Lewes candidates tackle the issues

May 2, 2014

The race for Lewes City Council is coming into the final stretch.  One-term incumbent Bonnie Osler and challengers Mike Mahaffie and Rob Morgan are seeking to win one of two seats up for grabs in the Saturday, May 10 election.

The candidates took some time off the campaign trail to answer a few questions. Their answers follow, limited to about 125 words and edited for clarity.

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Election Day at Lewes City Hall, located at 113 E. Third St. For additional information, call city hall at 302-645-7777.

Please tell us about yourself, including age, educational background and work experience as it relates to the position of city councilperson.

MM: I was born 52 years ago in Washington D.C., and educated in Montgomery County, Md. public schools. I earned a bachelor's in English from Colby College in Maine. I've built a career around sharing information, using data well and enhancing intergovernmental coordination. I have won service and achievement awards from my peers in state and national professional organizations. I've won the highest award given by the U.S. Geological Survey. I have long-established relationships with the leaders of state agencies important to Lewes. I have relationships with county and municipal leaders as well. I have the knowledge and experience to help Lewes work more with its neighbors, with the county and with the state.

RM: I am 64. After earning a bachelor's in history from Yale, I served as a U.S. Army lieutenant in Vietnam and was awarded a Bronze Star. Later, I earned an MBA in finance from Harvard and a law degree from the University of Virginia. After law school, I worked in private practice and as a federal prosecutor. Then, for 20 years I worked for Perot Systems as lead negotiator on many long-term contracts, analyzing budgets and financial statements. This background may be useful for financial issues, in particular, and in general for taking an active role on the council. In Lewes, I serve on the planning commission, finance committee, vestry of St. Peter’s, council of Osher Lifelong Learning in Lewes and board of the Lewes Homeowners Association.

BO: I became a Lewes homeowner in 1993, when I was 36. In addition to work on council, I serve on the boards of the Historic Lewes Farmers Market, dedicated to sustainable agriculture, and the Greater Lewes Community Village, which helps our neighbors remain at home as they age. I am a member of St. Peter's Episcopal Church. I hold degrees from Bryn Mawr College and the University of Virginia School of Law. I worked as a lawyer in private practice and then with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, serving in the Senior Executive Service and managing the defense of thousands of lawsuits. These experiences, including policy development, strategic planning and project management have proven useful to my work on council.

Where do you stand on hiring a planner, whether full time or on a consulting basis? How will this individual affect Lewes?

MM: I support the council’s decision to bring in a planner to help manage the complex issues we face. It is wise to start with an “on-call” planner. This will let us learn how a planner will best work with city staff and our governmental structure. If this approach shows promise, I believe we should continue to move toward a full-time planner. It is important to remember, though, that having a planner on staff will not immediately solve any of the issues we face. A well-trained planning professional will be a valuable asset to the city, but will only be part of a larger team. We have to continue to work on improving our management of this city.

RM: We should proceed with the current council’s decision to hire a part-time planning consultant in FY15 and see how that works. One planner cannot be expert in all things, so the consultant’s time should be directed especially to: 1) advising the planning commission on drafting the comprehensive plan for 2015, and on how to implement it; 2) identifying sources of grant funding and creating a replicable grant-application process; and 3) creating or improving coordination channels with other planning agencies. We may prefer to hire a firm of planners with various specialties from which we can buy expertise as needed rather than a single planner stretched thin. Regardless, the council should actively direct any planner’s vision, with citizen input.

BO: We currently face daunting city planning challenges. The annual cost of adding a full-time planner to city staff, however, likely exceeds $100,000. Given these concerns, I advocated that we “try before we buy” and retain a city planner (or team led by a planner) on a consulting basis. Council has approved taking this step and the consultant selection process is underway. A planner will assist the council, city boards and commissions, and citizens to craft wise, durable policies and decisions on land use, the revised comprehensive plan and adaptation to sea level rise and extreme weather events, among other projects. Once we have experience with a city planner’s services and contributions, we can assess whether hiring a full-time planner is a priority.

As planning and fundraising for the new library continues, what do you think the city's role should be once the new facility is complete?

MM: The city should always be a partner with the Lewes Public Library. Though the library serves a “Greater Lewes” region, our city is physical and cultural host to the library. And the library is a key component of Lewes’ character and civic life. On city council, I will find ways to support the library and ensure that it remains a viable part of our community. The library should continue to be a focal point around which we build our relationship with people who live in the Lewes region. But we can't carry the load alone. I will ensure that it s always a well-balanced partnership.

RM: Lewes will apparently own the land on which the new library will be built. Any contribution toward the new building’s utility costs and maintenance should be capped, so that the library is encouraged to operate efficiently and the city’s budget is protected. If Lewes assumes control of the current building, it should decide on the building’s future uses in an open process with an eye to uses that can help defray the building’s costs, contribute to the community and harmonize with the new library. In any case, Lewes will continue to be a plentiful source of library members, friends, volunteers and charitable donations, so the library’s board should continue to have representation from among our citizens.

