the revamping will amount to a shake-out depends, he said, on "a
through review of departmental operations" and what he
determines to be necessary to "restore public confidence [and]
remove the people and practices which led to the federal
criminal indictments" of incumbent executive Tom Gordon and
chief administrative officer Sherry Freebery.
an indictment is not the same thing as a conviction and any
trial is at least six months away, but every candidate promised
change. ... That's what I was elected to do," Coons told
Delaforum in an interview.
He declined to name names and said
he will "obey the rules of the merit system," but indicated that
he looking at possible terminations all the way up to the
general manager level. The moves,
however, will be
selective and reflect an understanding that "we have
a number of people with years of knowledge and
experience" in the county workforce.
Reminded that a year and
a half ago he sought state legislation to restore
the executive's power to appoint department
directors, Coons said he may renew that effort. But
the more recent creation by County Council of
position of director of public safety demonstrates
that may be a better route to take, he said. No one
has been appointed to the public safety job. As part
of a general reorganization of county government,
the Gordon administration obtained state legislation
to bring the top department officials into the civil
service merit system.
Coons noted that, of
about 1,600 employees, he will have only about 60
slots to be filled by appointment. There are about
100 vacancies in the workforce, some of which he
said he would like to redefine in order to be able
to use them to staff offices that will be necessary
to implement the initiatives he promised during the
campaign. Overall, he said, he would like to hold county
employment at or close to present levels.
top of the government structure, Coons said he is influenced by
the corporate model of a chief operating officer, chief
financial officer and chief information officer with a chief of
staff acting as a coordinator and a vehicle for keeping the
chief executive up to speed. He said he is close to deciding
among candidates for those positions
current administration, he said, Freebery effectively combined
three of the functions in herself. The chief administrative
officer is provided for in law and the position will be filled,
"but I see it functioning differently from the way Ms. Freebery
has done," he said.
said he will actively seek suggestions from county employees and
the public concerning the transition to a new administration
through a special-purpose Web site and, possibly, a series of
public forums involving himself, County Council president Paul
Clark and both new and incumbent Council members.
said he has met with Gordon since the election and has received
a promise of "full cooperation and [willingness] to be helpful
in any way he can."
part, Coons said he not only has resigned his former position as
Council president but also will return the salary he is to be
paid between now and the turn of the year to the county coffers.
In legislation expanding Council from seven to 13 members, the
General Assembly provided for the new president to take office
immediately after the election while Coons's term under the
former law did not run out until January.
said he expects to be able to work cooperatively with the new
Council despite friction in the recent past between himself and
some members and the fact that none of the newly elected members
have had any experience in elective government office. Unlike
the former Council, the new one is dominated by younger people
with full-time jobs rather than being comprised mostly of
retirees. Service on Council is considered a part-time job.
has an 11-to-two Democratic majority and Coons is a Democrat.
But party politics traditionally plays a limited role in local
government in Delaware.
said he will leave W.L. Gore & Associates, except for possibly
doing a limited amount of consulting work for what is his
family's company. As in-house counsel, Coons was involved with
Gore's ethics program and government relations.
initiatives Coons will seek to implement soon after he takes
office on Jan. 4 are:
• A redevelopment authority to
promote and support use of existing but unused or underused
commercial and industrial property, including so-called 'brownfield'
• An emergency services corps to
assist shorthanded volunteer fire companies with administrative
and operational support while encouraging careers with
• Expanding the library system to
more closely link it with schools, small businesses and
community organizations; and
• Marketing of locally grown produce
to support and preserve working farms.
Beyond those, he cited several
issues of immediate concern.
In the interview with Delaforum,
Coons said public safety and security is a key one. He has
already joined an organization of county executives seeking to
have federal financial support for 'homeland security' allocated
more on the basis of threat rather than of population.
New Castle County has a relatively small population, it is
highly vulnerable to terrorist attack, he said. "We have, either
in the county or close by, a nuclear power plant, major [oil]
refineries and a critical [interstate highway] bridge," he said,
adding that the county is crossed by both the major railroad and
highway linking East Coast cities and is on the flight path of
one of the nation's largest airports.
potential target and we ought to be receiving significantly more
assistance" to protect against and deal with potential
terrorism, he said.
the issues of how to pay for extension of the county sanitary
sewer system into its southern portion, flood control and
mitigation, a revised property code and mandatory recycling are
all high on his agenda. He has not lost sight of his previous
unsuccessful effort as Council president, to enact a rental
property code, which he considers is still needed.
county, Coons said, must shape a policy and a process for
handling requests for grants by charitable and other nonprofit
organizations. In the past, this has largely been done on an ad
hoc basis "and we don't even know at this point what has been
promised [to requestors] and what promises need to be
fulfilled," he said.
probable issue is "better coordination" among the police forces
of the several incorporated municipalities in the county.
during the campaign promised to 'safeguard' the county's reserve
funds -- which he expects to find total about $200 million when
he takes office -- to avoid the need for a property tax increase
during much, if not all, of his four-year term. Although he is
not scheduled to submit his fiscal 2006 budget proposal until
March, Coons said he is looking to hold the increase in overall
spending to no more than 4%.