Four candidates are competing for two seats for City Commissioner in the Aug. 14 City of Rehoboth Beach election. The Blade interviewed each; below are their remarks and a preview of the key issues in the race.
Incumbent Richard Byrne
Byrne was elected a city commissioner in 2018, contributing to projects like the creation of Steve Elkins Way and adding city committees to improve Rehoboth.
“It’s been just an honor to serve these past three years, very inspiring, challenging and a very productive time,” Byrne said. “I feel that I have the energy, I have the know-how and I certainly have the experience to continue in this role working on behalf of the residents, and our voters all across the city.”
Byrne voted against reversing the approval for Clear Space Theatre’s site plan in June. The planning commission’s and inspectors’ effort toward its approval seemed neither arbitrary nor capricious, Byrne said.
“I’ve also been one of many who is advocating the need for our city to in the future, employ the services of a professional urban planner to help us and guide our work as we go forward,” Byrne said. “This is my community. It’s my only community. My only home. I just love this community, and I care deeply about it.”
Planning Commissioner Rachel Macha
Macha has been a member of the planning commission since 2019 and works through the comprehensive development plan alongside the other members and additionally reviews residential and commercial land use projects.
Macha is also involved in the plant, shade, and tree commission that approves the removal of trees in order to preserve the canopy. She has worked on projects such as Rehoboth’s Main Street and a campaign called Respect Rehoboth, a way to enforce social distancing and mask mandates.
“Rehoboth is a hidden gem, I mean it has ‘the nation’s summer capital’ as its tagline. I think there are just a lot of people that have found this is kind of a slice of heaven,” Macha said. “I just have had a real love for Rehoboth all my life and my kids have now had that same love for it, and I just want that to continue for generations to come.”
The reversed approval of Clear Space Theatre’s construction plan was disappointing, according to Macha.
“There were some commissioners and the mayor that were undermining the hours and effort that the planning commission not once, but twice worked through,” Macha said. “I just think it was unfair, and also just disrespectful, frankly, to really call out the planning commission on not doing a thorough job.”
Former Commissioner Toni Sharp
Sharp served as a city commissioner from 2013 to 2019 and, in her tenure, Sharp worked to budget a communications position within the commission and helped launch a platform to receive feedback from the community.
Sharp was involved in many other committees during her term and needed some time away, she said.
“I am reinvigorated, I have much more perspective and I think, it may happen this way for a lot of people, that when you step away from something, you really get a clarity of exactly what you want to do,” Sharp said. “I know how to be a commissioner, I know how to get things done. And now it is just a matter of what are the most pressing things that I believe we need to get done here in Rehoboth.”
Like many residents in Rehoboth, Sharp wants to see Clear Space Theatre have a place in the city, despite Rehoboth’s restrictions for parking.
“Now, what’s the right process to get from point A, which is where we are now, to point B, to keep moving forward to get a mutually agreeable situation?” Sharp asked her then fellow commissioners at an April 2019 hearing. “Do we have to have a different discussion about parking in this particular area of town? It feels like a different discussion.”
Bennett worked as the director of marketing and advertising programs at Subaru of America for 15 years, including his help to hire lesbian former tennis champion Martina Navratilova. He has worked to benefit the LGBTQ community through marketing.
Bennett gained interest in working on city committees and offered his services wherever they were needed, he said.
“I decided to come in as someone with no political history here, unencumbered,” Bennett told the Blade. “I’ve had no history here, I’m a new person, it’s time for getting some fresh ideas and new voices into the city.”
Bennett supports a full-time city planner position that would help in land redevelopment for the city, according to his website. Clear Space Theatre’s reversed approval was rushed and traffic, parking and the building size were the main problems, said Bennett.
“I think it’s such sloppy government, and I think it’s sad all around because if the plans exist, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Bennett said. “I understand that there are going to be traffic problems, there are going to be parking problems. It needs to be mitigated, of course, and we just have to follow the rules and do the right thing.”
Bennett attributes much of his passion to his time at Marietta College, a small school in Ohio.
“There was always this thing of being taught when you graduated to find a way to be of use and try to make things a little better than you found them, or in the importance of showing up,” Bennett said. “I’ve always remembered that and I’ve tried to always strive to do that with work. When you’re involved in something or you take on a project it’s, ‘Can I be of use, can I contribute something, and can I be of help?’”