Three file for two Dewey Beach seats

by Michael Short on August 28, 2010

By Michael Short

Clockwise from top left: Laird, Ranieri, Applebaum, Seitz

Three candidates have  filed for the September 25 Dewey Beach election. The three will compete for two available seats on the Dewey Beach Board of Commissioners.

Incumbent Marty Seitz will face newcomers Kelly Ranieri and Jim Laird. Laird and Seitz filed as non-residents while Ranieri filed as a resident. Laird said that if elected, he may well become a full-time resident before the end of his term.

Although sometimes different in approach, all three candidates share a deep interest and commitment to the town. All have been active in town issues and all three pledge to do their best to make Dewey Beach a better place to live.

There is an open seat on the board because Commissioner Marc Appelbaum has decided not to seek another term. Appelbaum said he knows two of the three candidates well and believes that “I’m leaving things in good hands.”

He has suffered from health problems and said “I just decided I wanted to spend more time with my wife and family.”

The September 25 election comes at what may be a crucial point for the town. Dewey Beach politics is often intense, but this summer has seen the continuing legal battles over Dewey Beach Enterprises and their proposed plans for the  Ruddertowne Complex.

Those plans have prompted four lawsuits, innumerable headlines, settlement discussions and widespread concern among town residents. Many of the questions at a Friday, Aug. 27 Dewey Beach Civic League candidate forum focused on the ongoing battles with DBE.

“Our community is fiercely divided in a way never seen before,” said Ranieri.

Each of the three candidates begain the forum with an opening statement and then took questions from the audience. All three made it clear that they support the town’s current 35-foot height limit, a limit which has been challenged by DBE.

Seitz stressed the accomplishments of the last two years during his time on the board. He said the town has overcome a $700,000 budget deficit, is now running a surplus and has been able to give town employees raises and bonuses based on performance. He said Dewey Beach conducted a national search before hiring Town Manager Diana Smith, had a charter change approved to allow election dates to change and updated absentee voting requirements.  He established the search committee for the town manager and said the town was able to hire its first choice from among more than 80 applicants.

Those accomplishments have helped set the town back on a solid fiscal path and are an indication of a professional approach to running the town, he said. “I am proud of my service. I am proud of what we’ve done.”

He has called for calming the rhetoric and strengthening relationships between the business and residential communities. “I am committed to increasing the professionalism to help the town run smoothly and more economically,” he said.

Seitz spent 35 years doing research and consulting in energy technologies.  He has been married for 43 years and has two adult children.

Laird pointed to his experience as a director of government affairs for the Exelon Corporation. He held a previous similar position with the Boeing Company.

“Look at my record. I have a long history of getting things done,” he said. Laird usually begins his mornings by picking up litter throughout the town and participated in the town beautification project this spring.

“When I began to hear rumors that either Marc or Marty might not seek re-election, I became concerned that the town would regress to the days of personal agendas and politics ruling the day again,” Laird said.

“We need strong independent leadership that will listen and then act on the input they receive,” Laird said. “I will sit with the people and leaders throughout the town and listen to their concerns and issues. That has already begun.”

“A vote for Jim Laird is a vote for you on September 25,” he said.

Laird is married and has two adult children. His wife Betty chaired the town manager search committee and serves on the policy committee.

Ranieri is the current teacher of the year for the Cape Henlopen School District. She  met her husband in Dewey Beach and was married on the beach some eight years later.

Ranieri moved here permanently in 2005 after spending a decade working in Dewey Beach during the summer. She is an art teacher at Rehoboth Elementary.

She is on the Dewey Beach Marketing Committee, launched the Dewin’ It Right campaign aimed at educating rowdy Junebug visitors and joined with others to spearhead the first Unity for Beauty Day in 2007. When maintenance funding ran out for Sunset Park, she offered to adopt it on behalf of Rehoboth Elementary.

“We need transparency and effective communication between all Dewey stakeholders, property owners, business owners, residents, employees, tourists and guests – so we can make some good, common sense decisions. I hope to represent you and your “voice.”

“I am passionate about Dewey Beach and its’ future,” Ranieri said. “It is not about you, me or I. It is about we and the good things we can do. Let’s move on. Let’s put the “we” back in Dewey Beach.”

Candidates were asked about the atmosphere of town meetings and whether “bickering” keeps things from getting done.  Seitz said that he has advocated for respect for the town commissioners. Laird said he believes things have improved and told the audience that he is a team builder who knows how to reach consensus with others. Ranieri said there is a need for officials to be positive, respectful and polite.

Ranieri spoke strongly in support of family activities like bonfires and movies on the beach as “a proactive approach to change Dewey’s image.”

“It’s all about our image,” said Laird. “We have to turn around the perception.”  He said marketing efforts won’t matter if there is litter in the streets and battles continue to be played out in the media.

Candidates were asked about legal expenses and whether they need to be reined in. While the question may imply a link with the DBE lawsuits, it was not limited to only those legal cases.

Laird said that he isn’t prepared “to roll over on anything” and then went on to say that town residents need to communicate with town officials to make their wishes known about what direction the town should follow. He said there is a need for “open and frank communication.”

“I think a lot of us out there are saying enough already, enough on both sides,” said Ranieri. She said town officials need to hold workshops, do their homework and understand town codes to help head off problems. She also said there is a need to “respond and not (just) react.”

Seitz said that the town has moved forward with efforts to rein in costs and put the town on a good financial footing. “The issue is to maintain fiscal responsibility and continue to move the town forward.”

In regard to the DBE lawsuits and settlement efforts, Seitz said the town has a right to attain its vision and that he strongly supports the 35-foot height limit. “I will consider any reasonable offer that removes lawsuits and provides state-of-the-art facilities consistent with zoning and our sense of proportion.”

Ranieri said she was reluctant to give an opinion about a settlement because she does not have all of the facts of what has been discussed in any settlement discussions. But she was adamant about supporting the 35-foot height limit, saying “the people have spoken.”

Laird said there should be no “absolutes” when it comes to negotiating and settlements, saying “politics is the art of compromise.” He also strongly supported the 35-foot height limitation.

“Let businesses thrive and grow, but they have to do it responsibly,” Laird said.

On the question of easements and setbacks, Laird said the town should be adding landscaping and not removing it. He said potential problem areas need to be evaluated “on a case-by-case basis.”

Seitz said he thinks the town has satisfactory parking and that Dewey Beach doesn’t need to use easements and setbacks to push for more parking. He said all citizens need to be treated uniformly.

Ranieri said some beautiful landscaping has been added by property owners and that property and business owners need to be respected. But she said safety issues like room needed for emergency vehicles must be considered.

“More negativity is not what we need,” Ranieri said. “We need to be positive and professional. We need to look forward, accept and embrace change and respect our neighbors’ opinions. We need to make decisions based on facts, not rumors or suspicions. . . I can assure you that as a commissioner, data and facts will drive my decisions.”

“I have a long history of turnarounds on projects that were off track by bringing opposing sides together and working toward common ground,” Laird said. “Change and relationships take time to build and trust is the keystone. Trust is only achieved by honest and open communication.”

“We love this town and we love our life here,” Laird said. “While my job and work travel have kept me from being a candidate up until now, Dewey is facing some significant challenges that have drawn me into the race.”

“I am running for re-election because I care very deeply about Dewey’s future. I am running to continue the progress we made during my first two year term,” Seitz said.

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