Election 2020: Kent County Levy Court District 5

George “Jody” Sweeney

Name: George “Jody” Sweeney
Party: Democrat
Age: 60
Family: Married; four children, four grandchildren
Residence: Wyoming
Occupation: Supervisor of technology, Smyrna School District

Clint Brothers

Name: Clint Brothers
Party: Republican
Age: 35
Family: Wife; three children
Residence: Camden
Occupation: Warranty service manager for a homebuilder

Why are you running for this seat?
GS:
After 12 years on Levy Court, I have built a reputation as someone who helps anyone who asks. I receive calls from all over the county seeking assistance with issues from unemployment to neighbor complaints of trash or grass. I am available to assist anyone who needs to navigate the county’s permitting process, and I use the information to make changes, so future applicants are less impacted by the process. I am an advocate for the homeowner and homeowners’ association versus the developer.
CB: My wife and I have three young children. I am concerned about what opportunities will be here for them and their peers when they complete school. We need to be able to attract more good-paying jobs here to Kent County to keep them here. I am concerned where we will be as a county 10, 20, 30 years from now. Will we be able to bring in revenue needed to keep up with rising personnel costs? I am deeply concerned about the prospects of possible tax increases, as mentioned by both the outgoing Levy Court president and the county director of finance.

What do you see as the major issues in this election?
GS:
The economy is a major issue. Levy Court has made Kent County very attractive for businesses. New businesses like DE Turf, Shoreline Vinyl, National Vinyl Products and USA Fulfillment, among others, have decided Kent County is the best place for them to be, bringing hundreds of new, well-paying manufacturing jobs. Accompanying support businesses will follow, bringing more jobs. Some of these businesses came due to incentives offered by Kent County; others just think we are the best place to be. We will continue to attract businesses to the job employment zones created by Kent County in 2019. Expanding our paramedic service is a major issue. In the last four years, we have created a power unit that is housed at the Frederica Volunteer Fire Co. and serves the southeast quadrant of the county. A new paramedic station is being created in an existing building for the northwest quadrant of the county. We are already planning for the expansion of staff for that building.
CB: The need to facilitate more diverse job growth in the county, simplifying our permitting process to help facilitate the job growth and make things simpler for businesses and homeowners, addressing the shortage of affordable housing in the county, holding the line on taxes and keeping a responsible budget, and ensuring the most well-qualified appointments to county boards and committees.

What is the biggest problem facing the county and how would you solve it?
GS:
One of the biggest problems is developers who are not accountable to the homeowners who buy their homes. It is time for Kent County to advocate for the homeowner and not the developer who takes advantage of the individual or of the development as the controlling entity of all the funds from HOA fees. Warranties need to be recorded with the deed, and the developer needs to be held accountable when they fail to live up to the warranty.
CB: The biggest problem is the need to attract more high-paying jobs to the county. The first thing I would look at is simplifying the permitting process, both addressing it with the state to speed the process, especially when developing our employment centers, but also within our own code. I would look to our zoning to further limit the amount of cases in which a conditional use permit is needed. Going through this process takes valuable time and money, particularly with small businesses. We also need to work with the state to improve broadband access in the county. When businesses come here, they expect to have good access to high-speed internet, both for their business but also their employees, especially in this age of telecommuting.

What do you believe schools should do to educate students, while keeping people safe from COVID-19?
GS:
Schools should listen to the health experts concerning social distancing and wearing masks. If they are unable to provide for the safety of children, technology exists to provide a quality education through distance learning. Colleges like the University of Phoenix have been doing it for years. As the supervisor of technology for a local school district, I am closely involved in distance learning. As a member of the state Bandwidth Task Force, we are looking at ways the state and county can improve access to the internet in remote areas of our county.
CB: I believe schools should follow all the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines businesses do. Right now, most districts, including Caesar Rodney, are getting ready to implement hybrid learning. I think the schools should get back to as much in-person instruction as possible. With remote learning, kids are not getting the proper socialization needed, especially at a younger age. Also, I think educators on the front lines should be involved as much as possible in the decision-making process, as we look to further reopen schools. There should also continue to be the option of full remote learning for those families who choose it, especially those with high-risk students.

