January 22, 2003

County Council President Christopher Coons removed Councilman Robert Weiner from the chairmanship of Council's Land Use Committee and appointed Councilwoman Patty Powell to head the key committee.

Coons categorically denied "any perception this has been done as punishment."

Weiner has come under fire recently for opposition to County Executive Tom Gordon and several observers of county government have expected him to be subject to some form of 'discipline'. Also, Renee Sutton, executive assistant to Sherry Freebery, the county's chief administrative officer and Gordon's top appointee, speaking during the public comment portion of Council's Jan. 14 session, called for Weiner's removal from Council for having distributed both false and personal information about her

Weiner admitted having done so, in a fit of anger, and apologized to Sutton. Council has no power to impeach or remove any of its members.

Former Councilman Richard Abbott charged in 2001 that he was stripped of the chairmanship of  the Special Services Committee in retribution for his outspoken opposition on several issues.

Coons said Weiner had expressed "willingness to step aside" and thanked him for "putting aside personal interest" for the benefit of Council as a whole.

Weiner, who represents the Second

Councilman Robert Weiner and Councilwoman Patty Powell exchange pleasantries after Council President Christopher Coons appointed her to chair the Land Use Committee.

Council District, which includes Brandywine Hundred and the Greenville-Westover Hills area in Christiana Hundred, has headed the Land Use Committee since he was elected to Council six years ago. Before then, he was zoning chairman for the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred since 1985 and since his election has been involved in land use matters with the National Association of Counties.

Council's Land Use Committee is second only to its Executive Committee in terms of the volume of its activity since land use matters make up by far the largest segment of Council's activity. Coons heads the Executive Committee, which is, in effect, Council's steering committee.

In announcing the Powell's appointment at the Jan. 21 meeting of the Executive Committee, Coons said it was the first in a series of moves intended to realign all committees following the elections of Powell and William Tansey.

Coons also noted that, unlike Congress and most state and local legislatures, County Council does not limit committee leadership to members of the political party which holds the majority of seats. Coons said he intends to continue that "nonpartisan tradition."

Weiner and Tansey are the only Republicans on Council. Gordon also is a Democrat.

Although he made the point that the power to appoint committee chairs "is one of the few prerogatives the president of Council has," Coons called for a show-of-hands vote on Powell's appointment. All seven members, including Weiner, raised his or her hand.

After the vote, Weiner congratulated Powell and said that it was logical for her to head the committee because most of the land use issues Council faces originate from south of Pulaski Highway -- the large and rapidly growing area of the county which Powell represents.

Weiner later told Delaforum that he did not contest the move because he was "willing to defer to the members of County Council who made the request [for the change]."

It was learned that, during consultations which obviously had gone on before the Executive Committee convened, Weiner was supported by Coons and Tansey.

Coons did not say when he intends to appoint other committee chairs.

Besides its bipartisanship, Council's committee system is unusual in that all seven members of Council are members of all its committees. Like other legislative bodies Council's 'real work' is done in committee where issues are hashed out and, in some but not all cases, preliminary votes taken. Committee meetings are announced in advance and open to the public except when they deal with matters which the state's open meeting law permits to be considered in closed-door executive sessions.

Council's other committees and their chairs are: Administrative Services or finance, Robert Woods; Special Services, Coons; Community Services, Penrose Hollins; and Emergency Services or public safety, Karen Venezky. The Human Resources, or personnel, Committee chair is vacant. It formerly was headed by Christopher Roberts, whom Powell defeated in a Democratic Party primary election last September. Tansey, who as yet has no committee chairmanship, defeated Abbott in the Republican primary.

2003. All rights reserved.

Return to Delaforum Newsfront

What is your opinion about the topic of this article?
Click here to express your views.