Representative Gregory Lavelle told Delaform that he intends to
immediately introduce legislation "to make it clear [that]
voting requires physical presence."
He said he is hopeful he
can muster enough support to get the measure enacted before the
General Assembly calls it a session on June 30.
the fundamental things about our democracy is that legislators
feel the heat or the pleasure of the crowd," he said. "There's
nothing like working under the glare of 50 angry people or, for
that matter, 50 happy people."
it was inspired by a conversation among New Castle County
Council members at an executive committee meeting on June 8,
which was reported by Delaforum, Lavelle said his intended law
will apply to the governments of all three counties. It will not
deal with municipal governments to avoid getting entangled in
complications that would delay passage, he explained, adding
that the Assembly can go back and include them later.
"Meanwhile, it will send them a message," he said.
question of whether a County Council member could participate in
a session and cast votes via a telephone connection came up in
connection with the emergency session held on June 1. The agenda
that evening was to consider and enact six ordinances giving
Council greater control over spending and hiring, promoting,
firing or demoting of employees in the wake of the federal
indictments of County Executive Tom Gordon, chief administrative
officer Sherry Freebery and executive assistant Janet Smith.
Councilman William Tansey had an out-of-state commitment that
evening and Council president Christopher Coons arranged for him
to listen to the proceedings and have his say using a conference
telephone call. It was decided not to permit him to cast votes
on the measures after Council attorney Carol Dulin said she
found laws and court decisions on both sides of the question of
the validity of doing so. The ordinances were passed unanimously
by the six members physically present in the chamber. Tansey had
little to say and later told Delaforum that he was able to hear
some, but not all, of the discussion and testimony.
Delaforum previously reported, the executive committee, which
includes all seven Council members, discussed whether it would
be a good idea to explore the possibility of using a similar
arrangement or make other use of communications technology in
the future to muster a quorum and take action -- particularly
when emergency legislation is at stake.
said dealing with unusual or particularly important issues was
"all the more reason" to require legislators to be physically
present, at least when it comes to voting. Requiring physical
attendance if the legislator is going to participate in the
debate or discussion , he said, "is not a bad idea either." A
provision to do that is not included in his proposed legislation
to facilitate quick enactment, he explained.
Philosophically, there is no lack of precedents for requiring
lawmakers to be there in order to vote, he said. General
Assembly rules require that for both voting and to avoid being
counted as absent. The U.S. Congress has a tradition by which an
absent senator or representative can 'pair' with a colleague
holding the opposite view on a piece of proposed legislation who
is present. The colleague announces their respective positions,
thus putting them on record, but does not actually vote. That
has the same result as their votes offsetting each other if both
all part-time legislators [and] we do miss sessions and do miss
votes. There's no sin in that," Lavelle said. Similarly, he has
no intent to deny technological progress, but cannot now
envision an arrangement that would replace physical presence, he
distance-voting proposal is actually the second piece of
legislation directly affecting New Castle County which Lavelle
is sponsoring and wants to have enacted this session. The other
involves the function of the county auditor. It has passed the
House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate.
addition to requiring establishing an independent audit
committee -- which Council has done and is in the process of
coming up with appointees to fill it -- Lavelle's legislation
would set a four-year term for the auditor and require a
two-thirds majority vote in Council to dismiss an auditor before
his or her term is up. It would also require that the auditor
have uncontested access to applicable county records.
said the thought behind that measure is that it meets a need
that County Council knew about but on which it did not take
timely action. Council knew about administration efforts to
thwart the incumbent auditor, Robert Hicks, for more than a year
"and did nothing about it," Lavelle said. "This is the same
Council that took a rear to seat an ethics committee" after
former members resigned en masse.
that those efforts are examples of imposing state control over
county government. On the contrary, he claimed, they deal with
matters covered by state law. County government is a legal
'creature' of the state and state law takes precedence over
it is not unusual for government at a higher level or 'impose'
its will on the lower tier. "The federal government does it all
the time" and much of such legislation is backed up by
withholding money from states which balk.
proposed legislation is not an effort to 'step in and take
over', Lavelle said. "It is ridiculous to say we should never do
it -- just as it's ridiculous to say we should always to it. It
has to be determined on a case-by-case basis."
doesn't mean I hate New Castle County. ... I'm not out to do a
hatchet job on the county," he said. "But I'm not going to
apologize for [pushing] legislation that impacts the county if
there is a need for it."