In their last debate before the Saturday, March 2 election, Milton's mayoral candidates made their case for voters at the Milton Chamber of Commerce's candidate forum Feb. 23 at Goshen Hall. The event was organized and moderated by the League of Women Voters.
Residents asked questions about the police department, the role of the mayor and future of the town, revealing the differences between Mayor Cliff Newlands and challenger Councilwoman Marion Jones.
Since joining town council in 2011, Jones has used her inside knowledge of the Rehoboth Beach Police Department – her employer – to scrutinize the spending habits of Milton's police. As stated in the charter, the police department reports directly to the mayor, but Jones said she would like to take a different approach if elected.
“I do understand the charter has a direct line between the police chief and the mayor. However for consistency purposes and for reconciling and tracking budgets, I believe the [purchase orders] should go through the town manager and the finance person,” she said.
She said all other departments must report to Town Manager Win Abbott, so she would like the police department to do the same. She said she would like to find a way to curb the department's spending for overtime pay, which she thinks is possible even with a smaller police force.
Newlands said overtime pay is part of police culture because officers have many obligations to attend court hearings, training and cover for absent colleagues. He said council's vote to reduce the police force from 11 officers to nine will only increase overtime hours.
“When we had a smaller police department, we had a large overtime budget because in order for an officer to go to court, somebody had to pick up their shift and be out on the road,” he said.
Newlands said one of his top goals in a second term would be to attract new residents and businesses to Milton. He said one of the keys to that goal is revitalizing the downtown district.
“We need to get some of these landlords downtown to lower their rents so we can actually get more stores downtown,” he said. “We need to get on these landlords and get them to change their ways so we can get businesses downtown and attract more people to town and attract more people to buy homes in town.”
Jones said some of the items on her wish list include improved infrastructure throughout the town, including underground utility poles on Federal, Union and Mulberry streets.
“I'd like to see Milton get a facelift; it's long overdue,” she said. “I would like to see Milton's citizens once again be content living here without the rancor and dissension.”
She said she would be an inclusive mayor, always open to suggestions from the townspeople and elected officials. However, she said, she would not do it during regular business hours, as she will continue to work full time in Rehoboth Beach. She said she does not believe she needs to have a presence in town hall to be an effective mayor. She said her more than 20 years experience working for a municipality has given her a solid base and mindset for the office.
“When I started this campaign I didn't see any qualifications posted for this position,” she said. “It takes a lot of heart, and it takes a lot of energy. My position in Rehoboth Beach has taught me to be a public servant. That's what a mayor is.”
Newlands said part of being mayor is being available throughout the day to meet with officials from nonprofit organizations, the school district, developers or any group that may do business in the town. He said there are many duties that are required of a mayor during regular business hours, from lobbying at Legislative Hall in Dover to meeting with staff or residents in town hall.
Jones said the mayor should not be meeting with developers, and that the town staff is more than capable of answering questions and providing information that may be requested.
For a portion of Newlands' first term, Milton was without a town manager. He said he stepped in and ran the day-to-day operations of town until the position was filled. He said it is the town manager's job to run the town, but it is still important to be available in town hall.
“I stepped forward and got in there to do what had to be done because we didn't have a town manager,” he said. “Now that we do have one, he's in there every day doing his job, and I'm in town hall answering emails and visiting with people.”
If elected, Jones said, she would not interfere with the town manager in his daily duties. That does not mean she would not have a presence in town hall, as she said she would immerse herself in the concerns of the employees and familiarize herself with the workings of the town's government.
Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, March 2, at Milton Town Hall, located at 115 Federal St. The winning candidate will take the gavel at the April meeting. They will be joined by newcomers John Collier and Michael Coté, who ran unopposed for two open council seats.