Georgetown candidates tackle issues at forum

Georgetown Mayor Bill West, who is running unopposed to keep his seat, speaks at the League of Women Voters forum Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — Four candidates who will fill three town of Georgetown governmental seats took the stage Tuesday evening in an outdoor public forum sponsored by the Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce.

Ward 4 council candidates Penuel Barrett and incumbent Bob Holston and unchallenged candidates Angela Townsend (Ward 3 council) and incumbent Mayor Bill West responded to questions provided by the League of Women Voters at the Nutter D. Marvel Carriage Museum grounds.

The town election is Aug. 15. Voting is from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Town Hall on The Circle. The election was postponed from May due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Barrett, employed as general sales manager at 1st State Chevy in Georgetown, is currently deputy fire chief for Georgetown Fire Co. Station 77 and has the distinction as the longest acting fire chief in company history. His community involvement also includes Georgetown Little League and the town’s Planning Commission, on which he has served the past three years.

“I am also committed to serving the needs of all residents of the town. Having lived in Georgetown for 24 years, I believe I know both its strengths and the areas that require attention in order to improve and preserve our historic community,” said Mr. Barrett. “If I am elected, I want to review all the newly enacted budgets to assess budget deficits, strategies and the possibilities for all cost-saving measures.”

He plans to review town ordinances and push for completion of the town’s comprehensive plan.

“You will have a voice if I get in there this time. I will have a voice, and I will listen to Ward 4 and anybody else that lives in Georgetown,” said Mr. Barrett. “Sometimes, it’s good to disagree. It’s good for the town. If everyone agrees all the time, guess what? Nothing gets done. It’s the same old, same old. It’s nice to disagree, and at the end of the day, hopefully, we find that happy medium that benefits the town of Georgetown. I think I am the right person for this job.”

Mr. Holston is facing his first challenge for the Ward 4 council seat. He was appointed in March 2016 to fill the vacancy when David Anderson resigned in February of that year.

Retired from NASA at Wallops Island, Mr. Holston is a native of Chincoteague, Virginia. He has resided in Delaware for the last 36 years and serves on the board for the Cinderberry development.

“I have fully supported the mayor and all of his endeavors. I work good with the council. We got a lot of things done, and I believe I will be the best person. But it’s entirely up to you all. And I respect whatever you do,” said Mr. Holston. “I hope you all vote for me. This is a democracy. You choose whoever you think will fill the bill. If I am elected, I’ll do my best for you. I can work with people. I have no problem. I love Georgetown.”

Ms. Townsend retired after 33 years as Sussex County’s assistant director of treasury and then worked as town clerk for Georgetown for almost 11 years, up to 2016.

Unopposed for the Ward 3 seat held previously by Chris Lecates, Ms. Townsend is making a return to Town Council. She served Ward 3 from 2002-05.

Angela Townsend seeks the Ward 3 seat for Georgetown Town Council. The Georgetown election is Aug. 15. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

“I loved being a part of the town, watching it grow and helping the residents of the town,” said Ms. Townsend. “When the position for Ward 3 came up, I said, ‘I need to serve on council again.’ It is such an honor and privilege. Even though I am in Ward 3 and I ran unopposed, I am out there for everyone throughout town. If you ever have a problem or a concern, I am a phone call or a text or an email away. I’m so fortunate and so blessed … to serve council. I’m here for everyone in town, not just in Ward 3.”

Mayor West, who worked in law enforcement for the town of Georgetown and then for the Delaware State Police, is unopposed in his mayoral bid. He first ran for council in 2012 and was elected mayor in 2014.

“It has been great being part of this town,” said Mayor West. “We’ve come a long way, this town. We have changed a lot of things. We have changed a lot of codes, to make it easier for building people to get what they want with their hopes and dreams. Before they couldn’t use their hopes and dreams, because nobody wanted to work with them. You see the housing project; all the apartments, every one of them is full. That gives you an idea that people want to be here. They want to live in this town. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but we’ve got some things that are coming that are really going to help this town.”

A lifelong Georgetown resident, during his tenure, Mayor West has facilitated the Concert in the Park series and New Year’s Eve on The Circle. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he helped facilitate with state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, outdoor church services staged Sundays at the Marvel Museum grounds.

Housing, the impact of COVID-19, traffic in town and top issues facing Georgetown were among the questions provided by the League of Women Voters.

Candidate responses to two questions on attracting business development and connecting with the town’s large Hispanic community are below.

