It appears Rehoboth Beach will soon be getting its stormwater utility task force, but not before Mayor Stan Mills accused his fellow commissioners of conducting a coup and sabotaging the city’s committee creation process.
Rehoboth has been exploring the creation of a stormwater utility for almost two years now. The city hired AECOM, an international infrastructure consulting firm, in March 2020 to assist with the process. In December, commissioners agreed to create the Stormwater Utility Task Force to make recommendations regarding a fee structure for the proposed utility, which would serve as a dedicated funding source for stormwater-related programs and projects.
The city solicited applications for task force members after commissioners agreed to a membership number of five to seven. Expecting a favorable vote, Mills came to a Jan. 21 commissioner meeting with a list of seven mayoral appointments to the task force – Elise Burns, Letitia Gomez, Jan Konesey, Janice Miller, Eric Seward, Bob Suppies and Bruce Williams. However, a majority of commissioners voiced their displeasure with the proposed appointments, saying there should be more because qualified applicants were being left off.
Mills took offense at the commissioners’ comments, ending the discussion abruptly before any membership votes were taken. Later, at the end of the meeting, Commissioner Susan Gay attempted to bring up the subject, but Mills cut her short and refused to discuss it any further.
City staff and commissioners still want the task force’s help with the utility creation process, so Mills placed the topic on the agenda for discussion during the commissioner workshop Feb. 7. He immediately went into a prepared statement when that portion of the agenda was reached.
The actions of the last meeting denigrated the authority of the mayor to nominate task force membership following the criteria approved by the commissioners, said Mills. The mayor was essentially rendered powerless, he said, adding that no one came to him and said they had a change of heart about membership criteria.
“Nobody did that. Instead it was almost a coup in how it was approached. The committee process, in my view, was sabotaged during that last meeting,” said Mills.
Commissioner Toni Sharp immediately responded to the mayor by saying she was astounded Mills would continue his diatribe from the Jan. 21 meeting.
“What I would really like to do,” said Sharp, “is focus on moving forward in a productive and collegial way, rather than being attacked by the mayor for a second time.”
Sharp acknowledged commissioners didn’t raise concerns before the previous meeting, but she said it would have cost Mills nothing to engage in a conversation about their issues and come back to the Feb. 7 meeting ready to move on.
Commissioner Susan Gay said she thought five to seven members was the minimum number of appointees, because there was concern the city might not get that many applying.
“The concern at the time was if we were going to get anybody,” said Gay. “Does anyone really want to talk about stormwater? We were fortunate to get people to step forward.”
The remaining discussion wasn’t long, and in the end, a consensus was reached to vote on all 13 applications during the commissioners meeting Friday, Feb. 18. Including the previously mentioned seven, the proposed members are Thomas Childers, Frank Cooper, Susan Goode, Mary Peck, Susan Stewart and Joseph Vescio, who would be a non-voting member because he doesn’t live in town.
Following the meeting, in a Feb. 8 email, Mills stood by his statements.
“I will not rescind my previous statements as I feel very strongly about the methodical process I put forward, explaining each step in the process to the commissioners, and feeling undermined by a group of my colleagues,” said Mills.
Given his opening statement, Mills was not concerned he might have undermined the results of the task force's work before it was even started.
“On the contrary,” he said, “the task force will have an important role in providing valuable input for the stormwater study, and I’m confident they will not feel challenged in any way due to my comments.”
Mills said he doesn’t agree with Sharp’s comments, but recognized the importance of the group and, he said, is amenable to moving forward in forming the group to assist city leaders.