Controversial comment splits Lewes council members

Morgan calls meetings improper; Beaufait, Reardon incensed
March 22, 2019

It was a little chilly in Lewes council chambers March 18, and it had nothing to do with the thermostat.

Less than a week after a contentious meeting about the Brittingham property on New Road, two council members were still angry about comments made by Councilman Rob Morgan.

During the March 14 meeting, Morgan questioned the relationship between Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufait, Councilman Dennis Reardon and developer Joe Setting, who is seeking to build 90 townhouses on the 34-acre property along Canary Creek. The application has been extremely controversial for months; a large contingent of residents is opposed. The March 14 meeting was to consider whether the project should be exempt from future changes to the zoning code, as the city began looking into changes to the density formula, buffers and open space in the annexation zoning districts shortly after the property was annexed. Council voted 3-1 to exempt the project, with Morgan against.

While arguing against exempting the project, Morgan suggested “a few of our council members have grown close” to the developer.

At the March 18 meeting, Morgan apologized for his comment.

“I regretted it almost as soon as it came out of my mouth because I had no basis for thinking there is any personal relationship between my colleagues and the developer,” he said.

However, he did not apologize for the rest of his remarks, in which he questioned the legitimacy of meetings Beaufait and Reardon had with the developer and his representatives and city staff, and another meeting with the chair of the planning commission.

Beaufait and Reardon both serve on the city’s annexation regulation committee, which developed the annexation zoning districts that includes Setting’s property. 

“I thought they were highly questionable,” Morgan said. “Apart from that one comment that I do regret, I think I had some good grounds for the statements I made.”

Reardon said he and Beaufait met with the developer to clarify points in the annexation-residential zone, as the Setting project was the first to seek that new zone.

Beaufait said he was incensed by Morgan’s comments, which he called an attack on his integrity.

“Make no mistake about it. That is exactly what he was attempting to do,” Beaufait said. “This is not the first time he’s engaged on such an attack on the two of us.”

Beaufait said Morgan had made his concerns known before the March 14 meeting and that he and Reardon had answered the allegations with facts.

“As far as I’m concerned, this behavior has put a black mark on the character of this body,” Beaufait said. “There is simply no excuse for such behavior.”

Reardon said Morgan’s actions are not what is expected of a Lewes council member.

“The way Lewes council has operated up to this point has been a model of civility,” he said. “While council members disagree on issues, discussions on these differing views should be based on facts and not on unprofessional, unfounded, personal attacks.”

He went further, accusing Morgan of engaging a member of the public to advance his agenda during the public comments portion of the March 14 meeting.

Morgan did not address the allegation at the March 18 meeting, but in a later email, he said it was an erroneous accusation.

Morgan personally apologized to only Reardon.

“I am sorry for us all that it has come to this because I have great respect for Councilman Reardon, and I’m sorry to lose his good opinion,” Morgan said.