Lewes officials will not move forward with allowing nonresident property owners to vote in municipal elections, at least at this time. Instead, mayor and city council will look for ways to ensure the concerns of all residents and nonresidents are better heard.
At mayor and city council’s June 12 meeting, Mayor Andrew Williams said it was made clear at a June 5 workshop that there are a lot of people against nonresident voting.
Deputy Mayor Khalil Saliba said the issue is very complicated. It’s not as simple as allowing part-time residents to vote, as that will not only require a charter change, but also decisions about whether LLCs would get a vote and if nonresidents could serve on city council.
To give nonresident property owners a bigger voice, Saliba proposed a standing committee of five nonresidents — two from the north side, two from the south side and a business owner.
“We would shift away from voting rights for nonresidents to a voice for nonresidents,” he said. “Many will probably counter, and I would hope to have that robust discussion at a public workshop.”
Saliba said nonresidents contribute significantly to the city through taxes, serving on committees, and donating to and volunteering with nonprofits.
“I think this is a good compromise or a good way to incorporate more officially and institutionalize the voices of nonresidents who are part-time residents but believe they are full-time citizens,” he said.
Councilwoman Carolyn Jones said she does not believe in allowing nonresidents to vote, because they have ample opportunities to participate in the city’s government.
“If it’s an issue for nonresidents, it is more than likely an issue for the residents as well,” she said.
Councilman Joe Elder agreed. Instead of a committee of nonresidents, he recommended a committee to handle the concerns of anyone in Lewes.
“Then we, as council members, should see those concerns so we can follow up,” he said. “We try to do that as council people, but something is missing. People feel like they’re not being heard, but it’s not just a nonresident issue.”
Elder said the reason he ran for office is because he had concerns he didn’t feel were being addressed. He said the committee could hear concerns about anything, such as zoning, policing or other issues.
Jones said the city doesn’t have the staff to handle such a committee.
“That’s our job,” she said in response to Elder’s proposal. “People don’t have trouble tracking me down.”
“It is our job, but people feel their concerns are falling on deaf ears,” Elder said. “And I think it needs to be addressed.”
Saliba said the major difference between residents and nonresidents is that residents who feel they’re not being heard have the power to vote out council members.
Elder said his proposed committee would ensure the government is responsive to its citizens.
“I think that’s just what part of government needs to be about,” he said. “If we’re going to make this a friendlier government to work with here in Lewes, we need to have a forum like that. But I don’t think it should be there for one interest group; it should be there for everyone.”
He said it comes down to accountability.
Mayor Andrew Williams said he empathizes with those seeking enfranchisement. While the current council listens to all people — resident or nonresident — he said that might not be the case in the future.
“We’re not going to sit in these chairs forever,” he said. “We’re not permanent in our role. While we may be transparent or communicative … that’s not to say future councils will be.”
He said he’s also aware there are many people against allowing nonresident voting, which makes him think about other ways nonresidents could be included in the city’s government. One way could be to allow nonresidents to serve on committees or commissions such as the planning commission.
Council agreed to continue the discussion at its Thursday, July 27 workshop.
Good start for Lewes Line
City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said during her report at mayor and council’s June 12 meeting that Lewes Line ridership has increased 42% over the same period last year. Also, the city has received $13,500 in supporter funding so far this year. The stops with the most significant increases this year are the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal, Otis Smith Park on Savannah Road and the Lewes Public Library.
“We’re getting a strong start,” said Townshend. “I saw the bus go by today, and there was somebody on it. We often hear about empty buses, but I’ve seen them a number of times with passengers.”
Energize Delaware has approved the city’s request for $10,000 to complete a feasibility study on fleet conversion with PxT Infrastructure Solutions. The city has received $5,000, with the remaining $5,000 coming after the study is completed.
Townshend, Councilman Tim Ritzert and Assistant City Manager Ellen Lorraine McCabe have also been working with another group to develop a grant for federal funding to cover installation of DC fast chargers in Lewes.
Landscaping license approved
Mayor and city council approved a license agreement for the owners of 10 Delaware Ave. to add landscaping in the city’s right of way. Although the landscaping will encroach into the right of way, the plan calls for 4.5 feet of gravel for parking between the existing road pavement and the landscaping. The city will collect a fee of $350 to cover legal expenses of drafting the agreement. Once complete, the agreement will be authorized administratively.