By Terry Rogers
Incumbents Chris Mergner, Douglas Morrow and James Starling, Sr. all filed for their seats on Milford City Council. However, Dirk Gleysteen, who has served on the council representing Ward 2 for two terms chose not to file for his seat. James Burk, the current chairman of the City of Milford Planning Commission, filed for the Ward 2 seat available in 2015, and he was the only candidate to file. This means there will be no election in April.
“I am stepping down from City Council as I have served two terms and believe that change on the council is to the benefit to the city as it always brings new ideas and a different perspective to our local government,” Councilman Gleysteen said. “I often hear complaints that the same people are on council, but, this is the third consecutive city council election cycle without a contested seat.” Councilman Gleysteen added that it takes a lot of work to run a campaign as well as a lot of time and dedication after the election is over. He said that the only way to ensure that constituents thoughts are heard is to see council at work.
Councilman Gleysteen said that he advised all citizens to come to a council meeting to make their voices heard and to see how city government works. He said that members of council were truly dedicated to the town and he felt privileged to have been part of the council over the past few years.
James Burk decided to run for council after serving on the Planning Commission since 2008. He said that he is a firm believer in giving back to the community, acting as a volunteer for the Knight’s of Columbus, the Boys and Girls Club and other organizations in Milford.
“If you are part of a community, you need to be involved,” Mr. Burk said. “Milford is going in a great direction and I want to be part of helping it continue on the right path.” Councilman Gleysteen agreed that Milford was moving in a positive direction.
Councilman Gleysteen said that Milford had made significant progress over the last few years, thanks in large part to the former City Manager, Richard Carmean, who retired at the end of 2014, as well as the dedicated employees that work for the city.
“Although it is not glamorous, infrastructure is the heart of the city,” Councilman Gleysteen said. “The work performed on storm water inflow and infiltration, many road projects, most recently Southeast Front Street road and sidewalks, upgrade of the pumping station across from Park Place, the new wastewater treatment plant, Southeast Milford water tower are among some of the projects that demonstrate a lot of planning and hard work to ensure we maintain our infrastructure and are poised for future growth.”
Councilman Gleysteen also felt that repurposing the PNC Bank building downtown demonstrated how the city was working to promote economic development in the town. He felt that turning the building into the city’s billing office preserved a historic structure and, at the same time, saved the city a significant amount of money as they did not have to build a billing office from scratch. Councilman Gleysteen also praised Gary Emory for the extensive work done to the Riverwalk and the addition of Goat Island. He also is excited that Bayhealth chose to remain in Milford and is looking forward to the ground breaking of the new health campus.
“My main goal when I take office is to listen to the citizens of the second ward,” Mr. Burk explained. “Ward 2 is unique in that it faces the repurposing of the old Middle School building as well as the current Bayhealth campus. These are very big issues that face not only my ward, but the city in general and I am looking forward to hearing what the citizens of my ward want to see happen to those two historic buildings.” Councilman Gleysteen said that some of the biggest challenges he faced while on council were planning and zoning issues, some of which may exist when the two buildings are repurposed.
Councilman Gleysteen said that he learned that the comprehensive plan didn’t always complement the surrounding properties and that adherence to the plan could infringe on the rights and expectations of property owners. He said he did not have much advice to offer Mr. Burk as he had been on the Planning Commission for several years, making him well-versed in the issues that exist in the area of planning and zoning.
Mr. Burk grew up in Lewes and attended the University of Delaware. He said that when he and his wife, Patti Persia, were looking for an area to settle down in, Milford was a logical choice. He says that he has always felt fortunate to have moved to Milford and enjoys spending his free time in the city.
“This is a great walking town,” Mr. Burk said. “I have been here since 2005 and there are just so many events that encourage people to enjoy our downtown area. We love the Riverwalk, the Bud and Bug Festival. I work with the Georgetown Police Department and, just recently, attended an event at Mispillion Brewing where they dedicated a beer to Chad Spicer. That was an incredible thing to do and I was proud to have been part of a town that would offer such a great thing. I want to quote Brad Dennehy, the new Parks and Recreation Director, who says often ‘Milford takes care of Milford.’ Those words are very true.”
Mr. Burk said that he knew Councilman Gleysteen well and found him to be an excellent city councilman. He says he expects to call him quite often after taking office to get his advice on matters facing their ward. Councilman Gleysteen said that there are many challenges that will face Mr. Burk after he is sworn in this spring.
“We are facing another referendum for a new high school in May,” Councilman Gleysteen said. “If that does not pass, what is Plan B? Maintenance of the old Middle School building is $200,000 per year. Is that in the district’s operating costs? Is it realistic that there will be a buyer for the school if it is designated a historic landmark and will that be an overall benefit or constraint for a new property owner?” In addition to those issues, Councilman Gleysteen said that the needs of the police department, which may or may not be partnered with plans for the Armory, which the city purchased from the state for one dollar in September.
The councilman said that city council could be faced with their own referendum that could impact the residents of Milford. He said that bigger buildings came with higher operating costs, so council needed to be mindful of that as they moved forward. Councilman Gleysteen has often said he felt term limits might be beneficial for city council members.
“I am not sure I agree with term limits,” Mr. Burk said. “That’s why we have elections. If the people of the city want a change, let them make the change. I think council is moving in the right direction with younger people choosing to get involved. Younger people will have a different perspective than older members of council, so they may bring a fresh approach to problems that face the city.”
Councilman Gleysteen congratulated Mr. Burk on his election to council and expressed his sincere thanks to Mayor Bryan Shupe, City Clerk Terri Hudson, Chief of Police Keith Hudson, City Solicitor David Rutt and former City Manager Richard Carmean for their work and dedication to making Milford the best town in which to live and work.