On Wednesday, April 2, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford held a Mayoral Candidate Forum for chamber members. The event allowed members to ask questions of the three candidates running for the mayor’s position related to economic development, education and other factors that have an effect on business in Milford.
Candidates James A. Oeschler, Jr., Betty Lou Schiedenhelm and Bryan W. Shupe opened the forum, which was moderated by Dan Gaffney, by providing their backgrounds. Mr. Oeschler has been a Milford resident for 21 years, is married with three children and an active member of the Church of the Nazerene. He has also coached Little League for 20 years, served on City Council and performed mission work through his church. He is employed as a financial advisor at Black Diamond Financial Services. Ms. Schiedenhelm is the parent of twin boys and has been in the restaurant and hospitality business for many years. She has been a resident of Milford for twelve years and is the owner of Betty Lou’s Café and Restaurant. Mr. Shupe was born and raised in Milford and earned a degree in Political Science before working in politics in Wilmington. He returned to Milford to start a business, and is currently the owner and editor of Milford Live. He and his fiancé also own Fur-Baby Boutique in Milford and he serves on City Council, representing Ward One.
Attendees who had questions but did not want to speak were provided cards that Mr. Gaffney read, allowing each candidate to respond. The floor was also opened up to questions throughout the evening. One question to the candidates was what they saw the role of the mayor to be.
“I have never done this, I am not a politician, so what I know about the position is from what I have read in the city bylaws and meeting minutes,” Ms. Schiedenhelm said. “I believe that the mayor represents the people to council, asking the questions that the people want asked and acting as a liaison between council and the citizens. It is my understanding that the City Manager and Council actually run the city.”
Mr. Oeschler felt that the role of the mayor was to lead City Council and set the agenda for meetings. He felt that the mayor needed to have a direction and a vision while working to get council on board with that vision.
“I believe that the mayor needs to be sure that Roberts Rules of Order are followed at council meetings as well,” Mr. Oeschler said. “He needs to be sure proper procedures are being followed, making sure that motions are made properly. I don’t see that happening as often as it should in the meetings right now.” Mr. Oeschler also felt the mayor needed to reach out to citizens outside city limits, as recent annexation has left people on the outskirts of the city feeling as if they had no voice.
Mr. Shupe said that he felt the position of mayor was far more than just running city council meetings and setting agendas. He said that the mayor should make sure that everyone’s voices are heard while keeping the focus on economic development and infrastructure necessary to help the city grow.
“The mayor needs to be an active ambassador for the town,” Mr. Shupe said. “He needs to be out, present in the city each day, speaking to people, asking questions, getting information from as many constituents as they can to provide better representation in city government.”
There were several questions related to economic development in the city, including bringing more businesses and potential customers to downtown Milford and the need for an Economic Development Director in the town.
“The city works closely with Downtown Milford, Inc., providing funding to that organization for the purpose of attracting businesses,” Mr. Oeschler said. “But we can’t expect businesses to come downtown if we don’t make it presentable. Many buildings downtown need work, and fixing the façade in downtown Milford will go a long way to bringing businesses there. “ In regard to the Economic Development Director, Mr. Oeschler said that he would reinstate the position as soon as possible as it would help the city immensely.
“I was displeased that we sold land to fund the position, only to cancel it one year later,” Mr. Oeschler said. “The Economic Development Director focuses on more than just downtown, and that is critical to our success as a town.” Mr. Shupe said that it was true that council created the Economic Development position, but after one year, they reviewed how the position was working, deciding to eliminate the position as it was and create a new position, making it better.
“I am pleased to say that we are looking at hiring a City Planner who also has economic development experience,” Mr. Shupe explained. “We have learned that one position that can perform both jobs is a better option. We are currently putting together a job description that will give us a set direction and include measures that would clearly show people how the city is growing.” Mr. Shupe said that, as mayor, he would develop a strong relationship with the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO) to expand on programs like the Rural Business Excelerator and Project Pop-Up that have brought businesses to Milford.
Ms. Scheidenhelm felt that to improve economic development in Milford, it needed to be more user friendly, more family oriented. She pointed out that there were very few things to do as a family in Milford, and that many businesses who were not located downtown often felt excluded during events.
“Although the new bocce ball court is a great idea for older people, there is still no park for children,” Ms. Scheidenhelm said. “In my reading, I see a lot of plans being proposed for the city, but nothing happening. The Vineyard Ship Museum is an excellent idea, and we need to do everything we can to get that up and running. We should be encouraging things like the aquarium, the ship museum and other family locations to draw people to downtown Milford.” Ms. Scheidenhelm agreed that there was a definite need for an Economic Development director. She also pointed out that the Economic Development Commission for the city had not met since July 2013, and she felt that group should meet more often.
Many of the questions asked had to do with city infrastructure, such as water, sewer and electric. There were concerns about electric rates, and one question was related to the possibility of Delaware Electric Cooperative purchasing the City of Milford’s electric company.
“I know that Delaware Electric Co-op came to the city before and offered a price point,” Mr. Shupe said. “The price point offered was lower than one they offered ten years ago. The city has built a strong, healthy electric infrastructure, and it would be foolish to sell the electric service for less than we put into it. I want to lower electric rates, but we need to look at more than a price tag. As for water, I know that we went to referendum a few years ago to put in a new water tower in Southeast Milford. The process is in the works now, as it takes time for those projects to come to completion. We must provide quality services to the citizens that already live in the city, and we are taking steps to do that. We are upgrading water and sewer plants, adding infrastructure and doing all that we can to serve our current population before we move to serve areas that are being developed. As those projects are completed, we move on to the next phase of the project.”
Mr. Oeschler agreed with Mr. Shupe’s assessment of Delaware Electric Co-op’s offer to purchase the city electric plant, stating that the offer made years ago was far too low, but believes it is something that should be investigated. He said that power rates in Milford need to be reduced in order to attract businesses to the city.
“There is no water or sewer in Southeast Milford, and we need a water tower on the west side of town to serve Baltimore Air Coil,” Mr. Oeschler said. “It has been seven years since the referendum passed and that is unacceptable. We need to put money on one side of infrastructure, get it running and then move on.” Ms. Schiedenhelm agreed that seven years waiting for a new water tower seemed to be a long time for citizens in that area to wait.
The three candidates will again answer questions from the public when they appear at a Mayoral Debate, sponsored by the Milford/Slaughter Neck NAACP on Thursday, April 10 at the Milford High School Auditorium. Doors open at 6:30 PM and the debate is open to the public.
DISCLOSURE: Mayoral candidate Bryan W. Shupe is the editor-in-chief and co-owner of MilfordLIVE.com and the Milford Review. All content on the mayoral election is handled by Terry Rogers and publisher Dave Burris. Mr. Shupe has no input or control over coverage of the election.