A vote on changing West Fourth Street in Lewes to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will have to wait until January.
Mayor and city council deferred action renaming the street at its Dec. 9 meeting. Mayor Ted Becker said the delay is to allow all residents, including those most directly affected, to have more time to comment on the proposed change. City officials are considering both an honorific or complete renaming of the street.
The move comes as city officials were presented with a petition signed by 26 people against a name change. Twenty-one of the signatures are from residents of West Fourth Street, while five are from nearby addresses. The petition states the name change would be against their wishes and create an administrative debacle for homeowners.
The initial name change request was made more than two years ago by the Rev. George Edwards of Friendship Baptist Church on West Fourth Street. After receiving mixed reaction from council at the time, the issue fell dormant until this fall, when Edwards resubmitted his request, this time for an honorific name change, which would not require residents to change their addresses.
Council held a public meeting Dec. 2 to receive input from the public. The public spoke overwhelmingly in favor of a complete name change instead of an honorific-only change. Council agreed to amend its Dec. 9 agenda to reflect a vote on either option.
But prior to council’s Dec. 2 public meeting and unbeknownst to city council, City Manager Ann Marie Townshend sent a letter to all West Fourth Street residents informing them of a possible change, detailing only an honorific name change because that was what council was considering at the time.
To properly inform residents, Becker said, council deferred a vote to give West Fourth Street residents and anyone else in the public more time to comment on the proposed change.
“Rather than act prematurely, I think it’s best we move forward with additional public input,” Becker said. “I think it’s very important that we correct this procedural error.”
A postcard with information about the possible name change will be sent to all city residents and property owners.
Councilwoman Bonnie Osler said she and her colleagues were unaware Townshend had sent a letter to West Fourth Street residents.
“That was a good idea,” she said. “But when the subject changed from honorific to complete renaming, it may have unintentionally misled some residents. This is a way to fix that to make sure everyone has their say.”
West Fourth Street resident Albert Maahs presented council with the petition.
“The people on West Fourth Street are taking the brunt of this,” he told council. “And I don’t think that’s right.”
Frustrated by the length of the process, Edwards accused city officials of intentionally delaying a vote.
“I look at your council people, and I just can’t understand why it’s so hard to make a decision,” he said. “This is what you do when you’re trying to pull something over on people. If you cannot be men and women enough to say what you want to say and how you feel, I feel it’s a shame. I don’t think you’re going about this in a proper manner.”
The city will accept comments until Friday, Jan. 10, and the item will be up for discussion and a vote at council’s Monday, Jan. 13 regular meeting, a week before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Comments may be sent to executive assistant Alice Erickson at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, call city hall at 302-645-7777.
The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice will also hold a meeting at 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 16, at Friendship Baptist Church, 500 W. Fourth St., Lewes, to discuss the issue.