BO: Few question the mission of a public library. The city already has demonstrated substantial support for the new library by investing about $1 million to buy land for the new facility (and new bike path trailhead building/parking). The nonprofit entity that runs the library has asked the city to pay another $1 million toward construction as well as $35,000 annually for operations. The city also has been asked to consider assuming ownership of the new library facility, with all the attendant costs and responsibilities of ownership. Before making decisions on further city support of the new library, our community must determine the future use of the existing library building, which we already own, and the likely substantial costs to ready that building for future use.

The proposed Highland Heights and Point Farm communities are very controversial among residents. What is your vision for future growth in and around Lewes?

MM: We know we cannot stop growth. People want to be here. We wanted to be here. We have to remember why we found Lewes so attractive and work to guide future development into a similar pattern. This means supporting a mixture of different residential densities, low-level industry, open space and local-scale retail and restaurants. We can allow for growth where it is appropriate. We can use our city codes to minimize environmental, traffic, flooding and other risks. We will work with developers to maintain the intimate scale of the city and encourage pedestrian and bicycle connections. This will require regular updates of city codes and a willingness to seek out advice and input wherever we can find it.

RM: My vision is different for growth in Lewes and for growth around it. For growth around Lewes, I look for cooperation with the county and state to shape growth in a way that does not clog our streets; where such cooperation cannot be achieved, I look for cooperation with other county residents who share our concerns to seek relief at the polls and in the courts. For growth within Lewes, personally I am confident that if we apply the criteria in the comprehensive plan, the zoning code and the subdivision code firmly and fairly, with respect for and careful consideration of the views of all who offer them, we will succeed in shaping developments to be in harmony with our small-town character.

BO: As the review and discussion process unfolds at the planning commission and then at council, we will learn more about whether Highland Heights or Point Farm is feasible to develop and, if so, under what conditions development might be allowed. We also can anticipate that development of Showfield within city limits will again be raised. Any development within Lewes must be context-sensitive with careful consideration to stormwater management, environmental concerns and infrastructure capacity. We cannot control growth beyond our borders but we need to continue to exert influence, working with individuals and entities at the county and state level. We must work to ensure that Lewes, which is the magnet for development in the first place, doesn’t become a casualty of development.

How would you solve the parking problem on Lewes Beach?

MM: It will be a challenge to develop new parking areas to serve the beach. There's not room for new large-scale parking lots. But we can look for opportunities to create a collection of smaller parking areas. It's time to revisit the layout and right-of-way of the streets on the beach side. We can find more parking space within the right-of-way that we now have. At the same time, we have to manage our street parking to balance the needs of our visitors with the rights of property owners. I believe it is possible, through improved communication and an honest debate, to find that balance. And we should continue to look for innovative solutions, such as a shuttle.

RM: The current council’s approach seems right to me – putting safety first by assuring the passage of emergency vehicles in the short term, while reviewing the root causes of encroachment and increasing demand in the longer term. Ultimately, there may not be a “solution” so much as a compromise that tries to accommodate the needs of residents from elsewhere to find legal parking at the beach with the natural interests of beach residents in access to their homes there, and parking permits should not be left out of consideration.

BO: Lack of parking on Lewes Beach, as well as in downtown Lewes, is a chronic problem with no easy solution. Over the past year, two options for lessening beach-parking demand – a jitney service and parking on city-owned property – were considered and found wanting. Similarly, a parking-permit system is possible, but costly to administer. We have, however, identified two new parking lot options, one on city land by the Daily Market on the beach and one in town, as well as undertaken to address encroachment, which should ease the parking shortage. As with all traffic-related issues, we must be mindful to keep Lewes the wonderfully walkable and bikeable community it now is, especially as biking to Lewes Beach cuts parking demand.

What makes Lewes such a special place?

MM: Lewes is a city of bustle and change, yet it maintains a quiet, historic charm. We’ve maintained our relationship to the ocean and the bay. We have active days, yet our nights are peaceful. Our retail sector includes independent shops and restaurants that are becoming too rare elsewhere. Second Street is home to innovative entrepreneurs and restaurateurs. As the oldest city in this state, we have inherited a unique mix of housing styles. Our neighborhoods range from compact colonial grid-style to modern suburban communities. The people of Lewes have an energy that combines wide life-experience with a strong interest in community. You need only attend a meeting of the council, the planning commission or other city committee to see the engagement of Lewes' people.

RM: Three things make Lewes special to me: its seaside setting, with lighthouses, watchtowers, wharves and piers; its unusual history, from the ill-fated first Dutch settlement to the late unlamented menhaden factory; and, most of all, its people. Lewes has a nice combination of Sussex natives and mostly Mid-Atlantic immigrants, and teems with people from many walks of life who are generous in volunteering their time and talents. There is plenty of good company and plenty of culture, too; you can’t throw a snowball in Lewes without hitting an artist. So we love our town.

BO: Lewes has so many special features – its beautiful beaches, charming and friendly small town ambiance, a generally temperate climate and recreational activities, from bird watching to fishing to kayaking, to name a few. We enjoy living history every day through our beautifully preserved historic homes and buildings. Lewes volunteers work tirelessly to enhance our city and add immeasurably to our community. Perhaps most importantly, we enjoy and cherish our long tradition as a mutually respectful community working together to address our challenges and live consistently with our core values. Lewes is that special place which we all are fortunate indeed to call the most special word, home.