The members of the League of Women Voters of Sussex County's Observer Corps regularly attend Sussex County Council meetings and take notes to report their observations back to the League. A summary report, called the Sunshine Report, is presented to the County Council and the media each year. This keeps elected and appointed officials on notice, letting them know that someone is watching what decisions are being made and how they are being made.
Due to circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, the most recent Sunshine report was not presented to the Council in person but was delivered to Todd Lawson, County Administrator, on September 16, 2020, with the request that it be distributed to members of the Council. The following is the content of that report:
League of Women Voters of Sussex County, Delaware
Annual Report To Sussex County Council
Sunshine Report 2020
The League of Women Voters of Sussex County is a non-partisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government through education and advocacy. As part of our mission, the League’s “Observer Corps” monitors the meetings of government bodies to insure that transparency in government and open meeting laws are followed. We also track the progress of issues that are of importance to the League and the county. Over the past eleven years, the Observer Corps has attended the meetings of Sussex County Council, Planning and Zoning and School Boards, adding the monitoring of the Board of Adjustment into this year’s duties. Here are our findings for this past year:
1.Government Meetings During the COVID-19 State of Emergency
- After moving meetings to teleconferencing in March, County Council did an excellent job adhering to remote meeting guidelines issued by the state. Council kept up with the meeting schedules and enabled the public to monitor and communicate with the governing bodies.
- We applaud Council’s efforts to reinstate the in-person meetings as soon as was possible, following COVID-19 safety procedures. While teleconferencing was a useful emergency tool, in-chambers video and audio are far superior for monitoring meetings.
- Remote viewing of government meetings has introduced many citizens to the video monitoring system that was already available. We are hopeful this will encourage more of the public to keep up with government meetings in the future.
- Financial Director Gina Jennings prepared and presented a well-documented, clear budget process under difficult COVID-19 conditions which required a cautious, prioritized baseline budget.
- During this time when few in the public are attending County Council meetings in person, we recommend the County Administrator’s report be available for online viewing or included in the meeting packet.
2. Land Use/Environmental Protection
- The LWV supports the recommendations of the Wetlands and Buffer Working Group to increase the size of buffers surrounding wetlands, waterways and forested areas. The new ordinance should include the addition of non-tidal wetlands and streams and contain clear mechanisms to ensure the updated code is applied and enforced, that is, putting “more teeth” into the ordinances.
- The 2020 Comp Plan annual report prepared for the state by Planning Director Jamie Whitehouse was clear, informative and detailed. The presence of these updates on the county website, as well as the status on the Plan’s initiatives and ordinances, is commendable.
- We acknowledge the progress made by the county’s continued work on expanding sewer and water districts and reducing the number of individual septic tanks and wells.
3. DelDOT MOU - Memorandum of Understanding
- We applaud the work by Council, County administration and the County Attorney on the much-needed update to the MOU.
- During future public hearings, we suggest the county require DelDOT to make their information available in the public packet prior to the hearing.
- It would be helpful to describe in detail who at the county and at DelDOT is responsible for carrying out the specific items in the MOU.
To strengthen the intent of the MOU, Council should consider making provisions in the MOU into a county ordinance.
4. P&Z adherence to County Ordinances and Comprehensive Plan
- We have observed P&Z is showing more consideration of county ordinances and policies of the Comp Plan in their decisions as can be seen in their explanations for turning down or accepting zoning requests.
- Since there is turnover of P&Z appointees, we encourage the continued guidance of both County Council and the Planning Department to ensure the commission adheres to county rules in zoning application decisions.
We urge P&Z to provide more detailed descriptions on agenda items and ensure that full information is provided to the public in a timely manner.
5. Fair and Workforce Housing
We urge the county to continue to find opportunities for affordable housing, especially within reach of the eastern county businesses,. This will be even more crucial as housing costs are once again on the increase.
6. We note the continued progress on clarifications to County Code.
Into the future - Redistricting: 2021 will bring about redistricting of Sussex County after the 2020 Census. The League of Women Voters of Sussex County will participate in Delaware’s People Powered Fair Maps Project working to educate and engage the community to ensure fair redistricting and transparency during the process.
The Observer Corps of the League of Women Voters of Sussex County appreciates the opportunity to present these findings to Council and we will continue our activities this year. We share with you the goal of continued open government for the citizens of Sussex County.
Observer Corps Coordinator, League of Women Voters of Sussex County
Submitted September 4, 2020