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Rehoboth Beach patrol charter change legislation introduced

Charter change legislation allowing the Rehoboth Beach city manager to delegate all supervisory authority, including oversight of the beach patrol, has been introduced.

House Bill 156 was introduced April 20 by Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. It was assigned to the House Administration Committee, of which Schwartzkopf is a member. Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, Sen. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville, and Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, have all signed on as bill sponsors.

General Assembly approval and the governor’s signature are required for all of the state’s municipalities to change their charters. The last time Rehoboth went through this process was in 2019 – one change made sure the people who should be voting in town elections are; a second change created a lodging tax on hotels, motels and tourist homes.

HB156 amends the city charter in a number of ways. Primarily, it gives the city manager the power to delegate supervisory authority, including management of the beach patrol. 

The bill clarifies that the city manager has the authority to determine the composition of the beach patrol, and establish rules and regulations covering the qualifications of members of the beach patrol. Currently, city commissioners are the officials with this power.

This bill also deletes provisions vesting members of the beach patrol with all the authority of a member of the police force.

History of proposed charter change

This charter change stems from a disagreement between City Manager Sharon Lynn and former Beach Patrol Capt. Kent Buckson.

Due to COVID-related emergency orders, the beach patrol spent summer 2020 under the police department’s supervision. This past fall, Lynn told Buckson the arrangement would remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Soon afterward, Buckson requested an appeal hearing before the commissioners. Among the arguments made by Buckson was that the charter didn’t allow Lynn to delegate her direct supervisory authority of the beach patrol.

During a preliminary hearing in November, commissioners decided a hearing was not necessary. A few weeks later, the proposed charter change was introduced. At the time, City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the proposed change had been generated by the appeal, and at the request of Lynn, he consulted with the city’s labor attorney who suggested the change might be appropriate.

Buckson resigned in late December. In late January, the city announced the hiring of Jeffrey Giles, who was a supervisor for the Delaware State Police maritime and scuba units during his DSP career. Buckson has been hired as beach patrol captain for North Shores. During a meeting in February, commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of moving forward with a charter change.

Schwartzkopf, a former state trooper and Bethany Beach lifeguard, said he hadn’t spoken with town officials about all the ins and outs of the situation. However, he said, he believes the beach patrol should be put under police authority.

“I said I would sponsor the charter change, so I did,” said Schwartzkopf, in an interview April 21. “The town has the right to determine how supervisory authorities are delegated.”

In an email April 21, Mayor Stan Mills said his opinion had not changed in the months while the city waited for the bill to be introduced. The new captain is aware of the changes and supportive of them, he said.

The introduction of the bill is the first step in the process. Moving forward, it needs to clear the committee, then the full House, then a Senate committee, then the full Senate and then finally be signed by the governor. As of press deadline, the House Administration Committee has not scheduled its next meeting.