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Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth election canceled after just 3 candidates file for 3 races

Mayor Stan Mills unopposed in bid for second term



Rehoboth Beach Mayor Stan Mills gets a second term after no one filed to run against him. (Photo courtesy of Mills)

Rehoboth Beach voters won’t be heading to the polls this August because municipal elections were canceled after just three candidates filed to run for three open seats.

Stan Mills will be Rehoboth’s mayor for a second term, while Patrick Gossett, who’s gay, will remain on the Board of Commissioners and Donald Preston will join the board, replacing Jay Lagree.

Lagree filed to run in the Aug. 12 election but withdrew from the running shortly thereafter. He did not respond to a voicemail asking why he withdrew, but released a statement citing his age and hearing loss as reasons for bowing out of the race.

“After much consideration, I am withdrawing my candidacy for city commission,” he said in a statement released on June 6. “I have been honored to serve on the commission and to serve the citizens of Rehoboth Beach, and I had intended to continue my service. However, I am getting older every day. My hearing has become a problem; although, with correction, I can do pretty well most of the time.”

Mills was the target of criticism when he ran for mayor three years ago, unseating incumbent Paul Kuhns. Critics were concerned about his stance on development, which surfaced when Mills voted against Clear Space Theatre’s plans to build a new complex on Rehoboth Avenue, killing the already approved deal that was widely supported by the local business community.

More than a decade ago, as city commissioner, Mills used an ordinance to target bars hosting late-night eating and drinking on outside patios. Six of the eight bars targeted were owned and operated by gay businesspeople, former Aqua Grill owner Bill Shields told the Delaware State Public Integrity Commission. Police arrested and fingerprinted Shields before releasing him later as it became clear that Aqua Grill was grandfathered in and did not have to follow the ordinance. In a sharply worded decision, Delaware’s Public Integrity Commission said Mills used his public office for personal gain when targeting the bars, since he owned a bed and breakfast next door, and should have recused himself from the decision.

Asked about it in 2020, Mills told the Blade that it was “old news.”

“I’m sorry that happened, I’m sorry the way that was perceived,” he said. “It’s lessons learned and not forgotten, but we have to move on.”

On Monday, Mills raised the Pride flag outside of city hall and presented CAMP Rehoboth, the local LGBTQ community center, with a proclamation honoring LGBTQ+ Pride month along with two commissioners.

CAMP Rehoboth declined to comment on the election, citing its 501(c)(3) status, which does not allow it to endorse candidates.

When Mills ran for election in 2020, real estate agent Joe Maggio called attention to the issue, writing in an editorial for the Blade that Mills “uses his official role to enhance his personal interests and impose his personal prejudices.”

Mills did not respond to an email and voicemail seeking comment.

Gossett, who did not immediately respond to a voicemail, has served on the Board of Commissioners for 10 years. He was one of four commissioners that voted to overturn Clear Space Theatre Company’s approval to build two buildings in downtown Rehoboth in 2021. Clear Space appealed to Delaware’s Superior Court but later dropped the lawsuit, citing the cost of litigation and other factors. It has since abandoned plans to build the expansion in downtown Rehoboth, but executive director Wesley Paulson told the Delaware Business Times they will look for a new location “outside of the city.”

Preston is a political newcomer but comes endorsed by Lagree.

“He’s young, smart, has the same goals and objectives for Rehoboth Beach as I have,” he told WGMD.

Preston did immediately respond to a voicemail. The three politicians will be certified on June 16.


Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth Beach theater announces new managing director

Clear Space hires Joe Gfaller after national search



Joe Gfaller starts his new role in November.

Rehoboth Beach’s Clear Space Theatre Company announced Tuesday that its board of directors has unanimously selected Joe Gfaller to join the company as managing director after a national search. 

Gfaller, who currently serves as managing director for Metro Theater Company in St. Louis, will join Artistic Director David Button as co-leader at CSTC, which marks its 20th anniversary in 2024.

“I am thrilled at the opportunity to help Clear Space Theatre Company grow its civic and philanthropic footprint as it begins a third decade of serving the community in coastal Delaware,” Gfaller said.

“Rehoboth is a special place to all who call it home, both year-round and seasonally. It is an extraordinary honor to work with such a creative and dynamic team as the CSTC staff and board to help the company grow to represent and reflect the fullness of this community.”

At Metro Theater Company, which is St. Louis’s primary professional theater for youth and families, Gfaller guided campaigns that helped grow the company’s revenues by 40% over four years, according to a release from Clear Space.

“Joe brings a wide range of theater experiences to the position and is sure to make an immediate impact on the company,” said Clear Space Board chair Laura Lee Mason. “His impressive track record and visionary leadership will undoubtedly elevate Clear Space to new heights. Joe shares our dedication to providing the community with outstanding education and theatrical experiences, and we look forward to collaborating with him to achieve those artistic aspirations.”

CSTC Artistic Director David Button added, “I look forward to Clear Space Theatre Company’s growth alongside Joe Gfaller. Not only will Clear Space benefit from his talent, but so will the community and state arts industry as a whole.”

