People to Watch: Stan Mills
Mayor, Rehoboth Beach
Taking the oath of office this year was almost like a homecoming to Rehoboth Beach Mayor Stan Mills, albeit at a time when the city could be at a tipping point.
Mills, a retired remodeling contractor, moved to Rehoboth Beach in 1998 after he and his wife fell in love with its coastal beauty, nature trails and its commercial district. He started going to local government meetings to learn more. He started speaking out and was labeled an activist. Eventually, he came to like the label, as it meant he was being seen as an agent of change.
“At first I was offended by it. But later on I started to enjoy it, because it meant having a voice in how things worked,” he recalled.
Mills leveraged that profile into a successful bid for city commissioner, in which he served for 12 years. He decided to take a break from politics and declined to run for re-election in 2019. But the pandemic changed everything.
“In the months since, I watched the city government and there was a sense of lack of leadership and transparency. I ran because I could offer better leadership,” Mills said. “I have a more hands-on approach, being out in the field and seeing what’s going on in the trenches. The biggest thing is that our businesses are really hurting.”
In the nine months, Rehoboth Beach city officials have expedited alcohol permits for outdoor service, allowed downtown businesses to expand outside and closed off many sidewalks to expand table service at restaurants. The city is projected to face a revenue shortfall of $1.9 million – made up of steep losses in hotel tax and parking revenue – but that may be staved off by deferring $6 million in future capital projects.
“Making sure we’re financially stable is the top priority, and we’re on the right track,” Mills said. “We have to remain a viable special destination for visitors, property owners, residents and business, and that means keeping the charm of what makes life here so special.”
In office, Mills wants to focus on revitalizing small businesses, specifically through enhancing the iconic Baltimore and Wilmington avenues, prioritizing the city balance to maintain infrastructure and balance economic development, and continue providing visitors with a memorable experience, among others.
Amid the challenges ahead, Mills may also contend with being mayor of a potential “summer White House,” as President-elect Joe Biden bought a house a half mile outside city limits. He’s hoping to parlay the exposure to benefit longtime Rehoboth Beach business owners and residents.
“We’re called the Nation’s Summer Capital for a reason, and I believe this is time for people to find out why Biden chose us as a getaway, and there may be some increase in property values as people find out,” he said. “We need to focus on our messaging that we’re a wonderful, walkable town with a unique local flavor with retail and restaurants fit for a president.”