Rehoboth Beach voters will go to the polls Saturday, Aug. 12, to choose a mayor and two commissioners. In the mayoral race, incumbent Sam Cooper will seek his 10th term as he takes on Commissioner Paul Kuhns in a rematch of their 2008 race, a contest won by Cooper.
Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Rehoboth fire hall.
The Cape Gazette asked the two candidates to provide a short biography and to answer four questions. Answers were limited to 100 words, and their answers appear in alphabetical order.
Sam Cooper - A lifelong resident of Rehoboth Beach, Cooper still lives in a house built by his grandfather in 1918. He manages rental cottages that have been owned by his family for more than 60 years and is part owner of the Beach View Motel on Wilmington Avenue. A 1970 graduate of Cape Henlopen High School, he received an associate degree in applied science, with a specialty in civil engineering from Del Tech.
Paul Kuhns - With a bachelor of science degree in accounting from Georgetown University and an MBA in finance from Columbia University, Kuhns spent 25 years in municipal finance with Merrill Lynch in New York City. He has owned property in Rehoboth for 30 years and has been a full-time resident since 2005. A co-owner of Arena’s and Summer House, he is president of Rehoboth Beach Historical Society and was chairman of the board of Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce.
With the City Hall project, there has been a lot of discussion about the process for change orders and whether the commissioners should have more say. Do you support establishing a threshold at which change orders must be approved by the city commissioners? If so, where should the limit be set?
SC - Change orders are the process where a contractor is compensated for work outside the scope of the original contract. There are several reasons that change orders become necessary. These include such things as site conditions that were not anticipated, changes required to conform to regulations or standards, and in some cases, it is found that the plans were incomplete or did not provide enough detail. These types of change orders are administrative matters, where the decision to approve them is made only after the city’s professional consultants thoroughly vet and recommend approval. It would be wrong to politicize these change orders. The city would find contractors reluctant to bid jobs if it were uncertain they would be compensated for required work. Change orders for discretionary expansion of a project beyond the original scope are a different matter. The commissioners would clearly need to be involved if there was a proposal such as adding an additional room to the City Hall. So, no is my answer if your question is whether there should be a dollar threshold for commissioner approval of change orders. Also, the delay incident to commissioner approval of administrative change orders would add additional cost and delay project progress.
PK - I do support establishing policies and procedures for approval of change orders on major city projects. As we move forward with the ocean outfall project, I would urge that we use guidelines set by DNREC’s financial department. We are borrowing the money from them and they have strict guidelines. I would also suggest we utilize the experience of our very competent city manager who has handled these types of projects in previous positions. However, the total number of changes and dollar amounts on any project of this magnitude should be minimal with thoroughly vetted planning beforehand and well-defined management policies and procedures.
An issue that has repeatedly cropped up at commissioner meetings is that of transparency. Do you believe the city has been open and transparent with the public about the City Hall project? What steps would you support to improve?
SC - The City Hall project design was directed by a committee that included the mayor, all the commissioners, four citizens, the city manager, and the police chief. This committee held approximately 20 meetings, all of them open to the public and press. The voters at a special funding referendum approved the project in June of 2015. The bids for the five contracts were publicly opened and approved by the commissioners in open session. Periodic updates have been made at commissioners’ meetings. Change orders have been reported on at commissioners’ meetings, and a listing is available on the city’s website. All inquiries for information have been responded to. I believe this represents openness and transparency.
PK - To quote my platform, “I believe in an open, transparent and reasonable government for all.” I suggest the city be more proactive and less reactive and work with all stakeholders to formulate solutions. As has been quoted many times in the media over the last six months, transparency has been lacking throughout this process, at least until many spoke up against the lack thereof. We have a city manager mode of government. She needs to run the operations of the city, and all of the seven commissioners provide oversight.
Do you view improving the city’s stormwater outfall system into the ocean as a priority? What steps need to be taken to move that forward?
SC - The goal really is to ensure the swimming water remains safe. The best and most direct means to achieve this is to keep pollutants out of the stormwater. We all have a role in this. The city has stepped up its street- cleaning efforts. Businesses and residents alike need to proactively limit what ends up in the street. This includes picking up after pets and a stop to washing waste into the street. The city is undertaking a study, starting in the next few days, to assess the bacteria levels in the stormwater discharged to the ocean. This data is essential to plan future stormwater improvements, which then need to be planned and funded.
PK - Improving the city’s stormwater outfall system into the ocean and lakes must be a priority for the city. Many steps have been taken as the city has focused on this infrastructure problem. One of my major concerns is that the city has no long-term financial plan to pay for these problems. The city has been made aware of these issues over the years as debris and chemicals have been seeping into our system and then into the ocean and lakes. I believe this situation is as big as the problem we are addressing with ocean outfall, and solutions must be formulated immediately.
Favorite recent book you’ve read and why?
SC - “Trumped” by David Stockman. I enjoyed this book because in it David Stockman examines many of the issues surrounding this country’s fiscal and monetary policies that I find troubling.
PK - I have recently re-read “Exodus” by Leon Uris. I read this book in college and thoroughly enjoyed it then. However, given the state of the Middle East, I thought it might be a good re-read. It was. It is a great historical fiction novel that gave me an updated appreciation of what the people of the region experienced after World War II.
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