Efforts to attract
business, restaurants?

“I think you can see from out on the highway, the town has changed. There are businesses out there, and we continue to bring businesses to Georgetown,” said Mayor West. “And the only way you can do that is by lowering fees, making it more presentable to them like Millsboro has done. Yeah, Millsboro has taken off. Yeah, they’ve got all those houses and all. What have they got as far as restaurants? They’ve some fast food. Yeah, they might be getting a steakhouse.

“I can guarantee you this: There is not a day goes by that I am not on the phone talking to a restaurant to see what it takes to get here. When they tell me that it takes a traffic count of 40,000 cars a day, I think we are close to that. Last count I heard was 37,000. We’re going to get there. What that means, I’m on the phone with Cracker Barrel, I’m on the phone with Texas Roadhouse,” he said. “I am not sitting still, people. I’m giving you 60 hours a week doing things, talking to developers, talking to engineers, talking to property owners.”

Mr. Barrett welcomes working with business owners, but says the town needs to address issues. Among those voiced at the forum were housing, overcrowding, infrastructure and traffic.

“I think we’ve got to work with the business owners. We do work with them a lot,” said Mr. Barrett. “But I think there is certain ones we’ve really got to try to persuade, and I know the mayor is trying to do that. But part of the problem with some of the businesses not wanting to come to Georgetown is why? We’ve got issues. We’ve got to fix them issues, so then, people want to come to Georgetown. We’ve got to work on making it better, and then, they will come to Georgetown.”

Ms. Townsend said: “It’s really exciting to hear that Bill is talking to the various businesses and restaurants. Would it be nice to know that in the future, we could have a movie theater or a bowling alley, something for our youth to do?

“But in a way, … I think we need to clean up what we have now, put in our infrastructure. We might be up to 37,000 cars … but most of those cars, they are out of state. They are not stopping here. They want to get to the beaches,” she said.

Mr. Holston said too much growth too quickly may be detrimental.

“Like the mayor, we’ve lowered costs for them. Halfway houses and stuff, I don’t know. But if we keep getting the traffic and everything, I believe they will come, too,” he said. “Sussex County is growing everywhere. I don’t mean anything bad about this, but we might be sorry if we grow too much. We need taxes. We need a tax base, but I hope it’s a good tax base. Restaurants, I like to see restaurants. You can tell by looking at me, I like to eat. Right now, I think we are doing all we can.”

Make government accessible to non-English speakers?
“There is not enough information out there in the community,” Ms. Townsend said. “We used to have a local paper, called the Sussex Countian. We don’t have the Sussex Countian anymore. We have problems in Georgetown, or I think we do, with getting information out to the voters and residents of Georgetown. I think we need to work with the Hispanic community more and more all the time. Maybe on the website, put it in Spanish, I don’t know. But we need to get the word out to the Hispanic community. We also need to inform the residents of the town more than what we are doing now.”

Mayor West said Georgetown has made efforts to better communicate with the Hispanic community, citing bilingual presence through two police officers and the department’s front desk employee, its social worker and at Town Hall.

“You look at Town Hall, the new girl we just hired in there is a Spanish-speaking person,” said Mayor West. “We are getting it out there. We are working with the La Esperanza (community organization) and working with the other Hispanic entities to make sure word gets out there. Yeah, maybe we need to increase our newsletter to be more informative. But that takes money. When you’ve got a tight budget, and we don’t want to raise taxes, you can’t do things like that. We’re doing the best we can to keep the people informed, the organizations informed. The Hispanic festival (Festival Hispano) last year, 10,000 people on Race Street. I think we’re getting the word out there, people.”

Mr. Barrett says the town is doing a really good job.

“I think we do a great job with it. I know with emergency services, there is many times we go to a vehicle accident, and we don’t understand what they are saying. Then, the police officers will come out and help us out. Do we have to get better? Absolutely. But I think we are heading in the right direction,” said Mr. Barrett. “The big thing that I found, and this was 15 years ago, and we still see it today, is they are still scared. A lot of the Hispanic community is scared. The voting. They don’t come out to vote. We’ve got to get the word out. It’s tough. It’s not easy, but I think we are heading in the right direction.”

Mr. Holston agreed.

“We do need somebody,” he said. “A lot of things could be handled if we had the money. That is always the problem. If I had plenty of money, I could do anything I want and so could the town. But you’ve got to be careful, because I know you people don’t want your taxes to go up. I know that. Because I don’t. I don’t know really what to do. But we’re trying.”