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Lewes council, BPW candidates make case at forums

Candidates for Lewes City Council and the Board of Public Works made their case to voters April 15-16 in forums hosted by the Greater Lewes Civic Coalition.

Both elections will be held Saturday, May 8. 

Incumbent Rob Morgan and challengers Carolyn Jones and Khalil Saliba are seeking two three-year seats on city council. Deputy Mayor Bonnie Osler is not seeking re-election. 

The candidates agreed on many topics, including that a tax increase would be a last-resort option. Regarding Morgan’s recent comments criticizing the police department’s budget, the candidates differed. 

Morgan touted his record of working with the police on a daily basis while serving in the U.S Attorney’s Office. He said he is not anti-police. 

“My concern was budgetary, primarily,” he said. “We didn’t handle the budget process well. That’s what I was getting at.” 

With that said, he again questioned whether a police force in a city like Lewes needs fast cars and rifles. 

Saliba said public safety is the No. 1 role of the government. 

“We have good people here,” he said. “I don’t have expertise in law enforcement. I would like to focus more on letting people do their jobs and not micromanage. We have a great staff and we should trust them.” 

Jones served on the police ad hoc committee with Saliba and Morgan. 

“We looked at the department top to bottom. We know everything,” she said. “I am pro-police. Given what’s going on today … I want to know we have will have someone here if something happens here in my home.”

Parking is always a hot topic, and over the last year the city has had two committees analyze parking issues at the beach and downtown. All candidates agree it’s a daunting challenge. 

“We will never have enough parking,” Jones said. “We are so well advertised as the city to come see. We need to look at how we move people around.”

She said she would be supportive of shuttle buses and other alternative modes of transportation. She would also be in favor of permit parking for residents to be able to enjoy the town in which they live. 

Morgan said the city is already trying several new approaches this summer, including opening the M&T Bank parking lot to the public, redesigning parking lots at Otis Smith Park and on Schley Avenue, and improving signage throughout the city. 

“We have looked in the past at jitneys, trolleys and valet services,” he said. “These have not caught hold … but we need to keep looking at all of them. All will help our residents and downtown business people flourish.” 

Saliba agreed people movement is the key. He said whatever the approach, it needs to involve residential communities as well, because changes in one area can affect another. 

“It’s a complex problem, but I’m confident we can work toward solutions and do it in good faith,” he said. “As long as we stay open-minded, it will benefit us in the long run.” 

All three candidates will be asked about the BPW dispute, the proposed source-water and sea-level rise ordinances, and continued development around the city in a question-and-answer article set to run in the Friday, April 30 edition of the Cape Gazette. 

BPW forum

Seeking three three-year seats on the BPW are incumbents Robert Kennedy, Tom Panetta and Earl Webb, and challenger Richard Nichols. 

Lewes BPW candidates discussed the board’s rocky relationship with the city and the 2019 failure at the wastewater treatment plant. Their views on those issues will be covered in a Q&A article in the Friday, April 23 edition of the Cape Gazette. 

Kennedy worked for 21 years as executive director and senior regulatory officer at Delaware Public Service Commission and Division of Public Utilities Control.

As a BPW director since 2016, he said he wants to continue to provide safe, reliable, dependable utility service. He always wants to protect the environment by extending water and wastewater in the BPW’s service area to eliminate private wells and septic systems. Another priority is to reduce the cost of electricity while accelerating the amount of renewables and solar energy in the BPW’s power portfolio.

Nichols spent a 36-year career in construction management, working with contractors, vendors and city governments through building department interactions. Later, he was hired as director of capital improvements for a New York City company that managed buildings, primarily high-rise residential sites. 

In his interactions with residents and ratepayers, he said he’s learned there is public distrust about the explanations for the wastewater spill, public anger over the costly conflict with the city, and a resistance from the BPW to public outreach, public participation and transparency. 

BPW’s brand unfortunately seems to be unpopular with the public, and BPW is missing an opportunity to change course that would result in healthy public support and understanding,” he said. “I want to be part of the positive change for the BPW and the public.”

Panetta worked for General Electric for 25 years building and designing power plants, managing projects of about $50 million. He also worked as a consultant. A BPW director since 2018, Panetta said he used his professional expertise to assist BPW staff in analyzing the electrical system to ensure it’s ready for the growth the area is already experiencing. He’s been working to develop bid specs for a solar farm and a battery project to shave the peak of electricity use, which could save the BPW a lot of money. 

In addition to resolving the dispute with the city, Panetta said a priority is planning for climate change and sea-level rise. 

Webb joined the BPW in September 2020 to serve out the remaining term of Jack Lesher, who retired. He had a 37-year corporate career working for AT&T and General Electric. During his tenure with GE Capital, he focused much time on customer satisfaction, which is something he hopes to improve with the BPW. 

“Customers’ voices allowed us to make a material impact on the overall business,” he said. “We improved process, policies and technology to add additional value to our customers. It’s important that customers are at the heart of any business. It is my strong belief that any business or body of government has a responsibility to the people we serve to get better each and every year.

As treasurer, he also wants to ensure policies are fiscally responsible.

Both candidate forums can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Greater Lewes Civic Coalition and on YouTube.

The deadline to register to vote is Friday, April 23. Voters must register separately for each election. For more information, call city hall at 302-645-7777 or the BPW office at 302-645-6228.