Three candidates are seeking two seats on Lewes City Council in the Saturday, May 8 municipal election. Incumbent Rob Morgan and challengers Carolyn Jones and Khalil Saliba are seeking three-year terms. Deputy Mayor Bonnie Osler is stepping away after nine years of service on council. Polls will be open at city hall from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information about the election, go to ci.lewes.de.us/273/Election-Information. All candidates were asked by the Cape Gazette to answer the same questions about topics important to residents.
Carolyn Jones: I was born and raised in Jersey City, N.J. My career started in New York City in banking and led me to Washington, D.C., to the fields of academia, consulting and quasi-government at the Smithsonian Institution. In each field I held positions that required problem-solving, leadership and people skills. While working, I acquired a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Maryland and a master’s in finance from Southeastern University. I retired from the Smithsonian as director of human resources with a staff of 100, responsible for 6,500 employees. Living in Lewes for more than 12 years, I have continued my lifelong record of public service – in volunteer work and civic involvement.
Robert Morgan: My wife, Janice Erich, and I have owned a home in Lewes for 23 years; we moved here permanently in 2009. I graduated from Yale College, served in the Army in Vietnam and was awarded a Bronze Star, and then graduated from Harvard Business School and Virginia Law School. After law school, I worked for a federal appellate judge in New York, a private law firm, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C., and Perot Systems, an information technology company, from which I retired after 21 years in 2010. I was elected to the city council in 2014. I am also president of the Greater Lewes Civic Coalition and pro bono general counsel to the National Wildlife Refuge Association. I am 71 years old.
Khalil (Karl) Saliba: I am a 59-year-old native of Lewes, where in 1966, my Mom and Dad settled after emigrating from Lebanon. My Dad was a surgeon at Beebe Hospital, while my Mom served as a child advocate in Family Court. In July 2000, I founded Saliba Action Strategies LLC, a government relations firm in Washington, D.C. The firm provides targeted and personal public policy expertise and representation to a wide variety of businesses, associations and nonprofits. I currently serve on the boards of the Beebe Medical Foundation, the Greater Lewes Foundation, and St. Andrew’s School in Middletown, and hope to earn a seat on our city council. My wife Marcy and I are the proud parents of three daughters – Grace, Aly and Audrey.
The relationship with Lewes Board of Public Works has been rocky over the last few years. If elected, what would you do to repair the relationship and what would it take to get there?
Jones: On many occasions, in various situations, I have had to intervene in conflict resolutions with a labor union and others. Recognizing that the Board of Public Works and the City of Lewes have had such a long-standing, mutually beneficial relationship, there must be a way to work out their operational linkages without any more legal involvement. I understand they have met in mediation. But, I would have them meet behind closed doors with a paid, professional mediator until they come to an understanding – for the good of the city. We have far too much ahead of us to be stuck in gear this way. Our challenges will require the very best from all of us, our commitment and unity.
Morgan: The relationship has been troubled since 2016. I did not serve on the council’s two-person team that has been negotiating with the BPW since then; our negotiators were more senior. If re-elected, I expect to be at the table. That suits me; my professional career was negotiating. I know and respect all board members and candidates – they‘re intelligent citizens of good will. One of the board’s negotiators said at the GLCC forum that it had offered to defer to the city on extending services beyond its borders; for our part, we should respect the board’s autonomy as separately chartered, separately elected, and chosen to manage our utilities. Closing the gap between us shouldn’t be hard now. We need to stop the big legal bills.
Saliba: The dispute between the City of Lewes and the BPW has unfortunately eroded the confidence of our citizens in their elected leaders. This issue remains a top concern of many I have met during this campaign. This is particularly disconcerting considering there are talented, bright leaders on both sides; a reasonable solution should not be so elusive. Negotiations have occurred with no resolution. Legal action has followed with nearly $500,000 in legal fees, but again no with resolution. It is time to impose a firm deadline on negotiations and if an agreement is not reached, an independent, professional mediator or arbitrator should be brought in to decide the outstanding issues.
Proposed ordinances related to sea-level rise and properties within the excellent recharge area have been hot topics in recent months. How should city council address environmental protection while also accounting for property rights?
Jones: We in Lewes have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The challenge the state has given us to formulate a sustainability pilot program – together with the American Rescue Plan funds and upcoming infrastructure funding – have put us in the best possible situation to do something real and meaningful. As a resident and candidate, I look forward to hearing from Lewes businesses and homeowners at the upcoming public hearing on the issues currently under consideration. As with all matters that will come before mayor and city council, they must have complete information, listen to both sides – in some cases many sides – of an issue and consider carefully before coming to a conclusion.
