Dewey Beach candidates face off in forum

by Michael Short on September 18, 2010

By Michael Short

Barely a week before election day, Jim Laird, Kelly Ranieri and Marty Seitz faced off in a candidates forum hosted by the local chamber of commerce.

The three are running for two seats in the Sept. 25 Dewey Beach Commissioners race. It’s been called a critical election for the town at a time when many residents are divided, principally over the proposed re-development of Ruddertowne. Those plans have prompted several lawsuits, with another one expected to be filed on Monday, Sept. 20.

But despite all that, the Friday, Sept. 17 candidate forum featured few fireworks. Friday’s event was hosted by the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce.

All three candidates said they are strong supporters of business. Many of the questions were business oriented and the three candidates agreed on some points.

All supported the chamber’s Destination Rehoboth plans and all said more can and should be done to promote longer shoulder seasons and more year-round businesses.

In one of the forum’s lighter moments, candidates were asked about dogs on the beach and all three favored Dewey Beach’s dog-friendly approach.

Laird called for a fresh start that means thinking things through and  holding more workshop sessions so that things are not rushed. He suggested the town commissioners should have longer terms, instead of holding elections every year. That would give the town a chance to “breathe”, he said.

“We should roll up our sleeves and take a look at how we’re doing things and see if we can do better,” he said.

Seitz, the only incumbent among the three candidates, said “I will work to improve the public dialogue.” He said the town needs to spurn personal attacks and added that “there is an opportunity to reconcile the divides that people have created.”

Ranieri has called for a more positive approach and says she is a careful decision maker who will base decisions on facts. She has said the town needs an atmosphere of “respect, transparency, professionalism and unity.”

When asked about building up the off season, Laird said there is the potential for softball, horseshoes, wiffleball or other potential tournaments to attract people. “I don’t have all the answers, but I will listen to all ideas so we can fill up the calendar.”

Ranieri said the town needs to continue to work to market itself and to get the word out about Dewey Beach. She has been very supportive of family oriented activities like the movies on the beach. On Friday, she suggested ideas like an arts and crafts festival or a “70 days until summer” fest.

“Our shoulder seasons can be built up,” Ranieri said.

Seitz said that efforts that help extend the shoulder season and help businesses stay open longer is a move in the right direction.

Ranieri told the audience that she will be “positive, professional, reasonable and responsible.”

When asked about new creative revenue sources for the town, Laird said he wants to see that current revenues are being spent carefully before doing anything else. “I am not ready to create new revenue streams.”

Ranieri said the town needs to continue to get the word out about Dewey Beach and to market the town in the right way. That means using assets like the beach in the best possible way. She said it is important to retain people, so they don’t need to leave town  for shopping or other needs.

Seitz said the town has reached a point where it can now track fees and finances better than it ever has before. He has consistently stressed the financial strides the town has made in the last two years and said that he wants to continue that progress.

Candidates were asked about what the questioner called “retroactive” zoning code changes, a reference to a recently passed ordinance intended to clarify relaxed bulk standards.

Ranieri said the action had been pushed through hastily. “I think it was irresponsible,” she said.

Both Seitz and Laird said the ordinance had not changed the town’s comprehensive plan.

“No zoning ordinance is retroactive,” said Seitz. He said it was a “clarifying ordinance” that did not change the comprehensive plan.

Laird agreed that it didn’t change the comprehensive plan. “I saw them beef up or define what I read in table two of the town charter,” he said.

The three were also asked about reports of possible town bankruptcy because of lawsuits. Seitz said the town continues to be in a good financial position, saying the town has a legal defense fund and “can negotiate from a position of strength.”

Seitz said Dewey “has a higher risk of being hit by a hurricane” than of losing lawsuits that bankrupt the town.

Ranieri said the town needs to handle things in an open, positive and professional manner. She added that officials “must do what’s best for the town and not for a personal agenda.”

Laird said the issue is about managing risk and that a town does not suddenly become bereft and unable to have lifeguards, police or employees. That nightmare scenario has been mentioned by some.

Candidates were asked about public drunkenness and whether increased fines were a good idea. All three said the town should avoid appearing heavy-handed.

Laird said the idea of throwing people in jail won’t help people respect Dewey Beach.  “Tell them to enjoy Dewey Beach, but to please respect our town,” he said.

Ranieri said the town can’t scare tourists away and that fines should not be increased. Balancing fines and offenses is necessary, she said. “There is a fine line.”

Seitz said that 99 percent of the town’s police work is persuasion and he supported Laird’s statement about enjoying, but still respecting the town. “The ability to be able to persuade people is fundamental.”

Candidates were asked about people who don’t pay the required house rental tax. Laird said the town doesn’t need new laws. “Enforcement is the key,” he said.

Ranieri said a comparison of the number of people with licenses and the number of people who actually pay the tax is needed.

Seitz said that a $500 fine for not paying the tax has expired and needs to be reinstated.


Jim Laird September 18, 2010 at 9:37 am

Regarding the zonng code quote I said “I saw them beef up or define what I read in TABLE two of the town charter,” he said …not title two.

Editor September 18, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Thanks for the clarification, Mr. Laird.

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