On Saturday August 12, voters in Rehoboth Beach will go the polls to elect a Mayor and two City Commissioners. In the mayoral race, incumbent Sam Cooper is being challenged by Paul Kuhns. In the Commisssioner’s race, incumbent Kathy McGuiness, and challengers Susan Gay and Lisa Schlosser are seeking to fill two positions. All five candidates responded to our four questions.
1. Introduce yourself to the readers of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth and explain why you are running for office.
Sam Cooper: I am a life-long resident of Rehoboth Beach and have been Mayor for 27 years. I am a business person, who owns rental cottages and a share of a motel in the city. Most of my non-work time has been spent in service to the citizens of Rehoboth Beach. I served as a Commissioner for eight years before being elected Mayor, and have been a member of the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company for 44 years. As someone who grew up here, I have a deep sense of “community” and what it means to our City. I have worked with many organizations, including CAMP Rehoboth, to address the needs of our City and to advance the sense of community. I have the knowledge, experience, and commitment to preserve the community you and I love. Your vote for me will ensure that we build on the successes of the past and do not turn back the clock.
Paul Kuhns: I am a full-time resident of Rehoboth Beach since 2005 and have owned my home in town since 1987—30 years. I have a B.S. in Accounting from Georgetown University and an M.B.A. in Finance from Columbia University. I lived for 25 years in New York City working for Merrill Lynch in Municipal Finance. I was elected as a Rehoboth Beach Commissioner in 2006 for a three-year term and again in 2015. I am presently the President of the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society, the Past-President of the Rehoboth-Dewey Chamber of Commerce, an ex-officio board member of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society, and a board member on the Governor’s Tourism Advisory Board. I have been a downtown Rehoboth business owner since 2005.
Susan Gay: I have been part of the Rehoboth Beach community for nearly 17 years, starting as a renter, before realizing the dream of owning a home here. I have dedicated several years to working with citizens of Rehoboth on a year-round basis on everything from coastal cleanup and trees to policy issues, including participating in hundreds of Commissioners and Planning Commission discussions. There is no better way to get to know neighbors than being involved in these hands-on efforts.
Simply put, I love the City and want to preserve its unique character for residents, businesses, and visitors by developing a shared vision for our future.
My experience with city issues, and my knowledge of our municipal government, has prepared me to take a seat at the table for policy and budget decisions. I want to move the City forward!
My 30-year career in the private sector has provided related experience and knowledge, particularly in the areas of financial planning and information delivery.
I support: 1) Transparent information that is accurate and easy to find so citizens can stay up to date on the actions of the Commissioners. 2) A long-range financial plan, including capital improvements, to preserve and protect our unique community. 3) Balance between growth, tourism and livability, by protecting our natural resources and focusing on quality of life.
Kathy McGuiness: I am one of your Rehoboth Beach City Commissioners, and I am running for re-election. I’m honored and humbled to have your continued support.
I’m a Rehoboth native, pharmacist, realtor, volunteer, and mother of three amazing teens. I attended school here, ran several businesses downtown, was the founding president of Rehoboth Beach Main Street, have worked with dozens of non-profits, currently work with Meals on Wheels, Boys and Girls Club of Delaware, the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company, and, of course, as a CAMP Rehoboth Board Member. Most people know me as the founder, fundraiser, and manager of our July fireworks for 18 years.
I am running again for the Board of Commissioners because I am determined to lift the veil of secrecy from the process of City government. I want to let residents know what is going on in City decision-making and see to it we have much better planning, management of City projects, and more responsiveness to our voters and the community at large.
Property owners will soon feel the cost for these decisions. We need to right the ship NOW, spend money where it’s needed—streets, utilities, services, staff training, and quality of life issues—and make sure we are a government that protects our property owners and businesses from huge tax increases while showing support for our tourism industry.
I am running again to continue to represent all the stakeholders in Rehoboth Beach. We’ve got to remain a great hometown, fight to preserve our quality of life, and make decisions that support our business community and visitors.
