centered on a move by Council president Paul Clark to secure a
mentor from the county's finance department to, he said, educate
himself and other new members on the intricacies of county
government's budget and finances.
Councilman Penrose Hollins, who chairs Council's personnel
committee, objected on the grounds that Clark was not following
the rules in bringing on what would have amount to a temporary
employee. Also, Hollins maintained, getting him in the person of
an employee of the executive branch breached the division
between it and the legislative branch of government and would
risk breaches of confidentiality concerning Council business.
Clark's having determined that Donald Whitworth, an analyst in
the finance department, also could take on the task of preparing
grant applications from nonprofit agencies for Council's
consideration. That job is running several months behind
schedule, primarily, it is said, because of higher-priority
duties assigned to auditor Robert Hicks by legislation enacted
to give Council closer scrutiny of spending by executive
departments that is not subject to competitive bidding.
drew objections at a committee meeting on Dec. 6 not only
from Hollins but also from Councilmen Jea Street and Robert
Weiner who said they saw it as a further move by the outgoing
Gordon administration to discredit and degrade Hicks. Hicks has
complained that his being an auditing department of just one
person is inappropriate for a government the size of New Castle
position, he told the meeting, will likely be supported in a
separate report to be issued by the auditing firm of Ernst &
Young in conjunction with the annual independent audit of the
county's books. He added that the recently appointed internal
audit committee is probably going to recommend separating his
auditing function from administrative duties he has been
more than an hour of discussion by Council members, Ronald
Morris, the county's chief financial officer, headed off a
poll of the 11 Council members who attended the meeting by
announcing withdrawal of his offer to 'lend' Whitworth's
services to Council.
said he had made the gesture "in the spirit of cooperation" with
the new Council, but the reaction made it obvious to him that
"our cooperation is not wanted." Whitworth attended the meeting,
but did not say anything.
Morris's move rendered moot what would have been the 13-member
Council's first roll call on a controversial issue, it did not
come before some of the members exchanged a few barbed comments.
who is newly elected to the Council presidency, said he was
"only trying to solve some of the issues you left to us (the new
members)." He went on to add that "it is a shame that, before we
got on board, Council got into this problem." At another point
in the discussion, he referred to the prior seven-member Council
as "dysfunctional" and declared, "If you were all working for
me, I would have fired you all."
Referring to a memo Clark had circulated to inform members and
the Council staff of the arrangement, Street said it "reeks of
mischief -- political mischief and personal mischief."
said it seemed as if Clark's arrangement fit into an effort in
the closing days of the Gordon administration to oust Hicks in
retribution for "having the courage" to confront the
administration on several matters. Councilwoman Karen Venezky
said she viewed Clark's arrangement as no more than "having
someone come in and get something done that is not being done."
apparent reference to Clark's judgment in proceeding
unilaterally, Councilman George Smiley said that "it's only the
people who don't do anything who don't make mistakes."
Hollins asked sarcastically, "Are we going to say here is
somebody who has free time [so] let's make him assistant to the
police chief?" Clark said that the arrangement in no way implied
that Whitworth would be Hicks's assistant, but would merely
relieve him of some duties not directly related to his auditing
function. While working for County Council, Whitworth would have
reported to Clark. He would have continued to be paid out of the
law department's budget.
only [benefit] we'd give him is a parking pass," Clark said.
said he was not consulted in advance about bringing in
Whitworth, but "was told about the situation" after the
arrangement evidently had been made. He did not, however, raise
any substantive objection.
Hollins, however, claimed it was in direct violation of a
Council rule that invests hiring and firing authority in Council
as a whole. Except for a few specified administrative duties,
the Council president "has no more authority than any of us,"
Hollins said. At one point, he called for the rule book to
support his contention that such actions require a majority vote
next item on the meeting agenda was a proposal by Weiner to
amend Hicks's job description to include a provision that he
could advocate a position before the General Assembly if the
matter directly involved his position as auditor or would affect
the county's fiscal position or internal financial controls.
That provision has been removed from the description several
weeks ago by a four-to-three vote.
than call for a vote on restoring it now, Weiner said he wanted
the matter submitted instead to the recently appointed audit
committee for a recommendation.