Rehoboth voters head to the polls Saturday, Aug. 12, when incumbent Commissioner Kathy McGuiness will seek to retain her seat for a second consecutive term, vying with two political newcomers – Susan Gay and Lisa Schlosser. At least one newcomer will be elected, as incumbent Lorraine Zellers declined to seek a fourth term. All three candidates are running as nonresident commissioners.
The Cape Gazette asked the candidates to provide a short biography and to answer four questions. Answers were limited to 100 words, and their answers appear in alphabetical order.
Susan Gay - A visitor for nearly 17 years, Gay has been actively involved in city affairs as a homeowner for the past three years. A native of Atlanta, she spent 30 years in the private sector in the Philadelphia area, where she worked in budgeting/financial management, strategic planning, and information delivery. She is married with two children, ages 20 and 23, who grew up spending their summer vacations in Rehoboth.
Kathy McGuiness - A Rehoboth native, McGuiness has worked as a pharmacist, realtor, volunteer and mother of three teenagers. She attended school in Rehoboth and ran several businesses downtown. She was the founding president of Rehoboth Beach Main Street and has worked with dozens of nonprofits, most recently Meals on Wheels, Boys & Girls Club of Delaware, the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company and as an ally member of the CAMP Rehoboth Board. She was founder, fundraiser and manager of Rehoboth’s July 4 fireworks for 18 years.
Lisa Schlosser - A public servant and technology executive for approximately 30 years, Schlosser led, managed and had oversight of billions of dollars in investments and projects during a career with the U.S. Army, from which she is now retired. She worked for Ernst &Young and was a senior executive in the federal government. She teaches at Georgetown University and is a volunteer at the Brandywine SPCA. A longtime visitor to the area, she has recently become a full-time resident.
With the City Hall project, there has been a lot of discussion about the process for change orders and whether the commissioners should have more say. Do you support establishing a threshold at which change orders must be approved by the city commissioners? If so, where should the limit be set?
SG - Change orders are an inevitable part of construction projects, with industry standards of 10 percent for a well-managed project. While that standard has been achieved so far with City Hall at 7 percent, there is room for process improvement to achieve an "exceptional” standard of 5 percent. It’s a worthy goal, given our plan to undertake other capital improvement projects. Percentage and cap amounts per budget line item, with any costs in excess requiring commissioner vote, is one approach worth consideration. But balance is needed to avoid unintended consequences of delay due to the seven-day public notice period required for a commissioners vote. An onerous process for approval of every change ultimately drives up total project costs.
KM - I have been requesting this since Feb. 17 on the record and in writing. I believe it would be prudent to set the bar at $5,000. For too long, only a select group on the commission has been involved in this major project – that must change. We are all elected to be responsible. Similar decisions on the next project, the outfall, could prove very expensive for Rehoboth property owners. There must be a process in place with our 44 percent partners, the county, as well as communication.
LS - I would first advocate for the adoption of a comprehensive, disciplined, project management approach – establishing contracts and plans that: codify service level agreements; performance and payment standards; timelines, roles/responsibilities; and change management and control procedures. The change management and control procedures should define and/or clarify each level of authority and dollar threshold for approving change orders. Best practices advocate for a tiered system of approval authority. For example, a project manager would have up to a certain threshold; the city manager; then the commissioners. Most importantly, all change orders should be fully documented and presented at commissioner meetings.
An issue that has repeatedly cropped up at commissioner meetings is that of transparency. Do you believe the city has been open and transparent with the public about the City Hall project? What steps would you support to improve?
SG - The city was very transparent about the project before the vote two years ago, providing videos, detailed costs and schedules, and even tours of the old building. But few complete updates to the citizens have followed. The confusion over City Hall costs could have been avoided if citizens had been better informed about key milestones, including approval of the construction contract in early 2016, and the reasons behind the commissioners’ decisions. The city must communicate clearly about major projects, budgets, and financial plans. We need a process to inform citizens on an ongoing basis through town halls, quarterly budget meetings, and regular updates through the web and local organizations.
KM - I believe decisions were made without full disclosure – like approving massive change orders, or redoing parts of the construction without letting all commissioners and the public know. I will continue to insist on transparency, all of us working together with a process defined. I will continue to request questions get answered and all commissioners be included for agenda items and consultation. Let’s improve in areas needed for our constituents. I suggest our city committees actually resume meeting to foster public communication and participation.
LS - Although there is some information regarding the City Hall project on the city website, much of it is outdated and not very specific, relative to ongoing status and true costs. But the website is not enough. It is the obligation of the government, and the right of the citizens, to understand where the city budget is being allocated at all times. As part of the disciplined process above, there should be continuous communication with our citizens, with full disclosure of the project plan, change orders, total overages, and how the city is managing the risks associated with all major projects. This can be done in town halls, digital meetings, and through the web and social media.
Do you view improving the city’s stormwater outfall system into the ocean as a priority? What steps need to be taken to move that forward?
SG - This is absolutely a priority for me; it’s overdue. The time is right to take positive action and also provides an opportunity to educate residents and visitors on the differences between wastewater and stormwater. In some cities, these systems are combined, but they are completely separate here. As we embark on the ocean outfall project, public perception will be key to maintaining our reputation for clean beaches. To improve stormwater management, we can start by examining the recommendations from the report required by DNREC as part of the outfall permitting process. Those recommendations range from low-cost measures such as education to adding filters and pervious pavement.
KM - Absolutely. As we lay out our capital improvement plans, this is part of the record-of-decision requirement where we must engage in an EIS. Since Phase 1 was completed with the conclusion we needed more data, we are embarking on Phase 2. We were required to study the symptoms and alternatives and costs to fix the issues at hand. What we do with the data gathered and how we pay for this is the big question. We need to proceed with all commissioners together, to get the work done efficiently and effectively. This is an example of an item that should be discussed publicly. As someone who operated two downtown businesses, I understand how to manage and multitask projects at hand.
LS - I suspect that most of our community is aware of the criticality of sustaining an effective stormwater system. According to the city’s stormwater preliminary engineering report, prepared by GHD in May 2016, “stormwater runoff is the most commonly identified cause of beach closings and swimming advisories.” Consequently, the city’s current approach to stormwater issues and solutions should be detailed in an updated version of the CDP. I am in favor of updating the CDP even prior to the required 2020 timeframe, so these types of issues can be made fully transparent to our community. This being said – we should focus on the City Hall and wastewater ocean outfall projects as our top priorities at this point.
Favorite recent book you’ve read and why?
SG - Thanks to the “staff pick” shelves at Browseabout, “Isaac’s Storm” by Erik Larson is my favorite book this year. It’s not new, and not as well known as some of his other books, but I think it’s his best. I love the breathtakingly real depiction of the 1900 Galveston hurricane and the personal story of the scientist at the helm of the burgeoning U.S. Weather Service. Larson has great skill for making history come alive.
KM - I have the legal handbook for Delaware women on my desk. It’s probably not an exciting answer, but I hope to improve my understanding of state laws in regard to issues and concerns articulated by women.
LS - I met an amazing couple, the Dyers, while on a listening tour with Rehoboth residents over the past few weeks. Ann Lynch Dyer authored, “Just Yesterday…Special People & Special Places We Still Remember from Life in Sussex County During Those Fabulous 20’s-40’s And Beyond.” I read this in the Rehoboth library this week. It was incredibly powerful to hear and then read about the history of Rehoboth Beach from someone who experienced this history firsthand.