District 5 county council candidates hold Millsboro forum

Last week, Sussex County Council District 5 candidates spoke at the Greater Millsboro Chamber of Commerce’s monthly member meeting.

Candidate Brad Connor, who is currently serving as mayor of Dagsboro, noted that he always had a desire to serve the community.

“I just always wanted to get involved in the community and in helping people,” Connor said.

Connor, who grew up in Bethany Beach, attended Salisbury University and is married with two kids. After being asked by fellow Dagsboro residents to run for town council, Connor did, and he won.

“I took it on like a job,” he said. “It was all an education.”

Connor said he worked to get the town sewer service and better drinking water. He also received $3.5 million in grant money for the town’s water system. Currently, he added, the town has the lowest sewer rates in the county.

“I’ve done my legwork. Now I want to go to the next level and put this to work on the county level.”

Connor also said that he hopes to work on bringing jobs to the area, as well as increase police protection in the district by rotationally creating a substation in the Millsboro or Dagsboro area.

“I look forward to the opportunity to serve the county.”

Candidate Bob Wheatley, who currently serves as chairman of the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission said that he is ready to take the step and serve as the District 5 councilman.

“I think I’m ready to help make the rules, instead of just having to live with them,” he said.

Wheatley, who has served the County on the commission for 18 years, is originally from Federalsburg, Md. A graduate of Salisbury University, he purchased the Whayland Co., a commercial contracting firm, in 1993 and moved the company to Southern Delaware in 2000.

Wheatley said that when he first moved to Sussex County, he took advantage of the County’s mortgage bond system at a time when interest rates were at 22 percent.

“Sussex County Council had the foresight to put this program in place. It was the first county in the United States, the first county in the country, to do this. It built over 600 homes for folks who wouldn’t have gotten them any other way, just like myself, and that’s the kind of innovation we need to bring back.”

Wheatley said the program didn’t cost the County anything but was “a great shot in the arm” for the economy.

He added that, if elected, he hopes to make economic development a community activity.

“We’re all about low taxes — that’s one thing people pretty much agree on. But there’s a way to leverage the money … and get more bang for our buck.”

Wheatley suggested a partnership, or a committee, be formed, comprising the Sussex County Development Action Committee, as well as business owners and representatives of educational institutions.

“You have a built-in brain-trust — a built-in network of people who can find folks to come here, help folks come here and help the companies that are already here,” he said. “Let’s not forget about the people who are already here doing business.”

Incumbent Vance Phillips, who has been serving as the District 5 councilman since November of 1998, said he remembers winning his first election by 168 votes.

“My roots run deep in Sussex County. I feel like I have almost a duty to serve this county,” said the Laurel resident.

Phillips said he’s always available to his constituents who have an issue or want to speak to him.

“I’d encourage you to call me anytime,” he said.

Phillips said he has always promoted low taxes and limited government and said the services from the County are first-rate. He added that, when voting on the council dais, he always thinks of the property rights of county residents.

“Whenever I’m making land-use decisions — and, mind you, that’s a very important part of this job — I think about the private property owner first,” he said.

Phillips also spoke to attendees about his health, as he has spent the last few years recovering from a serious plane accident in 2011.

“I had about 25 hours under my belt when, after takeoff one time, the plane began to act up. I was able to land the plane, but it came down very flat. When it hit, it compressed my spinal column, crushed the T-12 vertebrate and damaged my spinal cord. I was paralyzed for a number of weeks.”

Phillips said it was through the “power of Jesus and the prayers of so many Sussex Countians” that he has been able to regain mobility.

“Today, I am standing, when before they never thought I’d be out of a wheelchair.”

Earlier this year, he had a spinal cord stimulator implanted in his back, which has allowed a 75 percent reduction in his pain medications, he noted.

“I continue to get better every day. In the meantime, I’m at your service,” Phillips concluded.