For the first time in more than four decades, a Cole family member will not be representing Sussex County Council District 4.
Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, is retiring after serving since 1986. His father, Charlie, was elected to council in 1974; his mother, Kitty, was appointed to council in 1985 after her husband's passing.
Vying for his seat in the Tuesday, Nov. 6 election are Republican Doug Hudson of Clarksville and Democrat Paulette Rappa of Long Neck. Neither has run for council previously. Rappa ran unsuccessfully for the Representative District 37 seat in 2016 and the Indian River School Board this year.
Hudson, 58, a lifelong Sussex County resident who has served on the county planning and zoning commission for the past two years, is a retired Delaware State Police trooper. Rappa, 56, a retired educator, is executive director of The Way Home Inc., a nonprofit agency in Georgetown that works with inmates transitioning from prison to the community. She and her family moved in 2012 from New Jersey to Long Neck.
The two faced off during an Oct. 9 forum at Rehoboth Beach library sponsored by League of Women Voters of Sussex County.
Rappa said she knows the issues and has solutions to be the voice of coastal Sussex. “Not all residents are represented in Sussex County. There has been only one female elected to council, and that has to change,” she said.
Hudson, who grew up in Bethany Beach, said he became active in the fire company at an early age and became chief in 1986. He gained valuable knowledge working on the 2018 comprehensive land-use plan, he said. “I know the county inside and out. I know the fire departments, police departments, how the county works and how DelDOT works,” he said.
The candidates answered questions from the audience for nearly an hour.
Opposing views on development
One of the key issues they disagreed on was a proposal by Rappa for a hometown overlay zone for areas such as Long Neck and Oak Orchard, two of the fastest-growing unincorporated areas in the county. “What if they could plan for themselves with their own community-based planning and zoning to supersede county planning and zoning, allowing residents and businesses to plan and regulate?” she asked.
In response, Hudson said, “Each community can't have its own rules or you lose control,” adding a legislative charter change would be required to incorporate the areas into towns.
The candidates also disagreed on establishing a county health advisory committee and on what the county can do to combat sea-level rise.
Rappa said she supports forming a committee to advocate and educate on important health issues, including water and well contamination. She said residents want answers why Millsboro has the second highest cancer rate in the United States. In addition, she said, it might be time for the county to get into the central-water system business to the level it has done with wastewater systems.
Hudson said he did not support a committee but said county officials could work a lot better with the Division of Public Health. “And you can't blame cancer just on the water in Sussex County,” he said. Hudson said existing water systems could be expanded, and the county could spend more money to help residents test their water. Hudson also said council cannot do much do about sea-level rise. He said it's a personal choice for people to live near the water and in flood-prone areas.
Rappa disagreed. She said the county can do much more, and a first step for officials would be to acknowledge there is sea-level rise. She said Sussex is one of the lowest-lying counties in the United States, and her community of Baywood in Long Neck is at the epicenter. She said county officials must coordinate with state and federal officials to search out solutions to prevent potential loss of property and loss of life due to sea-level rise.
On the topic of wetland buffers, both endorsed a proposed ordinance to expand the required width of buffers. Hudson said it's important to preserve as much sensitive area as possible near the Inland Bays.. However, he said it should not be done as a knee-jerk reaction with a blanket thrown over the entire county.
Rappa said Sussex County should impose similar buffer widths that already exist in Kent County and New Castle, which are twice as wide as buffers in Sussex.
When asked about attracting new jobs to the county, Rappa said manufacturing jobs are gone, and the focus should be on tying service-based and technology-based jobs with the needs of the county's aging population and agricultural industry. She acknowledged that county officials have made an investment in improved interconnectivity, a key to attracting new businesses. “But much more needs to be done,” she said.
Hudson said manufacturing jobs are making a comeback. “We have to do more to attract those jobs,” he said. He said key factors are high-speed broadband, rail service, good roads and industrial parks, such as the county park in Georgetown.
On the topic of affordable housing, Rappa said she knows first-hand how hard it is to find affordable housing for some segments of the population. She said there is a real disconnect, with jobs on one side of the county and affordable housing on the other side. “That's when transportation becomes an issue, and council has to learn to plan for that,” she said.
Hudson said it’s a tough issue, but one that has been addressed in the draft 2018 comprehensive plan. He said the problem is driven by high land values in eastern Sussex. “I sometimes struggle with government getting involved telling someone they have to have a certain piece of land designated for affordable housing,” he said.
Rappa said new development in the Long Neck area and along the Route 5 and Route 24 corridors is exploding ,and residents are choked with traffic.
She said it will take years to unravel traffic issues. In the interim, she said, establishing transportation improvement districts would help provide funding from developers and the state for improvements.
Hudson said county officials' role is to ensure developers follow ordinances. “When they meet the criteria, it's hard to say no. You can't arbitrarily say no. If you do, they will sue us,” he said. “And it's DelDOT that tells developers what road improvements to make.”
In conclusion, Rappa said coastal Sussex needs a strong voice. “I have to ask you, do you want the same group of people making the same decisions resulting in the same mess?” she asked. “It's time the other half of the county is represented. It's time women step forward and lead this county with viable solutions and strong leadership, as I have.”
Hudson said his background and experience would allow him to hit the ground running as a councilman. “The opportunities I've had to serve this state and county have prepared me well for a seat on county council,” he said. “I bring transparency, honesty and common sense to the table, and I will always be accessible and accountable.”
District 4 is the area around the Inland Bays, including the communities of or near the areas of Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach, Long Neck, Henlopen Acres, Millville, Oak Orchard, Ocean View and Rehoboth Beach.