold a civilian police academy, where citizens learn some aspects of police work. In such an academy, citizens get behind-the-scenes knowledge of the job and what the office might be up against. I’ve been asked why an officer parks in the school parking lot. It’s to give a police presence while the officer does his paperwork. People are not aware that radar can track a car while it drives perpendicular to the patrol car.

This explains why the officers might be parked at different angles during traffic enforcement. We are serious about the speed limits because of the campaign “Keep kids alive, drive 25.” When you see two cars park side by side, the officers are having a meeting, changing shifts, discussing a case or hundreds of other reasons. The patrol car is their office. It comes down to understanding the officer’s job.

Residents often complain about a lack of code enforcement, affecting the town's appearance and perception among neighboring communities. How would you improve the town's appearance and increase the town's profile?

Jones: It’s true we were without a code enforcer for a while, but we still had the capability to enforce the codes with the manpower available to us. Getting behind like this has created a disheveled appearance that is not good for our citizens or businesses and certainly leaves a visitor with the wrong impression of Milton. We have laws on the books that are not being enforced. Going back and enforcing the current codes as well as considering stricter penalties for violators is a good starting point.

It is difficult to hold a property owner responsible when our own town has allowed our parks, streets and sidewalks to fall into disrepair. Vacant or dilapidated houses are not only an eyesore, but a potential safety and health concern. Milton is a beautiful, charming community, and we should take whatever steps necessary to preserve our historic district and neighborhoods.

Newlands: First of all, if residents see a problem they should just call town hall. Telling a council person who then waits for a council meeting to complain to me only lets the problem get worse. We have sufficient staff to handle calls and complaints. Second, we are reviewing our town code to strengthen it so it has stricter consequences. This will deter most people from committing violations.

We also need to change our code to handle some of the neglected buildings in town. Third, I think as the code enforcer educates residents about our code, things will continue to clean up naturally. Residents can always call town hall if they have any questions.

Are the proposed changes to the water system sufficient to Milton's needs?

Jones: The “changes” are better described as “improvements” to an aging and broken water system. We have needed maintenance and upgrades for a long time. I have a great deal of faith in Steve McCabe, of Pennoni Associates, who has assessed our system and made first-stage recommendations for improvements. Unlike the first referendum, where the town had not accounted for millions of gallons of missing water, I believe the people of Milton can understand the importance of these basic upgrades. No amount of water improvements or an elevated storage tank makes much sense until we get a handle on the missing water.

Though efforts are now being taken to account for that water, we have a long way to go. These proposed improvements are a prudent beginning, and we can further assess our ability to pump more water once they have been completed. For now, I think these recommended upgrades will help a great deal.

Newlands: It’s sufficient for our major projects. The proposed piping will link two parts of town that will improve water pressure on the south side of town. Upgrades to well 5 will give us some redundancy on the south side of town. If the water system improvement referendum passes, we will receive a loan from the Office of Drinking Water.

In addition to the proposed changes, there are some service lines that need replacing in an older section of town that’s been causing some breaks lately. We need to perform some additional maintenance to our wells. All of which can be paid for with current funds. All of our piping has just been leak tested with good results.

What do you believe has been your most important contribution to the council since joining?

Jones: I've been a conduit between the public and council. I genuinely listen to the concerns of citizens and treat people with respect. I uphold the notion that taxpayers have a right to know what is going on in their government. In February 2011, I exposed the truth about the missing 44 million gallons of water yearly and wondered why neither the public nor council had ever been informed of these facts.

The truth is, we were in no way prepared for an elevated storage tank or a referendum to fund it. I was one of four who voted to reduce the police department by attrition. It was not an easy decision, but it was informed and responsible. I led the motion for two years to prevent gross rental receipt tax, proposed by the mayor. I fought for funding a plan to advertise and promote Milton because we need to do more than just pay the bills; we need to invest in ourselves.

Newlands: My biggest accomplishment has been straightening out the town’s finances. There is no way I could have done any of this work without the help of Norman Lester. We went from a very poor audit, where the state Auditor's Office would not form an audit opinion, to a clean audit in our last fiscal year. This is a very big deal.

I also think of all the budget cuts – shrinking the size of staff, renegotiating contracts, looking at every bill to find waste. We save a lot of money printing forms in-house. I changed the mindset of the town staff to always be in cost-saving mode. We even have volunteers come in to help staff with our utility mailings. Getting residents involved is a good thing. These have contributed to the town’s financial well being.

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