'Never give up,' Kent Levy Court president says
Since Brooks Banta was a teenager, spending his weekends cleaning up cemeteries or giving out American flags in his hometown, he knew he wanted to help people. As a town council member, mayor, school board president, and now in his final term as Kent County Levy Court president, Banta said persistence has been key.
When he first ran for Clayton Town Council, he lost by a 40-point margin. Then, he ran for nonresident commissioner in Dewey Beach. He came in sixth for five available seats. He wasn’t deterred. Instead, he ran again in Dewey Beach and won five consecutive terms for 10 total years.
“The moral of that is you never give up,” Banta said. “If you give up you will never succeed.”
That tenacity brought him a career of service that he said isn’t over yet. While Banta announced in January that he will not run for re-election this spring, he said he will continue to find ways to help his community.
Banta talked about his career, endorsement of former Smyrna Mayor Joanne Masten and future plans. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are you proud of during your tenure on Levy Court?
One of the greatest things that we have done as a team, is we were able to keep taxes at a minimum and not raise them over a long period of time. The reason we’ve been successful in doing that is because we have a great team of people having our backs, between the county administrator, the director of finance, planning and services, all those folks are there to support the commissioners, and the commissioners in turn usually support what they recommend.
Also, by checking every invoice that comes in, double checking it, looking for errors that they might make, making sure that we get low bids on things that we bid out for construction projects. So, I think that’s the success story of Levy Court: teamwork and working together, both as Republicans and Democrats, and having great leadership at the top and all the way through all the directors. They deserve a lot of credit.
Why did you decide not to run? And why endorse Joanne Masten?
After 24 years with Levy Court, I just felt that it was time for a new face. I felt that it was time for a female. It has been many, many years, I think it was back in the 80s, when we had our last female commissioner. That was a determination that I made on my own volition. I just felt it was time.
Of course, she’s well-known in the Smyrna-Clayton area and will do a great job on Levy Court. I’ve known her for many years, probably 30-40 years. She’s been very involved in Historic Smyrna. She’s been a volunteer with Belmont Hall, the Opera House, the fire company, the Fourth of July parade. The list is never-ending.
She’s so full of vigor and vitality. She has the spirit and motivation that will help move this county forward. I think she has the attributes to make it all work.
What is your advice for the next person that will take on your position?
The years I’ve served, I received many thousands of phone calls, and you need to be very responsive. You need to stop what you’re doing and take that call. I make it a point at the end of the day, my suspense file is empty.
At the end of the day, I’ve taken care of every call that comes in, try to resolve every problem that I can the day I get it, if not I do it the very next day. If you do that, you become professional at what you do. You can’t be a commissioner on Levy Court and expect all you have to do is come to a meeting one night a week for a couple hours.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to miss it. Because I’ve been doing this for so many years, to help people. I have been approached to be a consultant with one company, and I may or may not do that. There are other things out there that I can still do.
The one thing I will not do is stay home and sit in a chair and watch television. I will be doing something to help somebody. That’s my motivation in life: to help people.
Do you have any advice for young people getting into public service now?
It’s important that the youth of today take leadership responsibilities. They might consider putting down their iPhones for an hour or two a day and devote that to public service.
I think that we’ve lost track in America of what it takes to be a volunteer. A very good example of that is the volunteer fire service. Kent County has 18 volunteer fire companies and one volunteer ambulance service. Those fire companies are desperate for people to come in and volunteer their time, and they won’t do it.
I’m not a member of the fire company, but I advocate for the fire service because, if these young men and women in Kent County fail to join the fire company, we’re going to have to raise taxes for a paid service. To do that, it will be millions of dollars. Levy Court doesn’t have that money. We don’t have the funds to do that.
The greatest impetus that young folks could do today, men or women, is to join the fire company, play an active role in saving people’s lives and have the spirit to go out there and fight a fire, be in a parade, do something fun, as well. They don’t seem to have that spirit, and that does concern me for the future of Kent County.
Brooks Banta's history of service
- Smyrna-Clayton Junior Chamber of Commerce: The group, also known as the “Jaycees,” led community projects like cleaning up cemeteries Saturdays and selling and installing American flags in every business in Smyrna and Clayton.
- Boy Scouts of America: “That’s where I got my motivation for public service. Boy Scouts of America started me down that road,” he said.
- Delaware Army National Guard (6 years)
- DeLab: Banta worked for his father’s wholesale distributing company and took over as president in 1970 after his father had a stroke. They sold the company in 1986.
- Dewey Beach, nonresident commissioner (10 years)
- Clayton Town Council (14 years, two terms as mayor)
- Smyrna Board of Education (10 years, 5 as president)
- Kent County Regional Planning Commission (4 years)
- Smyrna-Clayton Postal Advisory Commission (12 years)
- Kent County Levy Court (24 years, 14 as president)
- President Brooks Banta said, “It’s been a long haul, but the story again is: teamwork and never giving up. You just have to be proactive”