Fenwick Council Pulls Back On Voter Qualification Changes

FENWICK ISLAND – Officials in Fenwick Island have rescinded a proposed reading on voter qualification changes, but agreed to hold an open workshop in an effort to generate a more palatable solution.

In a meeting of the Fenwick Island Town Council last Friday, Councilwoman Julie Lee made a motion to rescind an approved first reading on proposed changes to the town’s charter that would allow for properties held in trust to receive two votes and properties held in deed to receive four votes in municipal elections.

The intent of the proposed changes was to restore voting rights for trustees and their spouses, according to Lee.

In a prior interview, Lee said trustees and their spouses were given the opportunity to vote in municipal elections prior to a 2008 charter change that has since classified trusts as an artificial entity, which is given one vote through a power of attorney.

She said the issue was not realized or debated until the town’s following contested election in 2015. Since then, Lee said the Ad Hoc Election Committee has worked to reach a compromise that would satisfy both residents and non-residents.

In addition to these proposed revisions, the charter would’ve entitled no more than four property owners per property to vote.

In Friday’s meeting, however, Lee said concerns over legal fees and confusion that would result from the proposed changes swayed officials to take a step back.

“I’m disappointed and frustrated that we’ve not been able to come up with something, to work through this, but I feel that this proposed compromise that came out of Charter and Ordinance (Committee) is a little messy and there were still some strong reservations on the part of council members, which is why I feel we needed to resolve this in a different way,” she said.

After some discussion, the council unanimously voted to rescind the proposed reading, but expressed hesitation when Lee proposed the council meet in an open workshop to continue discussions on voter qualifications.

“I believe it is up to us, as a council, to sit down together, the seven of us, and to find a compromise that works,” she said.

Councilwoman Vicki Carmean advocated for a workshop.

“I’m willing to give an hour or two of my time, one last time, to finalize this,” she said.

Lee and Councilmen Gardner Bunting and Roy Williams were also in favor of a workshop, but Councilmen Richard Mais and Bernie Merritt and Mayor Gene Langan opposed moving forward with changes to voter qualifications.

Mais said he had yet to hear of a simple solution that would appease both residents and non-residents and believed that further discussions would only make things more complicated.

“I really think the way to simplify this and make it easy … is that legal residents vote in our town elections,” he said.

Merritt argued that additional changes to voter qualifications would waste both time and resources and questioned if any approved changes from the town would make it through the Delaware State Assembly.

“I would like to see it stop now, to be honest, and put it to bed,” he said.

Langan said proposed changes would give non-resident, registered voters an additional 40 votes.

“I don’t think that’s right because we live here and all of us do all of the work,” he said.

With four in favor of the idea, the council will hold an open workshop sometime in September, though no official date or time has been set.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.