Five Lewes candidates made their case for a seat on city council during the first, and possibly last, virtual candidates’ forum June 19.
The Greater Lewes Civic Coalition hosted the Zoom event, attracting 125 viewers who bombarded candidates with questions varying from the city’s ongoing feud with the Board of Public Works to annexation and development and protecting the environment.
Seeking one of two seats on council in the Saturday, July 18 election are incumbents Deputy Mayor Fred Beaufait and Councilman Dennis Reardon, and challengers Kay Carnahan, Tim Ritzert and Andrew Williams. Each seat carries a three-year term.
A burning issue over the last several months has been the city’s rocky relationship with the BPW, involving a lawsuit filed by the board last July following years of disagreement over the legality of a pre-annexation agreement.
Beaufait spoke generally about the BPW situation without going into details due to ongoing negotiations. A small group of state legislators recently convened a meeting between select members of the city and BPW to begin working toward resolution.
“We're trying to move forward,” Beaufait said. “We're looking seriously for a solution.”
Reardon said he is also optimistic the BPW situation is improving.
“The city and BPW are engaged in meaningful discussions to resolve this issue,” he said. “And I'm hopeful that will occur.”
Carnahan blasted the city’s legal fees budget, which is mostly related to the BPW situation. She said she would have recommended the city hire a mediator to have the issue resolved.
“I have read every word I could find on the subject and so far I have seen no reason for this lawsuit,” Carnahan said. “I can see no reason why the citizens should be footing a $310,000 legal bill.”
As far as the city’s desire to take over the BPW operation, Carnahan said, she would’ve preferred a more open approach.
“I really think a referendum would have been the way to go to bring everyone [together] to find out what is going on rather than receiving mailings from some and not others,” she said. “I feel it’s all unnecessary. I would’ve have preferred a straight, inclusive approach from the very beginning.”
Williams agreed that the situation needs to be more open.
“It’s a Board of Public Works, so it’s a public utility,” he said. “In my mind, there should be more public input into the way this is going to be handled going forward.”
Ritzert was critical of the behind-the-scenes nature of the city/BPW struggle prior to the lawsuit last July.
“That conflict was not apparent to me, and I don’t believe it was apparent to most people in the community,” he said, applauding state legislators for working with both sides. “I believe the state Legislature had reason to create two organizations and two charters, and there’s no reason that these two bodies cannot resolve their differences and work together.”
Ritzert blasted the city’s handling of the newest zoning districts - AX-RES, annexation residential, and AX-MIX, annexation mix – which are only eligible for land to be annexed into the city. The zones were created by Beaufait, Reardon and a small committee to serve as a transition zone from the city’s stricter zoning code to Sussex County’s more lenient regulations.
“Is there anyone attending this meeting that [believes] it was prudent to write into the zoning code a zone that allows for high-density housing in the form of townhouse communities to be developed and constructed along New Road on the banks of Canary Creek?” he asked.
Developer Settings Properties Inc. used that new zoning district to propose an 89-unit townhome community. The controversial project called Lewes Waterfront Preserve gained preliminary approval by a 2-1 vote of the nine-member planning commission in August 2019.
Beaufait argued the developer could have been granted as many as 138 townhouses if he had submitted the project to Sussex County officials.
Ritzert countered that townhouses are allowed by right under Lewes code, but the developer would have needed a conditional use to build townhouses in county jurisdiction.
Beaufait defended the annexation zones.
“We worked for 17 months,” he said. “We had public hearings, and there were no objections when we were talking about townhouses. Townhouses are not new to Lewes. We've got a number of developments with townhouses.”
Both Carnahan and Ritzert criticized the number of executive sessions mayor and city council has had the last two years. According to Carnahan, council held 26 executive session meetings in 2019 and 14 so far in 2020.
“There’s too much going on behind closed doors,” she said. “This becomes a trust issue.”
Carnahan, who works in marketing for a local realtor, was asked if she would have to recuse from important votes due to a conflict of interest. She has recused from votes, including the Lewes Waterfront Preserve vote in August, during her 19 years as a member of the Lewes Planning Commission.
“I'm not a realtor. I do not have a license,” she said. “I do not work with builders, developers. I only work with in-house agents. So the reason that I recuse is for reasons such as my company lists a property. In a community this small, most of us have to recuse at some time. Speaking with the city solicitor, I will only have to recuse on one project that is currently in discussion. So I'm hoping to keep it to an absolute minimum.”
Williams said the city needs to have a vision for what the town will look like in 10, 50 and 100 years. Of utmost importance, he said, is protecting the environment from development and sea-level rise.
