Councilwoman Karen Venezky, who chairs the finance committee,
wonders why newspaper accounts and a pending suit in Court of
Chancery raise doubts about where things stand while the
recently published annual financial report, which was
independently audited, tells an opposite story.
said during discussion at a finance committee meeting on Jan. 11
that it is time to set things straight.
New Year resolution?
precisely 7 p.m. Council president Paul
Clark called the first session of 2005 to
members except Penrose Hollins, who did not
attend the semi-monthly session, were in
their seats and ready to begin work.
Although no one commented, regular attenders
noted it is most unusual for Council
sessions to begin at the appointed time.
Clark had waited several minutes before
bring his gavel down, The clock on the dais
read 7:07 and the one on the rear wall
read 7:05 when he did. But both of those
instruments were ahead of the actual time.
In other matters which
came up during a busy day, Council:
● Approved realigning the
county executive's staff and hiring five key aides to
the new incumbent, Chris Coons.
● Agreed that it is not
interested in having a duplicate set of offices in the
suburbs, but could use some additional meeting space
● Received ordinances to
change the conditions of the public safety grant to the
city of Wilmington, to preserve the upscale status of a
Christiana Hundred community, and to pull advertising
out of Community Publications' weekly newspapers.
The discussion about the
county's financial condition was touched off by a
request from auditor Robert Hicks to have Council accept
a proposal from Ernst & Young, the firm which audits the
county's books, to conduct a 'risk assessment' of its
finances. Doing so was one of the firm's recommendations
in its report of the fiscal 2003 audit.
Hicks said it would be a
normal thing in an organization the size of county
government to secure an independent outside appraisal of
internal financial controls and provide a good basis for
him to direct his internal auditing function.
Venezky asked why the
county should pay $49,500 for such a study
Ernst & Young had already found both the 2003 and fiscal
2004financial reports to be accurate and specifically declared
county finances to be "low risk."
said she would prefer that a risk assessment, if undertaken,
should be comprehensive and cover all potential risks, not just
we're doing such a good job [managing finances], why not have
that confirmed?" Councilman Penrose Hollins said. "Let's stop
being defensive and giving the impression we're trying to cover
Finance officer Ronald Morris said he takes personal offense
over the innuendos going around. "Some of the comments I hear
after 31 years in this government disturb me," he said.
the triple-A bond ratings the county's debt securities have
consistently been given in recent years, Morris said it is
highly improbable that all three national bond-rating services
would be in error in determining that New Castle's finances are
in good condition. "Their [ratings] would be useless if we were
not in that shape," he said.
Council president Paul Clark said that apparent confusion over
the size of the county's budget reserves -- or surplus, as it
has been commonly referred to -- is a matter of concern. He said
the county's financial reporting "is in a form [that]
accountants and auditors like, [but] I don't think the average
citizen understands it."
ordinance and accompanying resolution which Council approved
unanimously during its semi-monthly session, Coons's staffing
preference was accomplished by shifting authorizations for three
positions in the Department of Land Use and one each in the
Departments of Community Services and Special Services to the
executive office. Reclassifying and combining positions,
including those already authorized for the executive office,
results in no net change in the cost of salaries and employee
to the position of chief administrative officer, which is
provided for in state law, are a deputy chief administrative
officer, chief of staff, director of communications and policy
director. All are appointive positions, not included in the
county's civil service merit system.
Salaries of the chief administrative officer, deputy chief
administrative officer and chief of staff range from $84,475 in
the first year of service to $130,389 after seven years. Coons
is limited to having two four-year terms in office. The director
of communications makes between $78,872 in the first year to
$122,358 in the 10th year. The range for policy director is
$53,383 to $82,816.
of the five positions have been filled: David Singleton, chief
administrative officer; Lynne Howard, deputy chief
administrative officer; Richard Przywara, chief of staff; and
Nicole Majeski, policy director.
Suburban office space would be in the bank building which the
county has acquired next door to the Government Center in New
Castle Corporate Commons. It is mostly occupied by the community
services department. Council is based in the Redding Building in
downtown Wilmington and that would remain its principal office.
Wilmington is designated as the 'county seat', but it is
uncertain what that entails. Most day-to-day functions of county
government are carried on outside of the city.
Councilman Robert Weiner questioned spending money to set up
additional offices after spending $1.5 million to renovate the
eighth floor of the Redding Building to accommodate the expanded
Council and its staff.
Hollins said he "heard through the grapevine" about the idea of
additional offices and was concerned that a decision had been
made "without Council involvement."
Councilman William Tansey said the idea grew out of an informal
discussion among those attending a ceremonial ribbon cutting at
the bank building and involved just providing access to a desk,
telephone and computer and space for meeting constituents. "This
isn't being done in secret; nobody's trying to exclude anybody,"
Venezky said she, for one, would appreciate a location to meet
with constituents without requiring them to "come downtown where
they have to pay for parking."
additional space also would provide room for the Board of
Adjustment, Historic Review Board and the like to meet with
sufficient room for members of the public to attend. "Right now
we're not doing a good job of making it comfortable for them,"
said Clark, who formerly was a member of the adjustment board.
decision was reached about whether to accept the offer of space.
first 2005 ordinance, which Hollins introduced, would change
from $5 million to $2.5 million the amount of the $15 million
grant to Wilmington that would have to be used for police
vehicles. Like the rest of the money, it could be used for any
Preamble of the proposed ordinance said that since the original
three-year grant was authorized last year "an unprecedented
crisis of violence has occurred in the city which requires more
leeway in public safety spending, particularly for increased
proposed ordinance under Tansey's sponsorship would rezone
Sedgely Farms from 'NC15', which requires lot with a minimum of
15,000 square feet, to "NC40' which carries a 40 square foot
minimum. The preamble said that would "more accurately reflect
the ... area characteristics."
Unified Development Code presently requires publication of
weekly advertisements to give public notice of hearings and
submission of land development plans in the News Journal and
Community Publications' newspapers. That company publishes
separate editions distributed free in the Greenville and
Hockessin areas and in Brandywine and Mill Creek Hundreds.
According to the synopsis of the proposed ordinance dropping the
Community Publications' newspapers, use of mailed notices and
posted signs make it "no longer desirable or acceptable for the
county to provide public notice to only a limited portion of the
whole county population" which receive the weekly newspapers.
Venezky is sponsor of that ordinance.
fiscal note said, the $326,000 not spent with Community
Publications would partly offset by the additional $260,000 cost
of expanding the ads in the News Journal from a half page using
black ink to a full page printed in color.