fact that the present year's spending plan is running a deficit
"may not have reached the public's attention," he told attenders
at a press conference called to make public the more than 80
recommendations he received from a 75-member transition
taskforce before taking office. To a large extent, he indicated
that he has adopted the report as an agenda for the beginning of
Following it, he said, "does the things we said we will do"
during the election campaign. "It starts us on a solid
a summary of the taskforce report available signals an intent to
follow through on a pledge to run the county in what he termed
"an open and transparent way." He said that, as far as he has
been able to determine, no previous administration made public
the results of transition studies.
who won both the Democratic nomination and the general election
by wide margins after bitter campaigns, claims a public mandate
and, following quick passage by the General Assembly of a law
giving him full control over the top echelon of officials, said
he intends major changes in the way that the county is run.
"Everybody in this government will get past some of the issues
that made county government a subject of media interest over the
past year," he said at the press conference on Jan. 31.
new law restores the executive's traditional right to appoint
department managers. During the reorganization of county
government early in the administration of Coons's predecessor,
Thomas Gordon, state law was changed to make those position
subject to the civil service merit system. That made it more
difficult to terminate incumbents. When Governor Ruth Ann Minner
signs the legislation, which Coons said she has assured him she
will, they will become political appointees who serve "at the
pleasure of the executive."
Patricia DiIenno, chief human resources officer; Ronald Morris,
chief financial officer; and James Sapp, chief procurement
officer -- all of whom are long-time county employees -- have
given notice they intend to leave. Charles Baker heads the
Department of Land Use; Diane Baker, the Department of Community
Services; and Joseph Freebery, the Department of Special
Services. Police chief David McAllister heads the Department of
Public Safety -- although Council last year established a
managerial position for that department which was not filled --
and Dennis Siebold is serving as county attorney in an acting
said he has received more than 200 applications from people
interested in those top-level jobs. He only smiled when asked
how many specific appointees he has in mind and who they are,
saying that current office-holders are being interviewed about
their desires. He did say that a civilian -- albeit someone with
prior police or public safety job experience -- will be drawn
from more than 30 applicants for that job to become public
said that he has been pleased during his first month in office
to find the county workforce at all levels cooperative and
apparently compatible with the new administration.
Tackling county finances, Coons indicated, holds top priority.
Delaforum previously reported, the county's $142 million general
operating fund budget is expected to run about $9 million in the
red in this fiscal year, which ends June 30. That deficit is
covered by a variety of reserve funds, including one created
under Gordon to ward off the necessity to raise property taxes.
Gordon recently told Council's finance committee that, under
current conditions, it should hold until fiscal 2009.
transition panel recommended that Coons not follow the practice
of the Gordon administration of referring to the reserves as a
'surplus'. There is about $10 million of uncommitted reserves,
which is as close as any of the accounts come to being spare
did not talk about taxes as such, but did refer to a commitment
to "fiscal discipline." He said he has "nothing specific in mind
at this time" in the way of cuts in departmental spending
requests but added that the proposals will receive careful
scrutiny before he takes his proposed budget to Council in
more fundamental level, he talked of "developing long-term
solutions to the current structural budget deficits" in both the
general fund and the separate sewer fund. Nachman Hays
Brownstein Inc., a financial consulting firm, has been hired to
take a hard look at county coffers and to make recommendations,
said he has no present intention to institute a hiring freeze
but that chief administrative officer David Singleton has been
reviewing every request to fill a job slot. Coons said "there
are genuine and legitimate needs" to fill many of the some 100
vacancies in the county workforce and to increase the number of
authorized positions in such areas as police and paramedic
Although he said he has yet not come up with a proposal for how
to accomplish it, he wants to end the practice of Council's
routinely and almost perfunctorily changing the budget once it
is enacted and authorizing supplemental appropriations. He
referred to the practice of limiting Council to acting on
rezoning proposals only thrice a year as a possible model.
he said he is considering setting up a financial review and
advisory panel for the county similar to the ones in place in
state and Wilmington city governments.
said he would like to see Council fill the office of county
auditor as quickly as possible and to hire a second person for
that office to act as an assistant to the auditor and financial
advisor to Council. In a highly controversial move, Council
recently fired auditor Robert Hicks. Except for saying that,
were he still Council president, his prior position, he would
not have voted to do so, Coons has not expressed an opinion
about the issue. He did say at the press conference that he does
not think the auditor's office should be moved from the
legislative to the executive branch.
said he will wait until the gubernatorial taskforce studying
possible measures to deal with stormwater and flooding
mitigation reports before deciding what approach he favors for
New Castle County. However, having previously voiced support for
establishing am autonomous stormwater utility as a management
and financing vehicle, he noted that "there are a number of
options for how you structure [it]."
likewise said he wants to wait before taking a position on
proposed legislation put forth by the county Ethics Commission.
As Delaforum previously reported, the requested measures would,
among other things, give the commission investigatory authority
over county employees for up to three years after their
Overall, Coons said the administration has begun or is about to
begin taking action on 16 of the transition taskforce's
recommendations. One, in fact, was handled on an
even-as-we-speak basis. During the press conference, Coons
signed an executive order requiring everyone on his senior staff
to promptly file and make public personal financial statements.
Statements from county officials are not due until May and not
everyone on the executive's staff is covered by the requirement