a lot you already know about that has been going on in this
government for years," he testified before Council, sitting in
emergency session on June 1, unanimously enacted six ordinances
which Council president Christopher Coons said would "put in
place some additional controls" over the Gordon administration
and, at least partly, "restore the confidence of the general
said that the indictments handed up by the federal grand jury on
May 26 necessarily were limited to allegations which U.S.
Attorney Colm Connolly feels he can convince a petit jury are
"beyond a reasonable doubt." County Council, on the other hand,
would be required "to adhere to a much [less restrictive]
standard," he said.
remarks held particular significance because it was the alleged
use of county employees during working hours to campaign against
his re-election in 2002 which apparently gave impetus to the
grand jury investigation led by U.S. Attorney Colm Connolly
which led to the indictments. That allegation is part of one of
several 'schemes' cited in the indictments.
observers recognized Abbott as being a proverbial 'thorn in the
side' of the Gordon administration and others in county
government before his primary election bid to secure the
Republican nomination to run for re-election was narrowly
defeated. He has since continued in that role as a lawyer
representing developer Frank Acierno in several lawsuits against
the county and its Department of Land Use.
enacted ordinances all expire in 60 days, which means they must
be renewed, modified or allowed to die before Council takes its
customary August recess. In summary, they:
all executive branch contingency funds except the one used to
finance Ethics Commission activities, add the county auditor to
the process for reviewing budgetary transfers, and require that
Council and the auditor be given seven-days advance notice of
any spending for outside legal services.
the limit on line-item budget variations to $5,000 from $20,000
and ban creation of any new civil service-type positions without
the threshold at which Council approval of service contracts and
purchases not subject to competitive bidding is required from
$50,000 to $10,000.
that Council be notified about and the auditor review contracts
to retain outside legal counsel while empowering Council to
obtain such services without approval by the executive branch.
Council approval of county-financed legal representation for
employees when the cost of that service reaches $50,000 and,
after that, at increments of $100,000 and require that such
expenditures be repaid if the individual pleads or is found
guilty of a crime.
advance notice to Council and the auditor of any hiring, firing,
promotion or transfer of any employee, except temporary seasonal
proposed resolution which would have urged the state legislature
to establish a process for suspending, with pay, any non-elected
county appointee under felony indictment was withdrawn when its
sponsor, Councilman Robert Weiner, was unable to obtain a
colleague to second it. Weiner said he will make such a proposal
on his own behest.
of the enacted resolutions were initially sponsored by Coons,
but the other members of Council signed on as co-sponsors before
they were introduced. Each passed with six votes.
Councilman William Tansey, who was on vacation, was recorded as
absent in the official tally, but listened to and spoke to the
session by conference telephone. Coons said the law is not clear
about whether a Council member is permitted to vote by telephone
and it was decided not to test that. It was the first time that
Council used that method of participation. Tansey said that, if
he were present, he also would have voted 'aye' on all six
Councilwoman Patty Powell delayed her departure on a family trip
to attend the session. Tansey, a Republican, is the person who
defeated Abbott. Powell beat former councilman Christopher
Roberts in a 2002 Democratic primary, also with allegedly
illegal help from Gordon and Freebery.
open executive committee meeting before the Council session
Coons took umbrage over an announcement by Representative
Gregory Lavelle that he will introduce state legislation to
establish a commission to monitor county government's
expenditures and personnel actions until Gordon's term expires
in January, 2005, and a taskforce to review the structure of
county government and make recommendations for possible changes
by May, 2005.
said the General Assembly's stepping in at this point implied
that County Council was incapable of dealing effectively with
the present situation. "It [would] override the prerogative of
Council to act first," he said. Because county government is a
creature of the state, state law takes precedence over county
Council session, Coons told Delaforum that Lavelle's move did
not influence the outcome of the session. "I had the six votes
[to approve the ordinances] going in," he said. Because they
were emergency legislation introduced with minimal public
notice, passage of the ordinances required five affirmative
characterized the measures as "a Band-Aid or window dressing"
and said they are "not going to accomplish anything
more corrective action that is needed," he said, adding that, in
addition to using "the power you already have" to investigate
the extent of corruption, Council should seek Gordon's
impeachment by the state legislature.
the three indicted persons has been arrested. Gordon, Freebery
and, presumably, Smith are continuing to conduct business in a
Councilman Penrose Hollins disputed Abbott's claim that Council
ignored seven and a half years of misdeeds by the Gordon
administration. "We've all heard rumors, [but] there was no
general knowledge," Hollins said.
who is seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Gordon as
county executive and is opposed by Freebery in that effort, also
denied charges that Council is late in assuming a role vis-à-vis
the issues have been rumored," Coons acknowledged, but he said
some of allegations in the indictment "were news to me." And, he added, "this is not the last you
will be hearing from County Council on these issues."
Acknowledging that the federal grand jury probe had been general
knowledge for nearly two years. Coons said that he was "very
reluctant to have this body (County Council) conduct an
investigation" concurrently. He did not comment directly on
Abbott's call for starting one now.
Attorney Timothy Mullaney challenged, albeit mildly, Council's
responding the the indictments with emergency ordinances in
emergency session. He said the measures accomplished nothing
that could not have been done by following the normal
legislative process. Some of their content -- particularly
provisions involving employment of outside lawyers -- "has been
debated at great length," he said.
Morris, the county's chief financial officer, pledged that
"there will be no attempt to subvert them (the ordinances)."
emergency session, which began at 5:15 p.m. and lasted about 100
minutes, drew a near capacity crowd to Council chambers in the
Redding Building. Three uniformed county police officers were
stationed along the wall, but the crowd, which obviously
included both Gordon administration supporters and opponents,
was orderly throughout the proceedings.
outset, Coons ruled out any discussion of the indictments as
such. "We are not here this evening to consider guilt or
innocence," he said.