Gfaller will begin full time in Rehoboth Beach in mid-November. During an October visit for the opening of “Young Frankenstein” at CSTC on Oct. 13, there will be opportunities for the public to meet him during the CAMP Rehoboth Street Festival on Oct. 15. He will be joined by his husband Kraig and their two dogs, Sprout and Emmit.

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Rehoboth Beach

Questions remain after Rehoboth Beach marijuana ban

Prohibits smoking, selling weed within town limits



Rehoboth officials voted to ban smoking and selling marijuana within town limits. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Want to light up in Rehoboth Beach, Del.? If you want to smoke a joint, you’re out of luck.
Rehoboth Beach’s mayor and Board of Commissioners voted last week to ban the smoking of cannabis on public property within the city’s 1.6-square-mile limits – despite the possession of cannabis being legal in Delaware. One commissioner, Tim Bennett, abstained, while all others voted for the ban. The city took advantage of a provision that allows local governments to ban its sale.

The mayor and commissioners cited cannabis’ health benefits as the primary reason, noting that the Food and Drug Administration has only approved cannabis-derived medications for rare seizures and researchers’ warnings that cannabis use or exposure can harm adolescents’ brain development, harming their memory, learning coordination, reaction time, and judgement. Commissioner Jay Lagree added a comment from a resident as further proof: A mall in Williamsburg, she said, had turned into a no-go zone for her after a cannabis store set up shop. Now, it’s filled with “unsavory” people, Lagree summarized.

After banning smoking marijuana in public places, the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners and mayor Stan Mills went ahead with a ban on recreational cannabis sales in Rehoboth. Dewey Beach and Ocean City have already banned recreational cannabis stores, the mayor pointed out, so it is important to follow suit.

“I would not want them to be able to say, ‘Oh just go a quarter mile north to Rehoboth Beach and they’ll take care of your needs,’” he said.

“Raise parking to $10 an hour,” Bennett, the commissioner, joked.

“Outside the dispensaries,” Mills said and laughed.

A cannabis business manager couldn’t convince the officials otherwise. Columbia Care General Manager Laurie Golem said that the business has served 15,000 patients up and down Delaware and provides 100 jobs for Delawareans.

She also claimed three quarters of consumers buy cannabis to improve their health, treating disorders like insomnia and anxiety and providing pain relief. The Blade was unable to find that study, but a study commissioned by cannabis retailer Curaleaf found that around half of all adults polled had used cannabis before. Of those that had used cannabis before, it reported, more than 90% would consider using it for wellness and health. The study polled 2,000 Americans, though it is not clear how respondents were selected. It did not respond to the Blade’s questions.

But can the city enforce the ban on smoking weed? When a resident asked that question at a July meeting, he did not get a direct answer. Commissioner Toni Sharp noted that the city already has enforcement issues, but the new city manager was stepping up to the plate to fix it.

Commissioner Sharp signaled tepid opposition to the bill, saying she didn’t want to pass any legislation that burdened a police department missing half of its cadets, four dispatchers, and three full-time officers.

“I believe we have our hands full here in Rehoboth with issues that we would like to improve and we may steer clear of this,” she said.

Still, about a month later, she voted to pass the ban on smoking weed in public places. After publication, the city told the Blade that it had arrested or cited 159 people for cannabis possession since January 2021. It did not provide statistics on the number of people written up for smoking cannabis or tobacco on public property.

Adding to the challenge of enforcing the city code might be the Delaware Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in Juliano v. State that the smell of cannabis is not sufficient cause to arrest a person on suspicion of violating the law. Whether this applies to this situation isn’t clear, though, because police are already banned from arresting people for civil violations like smoking weed in a no-smoking area. Rehoboth’s police department first told the Blade through a city spokesperson that it was unfamiliar with the case and the city’s police chief did not respond to the Blade’s call. After publication, Lt. Jaime Riddle said in a statement that the case doesn’t apply because the case only applies to arrests, not stops.

“The odor of marijuana coming from a person who is smoking it, remains probable cause to conduct a stop as it remains illegal to smoke marijuana in public,” Riddle wrote.

People who violate smoking bans are charged $25 under current city laws, but if they challenge their conviction in court and lose, they are on the hook for $75 – the city tacks on another $50 for court fees. The city could even seek further punishment for the person, city law states.

The sale of alcohol and tobacco, though, remain legal despite mounds of evidence about their harm, including risks of cancer, heart disease, and more. When Commissioner Tim Bennet rhetorically asked whether the town would ban alcohol and tobacco stores (it can’t), Lagree joked that the city “would love to, but it’s probably not going to happen.”

The ban on cannabis has happened, though. Rehoboth officials weren’t swayed by cannabis activist Zoë Patchell, who said the ban would at best starve the city of much-needed tax money, or at worst shove demand underground.

