With Rehoboth Beach municipal elections slated Saturday, Aug. 12, mayoral candidates Sam Cooper and Paul Kuhns joined commissioner candidates Susan Gay, Kathy McGuiness and Lisa Schlosser at two forums to take their ideas to voters and answer questions. Polls are open 10 a.m-6 p.m. at the Rehoboth fire hall.
At a July 28 at a forum hosted by CAMP Rehoboth and Rehoboth Beach Homeowner’s Association, incumbent Mayor Sam Cooper, seeking his 10th term in office, played up his experience, honesty and deep Rehoboth roots.
“There’s no airs about me,” he said. “What you see is what you get. I truly know this town inside and out.”
His opponent, Commissioner Paul Kuhns emphasized that after nearly 30 years with Cooper at the helm, the time has come for a change. He told the forum what he would not do: stop the $52.5 million ocean outfall project or allow commercialization of residential neighborhoods. He also said he would not be allied with developers. “I have a vision for the future. I’m not looking in the rearview mirror and hoping it will come back. I’m looking forward to planning for the future,” he said.
The three candidates seeking commissioner seats also weighed in. Susan Gay said she has been working in the community for three years, starting with developing fact sheets to ensure citizens received accurate information on city issues. She said her private-sector career has given her experience with the budget process, and she promised to be prepared and honest, with a focus on long-range planning.
Incumbent Commissioner Kathy McGuiness said her platform is accountability and fiscal responsibility. Her motto, she said, is preserve, promote and protect. She said she was the founding president of Rehoboth Beach Main Street and has years of experience on the commission. McGuiness said the commission has been moving in a better direction and expanding transparency.
Candidate Lisa Schlosser said one of her goals would be to establish a round table of city officials, residents and members of the business community to discuss issues affecting city businesses. She wants to balance preservation of Rehoboth’s character with the forward march of progress to allow the community to thrive. Schlosser said strong communities are inclusive and engage the community in public/private partnerships.
Voters question the candidates
The first question at the July 28 forum asked the three most important issues facing Rehoboth.
Cooper said maintaining the town’s character, monitoring the city’s financial condition and finishing the ocean outfall, which he called a game-changer for the town, in part because it will upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Kuhns said completing City Hall, seeing through the ocean outfall project and financial planning. Kuhns said the city has no financial planning. “We financially plan the budget on a year-to-year basis, and we can’t do that going forward.”
Gay said her three most important issues are transportation management, the environment, and accurate and timely information on commissioner decisions. She said too often, many citizens are getting inaccurate or false information about decisions made by the commissioners.
McGuiness listed long-term planning, traffic and communication with the community. “You can’t just let things happen. You have to make things happen. Change is going to happen; we must direct it. Our vision must be reinvigorated. We must enforce that vision as a community.”
Schlosser said her top issues were better fiscal accountability, transportation and parking, and shifting the way Rehoboth communicates with citizens. “We have to be more transparent. We have to shift to incentives and working together to better our community.”
Candidates were asked whether they would be present for city meetings year round.
Gay said, “The answer is a resounding yes.”
McGuiness said she would be at all meetings, while Schlosser said she would be at meetings but that it was just as important for her to be in the community.
Cooper said he has not missed a meeting in 27 years and would attend all meetings. Kuhns said he plans to be at all meetings, although he will also travel and take vacations when he can.
The candidates were asked what the next big project for Rehoboth would be.
Kuhns said the city needs to come up with incentives to get people to park outside of town, such as a jitney service taking people from the Park and Ride into town. “There’s too many cars within the city. People talk about making the city more walkable or bikeable, but we haven’t done a thing about it.”
Cooper said Rehoboth has become a 12-month town, not just a summer resort. He said drainage and stormwater management are clearly the next big project. He said making the necessary improvements would require their own dedicated revenue source, and he would like to find a way to tie stormwater management to the use of impervious surfaces, so the more impervious surface you create, the more you pay.
McGuiness agreed parking and transportation were big issues, although she viewed fiscal responsibility as a vehicle for conversations about parking. She said 33 percent of Rehoboth’s budget comes from parking, while 7 percent is from taxes. McGuiness said the city also needs to take a comprehensive look at its employee benefits package.
Schlosser said improving the city’s stormwater system and transportation management were major issues for her. She said the city should reinvigorate the Bandstand and bring in talent from around the country.
Gay said the biggest upcoming project is updating the city’s comprehensive development plan, the road map that addresses what the city wants to be in the next 5 to 10 years.
Finally, the candidates were asked about term limits.
Schlosser said she was for them, while McGuiness said no but noted that voter eligibility questions must be resolved. Gay and Cooper both said no.
Cooper said elections themselves are term limits. Kuhns agreed voting issues should be looked at, but he supports term limits because they might give more people the incentive to run.
Chamber hosts forum
A second candidates forum was held July 31 by the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce. The debate format included a brief mini-debate between mayoral candidates and a full debate with all five candidates.
Kuhns and Cooper were asked how they plan to maintain balance between small-town charm and a tourism-based economy.
Cooper said the city has already done a good job, although maintaining balance is one of it’s biggest challenges. “I believe keeping Rehoboth a nice place to live for our full-time residents and our part-time residents is paramount. We have to ensure it is a great place to live. If it’s a great place to live, it will be a great place to vacation.”
Kuhns said the city needs tourism to continue to grow. “We need to make sure the downtown is friendly to not only the tourists but to the business community as well as residents. Tourism drives the engine in this part of the county, this part of the state. We have to make sure tourism works.”
The mayoral candidates were also asked how they would improve collaboration with state and county officials.
Kuhns said the city should be meeting continually with the state and county. “We need the relationships to grow and get stronger. Government has to be shared because it affects all of us.”
Cooper said because state officeholders change frequently, it is important to have consistency in the city’s leadership to continue to build relationships. He said county staff is more in tune with what is happening in the beach areas than the council is.
All five candidates were asked if they could change two things about Rehoboth, what would they be?
Cooper said he would like to remove ambiguities from the zoning code to make it more straightforward. He said ordinances have been changed so much their meanings have become diluted.
Kuhns said he would like to see more community input and outreach. He said the city should revive dormant committees to give input to the commissioners.
Gay said congestion is the biggest issue she hears from constituents. “We run the risk of being loved to death. We have a clean city, beaches, charm. It’s a good problem to have. But when do the unintended consequences of tourism make us loved to death? How do we maximize the benefits and minimize the burdens?”
McGuiness said there are lots of places for improvements, such as discussing the city’s voting requirements, reviving committees and a new traffic management study.
Schlosser said community participation would be the biggest change, but she also would like to look at the city’s voting requirements.
Finally, the candidates were asked if they perceived an unsafe atmosphere on the Boardwalk at night.
McGuiness said, “It could be an accurate perception. We’ve had more people from outside of town. We need to make sure we are viable year round. You have to sit back comprehensively and have a vision and say, ‘Who do you want to be?’”
Schlosser said she would sit down with the police, business and citizens and look at data to see if crime has increased and if so, where. She said she would like to make sure police are stationed at the right locations based on data.
Gay said commercial revitalization of Wilmington and Baltimore avenues could go a long way towards improving safety for citizens and visitors.
Kuhns said there was a perception that Rehoboth had an unsafe atmosphere on the Boardwalk on weekend nights. He said there were no fights or altercations, but people’s perception was fear, and those people wouldn’t go down to the Boardwalk late at night.
Cooper said he spoke to the police chief about this topic last year and that the response was that some visitors may not look like us, but they are not engaging in criminal activity. He said the most concerning criminal activities have not changed much over the last 20 years.
Polls for the Rehoboth election will be open until 6 p.m.