Seaford Council overturns decision for charter change

By Lynn R. Parks

In front of a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday night, the Seaford City Council voted to overturn an earlier vote that would have given the council the power to approve or deny requests for annexation into the city. The city's charter, which provides that annexations are decided by public referendum, will remain as it is. The unanimous vote was cast without discussion. Following the vote, the audience burst into applause. Before the vote, city manager Dolores Slatcher read a statement from the five council members. "The council has heard its citizens and will act accordingly," the statement said. In the statement, the council apologized for "confusion and misunderstanding" caused by the earlier vote and by the fact that council members did not make "a statement to convey why they wanted to annex lands." The vote two weeks ago to change the city's charter followed a public hearing at which a dozen people spoke out against the proposed change. Nearly all of them were from the Hearns Pond area, 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. Following the council vote, Mayor Ed Butler said that the two failed annexation referendums had nothing to do with the city's desire to change the annexation procedure. The change was just a matter of cost, he said; each annexation referendum costs the city about $1,000. City attorney James Fuqua, who spoke at Tuesday night's council meeting, also made reference to the cost of referendums as a reason for the charter change. Whether or not to annex land is "a decision the council should be able to make," he added. Council members "have been elected by the citizens to act in the best interests of the town." But the statement read by Slatcher Tuesday night said nothing about costs to the city or about the council's right to act on behalf of the citizens of Seaford. It also said nothing about why the city council wanted to change the annexation procedure. "Never was it the intention to disenfranchise the rights of the citizenry√Čor was it even thought [that] this charter change would invoke such thoughts," it said.

Instead, the statement focused on the importance of annexations. "The council understands that without successful past annexations by past generations, the city would not have the businesses and subdivisions it now has," the statement said. "The tax base would be substantially smaller and only the few would be sharing in the cost. The community would not have the restaurants, shopping opportunities, medical facilities, motels and many other amenities that are enjoyed today." It challenged city residents to look to the past for guidance for the future. "The question we as city residents should all be asking ourselves is why we believe our ancestors were so wrong in growing the city," it said. And it presented the DuPont Co.'s nylon plant, even though that plant is outside of the city limits, as evidence of forward-thinking decisions by past town leaders. "They took a real chance in allowing an industrial plant to be built on the borders of the community," the statement says. "[That] profoundly changed us forever." Wednesday morning, Susan Messick, one of the Hearns Pond residents who spoke at the public hearing, said that she was pleased by the vote. "The city council did listen to the people and responded accordingly," she said. She also said that the vote should empower citizens of Seaford to participate in city government. "I think that this proves to those who have been afraid to speak out in the past that their voice does count," she said. "The biggest enemy to the citizens of Seaford is apathy. And I think that this sparked their interest."

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