Morgan: At a hearing on March 29, two state experts spoke on groundwater: one drafted the law requiring Lewes to protect the recharge area; the other mapped it. They said that freshwater retards intrusion of saltwater into our drinking-water aquifer and lawns, and significant impervious cover concerned them. We should respect the science and follow the law, while respecting the property rights of our citizens within the recharge area. The planning commission has recommended an ordinance to strike a balance, with a public hearing on May 3.
Saliba: First, let us stipulate that climate change is real and is threatening not only Lewes Beach, Pilot Point, Port Lewes, and Cape Shores, but other parts of Lewes including Pilottown Village and Canary Creek. Secondly, any mitigation efforts such as a 20 to 50 percent lot coverage limitation should also examine the potential devaluation of homeowners’ property values. I strongly favor a moderate, balanced approach that prepares for sea-level threats while also recognizing the economic impact on homeowners and our town's finances. Climatologists continue to debate how the continuing reductions in carbon emissions reconcile with the speed of sea-level rise. Considering the pending increases in property taxes and flood insurance premiums, it is very important the city council strike a balanced solution.
Councilman Morgan recently expressed concerns regarding overspending in the police department’s budget. Do you believe the city’s police force is provided with too much money?
Jones: I just spent a year on the Lewes Police Ad Hoc Committee. We were charged with examining police operations from top to bottom for priorities and potential efficiencies. We made recommendations for certain efficiencies and they are in the process of being implemented. There are 13 positions at present, with another two budgeted for the coming year. Having looked at the per capita police expenditures of our sister resort towns, our police budget seems reasonable.
Morgan: Our police force is well trained and well led. My concern is primarily with the city’s process for approving two more officers. This will add at least $200,000 to our annual spending – yet it was approved at the end of a four-hour meeting with neither written explanation nor review through our budget process. I also wonder whether our police spending, which is some 30 percent of our operating funds, is well directed. Shouldn’t serious and educated discussion precede our decisions as to whether our department needs faster cars, long guns and a police dog? Should Lewes aim for a police force more tailored to our needs? It is not how much we spend, but how we spend it, that matters to me.
Saliba: I believe public safety should be the top priority for any government, including Lewes. Governments are uniquely positioned to effectively “preserve and protect.” Today’s modern police departments not only investigate and arrest violators of the law, but also practice sound community policing, e.g., working to secure local businesses, while also addressing domestic disputes and disturbances with de-escalation tactics. I applaud Chief Tom Spell and his fellow officers for their recent sting operation that seized 324 packages of heroin, 47 grams of methamphetamine and six grams of cocaine. Our police budget is 24 percent of the town’s overall budget. This is on par with Rehoboth, but substantially lower than Dewey Beach’s 44 percent and Bethany’s 30 percent. I strongly support continuing to fully fund our police department.
Do you support a parking pass system for Lewes Beach’s residential streets? And, how should the city handle parking at the beach?
Jones: Parking is not just a problem on the beach. We in Lewes have a summertime and special-events problem in town, as well. But, as to Lewes Beach specifically, when we lived in Dewey Beach, we were two-and-a-half blocks from the ocean. We had two parking spots and the rest was by purchased parking permit only. So, in my experience, they work to keep vehicles in neighborhoods to reasonable levels. But, to quote myself, “We will never have enough parking! We need to think of it in terms of people-movement.” There would be no guarantee with permits, of course. But effectiveness could be increased if we promoted free parking at nearby beach lots and offered jitneys from satellite parking. Going forward, we would have to see if there’s a plan that’s feasible and effective for Lewes.
Morgan: I voted for the council to “favorably consider” a permit system for Lewes Beach. City staff is already meeting to flesh out the pros and cons, including costs. If the city adopts a permit system for Lewes Beach, we should consider one for the downtown residents, too; they have less off-street parking and are at least equally affected by the high-season influx of visitors parking in front of their homes. Marking spaces is important (with or without a permit system) in order to optimize the use of legal spaces, for both the downtown and the beach areas. Enforcement is also a priority: The city is hiring two seasonal officers who will be assigned to the beach, while others will patrol the downtown area.
Saliba: I do support a parking pass system, particularly since the status quo is unsustainable. This is really a safety issue, as motorists, bikers, and pedestrians are all at risk with the current chaotic situation. A permit system will allow motorists to more easily locate newly delineated parking spots. A paid permit system will be: 1) consistent with other areas of Lewes that require payment for parking; and, 2) fiscally responsible as it will generate funding to administer the program and perhaps even a surplus. The city has already approved more funding of enforcement for this summer (i.e., illegal parking within 30 feet of side streets, blocking of driveways, etc.). I am hopeful the city will have a permit plan ready for consideration in late 2021/early 2022.