“Delaware way” given a black-eye in Newark mayor resignation

    The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.

    It first came as a shock to learn that three-term Newark Mayor Vance Funk will step down after nine years at the post.

    But as more comes out regarding the circumstances behind his decision, it is no surprise that he finally decided enough is enough.

    Funk, who suffered a stroke many years ago, has long dealt with health issues. Of late, he had seen his blood pressure rise during recent controversies.

    In his brief resignation letter, Funk pointed to opposition by his neighbors to the proposed Wawa on South Main Street (formerly Elkton Road ) as the reason for his decision.

    He later softened the language in a city press release that moved his resignation up from Dec. 31st to the end of September. In the release, Funk cited the large number of budget meetings that come in the fall.

    ­Opposition and nitpicking over new projects has long been a part of the political landscape in Newark . I sat through many a City Council meeting where members of the public would quibble over the most minor design points of new buildings.

    But the vigorous discussion came with a degree of civility, leading to compromise and a fine looking Main Street that has become an increasingly popular destination in the region.

    The good manners changed with the Wawa proposal. Neighbors put up lawn signs – a poke in the eye to the mayor known for cleaning up trash on Main Street after a wild Saturday night.

    Funk could not get away from the issue, even when he took a recent trip to France . Nasty emails continued to come in, and when he came back home, neighbors, irritated about the lack of attention to their pet issue, added more lawn signs.

    Never mind that a Sunoco convenience store down the street failed to draw any scrutiny. Granted, Wawa’s have a way of attracting those of us looking to fuel up and grab a cup coffee. If and when a Wawa is built, traffic would increase, with some of the cars driven by those grumpy neighbors.

    Opponents expressed regret in public statements after the mayor’s announcement, perhaps realizing what they were losing in their not in my backyard dispute.

    Also hovering in the background were other issues, such as The Data Center project on the University of Delaware Star Campus , the former Chrysler site.

    The Data Center is a “dream big” project that involves combining a secure data center with a power plant at a cost that could run $1 billion. It’s the kind of bold proposal that Delaware needs to embrace. But keep in mind, we are talking about a lot of money and few indications that financing had been secured.

    The West Chester, Pa.-based developer of the project has been talking with the city from time to time. News about the plant eventually got out when the developer made preliminary requests to the state regarding infrastructure for the project.

    That news prompted Sierra Club activist Amy Roe and State Rep. John Kowalko to demand a public hearing and full disclosure of all discussions. Never mind that any new power plant requires a lengthy approval process and many hearings.

    The city initially issued a press release on the situation, claiming a hearing was not needed.   In the end, officials relented to some extent and decided to hold an information session early next month.

    Still, the whole exercise smelled of grandstanding.

    Roe has been a fixture at City Council meetings, with her critiques of a city electric power utility. Her efforts did lead the city to add more alternative energy, a decision that drew wide support. At the same time, she did not take into consideration the added costs of alternative energy to ratepayers, many on fixed incomes.

    In last couple of years, Roe has become a fierce foe of natural gas “fracking” in Pennsylvania and would clearly like to see a public hearing that would become a forum over the controversial practice.

    While Roe is not always comfortable in the limelight, Kowalko loves the attention.

    His favorite target is Delmarva Power, but with his decision to move to Newark , the city utility became another pet project.

    Kowalko also hit the local radio talk circuit, claiming that the natural gas power plant would cause excessive noise, a claim not at all backed up by facts.

    None of this is to suggest that the mayor is a babe in the woods when it comes to these matters. Funk has not been afraid to use his political skills and arm-twisting skills to move initiatives forward.

    And Funk, like other members of the council, has to abide by zoning ordinances. If a project meets requirements, the council has little choice but to grant approval or face costly litigation.

    Funk clearly did not deserve the treatment – intended or unintended – that led to his decision to resign.

    He deserves the praise that is beginning to be voiced about his nine years as mayor. And neighbors should give the man the respect he deserves by taking down those lawn signs.

    Doug Rainey is the editor of the Delaware Business Daily.  Email Doug drainey@delawarebusinessdaily.com  or follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/DougRaineyDe

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