"I didn't come here to run for office," said Richard Korn, but it should not come as a total surprise that the former New Yorker has taken more than average interest in county government and local politics. He's been there and done that.

As previously reported, Korn, who now lives in Hockessin, has joined with Chuck Riley, of Claymont, to found Citizens for New Directions, an organization they describe generally as intending to foster good government and specifically to arouse people to what they see as abuses in New Castle County government.

Korn also has joined with Jerry Martin, of Brandywine Hundred, in a civil suit filed by attorney Richard Abbott in Court of Chancery seeking to halt the use of public money to pay outside law firms to represent county employees in connection with the apparently open-ended investigation of County

Executive Tom Gordon's administration by U.S. Attorney Colm Connolly.

After reading about the investigation and related issues and following discussion of them in Delaforum's Community Voices section and on radio call-in programs, Korn decided it was time to more than just talk about about such goings-on.

There is no hidden agenda in his having taken a few giant steps beyond talk, he maintained in an interview. He happens to take literally the old saying that folks who don't get involved with what is happening in government, particularly on the hometown level, deserve what they get.

"You are not going to get good government until you have participation," he said.

For him, there is something of deja vu in that.

Richard Korn

Back in 1987, the county executive in Nassau County, on Long Island in New York, touted an $81.1 million budget balance while running for re-election. After the election, when it came time for a new budget to be considered, the balance was stated to be $17.7 million. So Korn went to a public meeting and asked where the $62.4 million difference went. "They told me to sit down because I didn't understand how things like writing budgets worked," he recalled.

He didn't sit down. He filed suit and fought it all the way to New York's highest state court. The court, ruling in his favor, declared the county's $1.4 million budget illegal and ordered it redone. The New York Times reported on the case and it is still cited as precedent in dealing with tax surpluses.

While Korn, 53, still enjoys the 'David vs. Goliath' aspects of that case, it could be said that the Nassau David came into the fray not unschooled in the use of his slingshot. Korn has a bachelor degree in political science from Adelphi University; a masters in public administration, with a concentration in public finance, from New York University; and a law degree from Hofstra University.

His interest in politics goes back to grammar school when Joseph Resnick, the father of a grammar school classmate, ran for Congress and became the first Democrat in 28 years to represent that district in New York's Catskill Mountains region. As a young adult, Korn, also a Democrat, successfully lobbied Resnick's successor after two terms, the son and namesake of Republican political legend Hamilton Fish, to obtain federal money to replace a dilapidated and unsafe highway bridge. Korn's late father, Philip, who died recently, was for 50 years a trial lawyer and was prominent in that profession's national organization.

Korn, who moved to Delaware in 1999, is president and chief executive of a company which developed and markets a computer disc the size of a business card to store medical and other emergency information.

Korn said he understands and appreciates the 'everybody knows everybody else' underpinnings of public life in Delaware, but added that cannot be used as a cover for "shielding anything that's just not right."

Using tax money to hire outside counsel falls into that category, he said. If the matter involves something connected with a person's duties as a government employee, legal representation should be in house. "That's why we have a county attorney. ... If the county attorney can't do it, then someone who can do it should be [appointed] county attorney. That's what we pay him for," Korn said.

He added that he is more than a little amused that the county administration has engaged Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz, a private law firm, to represent it in defending a suit challenging hiring outside private law firms.

For his part, Korn said he is comfortable having Abbott represent him. It was the use of county employees to do campaign work on behalf of William Tansey, Abbott's opponent in the September, 2002, primary election, when Abbott was seeking the Republican nomination for re-election, which reportedly touched off U.S. Attorney Connolly's investigation.

Having met Abbott through a mutual friend -- Korn lives in Abbott's former County Council district -- Korn said he had discussed politics with him. "I told him I didn't vote for him and probably wouldn't have voted for him if he had run, but we did agree on that [issue]," Korn said. Korn's co-plaintiff, Martin, is active in Republican politics.

Korn declined to disclose what fee arrangement they have with Abbott, referring to that as privileged information having to do with attorney-client relationship.

While he obviously is not happy with the current Democratic county administration, including chief administrative officer Sherry Freebery, who has declared herself a candidate to succeed Gordon, who is ineligible to be re-elected, Korn said he also does not support Council president Christopher Coons, who also is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for county executive.

"He helped open the public treasury. We could end up paying for unlimited legal representation," Korn said. Coons supported a change in the law to include investigations as proceedings for which employees were eligible for county payment for outside legal representation.

"This isn't Republican against Democrat or Democrat against Democrat. It's a principle. You see a wrong and you try to right it," Korn said.

Actually, he added, his filing the case was inspired in part by a remark Vice Chancellor John Noble make from the bench while presiding over an earlier taxpayer suit to the effect he was "firmly persuaded" that the outside legal representation issue should be addressed in a separate case. The Korn-Martin case has been assigned to Chancellor William Chandler.

Posted on March 10, 2004

2004. All rights reserved.

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