Lewes BPW board needs new blood

April 15, 2021

The relationship between the Board of Public Works and the City of Lewes is important to our community, and one that impacts all of us who live in the city and are served by BPW.  Most of us take for granted the services provided by the BPW, and take little interest in its operations and management, which is most unfortunate.  You should know that the relationship between the board and the city is fragile and has a significant fracture in it.  It is time for a change. 

The official name of the BPW is The Board of Public Works of the City of Lewes.  Studying the charters of the city and BPW, it is apparent the city has oversight authority and responsibility for providing utility services to the residents of Lewes [City Charter, Section 29].  Also, the mayor and city council of the City of Lewes is designated as the operator of public utilities through the Board of Public Works of the City of Lewes [BPW charter, opening sentence].  

In addition, in reading the two charters, there are several operational links between the city and the BPW. Finally, it should be noted that the Superior Court has recently ruled that the BPW cannot sue nor be sued. Consequently, the City of Lewes must take responsibility for any legal actions involving the BPW.  

I call attention to these facts to illustrate the strong linkage between the BPW and the city.  The two organizations must have a viable, trusting, cooperative working relationship, which may have existed in the past but does not exist today. It is clear that the mayor and city council must have some basic oversight of the BPW in order to fulfill its responsibilities as granted by both charters.  

I have to ask: “How can the BPW call itself a municipal utility if it insists that it is independent of the municipality that it is chartered to serve?”  I am not suggesting that the city should have total control of or interfere with the organization of the BPW nor become involved in the day-to-day managing the Board of Public Works. I am suggesting that there must be some defined partnership between the two organizations, in which the BPW complies with the city’s ordinances and policies.

For over three years now the mayor and city council has been trying, unsuccessfully, to negotiate with BPW a viable partnership.  During this period BPW continues to hang on to the idea that it is independent and continues its uncooperative attitude, disregarding a city ordinance that the general manager of the BPW suggested the city put in place.  

When questioned why the refusal to work in partnership with the city, the one consistent reply is: “The city just wants to get control of the monies that BPW has in its accounts.”  

This is a smoke screen. Mayor and city council have said in public statements and statements to the BPW that the city does not want access to any monies that the BPW has received from the ratepayers.  Also, the city has stated that any funds that BPW receives from ratepayers should be used to fund utility-related expenses.  With the upcoming BPW election there is an opportunity for change in the board of directors of BPW and, I believe, it is time for change - to bring new thinking to the board.  It is time for the Board of Public Works of the City of Lewes to build a cordial, trustworthy, working relationship with the mayor and city council. 

The conflict that currently exist between the city and BPW was brought on by the actions of the BPW Board of Directors, and it is their responsibility to resolve this matter with the city, establishing a working partnership in the best interests of the residents of Lewes and other ratepayers. 

Fred Beaufait
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