At the end of the last meeting of the year Dec. 11, Sussex County Council and staff honored retiring Councilman George Cole as well as Councilman Rob Arlett, who is also stepping down, with proclamations and plaques.
But it appears the really good stuff is being saved for a Wednesday, Jan. 30 dinner in honor of Cole, R-Ocean View. Some people showed up at the last meeting, including three former administrators, to address Cole. However, many others hinted they would wait to share memories and toast and roast Cole at the dinner.
Republican Cole took office in 1986 and has represented District 4 for 32 years. His father, Charlie, served on council from 1974 until his passing in 1985 when George’s mother, Kitty, was appointed to fill out the term.
Cole, a realtor who also owns an antiques store in Bethany Beach, and his wife, Jerri, have six children.
In comments following the meeting, Cole said he enjoyed jousting with attorneys and developers. “They need to be challenged. I hope councils in the future continue to do that,” he said.
Cole thanked staff for their work and support over the years.
Absent from the meeting was council-watcher Dan Kramer, who has debated with Cole numerous times over the years, usually ending with Kramer calling Cole a turkey. Cole said he received a text from Kramer during the meeting. “And it has nothing to do with turkeys,” he said.
“I'll not miss anything but Sam Wilson,” Cole joked. “Like Bob Hope said, thanks for the memories.”
Details are not yet available for the Jan. 30 dinner.
County attorney J. Everett Moore, who has been active in Republican politics for years, said more than three decades ago, he worked with Cole on his first campaign for county council.
Moore said what he respects about Cole – as well as other councilmen – is they can fight tooth and nail on an issue in council chambers and still walk out as friends. Three county administrators who served with Cole were in attendance.
Joe Conaway, administrator from 1973 to 1987, said there will never be another family like the Coles, who dedicated 44 years of service to the county. Conaway worked with Cole's father and mother as well as one year with the retiring councilman.
“I appreciate what you go through and the pressures you face. It's not just one meeting a week,” he said.
Conaway said he was removed from office and Cole voted against him. He then embarked on a career as a land-use consultant. “Thousands of lots have been approved. I thank you because you made it happen,” he said with a laugh. “You were consistent, but not always right,” he added.
Bob Stickels, administrator from 1987 to 2006, said he has known Cole for 54 years and worked with him for 18 years. “I had to tell him that he was a county councilman and not a prince,” he said.
He said Cole and he had an understanding during his tenure that whichever way he voted, the four Democratic councilmen would vote the opposite. “He said a no vote was really a yes vote,” Stickels said.
Dave Baker, administrator from 2006 to 2011, said he would save most of his remarks for later. He said Cole should be proud of the many initiatives over the years he played major roles in, including the expansion of the county wastewater system removing thousands of residential septic systems from the Inland Bays watershed.
Dale Dukes, who served on council with Cole for 20 years, said he was told to say something nice. “I've spent the last two weeks, and I can't think of anything,” he quipped. “I really came here today to make sure you are leaving. Seriously, I have a lot of respect for you – we are good friends.”
Arlett stepping down
Councilman Arlett, R-Frankford, was also honored for his four years of service. Arlett stepped down from his District 5 seat in an unsuccessful run for U.S Senate.
Four years ago, newcomer Arlett defeated two well-known Sussex politicians to win the seat including incumbent Vance Phillips in a primary and Democrat Bob Wheatley, chairman of the county planning and zoning commission, in the general election.
Arlett, a realtor, and his wife, Lorna, have two sons.
“It's been an honor to serve the great residents of this county. It's a big obligation, and I've learned so much from the employees who are the heartbeat of this county,” he said. “I've had no hidden agendas and I've made consistent decisions.”
He had special praise for Cole. “We had our differences, but we've always had a great respect for one another,” he said.
Arlett said other levels of government should follow the example set by Sussex County.
The new Republican councilmembers – Doug Hudson in District 4 and John Rieley in District 5 – will be sworn in Tuesday, Jan. 8.