Longtime leader Banta presides over final Levy Court meeting

Prior to Tuesday night’s Levy Court business meeting, P. Brooks Banta’s name was unveiled on a plaque for commissioners who have served 20 years or more. He joined the names of William Paskey Jr. and John T. McKenna in the honor. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

DOVER – On a night full of tributes for nearly a quarter century of distinguished service, P. Brooks Banta wielded the gavel for the last time at Kent County Levy Court’s final business meeting of 2020.

Prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, Mr. Banta’s name was unveiled on a plaque for commissioners who have served 20 years or more. He joined previous leaders William Paskey Jr. (1969-99) and John T. McKenna (1969-93) in the honor.

In just over three minutes of remarks before a small gathering, a retiring Mr. Banta, 85, covered a lot of ground while thanking fellow Levy Court commissioners and staff he’s teamed up with throughout the past 24 years.

“I thank you all for being here, it’s great, it was totally unexpected,” he said. “You’re all friends and I will never forget any of you …

“God bless you all. It’s been my pleasure to serve in this capacity and have the backing of all the commissioners and employees because you are all servants of the county, you’ve done the county well and … made the county as great as it is.”

The final Levy Court meeting of the year thus finished Mr. Banta’s sixth consecutive four-year term and completed his role as president held since 2007. After opting not to run for another term, close ally Joanne Masten gained the seat when elected in November.

Mr. Banta has been a resident of the Levy Court 1st District Smyrna-Clayton area for more than 70 years.

Speaking beforehand, Mr. Banta said some of his favorite accomplishments included maintaining “stable property tax and low sewer rates, better citizen communications and support for public safety.”

A parade of emergency vehicles cruise by the Smyrna home of P. Brooks Banta on Saturday with flashing lights and sirens blasting to wish him well on his retirement. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

He seemed quite proud of the roughly 37,000 calls he’s either made or returned during his stay in Levy Court, along with 18,000 to 20,000 emails.

Among the highlights during Mr. Banta’s tenure, according to a pre-meeting list compiled by the county, was the construction of paramedics headquarters and 911 dispatcher center; a paramedic station in Smyrna, with construction beginning on a West Dover station; creation of paramedic unit based in Frederica; better quarters for the Harrington-based paramedic; and a centralized power unit for peak hours.

Also noted under his watch was Levy Court’s role in the development of the DE Turf athletic complex near Frederica; acquisition and construction of four parks and improvements at Brecknock Park in Camden and St. Jones Greenway; along with significant financial support for agricultural land preservation.

Another key achievement, among others, during Mr. Banta’s time with Levy Court was the adoption of an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that requires developers to pay up front for impacting schools, roadways and emergency services.

In other public service roles, Mr. Banta served two terms as mayor of Clayton and town council member for 14 years, a Smyrna School District School Board member for 10 years, a non-resident commissioner for the town of Dewey Beach for 10 years and also served a four-year appointment to the Kent County Regional Planning Commission.

Through a spokeswoman, Delaware Gov. John Carney and Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long paid tribute and recognized Mr. Banta’s contributions and achievements. A string of other official acknowledgments and proclamations followed as the meeting began, including the state Senate and House of Representatives, plus Sussex County government representatives.

Kent County Sheriff Brian Lewis offered a public tribute, making Mr. Banta an honorary sheriff with a badge included. The Kent County Volunteer Firefighters Association recognized Mr. Banta’s service and dedication as well.

Levy Court commissioners paid tribute to Mr. Banta’s spouse Ruth, his confidant for more than 50 years.

State Rep. Bill Carson was one of many that joined the tribute to Brooks Banta on Saturday in Smyrna. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Also included in the night was a photo-filled video, set to music, tracing Mr. Banta’s career with Levy Court. He received an engraved gavel at the end.

Kent County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange described Mr. Banta as part father figure and leader, and set an example that staff “will always try to emulate.”

