Councilman Robert Woods agreed to table an ordinance which would
give owners a five-year tax exemption for rehabilitating
properties deemed historic. Councilman Robert Weiner told his
colleagues that he had been working on drafting such legislation
for more than two years, but had been unable to get the
Department of Land Use to complete the work necessary to come up
with an ordinance in final form ready for introduction.
told by general manager [Charles] Baker that my ordinance was
going to be reported out but given to Councilwoman [Patty]
Powell to sponsor," Weiner told a meeting of Council's finance
and administrative committee. Powell introduced the measure,
which Weiner said parallels with some differences what he had in
mind, on July 8 and it was slated for enactment at the July 22
session, the last before Council takes off, as it usually does,
for the month of August.
Council did approve,
by a four-to-two vote, a measure which, in effect, clears the
way for County Executive Tom Gordon to appoint a director of
public safety. Gordon had opposed state legislation restoring
the executive's appointment authority on the grounds that it had
never actually been taken away.
Freebery, the county's chief administrative officer, pointed out
to the committee that Gordon had included a recommendation for
an historic tax credit in his 2002 budget address. She said the
completed draft was developed at the behest of the
administration and given to Powell to sponsor in her capacity as
chair of Council's land use committee. Councilwoman Karen
Venezky, who chairs the administrative committee, said that
procedure is not unusual. "All of us have been given pieces of
legislation to sponsor," she said.
who said he agreed to manage the ordinance in Powell's absence
before he was aware of the ramifications of quick passage,
agreed with Weiner that a vote should be delayed until all
concerned have had an opportunity to blend the two versions into
a 'consensus' version. "If it has been two years [in the
making], I don't see any pressing urgency," he said.
meeting of the minds will be possible, however, is very much up
in the air, given the heated nature of some of the remarks
exchanged before Venezky cut off discussion at the committee
said that usurping his sponsorship "is one of my many
punishments" for opposing Gordon and Freebery.
charged that Gordon has refused to meet with him to discuss
various matters appropriate to his legislative role. Freebery
countered that that was because Weiner had said he would not
meet with Gordon unless there was a witness present, a comment
she indicated was regarded as an insult.
a Republican and Gordon, who, in keeping with normal practice,
was not at the committee meeting nor Council session, is a
Democrat. But observers agree that their relationship has
deteriorated far beyond partisan politics into one of personal
animosity. There have been several recent indications
that has begun to adversely affect the course of community
activities in the Brandywine and Christiana Hundreds district
which Weiner represents.
Council president Christopher Coons
said at the committee meeting that he was "unhappy to see" an
attempt to move the historic tax credit proposal forward in the
way it was. To the extent that constituted "retribution
[against] a Councilperson in disfavor with the administration,"
it jeopardizes "the cooperative relationship between the
legislative and executive branches," he said. "I'm concerned
about the chaos being created," he added.
Councilman Penrose Hollins was more
direct in his criticism. He said it was "unethical" to usurp a
legislator's work on a piece of legislation.
There was no discussion, either in
the committee or on the floor of Council concerning the merits
of the proposed ordinance. In summary, it would allow the tax
exemption on the first $150,000 of assessed property value;
require the land use department's approval of planned
renovations or property improvements and certification that the
work was done; and limit the total value of exemptions
throughout the county to $50,000, with their being granted on a
sequential basis and an applicant qualifying for only one
The ordinance was tabled on a voice
vote with Venezky dissenting.
The ordinance creating the
directorship -- actually reestablishing a position that existed
before Gordon early in his tenure reorganized county government
-- took the form of amending the pay scale for non-union
employees in positions outside the scope of the civil
service-like 'merit' system. A director of public safety was
inserted into the top pay grade, which calls for an annual
salary ranging between $76,570 and $118,787. The county's chief
attorney is also in that pay grade.
Coons said creating the position
"largely resolves" the issue which has flared openly since he
and Weiner attempted to have the General Assembly in the closing
days of its recent session restore the authority of the county
executive to appoint directors to head county operating
departments. Those positions were done away with in favor of
'merit system' general managers several years ago when the
Assembly enacted legislation implementing the reorganization.
The proposed legislation, introduced by Republican majority
leader Wayne Smith into and passed by the House of
Representatives, is presently in a Senate committee.
The matter of the extent of the
executive's powers under present law or the need for new
legislation "will be finally settled in January, 2005", Coons
said. That is when Gordon's successor takes office. Coons and
Freebery, both Democrats, and Weiner, a Republican, are known to
aspire to be that person.
Coons acknowledged that Council does
not have the power to confirm or reject the county executive's
appointment to the new position. Except for the possibility it
will have to increase the number of authorized county employees
to create a slot for the appointee, approval of the pay scale
ordinance was "all we need to do to put in motion the procedure
to fill the post," he said.
Freebery told Delaforum that Gordon
does not yet have a candidate for the position and that the
intention is to wait until a new chief of county police is
selected to obtain his or her 'input'. She said there is a short
list of five candidates for the chief's position, all of whom
are members of the force holding the rank of lieutenant or
higher. She said the selection probably will be made and
announced before the end of August. Both Gordon and Freebery
formerly were chiefs of police.
She told the administrative committee
that the position is a viable one, intended to oversee the
police force, the paramedics force and the 9-1-1 communications
operation. The director will "implement policies, procedures and
directives issued by the executive or myself," she said. The
heads of each of the units, she added, will report to the
director, but will be charged with the day-to-day management of
their respective units.
The final step before the committee
cleared the ordinance for floor action was hearing former state
attorney general Charles Oberly opine that Council still has the
legal authority to create directorships and the executive can
fill the positions. "You can do anything under state law unless
the state specifically takes [the power] away from you," he
Weiner charged at the Council session
that the public safety directorship was a "red herring" put
forth by the Gordon administration to 'prove' that the
controversial state legislation is not needed. He then read into
the record a statement which, in effect, amounted to a brief in
support of that legislation.
Although he said he was tired of
hearing about what is essentially a state issue, Hollins said he
joined Weiner in voting against the ordinance because he was not
convinced of the need for the high-paid position.
William Narcowich and Richard Davis,
past and present president of the Civic League for New Castle
County, testified against passage of the ordinance on the
grounds that the public was not aware of its contents because of
an allegedly deceptive title which referenced only the pay scale
and not the directorship. Narcowich said that "amounted to false
advertising." Both men said they testified as interested county
residents and not on behalf of the league.
Council escaped involvement in yet
another contentious matter when it found itself unable to vote
on an ordinance to provide an opportunity for county employees
to 'buy into' a more beneficial pension plan. The measure is
said to benefit a limited number of people associated with the
Gordon administration. Council could not act because it has not
yet received a recommendation from the Pension Board.
Legislation affecting pensions is among certain categories that
require an advisory opinion before Council action.