Williams would also like to see more diversity in Lewes.
“To me, this cuts across many angles – age, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background,” he said. “We’re privileged to live in Lewes, and we need to continue to build an inclusive community that allows us to thrive.”
The deadline to register to vote is 4 p.m., Monday, July 6. For those who do not wish to vote in person, residents are permitted to vote via absentee ballot. All registered voters should have received an absentee ballot application by mail from the city. An application will be mailed to residents who register before the July 6 deadline.
The entire two-hour forum may be viewed on the coalition’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lewescoalition.
Meet the Candidates
Beaufait, 82, the city’s deputy mayor, was elected to city council in 2011. He won reelection in 2013 and ran unopposed in 2015 and 2017 – terms changed to three years in late 2015. Beaufait is a former educator, working more than four decades in higher education. His career path took him from college professor to president of New York City College of Technology. He retired to Lewes in 2004.
“One thing I've learned early in my tenure is that many of the issues that council has to deal with are much more complex than they appear initially, and the decision-making process is thorough and time-consuming,” he said. “And the council must work within the constraints of our charter, ordinances and laws of the state while seeking input from our commissions and the public, keeping a broad perspective and trying to avoid unintended consequences. Serving on council is an awesome responsibility, and I take that responsibility seriously. I believe experience matters.”
Carnahan, 60, has been a member of the city’s planning commission for the last 19 years. She has also served on other committees and commissions, including the commercial architectural review commission and the inaugural Go Fourth! Lewes fireworks committee. A Wilmington native and graduate of Penn State University, she moved to Lewes from Elizabethtown, Pa., with her husband Thomas Noble in 1990. For the last 15 years, she’s been marketing coordinator at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Gallo Realty in Lewes, where she is responsible for preparing advertisements for print and web publication, including working with more than 100 rental and sales agents.
In 2019, she estimates she attended about 50 meetings and volunteered about 500 hours with the city.
“I am prepared for the workload ahead of me, have strong listening skills and have experienced many high-pressure, standing-room-only meetings, both as chairman and vice chairman,” she said. “Leadership means taking on the hard questions and making balanced decisions. It means putting others before self, and remembering what your purpose is.”
Reardon, 79, was elected in 2013 and ran unopposed in 2015 and 2017. Reardon moved to Lewes in 2006, but has been a property owner since the 1970s, and his family has been visiting the town since the 1940s. Prior to retirement, Reardon worked as an attorney in Family Court for about 20 years. He also worked with the Attorney General’s Office and in private industry.
In addition to serving on the annexation committee, Reardon serves as the council liaison to the planning commission, and the historic Lewes scenic byways committee. He said his approach to decision making has always been about common sense.
“Council is much more than a monthly meeting,” he said. “It involves working every day to understand challenges. I have demonstrated that I fully understand the time commitment and work ethic required to be an effective, contributing member of council.”
Ritzert, 66, has lived in Lewes for more than 10 years, but his family has had a home in the city for about 30 years. He had been vacationing in Lewes for many years prior to making it his full-time home. He came to Lewes from Washington, D.C., following a career in project and contract management, working for Virginia Power, one of the largest public utilities in the nation owned by Dominion Energy. He worked in a similar capacity in the telecommunications field.
Ritzert said the many hours he has spent attending council, commission and committee meetings have provided him with the expertise to hit the ground running, if elected.
“It’s a cumulative effect from attending this spectrum of meetings that has given me the ability to witness a trend line that suggests a loss of vision and deteriorating regard for the citizens of Lewes,” he said.
If elected, Ritzert said he will listen to the residents before making decisions.
“I offer an approach to government that is rooted in humility, knowing that I do not know everything, nor do I have all the answers to all the challenges facing this community,” he said. “I’m committed to cultivating a culture of transparency.”
Williams, 43, grew up in Lewes and graduated from Cape Henlopen High School in 1994. He works from home in data and market intelligence, which offers flexibility to take care of city business when needed throughout the day.
He comes from a long line of family members who work at Beebe Healthcare, including his grandfather James, who co-founded Beebe Hospital, and his wife Rita, who currently works at Beebe as a health coach.
After living in New York for several years, Williams and his family moved back to Lewes about six years ago to be closer to family.
“We have a unique position as people who were born here as well as people who have moved here, so we understand those challenges,” he said. “We need to be ready to adapt quickly and effectively, while having an ability to communicate to those around us what needs to be done, how they can help us, and what we’re doing in attempting to help them.”