committee agreed unanimously at a meeting on Sept. 20 to send a
letter to Gordon to that effect and at least some members
indicated they are considering following up with a formal
resolution if Gordon does not do so. Council does not have the
authority to actually do the firing. As is the case with its
other standing committees, all seven Council members sit on the
another matter before the meeting, the committee agreed to refer
to the new audit committee a several-items complaint by Ronald
Morris, the county's chief financial officer, against auditor
Robert Hicks. The tone of that referral appeared supportive of
Hicks after he provided explanations of each of the charges.
earlier said in an audit report that he 'discovered' that
Mullaney's primary residence is in Kent County and that,
contrary to the law, Mullaney did not move into New Castle after
being appointed to head the Law Department. Mullaney maintained
unofficially that his using his parent's house in New Castle
County at various times constitutes residency.
directed Mullaney to provide, by Sept. 7, a written plan for
correcting the situation. When that deadline passed without a
response, Hicks referred the matter to the state attorney
general's office for advice on what should be done next. The
residency requirement is contained in state law, but no penalty
for violating it is provided.
committee meeting, it was agreed that a reply from the attorney
general is not likely to be forthcoming soon. But members
rejected a suggestion by Councilman Robert Woods that the matter
simply be allowed to rest because "the problem will resolve
itself in a couple of months" when Gordon leaves office in early
January and Mullaney, a political appointee, goes with him.
president Christopher Coons said that the issue cannot wait for
that because "we've got a county attorney who is not in
compliance with the law." He said there is no real question of
where Mullaney's primary residence is located.
personnel director Patricia DiIenno acknowledged that, beyond
asking for place of residence on its application form, the Human
Relations Department makes no effort to verify residency.
Coons added, Mullaney's not only ignoring Hicks's directive but
also his apparent refusal to explain himself "is what pushes
this from nonobservance of the law to utter disregard of
Council." Mullaney, who frequently attends Council committee
meetings, was not at the personnel committee meeting.
Councilman Penrose Hollins, who chairs the personnel committee,
said, "We should and we deserve to get replies."
said he is "increasingly concerned about how many times this
Council is ignored" by the Gordon administration.
Councilman Robert Weiner said that it is ironic that the
administration's insistence on its chairman's meeting residency
requirements previously was a contributing factor to the
resignations of all members of the county Ethics Commission. At
that time, "residency was of the utmost importance," he said.
also questioned whether Mullaney's being out of compliance with
the law negates "his authority to act on behalf of the county."
complaints against Hicks mostly involved allegations that the
auditor does not follow established county procedures. The
principal items were that he does not supply complete
information about telephone calls for which he seeks
reimbursement, that he paid for five professional-development
sessions in advance of actually signing up for them, and that he
uses Council's credit card account to make purchases instead of
submitting purchase orders.
said he uses his personal cellular telephone to discuss tips
from employees and others that should be kept confidential and
blacks out the last four digits of telephone numbers identifying
the calls to preserve confidentiality. That is necessary, he
said, because of a county policy of regarding telephone calls
and e.mail exchanges as open to monitoring.
to assume that somebody might be listening in," he said, adding
that his effectiveness as an auditor depends upon complainants
trusting that he will not reveal their identities. As a result
of taking steps to assure that is so, the number of complaints
and tips he is receiving has increased significantly in recent
weeks and contributed to a backlog of prospective audits.
said that his method of documenting requests for reimbursement
"was acceptable through 2003." He questioned why he "didn't have
a problem getting [his] reimbursement until 2004" and suggested
that may have "had to do with retribution to my issuing my audit
report in April, 2004." The report was critical of the Gordon
administration in several respects.
professional-development sessions, he said, were paid for
because of an offer to "get five for the price of four" with the
understanding that which sessions would be attended would be
determined later. He has since attended all five sessions, he
confirmed that Hicks made the direct purchases, most if not all
of which involved relatively small amounts, after conferring
with him and receiving approval.
told the committee that he "stands by" all of his complaints.
"Everybody else who has an expense account has to go through the
process. ... Mr. Hicks is not treated any differently," Morris
no bones with Mr. Hicks. I just have some problems with what he
has done," Morris added.
Council members were not buying that. "I don't recall anybody
else being given this much scrutiny," Hollins said. Weiner said
that has "has made it impossible for him to do what we hired him
said Hicks, who grew up in Philadelphia, has satisfied a claim,
made at the time he was interviewed for the auditor position,
that he is "tough enough to push back if anybody challenged
him." Coons said it will now be up to the audit committee, which
is composed of five outside volunteers from the auditing
profession, to determine whether "rather minor judgment calls"
add up to "a firing offense."
took umbrage at what he described as a false message circulating
on the Internet to the effect that four members of Council,
presumably including himself, were dissatisfied with Hicks and
were out to fire him.
ended that part of the meeting by quipping, "All the bloggers
can now excuse themselves. Nobody is going to get fired."