Lewes planners discuss voting procedures

Commissioners considering changes to bylaws
October 22, 2019

Following 2-1 vote that occurred in August, the nine-member Lewes Planning Commission wants to strengthen its voting procedures by amending its bylaws. 

In August, the commission voted to grant preliminary consent for the controversial Lewes Waterfront Preserve major subdivision on New Road near Canary Creek. 

Only five members of the panel attended the meeting, meeting minimum attendance for a quorum. Voting members dropped to four when Vice Chair Kay Carnahan recused from discussion and vote, and left the room. 

One of the four remaining members, John Nehrbas, was new to the commission and abstained from voting, leaving three of nine members to vote on the project, which is set to bring 90 townhouses to New Road.

The action has drawn concern from members of the public in the weeks since the meeting, and City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas presented commissioners with proposed amendments to the bylaws at the Oct. 16 meeting.

“I’ve seen some pretty crazy parliamentary-type things take place, but that series of events was the thinnest line of voting I’ve seen in a long time,” he said. “Chances of that repeating are very slim, but it’s worth addressing, and it certainly raised issues.”

One of the suggested changes is the procedure for recusal. The existing bylaws encourage recusing members to leave the room while a topic is discussed. In his research, Mandalas said, he found leaving the room can break the quorum.

“If you break a quorum, you cannot conduct any business,” he said.

Mandalas’ amended bylaw would allow commissioners to stay in the room if their absence would result in a loss of quorum.

Because that exact situation occurred in August, resident Doug Spelman questioned the legality of the vote on Lewes Waterfront Preserve. Chairman Drew McKay said the legality of the vote does not matter anymore, as the commission’s 90-day window to make its decision has long passed.

“The matter goes forward whether we revote or not,” he said. “It’s done. We will have a chance to look at the final site plan when it’s completed. As far as that vote, it’s not possible to reconsider it.”

Commissioner Mark Harris recommended the bylaws be amended to require at least a quorum participate in a vote, meaning five of the nine members must be able to vote on an issue. Recusals would not be counted toward the total, but abstentions would because they are considered neutral votes.

Mandalas said the Freedom of Information Act also provides for appointed members of boards and commissions to participate by video conference. It is not an option for elected officials. That approach could be used if the commission were up against a tight deadline.

“But if you do that, you have to notice that location and a member of the public has to be able to sit in,” he said. “If you’re in a hotel on Skype, you have to say [in the notice that a member] will be in this hotel room at this time, and any member of the public is invited to join.”

Commissioners will continue discussion on the issue at an upcoming meeting. What they ultimately decide will go to mayor and city council for approval.

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