September 22, 2004

County Executive Tom Gordon "has asked the county attorney to submit to him a plan for coming into compliance" with the county's residency law, according to Sherry Freebery, the chief administrative officer.

Freebery told County Council's executive committee on Sept. 21 that Gordon hadn't done so earlier because "he was waiting for the attorney general to rule" between competing versions of what constitutes residency.

Auditor Robert Hicks contended that attorney Timothy Mullaney's having his principal residence in Kent County was in violation of the law. Mullaney's position is that his periodic use of his parents' home in New Castle County is sufficient to satisfy the residence requirement. Hicks later referred the matter to the state attorney general for a ruling.

Freebery came before the executive committee in response to Council's personnel committee having unanimously decided to send Gordon a letter urging him to fire Mullaney for having not responded to Hicks's directive that the submit by Sept. 7 a plan for rectifying the situation. All seven Council members sit on all its permanent committees.

Freebery did not say what, if any deadline, was attached to Gordon's request.

She did say that both his and her intent was to "arrange it so the county attorney will not resign and leave us without a county attorney" during the remainder of Gordon's term. Ineligible to seek re-election, he will leave office in early January.

She said also that she wanted to "get involved before the issue [reaches] a peak of passion." She added that "people weren't aware of the vehemence" with which some members of Council regarded the issue. There have been indication that a formal resolution to the same effect would be introduced if Gordon did not respond to the letter. Council does not have the authority to actually do the firing.

Councilman Penrose Hollins at the executive committee meeting questioned whether Mullaney had a conflict of interest in his ruling that he was in compliance with the residency law. Freebery replied that several county officials who had discussed the matter agreed with Mullaney's interpretation.

She objected to the fact that the personnel committee brought up the matter at its meeting without notifying the administration. "Mr. Mullaney was not aware it was going to be a topic of discussion," she said. He did not attend the personnel committee meeting although he is a frequent attender at Council committee meetings.

Councilman William Tansey said that was an indication that the legislative and executive branches of government often follow separate paths. "We operate in a vacuum. It would be a lot easier if we talked to each other," he said.

2004. All rights reserved.

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