Participate in a meaningful, honest and truthful way
While attending the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners' meeting this past Monday night, I realized that Rehoboth Beach has become a city where facts do not matter. The public comments at Monday night's meeting were reminiscent of the fears fomented by many of the same commenters who railed against the supposed evils of a 4-year-old child playing in a pool on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of summer vacation season. (Query: Where are all the noise complaints?) Now, they have found new issues to dissemble, continue to spread falsehoods, and create an atmosphere of hysteria. This time, it's over proposed changes to our city's charter, and its voting eligibility provisions.
I believe my views on the need for transparency in our government and to ensure essential citizen participation should be well known. I have been critical of the past administration for what I believe was an intentional lack of transparency and a failure, if not outright flagrant and abusive refusal, to respect different points of views. While we may have differing opinions on Mayor Kuhns' agenda approach to "Citizen Comments," citizen participation at any point in time carries with it an obligation to participate responsibly, and to positively contribute to an informed dialogue and decision-making process. To do otherwise is simply irresponsible.
A segment of our community seems intent on being negative about anything Mayor Kuhns seeks to put forth. There has been a great deal of divisiveness ignited in the past several years - but what I have witnessed recently pales in comparison. It is clear that there is an organized effort to be obstructionist no matter what the issue is. The MO is clear: criticize, create hysteria, and attribute sinister motives to certain elected officials. Nothing, not even making statements that are clearly false (the equivalent of "fake news"), seems to be beyond the attack weapons used by this group.
The proposed charter change debate exemplifies how far some in our community will go to spread falsehoods and misinformation. Several members of the public emphatically claimed that the proposal will allow an owner of multiple LLCs to vote numerous times for each LLC; the proposal (which was available on the city's website) clearly stated otherwise - despite what one commenter's lawyers told her. In fact, the proposal is far more restrictive than what the charter currently allows in connection with voting in referendums. (How many times did former Mayor Cooper get to vote on the bonding for City Hall and ocean outfall through his many LLCs?) I would favor changing that provision.
Another citizen boldly asserted that no other jurisdiction in the nation allows LLCs to vote - a factually incorrect statement. One needs only to look as close as Fenwick Island and Henlopen Acres to find empirical evidence of that statement’s falsity. This same person made an impassioned argument that LLCs are not a “part of our democracy” - invoking Lincoln’s definition of our democracy as a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” While that may have been a nice sound bite...I struggled to understand what it meant in the context of this debate. Nor did I understand why she believes only some members of our community are a part of her democracy. This is an issue of fairness and equal representation in a unique resort community.
But I finally got her point! What she was unknowingly arguing is that our neighbors who choose to own their property in an LLC (like those of us who choose to own our properties in a trust) are property owners in Rehoboth Beach like her, pay property taxes like her that pay for the city services she receives, pay for water and sewer, support our community just like her, and have a vested interest in what happens to our great city - just like her. They may own their properties in an LLC to protect themselves against liability (even family and friends can turn on you), for tax purposes, or for estate planning purposes. These LLCs are the vehicle through which real people own their property. So, she convinced me that allowing LLCs limited voting rights is really the embodiment of Lincoln’s government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
The point is that citizen participation must mean responsible participation - a right not to be abused. If you are going to participate, whether at a public forum, a letter to the editor or otherwise, be informed, understand the issue you are addressing, and make sure that your facts are accurate. I encourage everyone to participate in a meaningful, honest and truthful way - but if you cannot meet those standards, it is best to say nothing!
Richard J. Perry Jr.