get serious about it, it's something that could be done," he
it did at the end of his annual budget and 'state of the county'
message to County Council, the proposal for what would be a
dramatic change in a long-standing way of doing things in
Delaware was barely recognized as such and has received
virtually no public attention.
But Gordon has at least one
prominent person who agrees with him and happens to be in a
position where he could exert some influence to bring it about
-- or at least start the process moving.
fact, credits state Senator Harris McDowell with originally
broaching the idea. McDowell is majority leader in the
"If you look at a few facts, it
makes sense," McDowell said.
Neither official is under any
illusion that such a change could come easily or quickly. The
proverbial uphill struggle would be something on the order of
magnitude of scaling Mount Everest.
Nevertheless, both can make a case
for moving in that direction if, for no other reason, than what
they're suggesting is actually taken for granted in every other
state, with the possible exception of Hawaii. Truth to be told,
the first and 50th are the ones which deviate from the norm.
agencies and departments now provide up to 82% or 83% of
public services, when measured by cost, McDowell said. Were it
not for Delaware's diminutive size, that might be considered by
many to be too great a concentration of involvement in people's
lives at a level somewhat remote and beyond their direct
"Everywhere else, the idea of county roads is accepted," Gordon
said. They include streets and byways apart from the highways.
One possibility, he added, would be for the state to retain
responsibility for numbered routes while leaving the rest to the
county. Another would be applying the precedent of the divided
jurisdiction of state and county police forces.
stronger precedent exists with schools, he noted. Although the
state Department of Education provides oversight and the state's
operating and capital budgets put up more than three quarters of
the cost of operating them, local school districts and their
boards of education exercise considerable autonomy.
roads, Gordon has no set approach to what role the county might
play in regard to schools. There could perhaps again be a single
countywide district. Although he does not specifically advocate
it, his 'what if' scenarios could be taken to suggest the
possibility of County Council functioning, in part, as an
elected school board.
different context in his conversation with Delaforum, Gordon
referred to the likelihood that an enlarged Council -- it is
slated to go from seven members to 13 following the 2004 general
election -- will find itself looking for things to do now that
its workload has been reduced by the Unified Development Code to
three times a year.
almost a third of the county's children and their families
opting for private or home schooling, there is ample
justification for revising the system, Gordon said. Citing the
reorganization of county government under his administration as
an example of how to "provide more service at less cost," he
said the same model could be applied directly to the delivery of
had four more years, we could take our management team and
reorganize the school bureaucracy and make it more efficient
just like we did with government" he said.
doesn't have four more years. His second term expires in less
than two and, by law, he is ineligible to run for re-election.
He plans when he steps down to seek a management position in the
private sector.. His present intention, which he said he does
not expect to change, is not to seek further public office, he
proposal to expand the function of county government is not a
bid to establish a sinecure for himself, he insisted. "If it
gets done, someone else will be the one to do it," he said.
fact that New Castle County's financial picture is bright and
the state's is under a cloud would seem to provide some impetus
for redefining jurisdictions, Gordon said it could happen only
if the county is permitted to assume new revenue streams along
with new responsibilities. "It can't be done on the (county)
property tax," he said. "The state has 19 taxes, we just have
Individual school districts levy local taxes -- albeit also on
real estate -- which county government collects on their behalf.
That has been a point of contention with the Gordon
administration since he came into office with a promise not to
raise county taxes. "Every year people saw their taxes going up
and didn't understand that it was the school districts, not the
county that was raising them," he said. To counter that to the
extent he could, Gordon initiated early on the practice of
sending separate bills, or notices in the case of property
owners who pay through mortgage escrow accounts, delineating the
Gordon and McDowell said that, if their idea were to be taken
up, many details would have to be worked out. Then there is the
matter of dealing with personal and political interests. On top
of that, tradition counts heavily in Delaware. That comes down
to the legacy of the Cousins du Pont in the first quarter or so
of the last century. It was Coleman who founded the state's
modern highway system and the original P.S. who endowed many of
its public schools which had a large bearing on how the state
education system came to be.