“Banning legal licensed regulated cannabis businesses within town limits will make it less safe for both communities and consumers and shuts the door on economic agricultural and small business development, ensuring that those opportunities remain in the hands of the illicit market,” the registered lobbyist told the commissioners and mayor.

The law does allow Rehoboth’s handful of CBD shops to do business, so the ban won’t force any businesses to close. Still, the law passed with little fanfare. Not even Patchell’s group, the Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network, posted anything on social media. The commission went on with its daily business instead.

“Thank you all for being here and speaking up,” Mills, the mayor, said. “With that we’re going to move on to the third item of old business.”

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Rehoboth Beach

Meet CAMP Rehoboth’s new executive director

Kim Leisey says LGBTQ community center is ‘in a really good place’



Kim Leisey is CAMP Rehoboth’s new executive director. (Photo by Tim Ford)

The new CAMP Rehoboth executive director is no stranger to Rehoboth Beach, Del. Kim Leisey has been coming here since the 1990s to find community among other queer people at a time when they weren’t accepted in society.

Leisey’s chosen family resides here — a group of close female friends she calls her “tribunal.” The pandemic brought her life into sharper focus, as it did for so many others. Her wife, Kathy Solano, retired in March 2020 — into the throws of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were out taking a walk with our dog,” Leisey said. “And I just said to her, ‘When do you want to move to the beach? ‘And she’s like, ‘now.’”

And so the two moved to the beach, Leisey still in her job as senior associate vice president for student affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. When Leisey heard about the job opening for executive director at the storied CAMP Rehoboth organization that had helped so many like her, she jumped at the chance.

Now, two weeks into the job, she’s beginning to sketch out her priorities: Caring for LGBTQ+ seniors, engaging with youth, and partnering with corporate sponsors for community services and huge community events like the Sun Festival this Labor Day weekend.

Amid all the events and activities of the busy summer season, CAMP Rehoboth remains under an investigation by the Delaware Department of Justice. Former Executive Director David Mariner reported possible fake purchases and reimbursements before resigning and founding his own LGBTQ organization, Sussex Pride. The department is investigating $86,000 in payments to an employee, according to CAMP Rehoboth’s 2021 audited financial statements. Leisey declined to comment on the investigation but said it has not affected the organization’s finances.

“We’re financially healthy. The community respects and trusts us,” she said. “We have lots of businesses that are involved in sponsoring events and resources and services. So I think we’re in a really good place.”

Leisey said there is no competition or animosity between the two organizations, as did Mariner in a 2022 interview with the Blade.

“I enjoyed my time at CAMP Rehoboth,” he said. “I certainly hope there’s opportunities for us to collaborate.”

Leisey steps into her role as executive director of CAMP Rehoboth at a time when culture wars rage and many conservative politicians have set their sights on rolling back transgender rights. The wars have largely passed by solid-blue Delaware – the American Civil Liberties Union anti-trans bill tracker does not list any bills in Delaware.

Leisey, who is a cisgender woman, has been on a journey of her own about transgender issues. She founded the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Faculty Staff Association in 2009, which was later renamed the LGBTQ+ Faculty Association.

“You know, 30 years ago, there wasn’t much information,” she said. “And so reading, experiencing, talking with people going to workshops, conferences, has all been part of my personal journey as it relates to trans folks.”

Leisey leaves the University of Maryland Baltimore County as it continues to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, with both the lowest number of full-time undergraduate students since at least 2013 and a booming full-time graduate student population, the highest by far since at least 2013. The university defied predictions of slow enrollment growth along with other universities in the University of Maryland University System.

She says experience in administration at UMBC, working with not only students, but parents, family, staff, and faculty and her Ph.D. in human development lends itself well to her new job.

“I worked shoulder to shoulder with lots of diversity around age, to provide a campus environment that was such that students could do well academically and get their degree,” she said. “What I’m taking away that I’m bringing to CAMP is, we’ve got to spend time with our youth, and we’ve got to spend time understanding what their needs and their desires are, especially as it relates to our programs and services.”

Murray Archibald and Steve Elkins founded CAMP Rehoboth after heterosexual residents pushed back against the increasing prominence of gay and lesbian people in Rehoboth and the two started the organization after the Rehoboth Homeowner Association loudly opposed the vibe the queer community had created, pointing to noise, traffic, and parking as problems, CAMP Rehoboth writes in its history. The city soon voted to ban bars not connected to restaurants, spelling the end for bars including disco bar the Strand.

So the two founded CAMP Rehoboth — an acronym for “Creating A More Positive” Rehoboth — and conducted trainings, met with local leaders, and others to support the burgeoning queer population.

Leisey says she wants to tap into the entire Rehoboth community now.

“The artists, the musicians, the intellects, the poets, the scientists, I mean, retiring into this community in Rehoboth has been really eye opening, and seeing the human capital and resources here, and that folks realized this in spite of the oppression and the stress of being queer, LGBTQ, in sometimes in some careers that were not very friendly,” she said. “And so the human spirit in this area is pretty amazing. And this is what I love about CAMP.”

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