November 20, 2002

Members of County Council got their first official look at the first three prospective appointees to a reconstituted Ethics Commission -- a lawyer, a chemist and an entrepreneur --  and apparently liked what they saw. As previously reported by Delaforum, they are Dennis Clower, Eugene McCoy and Loren Grober.

Their appointments are scheduled to be confirmed at Council's regular session on Nov. 26. It is not certain, however, when the commission, which has been inactive since summer when all its former members resigned in a dispute over financing, will begin to function again. "That is something I hope we will address in the next two months," Council president Christopher Coons said.

At a meeting of Council's executive committee on Nov. 19, he circulated a memorandum which purportedly updated members on the status of conversations that he, Councilwoman Karen Venezky and policy director Emily Knearl are having with top people in the Gordon administration and of the unions representing county employees.

He indicated that the discussions have to do with deciding on mutually agreeable revisions to the

county code covering the commission and how it functions.

Knearl later told Delaforum that the discussions involve:

  • Charging the commission to be more pro-active on ethics education and training of new emplSoyees;

  • Increasing employees' access to it by such things as establishing a Web site where its opinions can be accessed and asking the staff to provide 'office hours' in County facilities which are open to all employees;

Council president Christopher Coons (left) chats with prospective nominees to the county Ethics Commission. They  are (from the left) Dennis Clower, Loren Grober and Eugene McCoy.

  •  Reviewing current commission regulations and determining what, if any, should be added to the county code; and

  • Ethics Commission staffing.

She said any changes proposed by the county must be approved by the state Public Integrity Commission and  be at least as stringent as state requirements.

"We need to put the meat on the bones ... and have more discussions, but I am encouraged by the great progress we are making," she said.

Councilman Robert Weiner said that he considers the basic question to be resolved in determining the effectiveness of the commission is the level of financing it will receive. At a minimum, he said. he would favor enabling it to hire a full-time lawyer for about $75,000, a full-time staff member for about $30,000 and for it to be provided with about $20,000 for operations. Those are annual amounts.

The issue of putting the seven-member commission back in business -- it has not been  closed down or dropped from the county government  structure -- is separate from the reported federal grand jury investigation into allegations that county employees improperly engaged in political activity in connection with the primary election in September and a pending citizen's suit in Court of Chancery seeking to block the use of tax money to pay attorney fees for employees summoned before the grand jury.

Clower, a lawyer who lives in Newark, drew a distinction between enforcement of law and enforcement of ethics. "Ethics is how people ought to act; law is how they have to act," he said. Coons replied that he would hope that government workers "hold to a higher standard than the minimum the law requires."

Clower would come to the New Castle County position with an unusual credential -- he wrote the law which established an ethics board for Cecil County, Md., and served for two years as its founding chairman. A nominee of County Executive Tom Gordon, he initiated the contact after reading about the resignations here.

McCoy, a Brandywine Hundred resident who is retired from the Du Pont Co. and has been active with the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred and the Civic League for New Castle County, said he believes that ethics issues "have to be decided by facts, not perceptions" and that its key function should be educating county employees about what is expected of them.

He said he agreed with Weiner, who nominated him, that "without an attorney and proper staff [the commission] cannot do its job." The commission lawyer should not be in the county Law Department, he added.

Grober was introduced as a woman who owns and operates two very disparate companies. One deals in industrial specialty steel and the other in household items such as draperies. Coons, who nominated her and knows her from activities with their Wilmington neighborhood association, said she "doesn't pick a fight but won't walk away from one either."

Coons said that he expects to have more prospective appointees by the time the executive committee, on which all Council members sit, meets again on Dec. 3.

2002. All rights reserved.

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