Cocalico Corner — Life’s a beach: One person, one vote?

By on October 14, 2015

One of the joys of vacation … at least for me .. is reading local newspapers.

Yes, I know that these days virtually every newspaper is accessible on the Internet. Still, there’s something satisfying about holding an actual newspaper, coffee at the ready, sitting on a balcony overlooking the beach without a single appointment on the calendar.

That’s just what I did last week in Ocean City, Md., perusing the weekly newspapers of Delmarva and learning a bit more about the area.

There was an article in the Oct. 7 issue of the Delaware Coast Press that particularly caught my attention. The headline: “Who can vote in Rehoboth’s special election?”

The article centered on the announcement made by the City of Rehoboth Beach that “only those who are ‘registered to vote on the Books of Registered Voters of Rehoboth Beach’ can vote in the Nov. 7 special election.”

One person, one vote. That’s news? In Rehoboth, it was.

It seems there was a special referendum in June in which corporations, partnerships, and LLCs were permitted to vote. So, whether you lived in the municipality or not and you fell into one of those categories, you had a vote — or multiple votes depending on the number of properties you owned in that resort town. If you resided in Rehoboth, you got another vote as well. And those voting regulations were in compliance with the city charter.

But all was not well with that special election which caught the attention of the Delaware Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust. The office reviewed the election after receiving complaints about alleged voting irregularities.

Delawareonline.com reported that those Rehoboth Beach voters on June 27 approved, by a narrow margin, a plan to borrow $52.5 million for a sewage treatment plant upgrade and new ocean discharge that will empty treated waste more than a mile offshore.

The outfall vote passed 637-606. A second question on borrowing $18 million for a new municipal complex was approved by a wider margin, the news organization reported.

So, at issue, is the amount of debt to be incurred by Rehoboth residents as a result of a municipal election that included outsiders, some of whom had numerous votes.

A lawsuit was filed, alleging that the Rehoboth city charter violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Consitution adopted in 1868. That amendment enforces the “one person, one vote” of American representative democracy.

The suit filed by a Rehoboth resident in U.S. District Court challenges the June vote that allowed the city to incur $52.2 million in debt for the ocean outfall. A motion for dismissal has been filed by the city.

A second lawsuit, this one filed in Delaware state court, seeks to prevent the city from enforcing a new zoning ordinance, adopted in mid July, which would shrink the size of residential houses, increasing open space requirements. It especially impacts the ability of homeowners to build pools on their properties.

The Nov. 7 special election referendum was placed on the ballot as the result of a voter signature petition. Enough signatures were collected to suspend enforcement of that ordinance until the vote.

So, last month, the town commissioners, eliciting the advice of the solicitor, determined the one person, one vote rule — in accordance with the 14th Amendment of the Constitution — should stand.

As a city councilor, I found the subject matter of the article amazing. Though Reading is an entirely different animal than Rehoboth Beach, the number and percentage of rental properties owned by non-resident investors is high. And, if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it scores of times, from non-resident business owners and absentee landlords that their investment dollars should be able to buy them a vote.

Think about what that might mean in the Cocalico area. Would you want an outsider, an investor charting the course for your municipality in which they have no personal roots?

And, maybe there are few readers out there with investment properties — perhaps even in Rehoboth — who believe they should help chart the course of a municipality in which they’ve sunk some hard-earned dollars.

All I can say is that relaxed vacation reading can certainly make one think — and that those vacation-area weeklies cover more than just the best places to go for a crab cake and a beer.

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