workshop-style public hearing on July 16 he described a proposed
ordinance which would prohibit Council members from
representing, assisting or benefiting from an association with a
real estate developer as "the 'Let's Get Rich Abbott Act of
2001'." Abbott, a lawyer by profession, has clients in the real
estate and development business.
legislation is not about ethics; it has nothing to do with
ethics," he said. By branding developers and those who work with
them, the law would discriminate against "thousands of
hard-working, honest and law-abiding people," he said.
Jill, was even stronger in her comments, calling the proposed
law an example of "political payback" and claiming that "we're
here (at the hearing) because of hate."
Councilwoman Karen Venezky, who is
primary sponsor of the legislation and chaired the session,
attempted to rule Jill
Abbott out of order, but Councilman
Penrose Hollins called for a vote by Council members present on
whether to let her proceed. After a show of hands by an
overwhelming majority of attenders and a brief shouting match
between Richard Abbott and a member of the audience, Venezky
Jill Abbott went on to say that an
alleged vendetta by County Executive Thomas Gordon and Sherry
Freeberry, the county's chief administrative officer, is taking
a toll on the Abbotts' family life and "doing irreparable harm
to my unborn child."
Venezky said the legislation is
necessary to plug 'loopholes' in state and county
conflict-of-interest regulations. "The potential for conflict
[of interest] still
Councilman Richard Abbott (seated at the table) makes a
point at the workshop-style hearing, presided over by
Councilwoman Karen Venezky (far right).
don't want to see that potential in there," she said.
land-use regulation is the primary function of county
government, "lawyers and others who derive personal gain from
land use should not be allowed to serve on County Council," she
said. "We can turn a developer into a multimillionaire by just
one vote on Council."
Richard Abbott told Delaforum that the proposed ordinance is
just the culmination of a series of steps Gordon and
Freeberry have taken to prevent his being re-elected in 2002.
Freeberry, in particular, he said, has "told me they were going
to make me pay for my opposition."
opposition, he said, goes back more than a year to when he
raised questions about payment of county funds to subcontractors
building the now-open Police Athletic League facility in
Hockessin. He also cited his vote against this year's operating
and capital budgets on the grounds that they allocated too much
money and more employees than necessary to Rockwood Mansion
Park. Both projects are Gordon Administration showpieces.
Gordon, Freeberry nor the county's press spokesman, Tom Hubbard,
responded to a Delaforum request for comment.
speakers at the hearing, which drew a standing-room-only
audience, took issue with Venezky, claiming that singling out
one economic segment is discriminatory and that doing so has the
effect of besmirching anyone associated with the development
community. "We have been indicted and found guilty. ... You have
said [we] are all without integrity and ethics," said Roy
Locker, who been in the construction business for many years.
simplest thing to do with this ordinance is to throw it into the
nearest wastebasket," said civic activist Marion Stewart.
drew support from several others. John Flaherty, who lobbies for
Common Cause, a 'good-government' organization, said it is
important that "elected officials who serve the public not give
an appearance of impropriety." Vic Singer, chairman of the New
Castle County Planning Board said "County Councilmen who make
the final decisions [on land use issues] should be held to a
herself had the last word when she closed the session by
remarking that "the majority of you who testified in opposition
did so out of personal bias because you would be affected."
Interestingly enough, the proposed ordinance prohibits anyone
who has a business or professional association with a developer
from serving on Council. If read literally, however, it
apparently does not prohibit a developer from running for office
and serving. Existing ethics codes require that a Council member
with a personal interest in a specific piece of legislation or
other matter disqualify himself from voting on that issue.
of the ordinance also appears designed to skirt imposing an
obviously unconstitutional test on candidates running for
office, but Richard Abbott claimed it is still unconstitutional
because it hampers freedom of association. Venezky pushed aside
the constitutionality question saying that she is in the process
of obtaining legal advise on that.
Attorney William Rhodunda said the proposal will be reworked to
take into consideration some of the objections that has been
voiced, but indicated he thinks it would past constitutional
muster. In addition to the open hearing, he said he had "talked
with the Delaware Bar Association about it."
four members of County Council promoting good government," he
who lives in Centreville and represents the heavily Republican
Third District is one of two Republicans on Council. He claims
to be the only "bona fide, dyed-in-the-wool Republican" on the
panel. He has frequently been at odds, both politically and
personally, with his colleague, Councilman Robert Weiner, who
had been registered as a Democrat before becoming actively
involved in politics in the also heavily Republican Second
District. Weiner, who has been generally supportive of the
Gordon Administration, is a co-sponsor of the controversial
ordinance along with Democratic Council members Robert Woods and
who at times can be abrasive in expressing his views, said his
opposition to several measures supported by the Democratic
administration is not unusual in the U.S. two-party system. "All
over the country Republicans in legislative bodies disagree with
Democrats every day and vice versa. That's how it's done," he
charged Gordon and Freeberry are unwilling to tolerate any form
of opposition. "Their degree of vindictiveness is endless," he
that his attempt to obtain a copy of "the real sewer maps" for
use at a June 21 meeting of County Council's Special Services
Committee was thwarted even after he issued a subpoena for them,
which he said was within his power as chairman to do. That led,
he said, to his being ousted from the chairmanship at a meeting
of Council's Executive Committee on July 3. The posted agenda
for that meeting, he said, did not include that action.
President Christopher Coons, who has the authority to appoint
and dismiss committee chairs, took the Special Services
chairmanship himself. Abbott charged that Coons had been
pressured by the Gordon Administration to remove him from the
chairmanship for a considerable length of time and the issuance
of a subpoena against county employees "gave him an excuse to do
so." Coons did not respond to a Delaforum request for comment.
has six standing committees and every member of Council is a
member of all of them with, until now, each member chairing one.
The Council president chairs the Executive Committee.
said the maps in question are color-coded to show sewer capacity
-- "something the administration doesn't want the public to
see." Nevertheless, he added, the maps are public documents.
councilman said also that "several people who live in my
district" have told him they have been approached to challenge
his nomination for re-election next year. If someone steps
forward it presumably would force a Republican primary in that
district. Abbott said he is willing to go that route, which he
said would demonstrate constituent support.
He said also that he does not plan
to contest his removal from the committee chairmanship.