Commissioners weigh in

In the days leading up to the final meeting, county commissioners weighed in on Mr. Banta’s impact on Kent County and themselves, both professionally and personally.

Commissioner Jody Sweeney described Mr. Banta as his “mentor” for 12 years of service and “he will remain my friend for life.”

Mr. Banta became known as “Banta Claus” for his time off announcements at Levy Court’s annual Christmas party by declaring holidays.

“Brooks is one of the most fair people I know, and understands that a commissioner’s job is to legislate, not supervise,” Mr. Sweeney said.

“He has been fair in addressing the county’s needs, caring for employees and their families, and balancing the taxpayer dollars.”

According to Mr. Sweeney, “I have never heard a bad word spoken about President Brooks Banta.”

Addressing the needs of Kent Countians will inevitably continue, and Mr. Sweeney said “I hope to make him proud of my service after he leaves.”

A vehicle is decorated in tribute of retiring Levy Court President Commissioner P. Brooks Banta on Saturday in Smyrna. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Among the biggest projects completed under Mr. Banta’s watch included the “many changes to our Comprehensive Plan, Work Employment Zones, DE Turf, to the new gymnasium at Kesselring Park,” Mr. Sweeney said.

Taking a bipartisan approach was Mr. Banta’s style that brought ample successes, commissioner Eric Buckson said.

“I think Brooks Banta’s legacy for me, as at times the only Republican serving on Levy Court, was instilling in our county government that if you wanted to be highly effective, you should avoid partisan politics,” he said.

“That as a group you shouldn’t get concerned with who gets the credit and only be concerned with is it good for the county.

“I give credit to Brooks Banta for instilling that in the Levy Court early on and carrying it through that our constituents want a government that can put politics aside and do what’s best for the county and I give Brooks Banta credit for that policy throughout the years.”

“I think the evidence of that is the many accomplishments that have occurred during his time as president; that we’ve been able to manage our finances; accomplish several significant tasks; and at times somewhat stay under the radar while the governments have kind of involved themselves in controversy.

“Personally I could not be more grateful to Brooks. I’ve enjoyed the ride while he’s been seated to the right of me as county council president.”

Commissioner Terry Pepper echoed those thoughts, saying, “I believe Brooks has been so successful because he will listen to your ideas or concerns and is always open to compromise.

Said Commissioner Allan Angel, “With Brooks Banta retiring, Levy Court will be losing the grand wizard of political knowledge of working on issues.

“Brooks’ mindset of what has to or needs to be done was crucial to Levy Court’s co-existence amongst both political parties in working together as a team.”

Kent County Levy Court commissioners Jody Sweeney, left, and Terry Pepper get out of their cars to congratulate P. Brooks Banta on Saturday in Smyrna. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Mr. Banta and Mr. Pepper go back to 1996. Mr. Pepper was Levy Court president at the time.

“I soon learned that Brooks is always punctual and prepared.,” he said. “Brooks truly cares about everyone whether it’s a friend, constituent, county employee or fellow commissioner.

“Brooks is one of the most honest men you could meet, If he tells you he will do something, you can take that to the bank.”

When it comes to Kent County residents, there’s no one that’s insignificant to Mr. Banta, Mr. Pepper said.

“He works hard for his constituents and he keeps track of all phone calls received or made which number nearly 30,000 over his 26 years as Commissioner,” he said.

“Brooks has truly been an asset to the residents of Kent County. I have really enjoyed serving as his vice president for the last four years. He will truly be missed and all commissioners that follow him truly have big shoes to fill.”.

Following a familiar theme, Commissioner Glen Howell described Mr. Banta as “one of the most receptive people I’ve ever known.

“Over the years we have confided with each other. He remembers. A smooth operator, he demonstrated contained control and proved considerable skill in leadership. He was quick to respond to phone calls from constituents, staff and commissioners.

“He’ll be sorely missed but I am sure he will always be a phone call away.”