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Rehoboth mayor misusing emergency declaration

May 8, 2020

Dozens of local companies, organizations and governments found out quickly as the coronavirus epidemic unfolded that they could move their operations and meetings to the internet. Using such programs as Zoom, these entities followed the old adage that where there’s a will there is a way.  

Because they couldn’t meet together in the same room didn’t mean they couldn’t have meetings. Elected bodies figured out they could meet and use their existing live streaming technology to also allow the public to listen and watch in real time.

The one notable exception is Rehoboth Beach where, for almost two months, the mayor and commissioners did not meet other than a 45-minute session on March 20 to pass the budget. The May 4 meeting was the first regular meeting since the city’s elected officials last met March 9.

During that same period, elected bodies governing Dewey Beach, Lewes, Milton, Sussex County, and Cape Henlopen School District managed to conduct multiple legally compliant meetings. Circumstances certainly were not ideal but they made them happen anyway and included the public.  

In Rehoboth Beach, where government shutdown orders - as elsewhere - created major concerns, Mayor Paul Kuhns used municipal code language to declare a civil emergency and suspend normal government functions, even though that language doesn’t give him the sole authority he has taken.

It says such a declaration gives him authority to “suspend provisions . . . prescribing procedures for the conducting of city business . . . if compliance with the provisions . . . would prevent or substantially impede or delay action necessary to cope with the disaster emergency.” That hardly works for this situation.

Rehoboth has scheduled a meeting for 9 a.m., Tuesday, May 12, to discuss a “Comprehensive Action Plan in moving forward with reopening the city, including beach, Boardwalk and non-essential businesses.”

Hopefully that meeting signals the mayor’s intent to return to a healthier, more democratic, open meeting environment in Rehoboth Beach, despite the needed extra effort.  

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the day of the May 12 meeting.

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, Publisher Emeritus, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, Sports Editor Emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, Associate Editor; Nick Roth, Sports Editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.

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