Letter: Mayor’s manufactured wastewater crisis
January 11, 2019
It was truly inspiring to see 200 concerned citizens coming out to Rehoboth City Hall Jan. 5 to voice their opposition to Mayor Kuhns’ proposal to give away the city’s wastewater treatment plant to Sussex County. This is democracy in action.
Mayor Kuhns’ behavior in the town hall was shameful, however. After forcing people to sit through more than two hours of presentations of his point of view - described as a “sell job” by multiple commissioners and members of the public - Mayor Kuhns could not listen to five minutes of comment from the Rehoboth Beach Homeowners’ Association without trying to have the chief of police escort the RBHA speaker out of the room.
Kuhns was similarly mean-spirited toward other public commenters, including a one-time mayor of Takoma Park, and Rehoboth’s former Mayor Sam Cooper. Don’t take my word for it. Go watch the video online at Rehoboth’s civic website.
Mayor Kuhns tried and failed to convince us, through a two-hour sell job, that Rehoboth’s wastewater plant is in a state of financial and physical crisis, and his only solution is a big giveaway to the county.
In truth, the only crisis is of Kuhns’ own making. He continues to push long-serving city employees into early retirement, and neglect long-standing capital improvement plans.
When Kuhns was sworn in 16 months ago, he inherited a plan for Phase 3 upgrades at the wastewater plant. But Kuhns dragged his feet on this project, keeping it out of his Capital Improvement Plan adopted last year, never putting the project on a public agenda, but secretly discussing it with the commissioners in executive session in June and October, leaving the public in the dark.
Instead of thoughtful public deliberation about studies and facts, Mayor Kuhns uses a governing strategy of manufacturing a crisis, and then trying to bully the commissioners and the public into the outcome he decided unilaterally. I have watched him use the same strategy throughout his term in office, using an unprecedented number of special meetings to wear down the commissioners and minimize the public’s ability to follow and provide input.
Mayor Kuhns has been doing the same thing with parking. With all his changes to parking times and fees and passes in Rehoboth, he is manufacturing a parking crisis for next summer. And as soon as people are fed up, he will try to force through an expensive parking garage to resolve the crisis he created. Did you know that Kuhns has already been talking with a handpicked firm about this garage?
Why hasn’t there been an open and competitive request for information (RFI) for that opportunity?
Finally, people should know that, after all the public criticism at the town hall on Saturday, Mayor Kuhns was still pushing his flat-rate proposal on Monday in another special meeting of the commissioners. He continued to push the idea that Rehoboth’s homeowners (whose median usage is about 37,000 gallons per year) should pay the same wastewater bill as heavy users like the nine-bedroom mini-hotel at 7 Norfolk (107,000 gallons last year) and the restaurants like the Summer House (787,000 gallons last year).
As a co-owner of the Summer House and Arena’s Deli, Mayor Kuhns stands to benefit financially from the flat-rate proposal he is pushing. He has a conflict of interest and should recuse himself from further discussion of any flat rate.