Lisa Schlosser: My name is Lisa Schlosser. I am honored to now be a full-time resident of the City of Rehoboth Beach. I served as a public servant and technology executive for approximately 30 years. I led, managed, and had oversight of billions of dollars in investments and projects. I served my country in, and retired from, the US Army; worked for Ernst & Young; was a VP for a Technology Company; and was a Senior Executive in the Federal Government. I teach at Georgetown University in DC; serve on a corporate and non-profit board; and volunteer at the Brandywine SPCA. I researched the financials of the City Hall project, and frankly—I became concerned. The existing Commissioners have brought much to our city; however, we also need a Commissioner who has extensive experience in Government operations, and in solving complex policy, project, and budget challenges. Changing times demand new leadership, with new perspectives and ideas. We are at a crossroads—and the time is now to elect a new Commissioner, with in-depth expertise, who is action-oriented, and who can work with our community to develop—and implement—a fresh vision for our future.
2. Currently, the City has two major construction projects in process: the completion and final move-in for the new Municipal Complex, as well as the beginning of construction for the long anticipated Ocean Outfall project. How have these projects shaped your campaign?
Cooper: The implementation of these projects has been a major priority of this term as Mayor. Three years ago, as part of my last campaign, the discussion among the voters in Rehoboth Beach centered on the need for these two projects. Less than a year later the voters approved both of them through a funding referendum.
Since then, it has been all about preparation for construction. I look forward to the completion of the new Municipal Complex in the next few months. Without raising taxes, this project is going to provide the citizens of Rehoboth Beach and the city’s staff a state of the art facility we can all be proud of, and which will meet our needs for the next 50 years. While not yet under construction, there has been great progress on the wastewater outfall. This project was mandated by state environmental regulations in 1998, and we have finally completed the permitting process. Working closely with the city’s engineers, Sussex County, and the State of Delaware, we will complete this project by June 1, 2018.
Kuhns: As I walk about our small community, speaking with a variety people, the issue coming up most, be it residents, property owners, or business owners, is the City Hall/Municipal Complex project—its size, cost, and the management decisions leading up to today. These same people worry about upcoming decisions for the Ocean Outfall project, currently in the final planning phase.
These projects were proposed many years ago and sat on the drawing board, in limbo with construction costs rising, until the last five years. This, despite our police and city staff struggling for years in extremely antiquated facilities and crowded offices. Why? City employees deserved better. And now, this long overdue project, with its massive change orders and long delays will be considerably over budget. Constituents say they fear the same problems will arise with the outfall project, with its budget of three times that of City Hall. These decisions will directly impact property owners and their finances.
These two issues have shaped the campaign conversation for me. Voters tell me there has to be a change at the top. Many appreciate the present Mayor’s years of hard work, but overwhelmingly call for a change.
Gay: I’ve been immersed in both projects for three years! I’ve learned how important it is to deliver timely and accurate updates. The confusion over City Hall costs could have been avoided if citizens had been informed about key milestones in the project, such as the approval of the construction contract in early 2016, and the reasons behind the Commissioners’ decisions.
The City must communicate clearly and often about the construction progress of the Ocean Outfall project, and its costs. Now is the time to put a process in place to inform citizens on an ongoing basis about the project, so that everyone has accurate information.
As I talk with voters, I learn that they are pleased their taxes haven’t gone up, despite the increased cost of City Hall. But budget discussions, including debt payments for these two big projects, have underscored the need for a long-range financial plan and capital improvement budget to assure that we have the revenues needed to fund infrastructure improvements and keep the City going in the event of a natural disaster.
McGuiness: I have served you as Rehoboth Beach Commissioner from 2000-2012, then 2014 to present, chairing and serving on Personnel, Park and Shade Tree, Bandstand, Convention Hall/Special events, and audit committees.
I’ve been working to make sure all of us know about decisions being made, what will affect our finances and what projects are in the works. Recent ideas, like closing the sidewalk to pedestrians in front of the new City Hall in the middle of tourist season was unnecessary. I want all important decisions to be discussed and decided by the full Commission. I want to represent your concerns.
