No More ‘Shall’ In Fenwick Code

FENWICK ISLAND – Concerned over its vague definition, officials in Fenwick Island last week agreed to stop using the word “shall” in all new or amended ordinances of the town code.

Last Friday, Councilman Roy Williams presented his request to use the words “must” or “will” in any new or amended sections of the town code. He argued a recent review of the town’s zoning code made the definition of the word “shall” unclear.

“A while back I investigated the word ‘shall’ to see what showed up,” he said. “My concern is that ‘shall’ has three different meanings. … What I am suggesting is because ‘shall’ could be looked at as a gray area – we all know what that has cost us in the past – that we start to use plain language going forward,” he said.

Williams said using the words “must” or “will” would eliminate any confusion. He added he would also like existing portions of the town code to define the word “shall” when used.

“I think that’s what an ordinance is all about, to make things stronger so that it can’t be looked at as a gray area,” he said. “Also, I would like to see it mentioned some place, where we’ve already used the word ‘shall,’ that it should be looked at as being mandatory.”

Town Manager Terry Tieman, however, said Town Solicitor Mary Schrider-Fox urged the council to take a cautionary approach to defining the word “shall.”

“I remember her recommending not to do that,” she said.

Tieman added a recent search of zoning codes from surrounding municipalities revealed several towns used all three words interchangeably.

“As you can see, most everyone uses a mixture of all [three],” she said. “Bethany [Beach] doesn’t ever use ‘will’ or ‘must,’ which is an oddity.”

Williams made a motion to use the words “must” or “will” in any new or amended sections of the town code and to define the word “shall” in existing portions of the code.

“I just think it would be a good idea to reference, for all intents and purposes, the word ‘shall’ would mean mandatory,” he said.

Councilwoman Vicki Carmean seconded the motion.

“I think we should move forward,” she said. “Anything we can do to make the code clear is fine. This isn’t going to cost us any money. But if we don’t do it, it may cost us a lot of money in terms of attorney’s fees.”

The council voted 5-2, with Mayor Gene Langan and Councilman Gardner Bunting opposed, to change the language.

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.