Sussex County Delaware

Bill Would Expand
County Council

Sussex County Council ...

HB 292 Could Require
Up to 9 Council Seats

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GEORGETOWN -- A bill in the Delaware House of Representatives Housing & Community Affairs Committee would dramatically change the makeup of Sussex County Council.

House Bill 292, sponsored by Charlie West (D-41, Gumboro) and supported by most Sussex County legislators, would require county council seats to coincide with representative seats in the state house.

With Sussex County currently holding seven seats in the House of Representatives, the bill would increase the number of councilmanic districts on county council from five to seven.

With reapportionment possibly adding two more seats in Sussex County this year, the bill could increase the number of council members to 9.

The bill would also require that each councilmanic district follow the geographic boundaries of their corresponding House of Representatives districts.

Besides West, the bill is also sponsored by Rep. V. George Carey (R-36, Milford), Rep. J. Benjamin Ewing (R-35, Bridgeville), Rep. Tina Fallon (R-39, Seaford), Rep. Shirley Price (D-38, Bethany Beach), Rep. John Schroeder (D-37, Lewes), and Sen. George H. Bunting Jr. (D-20, Millsboro) and Sen. E. Gary Simpson (R-18, Milford).

Rep. Clifford G. Lee (R-40, Laurel) and Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr. (D-19, Bridgeville) and Sen. Robert L. Venables (D-21, Laurel) are the only Sussex legislators not listed as sponsors.

Rep. G. Wallace Caulk Jr. (R-33), Rep. David H. Ennis (R-6, Wilmington), Rep. Helene M. Keeley (D-5, Wilmington), Rep. Hazel D. Plant (D-2, Wilmington), Rep. George Quillen (R-30), Rep. Arthur L. Scott (D-3, Wilmington), and Rep. Dennis P. Williams (D-1, Wilmington) are also co-sponsors.

Residents of coastal Sussex County have been asking for more representation on county council for several years now as land use issues have become more and more contentious.

With an overwhelming percentage of development occuring in the coastal zone, coastal residents believe their interests are not being represented enough with only one councilman, George Cole, living in the coastal zone and only one other, Lynn Rogers of Milton, representing a portion of the coastal area, compared to three council members in western Sussex.

The bill would still leave the coastal zone in the minority on council with only two representatives to five elsewhere in the county.

Rogers, for one, doesn't think the bill is necessary.

"I personally don't feel like I've had trouble representing my district," said Rogers. "I also think that the more (representatives) you get, the quicker you can't make a decision."

Rogers said he travels his district on a weekly, if not daily basis and that he answers all phone calls, e-mails and letters.

"I don't care after I'm elected if you're a Democrat, Republican, Independent or alien, or how ugly the issue is, I will represent you," said Rogers. "I go one on one. I vote my conscience. I don't like to shoot from the hip. I like to think things through. As far as my area, I do my best to represent it.

"You'll always have any percentage of your constituency who wishes they could be represented as a smaller group. I just don't know if adding a whole bunch of council seats will do it."

Councilman Vance Phillips believes, on one hand, that the bill would enable council members to be more responsive by reducing the number of communities they represent and giving each council member "a greater sense of each communities' needs."

He also feels, however, that the good intentions of the bill would be undone by what fostering "greater political maneuvering" and by putting more authority in the hands of bureaucrats.

"There may be a shift in the regulatory process, where the bureaucracy is given greater control on the formulation of details, such as is currently the case in state government," said Phillips. "In order to get anything passed in the General Assembly, Representatives and Senators have to limit themselves to the creation of 'enabling legislation', which often sets only broad parameters and goals, leaving the writing of the regulations up to the various agencies.

"This puts a tremendous amount of responsibility and authority into the hands of unelected, oftentimes unaccountable, mid-level bureaucrats. Currently, the County Council is able to reach reasonable compromise on most issues and pass ordinances with specifics that most everyone can understand, and be held directly accountable for by the citizens of the county."

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