Sussex League of Women Voters presents critique of the county government

GEORGETOWN – Annual results of Sussex County League of Women Voters’ observance of county government are in and they encompass applause, concern and recommendation.

Billed as a non-partisan political organization that encourages active participation in government through education and advocacy, the LWV through its Observer Corps regularly attends government meetings to ensure transparency in government and open meeting laws are followed.

LWV’s three-pronged focus centers on voter issues, advocating for a strong approach to environmental protection and preservation of natural resources in Sussex County, and providing information and advocacy to the passage of ordinances to support the 2018 Sussex County comprehensive plan.

It also monitors government meetings to track the progress of issues that are of importance to the League.
In LWV’s annual report presented to county council at the Sept. 24 meeting, League of Women Voters spokeswoman B.R. Breen cast kudos to the county for changes to density calculation in the cluster subdivision ordinance and council’s recent approval of the ordinance removing senior facilities such as nursing homes, assisted or independent living facilities from the purview of the board of adjustment.

“This is especially significant with the increase in this type of development around our county,” said Ms. Breen. “The League encourages progress on these ordinance revisions for coastal areas, formerly environmentally sensitive areas, as proposed in the comprehensive plan.”

LWV supports the work of the citizen organization, SARG (Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth) regarding land use issues and applauds the county’s continued efforts to keep communications open with Delaware’s Department of Transportation to coordinate priorities and address problem areas.

However, the League believes the timing “on county council’s decisions on development plans without complete DelDOT traffic studies or their schedule is problematic and requires more updates from DelDOT,” Ms. Breen said in the presentation.

LWV recommends that the county website be used to monitor progress made on the comprehensive plan beyond ordinances that have been drafted. “For example, commissions or committees established by the county to review and recommend policies such as affordable housing or the buffers and wetland working group could be noted on the website,” Ms. Breen said.

Ms. Breen shared the League’s concern “about policies and inconsistencies of the board of adjustment and encourages open and fair operation of this government body. We suggest council may want to consider staggered terms.”

Homeless/affordable housing
LWV encourages “progress on affordable housing improvements now that the consultant’s report has been submitted to the county,” Ms. Breen said. “While there was a successful project in Frankford, progress needs to be made in the eastern portion of the county where a large portion of the workforce is employed. We recognize this is a difficult balance with the constraints on high density housing and traffic concerns and the lack of a successful formula for developers.”

“The League encourages an accurate identification of the extent of the number of homeless in the county and supports the identification of remedies for our homeless population,” Ms. Breen said.

Citizen participation
“During the public comment period of council meetings, we request that all who speak be reminded to state their name and address. Some speakers make an incorrect assumption that we all know who they are. Stating an address also clarifies a difference between speakers who are residents of the county and those who are from outside Sussex or the state,” Ms. Breen said. “Better identification of speakers or presenters on the meeting agendas would be helpful. During council meetings often it is unclear who exactly is presenting before council. Clearer identification at the beginning of a presentation in chambers would be a positive step.”

The LWV notes that agenda items listed under “Old Business” have little description. “It would be helpful if more detailed descriptions were included,” said Ms. Breen. “We also wonder why recognized names of the development or community are not noted on agendas.”

Also, the LWV encourages that electronic presentations before council be made available to citizens.
“League members have had success requesting electronic presentation copies from the county staff and that has been a benefit. These presentations can be shared with those who are unable to attend council meetings,” said Ms. Breen.

According to the LWV, in the past year several citizens have thanked council for the privilege of speaking at hearings. “We would like to point out that it is the right of citizens to make presentations,” said Ms. Breen.
In addition, the League will continue to monitor and report on the party affiliation rules of the county’s government bodies, with special attention to opportune party affiliation switching, Ms. Breen said.

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