January 29, 2003

County Council apparently balked at confirming the seventh and last appointment to the Ethics Commission. Unlike the process with the previous six nominees, approval did not come at the Council session next following an interview before its Executive Committee.

Although no one said it in so many words, there was a strong implication at the committee meeting that at least two Council members had qualms about placing John Molter on the commission because he is the father-in-law of Tom Hubbard, the Gordon administration's chief public relations spokesman.

The nomination was never mentioned during the Council session on Jan. 28.

Hubbard confirmed a later report that Molter had withdrawn his name from consideration. He issued a statement with said County Executive Tom Gordon "is saddened by the loss of an extremely qualified candidate but pledges to continue the search for someone who possesses the same honesty and integrity to fill the remaining vacancy that exists."

At the executive committee meeting the afternoon of the Council session, Councilwoman Karen Venezky questioned whether that relationship created "a perception of impropriety." Councilman Robert Woods suggested that it might compromise the commission's obligation to maintain confidentiality when dealing with

matters involving specific county employees.

Molter said he does not believe either is applicable. He said Hubbard is not likely to influence him and that he has "a personal rule that we don't talk about things out of class."

When  Council President Christopher Coons invited comment from members of the public attending the committee meeting, William Narcowich, president of the Civic League for New Castle County, said he did not question Molter's integrity but that the nominee's "familial connection" disqualified him from dealing with ethical issues involving county government and its employees.

John Molter appears before County Council's Executive Committee.

Molter, a Republican who lives in Foulkside in Brandywine Hundred and is retired after a 38-year career with the Du Pont Co. and now runs a small business, Advanced Cleaning Technologies, was nominated to the ethics commission  by County Executive Tom Gordon. He was Gordon's third nominee. The previous two have been confirmed as have all four of Council's appointments.

It was somewhat surprising that Molter's nomination did not come up during the formal Council session, especially in light of the fact that Coons the previous week had scheduled the executive committee meeting for the week it would not usually convene with the expressed purpose of furthering the process of rounding out membership on the Ethics Commission.

 Moreover, Coon had said during the committee meeting a few hours earlier that he is anxious for the commission to resume its activities and collaborate with Council, the Gordon administration and employee unions to define an expanded role. The commission has been inactive since last summer when all its members resigned in a dispute over the amount of financing it was provided.

Neither Coons nor his office responded to a Delaforum request to clarify what happened between the committee meeting and the Council session to sidetrack consideration of the nomination.

Coons at the committee meeting proposed eight steps he said were intended "to sharpen [the commission's] focus and make it more effective." They have to do with such matters as providing easy access by county employees, safeguarding case records, maintaining confidentiality and coordinating its activities with Council and the administration.

He said the steps were developed in consultation with the administration and unions, adding that "none of those conversations have included any mention of weakening the county ethics code."

Referring to establishing a clear course for the commission, Coons said, "If we can get all that done in three months I will be happy."

Councilman William Tansey said he "would like to see it done in a month."

Venezky said she wants "to move forward as expeditiously as we can."

Council at its formal session unanimously approved an ordinance which specifically includes criminal investigations as one of the situations in which county employees are entitled to have their legal representation paid for.

Coons and Councilman Penrose Hollins, primary sponsor of the clarifying ordinance, described it as a first step in a plan to make it clear in county law that employees, including police and emergency workers, are fully indemnified in the good-faith performance of their duties. A large number of employees attended the Council session and several officials, including Chief of Police John Cunningham, testified that such legislation is needed to remove any doubt that is the case.

2003. All rights reserved.

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