As a Commissioner, I was shocked to discover the tremendous number of change orders and cost over-runs for the City Hall complex. These were only shared with a select group while many of us were kept in the dark. Clearly, project planning and management was not inclusive.
Now, we are looking at the Ocean Outfall Project, budgeted at double the cost of the Municipal Complex. My whole campaign is focused on process, transparency, and fiscal responsibility of taxpayer dollars.
Schlosser: My campaign is based on three common sense positions: First, we must implement diligent planning and budget management processes; second, we need a vision for continued, balanced progress; and third, we must be more transparent and inclusive. I formed these positions by listening to my neighbors, and by attending Commissioner’s meetings. As the Commission discussed these projects, I observed the need for improved processes, collaboration, communication, and financial oversight of what could be almost $70M in loans. I knew that I could provide expertise to address these issues, and am committed to: establishing a fresh vision for our town, created through strong collaboration between the Commissioners, residents, and businesses; creating incentives—not just controversial ordinances—for development that aligns with our unique character; and implementing an inclusive approach to decision-making that is based on listening to, and taking action on, the priorities of our community.
3. What message do you have for the LGBT community in Rehoboth Beach?
Cooper: The LGBT community brings much to this City—economically, culturally, socially, politically, and in many other ways. I see individuals for who they are, not as part of any stereotypical group. Based on their qualifications, I have appointed openly gay members to the city’s Planning Commission and supported the election of gay City Commissioners. Under my administration, the policies of the City have recognized all individuals as equals. For example, in cooperation with CAMP Rehoboth and the wider LGBT community, we unanimously passed a non-discrimination ordinance, and we conduct annual sensitivity training for our police in order to meet the community’s concerns. CAMP Rehoboth truly serves as “the heart of the community,” and is a welcome partner in all we do to make Rehoboth Beach a more positive place to live, work and visit.
Kuhns: My message for the LGBT community, and especially CAMP Rehoboth, is a big thank you for all you do for Rehoboth Beach, and most importantly, for providing our community with an enlightening example of how to persevere and prosper under very difficult circumstances. The LGBT community has been fighting discrimination for so long without giving up and has made so much progress. It’s a great example for all of our citizens and neighbors. We all love our community, and I hope we can foster more open conversation and understanding about the issues we face. Today, with all that is going on around our country and the world, it is so important that we work together, with all facets of our community, for what is best for our entire society.
Gay: I am a member of CAMP Rehoboth and proud to live in a community that values all its citizens. I believe that an inclusive culture is an important part of our identity. Both of my children were greatly influenced from an early age by the messages of the LGBT community here, and it has shaped their attitudes as adults. CAMP Rehoboth should be proud of its multi-generational reach.
I thank my fellow Atlanta native Steve Elkins, Murray Archibald, and all who volunteer for CAMP Rehoboth for their tireless efforts to assure that Rehoboth remains true to its original meaning of “room for all.” I value the spirit of community here, and I pledge to listen to all, to achieve a truly shared vision.
McGuiness: First, thank you for welcoming me as an ally. I’m proud to be a CAMP Rehoboth Board Member. My message is simple: the LGBT community is an integral part of our community, often on the front lines, leading the way in supporting our non-profits and caring about our issues.
LGBT home and business owners are selflessly involved in working to promote tourism, keeping up property values, donating to charities, and being fantastic neighbors. I look forward to continuing the excellent relationships we have built.
Most importantly, we need the LGBT community’s help to make sure the upcoming election moves us forward, not backward.
Schlosser: Keep supporting CAMP Rehoboth and keep your pulse on the local, state, and national issues facing our community. There was a recent incident where a transgender individual in Rehoboth Beach was forced to use a bathroom that did not meet the individual’s gender identity. Fortunately, due to the positive relationship between the community and the police, this issue was quickly addressed by the City. We need to continue this positive relationship.
