City will bring annexation change before public again

By Lynn R. Parks

After being approved by the Seaford City Council, a proposed change to the city charter that would remove a provision for a public vote on annexations is back on the agenda for the next council meeting. The council voted at the May 12 meeting to approve the charter change. The vote to approve the change was 4 to 0; Councilwoman Leanne Phillips-Lowe was absent from the meeting because of a work commitment. The charter change still requires the approval of the state General Assembly and the governor. The city announced Monday morning that the council will discuss the proposal again at its May 26 meeting. "The mayor and council want to dispel the misperception that it is trying to empower itself by removing the public's right to vote," a notice faxed to the Seaford Star by the city said. "It is important to the Mayor and Council that the citizens retain their trust and have confidence that their elected officials will conduct business in the overall interest of its residents." Last week's city council vote followed a public hearing at which a dozen people spoke out against the change. Nearly all of them were residents of Hearns Pond, an area that is outside of the city limits and where land has been proposed for annexation into the city. Twice, in September 2006 and again in April 2008, voters in Seaford rejected that annexation. Under the city's proposed charter change, a vote like that would no longer take place. The decision instead would be made by the city council. Following the vote, Mayor Ed Butler said that the two failed annexation referendums have nothing to do with the city's decision to change the annexation procedure. The only reason for the charter change, he said, is the cost of the public annexation referendums. Each referendum costs the city about $1,000. Cost "is the only reason we are doing this," Butler said.

Sponsor for the legislation to change the city charter would be one of Seaford's legislators, either state Rep. Dan Short or state Sen. Robert Venables. A statement released Monday by the Hearns Pond citizens group, HAPPEN, urges people to contact Short and Venables about the charter change. "Over the voices of outrage in a public hearing, the mayor and city council voted to go forward with a bill to deny Seaford citizens the right to vote on annexations to the city," the statement says. "Seaford citizens will not be given the opportunity to vote on whether their right to vote should be taken away from them." Short said last week that he had not had time to review the city's proposed charter changes. He was to meet yesterday with residents of the Hearns Pond area and planned to subsequently meet with representatives of the city. Venables was to meet with the Hearns Pond group today. Short also said that it will be difficult to shuttle the charter-change legislation through the General Assembly in the last few weeks of its session, when the assembly is struggling with state budgetary woes. The session ends June 30, by which time next year's budget has to be approved. "We have so many issues we are working with right now, and this really isn't the best time to try to get a charter change through," he said. The notice that was faxed to the paper from the city on Monday morning makes reference to the busy General Assembly session. "Since it is so close to the end of the Delaware General Assembly session, the City Council desires more time to convey to the citizens of Seaford why annexations are important to its residents and businesses," it says.

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