What should the county do to help both businesses and workers right now?
GS:
Kent County will continue to attract good-paying jobs for anyone who is displaced due to COVID-19. Kent County, through the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the Kent Economic Partnership, offered reopen packets of personal protection equipment and grants for constructing shields and other items. We are making it easier for businesses to grow by moving processes for submitting permits, receiving notifications about the approval and paying online.
CB: The biggest thing again, I think, is simplifying the permitting process, to make the process quicker to be able to open a business, as well as continuation of the business relief fund to help businesses as they reopen from COVID-19. I think it would also be a good step. In addition, the county could partner with local businesses and the chamber to help with job placement for displaced workers during COVID-19.

What do you think of the current level of county spending?
GS:
We continue to aggressively review every expense and level of funding in capital projects to ensure that there is no unnecessary spending of your tax dollars. The commissioners and county staff work very hard to maintain our low tax rates. It is not our money; it is your money.
CB: Our spending will end up being a problem in the form of higher taxes if our revenue can’t keep up, if we can’t attract more employers here. Overall, there is not much to cut from the budget. Although I do believe we will need to look at the employee cost share of health benefits as they continue to become more expensive.

What, if any, changes are needed to policing and the criminal justice system?
GS: Police levels in Kent County are defined by the Department of Homeland Security and Delaware State Police headquarters, based on crime levels in troop districts. Our main troop has a very successful closure rate on cases, so any additional police for Kent County will require a property tax rate increase to fund them. Levy Court has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars for the state police to purchase the vehicle and trailer for the fantastic horse-mounted police unit and the motorcycles. Levy Court has also provided tens of thousands of dollars to municipal police for purchasing support items, such as protective gear for officers.
CB: This is more of a state and national issue. As far as our state police Troop 3, which the county does allocate funding for, I would like to see as much community policing as possible. It is a challenge, as they have a limited number of officers and need to concentrate on hot spots. If it becomes feasible with any surplus in county funds, I would like to see more officers added, so that this could become more of a reality.

What do you make of the state of race relations in the U.S. and particularly Kent County?
GS:
Kent County experienced a rash of protests earlier in the year. They have pretty much died down in our county, but the underlying issue of racial injustice has not gone away. I continue to work in neighborhoods that are predominantly minorities to resolve issues that have been ignored for decades. We are hoping to bring new road surfaces and playgrounds into those neighborhoods and remove abandoned homes.
CB: This is certainly a challenge right now given the polarization at especially the national level. We should never tolerate injustice in any form. I’m glad to see folks who are exercising their constitutional rights peacefully. But we must also make sure we hold those who commit violent acts of looting, property damage and assault accountable. I believe the police and the peaceful protesters can come together. The police in our communities do the job to protect our communities. It will also help if we have folks in office that can help to bridge the gap by listening to all.

In your view, should any development laws in the county be altered?
GS:
Yes. We are experiencing some growth in housing, but some developers will not honor their warranties or have committed code violations in cutting corners. These developers need to be held accountable. Many developments started in the middle of the last decade or earlier are still under the control of the developer and are rarely held accountable for the HOA fees they collect and spend. That needs to change.
CB: Again, I think we have a need to make a permitting process simpler and faster. We need more “by right” development, as opposed to going through the conditional use process, which takes valuable time and money. This is also true if a variance is needed. We need to be as business-friendly as possible, while also maintaining a balanced approach and preserving farmland. I believe we also need to implement a voluntary inclusionary housing program to aid with our shortage of affordable housing. This is a voluntary program, whose basic premise is that a developer is granted more lots in exchange for a certain amount of them meeting affordable-housing criteria.

Do you have any additional thoughts you wish to share?
GS:
As the incumbent, I have years of experience and actions that speak to my record. When you are considering who to vote for in this election seat, ask yourself: What has the candidate done? Someone I know said, “Past actions are indicative of future behavior.” Don’t just ask what I will do for you; also, look at what I have done. With me, you will get more of the same. I provide great constituent services and will always look for ways to reduce waste in money, time and processes.
CB: I am very involved in the community, including my experience as a director for my community HOA and board member of my church. I have also volunteered for Meals on Wheels. I am looking to step up to further serve our community. I believe my perspective as a millennial, something the Levy Court currently does not have, would be valuable.