4. What makes your vision for Rehoboth Beach unique?
Cooper: My vision for Rehoboth is unique because it is shaped from many years of working with many people and all segments of the City. The Rehoboth Beach of the future, for me, does not outwardly look much different than it does today. The Atlantic Ocean remains the centerpiece of the City and we have continued to protect its environmental quality and prevent overdevelopment. We have continued to improve other natural features such as the two lakes and the abundant trees that set Rehoboth apart from other ocean resorts. The City, just as the style of its homes, has an eclectic mix of businesses, but protects our small-town feel. I feel that when we truly focus on the City we find there is much more to unite us than divide us.
I look forward to continuing to serve our city, and ask for your continued support on August 12.
Kuhns: My vision is very different than the present City leadership. Of course, I want Rehoboth to stay a great beach town offering a lot of fun and welcoming all people along with remaining a great hometown for full-time residents. But my vision is for a real change in attitude, with much more government transparency and the welcoming of new ideas. Just as I believe Rehoboth means “room for all,” I think our City government should make room for all—hearing and deliberating all suggestions, concerns, and criticisms. We need this new attitude for better communication and working relationships with residents, business owners, visitors, state officials, and more.
Just as I believe that neighbor can work with neighbor to continue to make this town the ideal place for everyone, I hope we can make City government more inclusive as well. And I hope to provide the leadership to help make it so. We will all benefit.
Gay: My vision for Rehoboth is prominently featured on the home page of my campaign website, SusanGayRehoboth.com. It revolves around retaining and enhancing Rehoboth’s special character.
I believe this vision is unique because it speaks to all stakeholders in our community—residents (full and part-time), visitors, and businesses who share common ground. Quaint neighborhoods, abundance of trees and green space, a vibrant business district with distinct restaurants and shops, a clean beach—these features are what bring people here. Residents and renters alike are allied in their love of Rehoboth’s charm. We should do everything in our power to retain that local flavor, lest we lose the very thing we love so much.
As noted urban planner Ed McMahon said, “Vision counts but implementation is priceless.” We must continually make difficult decisions regarding traffic, parking, density, scale, preservation, and growth.
We must also create a long-range financial plan to secure our future and implement our vision, including the objectives of the Comprehensive Development Plan.
I ask for your vote on August 12, so that I can work with my fellow Commissioners to keep Rehoboth unique, and meet the challenges before us.
McGuiness: There is much yet to do. I am a strong advocate for inclusivity. I believe we must manage and direct our city vision, be proactive instead of reactive. We must be ready to listen to new ideas, move projects along with better planning and fewer costly delays. We must also be more helpful to residents, property owners, businesses and visitors, and eager to make the kind of changes necessary to maintain a vibrant, evolving city. As your currently elected commissioner, I have seen first hand the inner workings of the city, will continue to be your voice and can deliver.
I envision more openness and dialogue, more of a “Yes, we can” attitude, more attention to issues that matter, and more strategic planning. Secrecy, foot-dragging, and playing catch-up will be rooted out. Trust I will continue to work tirelessly on your behalf to preserve, promote and protect this city we love.
With your vote on August 12, we can make it happen!
Schlosser: My vision for Rehoboth Beach is continued, forward progress through a balanced, practical approach. This vision is built on two principles. One, everyone matters, everyone counts in Rehoboth. We have so many engaged, experienced residents: people who have spent their whole life in this town; engineers; environmentalists; lawyers; scientists; teachers; and financial experts, among others. Let’s be more transparent and include all of these voices in decision-making by activating key committees that have long been dormant. Two, we are blessed with many features that make us a unique, sought after destination—the street trees, the scenic beaches, our walking and bike trails, and our unique local businesses—along with our Convention Center and Bandstand. We need to update the long-range plan (not wait until 2020) and link it specifically to a budget that centers on promoting and protecting these features. Again, to do so, we must build a culture of collaboration between our Commissioners; our residents; and our businesses. We must also think beyond our town boundaries and work with our neighbors in Lewes, Dewey, and throughout the county to improve transportation and protect our common resources. Bottom line: while Rehoboth is a great community, it can only stay great if we inject new ideas and experienced leadership into our Commission. Let’s start now.
For information on the election, call City Hall at 302-227-6181.