80 people -- many of whom are involved with civic organizations
or otherwise active in their communities -- turned out and several, in a
question-and-answer format, aired a litany of such issues as what's to be done
about partial destruction of an historic stone wall in the Paladin Club condominium
community and what was described as possibly the largest
toxic dioxin in the world. Along the way, they talked about
spending priorities, use of Rockwood park, county code
enforcement, relations between county and municipal governments
and the firing of the county auditor.
Executive Christopher Coons and Paul Clark, president of County
Council, joined with Councilmen John Cartier and Robert Weiner
on Feb. 7 in the new Eighth Council District for the meeting,
which ran exactly the two hours for which it was
scheduled. The meetings are being held in each of the six new
Council districts with the other half of the districts from
which they were carved also participating. Cartier now
represents the Eighth and Weiner continues representing the
Second. which combine to cover Brandywne Hundred.
Richard Przywara, Coons's chief of staff, later told Delafroum
that attendance topped his expectation and that he thought the
questions elicited "responses that were very helpful to the
residents who attended."
meeting had something of an air of a cross between a traditional
town meeting and a political discussion panel. Literally all of
the questions showed that the askers had done their homework and
were at least generally familiar with their chosen topics. None
of the panelists disputed any of the others during the session.
most of the topics raised dealt, as would be expected, with
issues that have been in public view, there were a couple which
haven't been widely discussed. Coons, for example, said he plans
to set up an arrangement by which county government interacts
with officials of incorporated municipalities on matters of common interest.
Although such relations with Wilmington, Newark and Middletown
have long existed, there has been, at best, limited effort to
involve smaller ones. There are four of those -- Arden, Ardentown, Ardencroft and
Bellefonte -- in Brandywine Hundred.
Clearly the most pressing concern was what state environmental
regulators should do about dioxin-laden material piled up on a 15-acre site
adjacent to the Du Pont Co.'s titanium dioxide plant at Edgemoor.
The state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental
Control has recommended adopting the plan put forth by the
company that the site be permanently covered and
its future use severely restricted. That, the department
concluded in a preliminary report, would be more
"cost-effective" than the alternative of transporting it to a
disposal site. Du Pont, according to the report, has been
shipping the unsaleable byproduct to an approved site in South
Carolina since 2002.
that is predominantly a state issue, Coons said county government has a
definite role to play in notifying the public about what
material is in their midst and giving ample warnings in the
event of emergencies. "Since Nine-Eleven, industrial plants have been
required to prepare plans to respond to terror attacks or
industrial accidents, but a lot of that information isn't
getting out to first responders or the public," he said.
added that there was no practical way to alert communities
downstream along the Red Clay Creek of an impending flood during
the September, 2003, storm which effectively took out most of
the Glenville community near Newport. He said that existing
technology would permit an alert system which involves
automatically turning on television sets and radios in homes and
elsewhere in order to
spread word of an emergency. "If my T.V. turned on by itself at
two in the morning, that would certainly get my attention," he
Representative Diana McWilliams, who attended the meeting, said
that she and other state lawmakers are working on a way to "make
sure that we're finding out what's going on in heavy industry
and getting that out to the public." The Eighth District, she
noted, has industrial concentrations at Edgemoor and Claymont.
waste pile is simply capped, "15 acres of very valuable land will be
rendered useless for future industrial uses," Cartier said. "It
will shut off access to the [Delaware] river and leave as a
legacy a polluted site."
Rockwood, which was considered a showcase during
the administration of County Executive Tom Gordon, is a drain on
county finances "until the visitor center makes it possible for
the park to be self-sufficient," Weiner said. The recently
completed center, he said, is too large to be used for just that purpose,
but could become a venue for various educational activities and
available to be rented for private functions.
said he favors having the park generate revenue but questioned
whether it would be proper for the county to compete with owners
in the business of renting facilities and catering to such
as wedding receptions.
a general discussion about the county budget, Coons repeated his
previous contention that he and the public face a choice between
taxes and services. "New Castle County isn't sitting on a pile
of money," he said.
"insisting on calling a thing that is not a surplus a surplus"
the previous administration "masked big spending," he said,
adding that what actually happened was that accumulated reserves
were used to finance deficit spending. "Last year the county
went on a $100 million spending spree," he said.
said recent publication of a simplified budget summary listing
total revenue and expenditures, prepared by the county finance
department, will clarify the financial situation for many people
who do not comprehend complex budget documents.
Delaforum previously reported, the summary showed the county
likely to run an expenditures-over-revenue deficit of $9 million
in this fiscal year leaving on June 30 unencumbered reserves of
$10 million plus a reserve of $54.9 million set aside to
preserve the current tax rate. Earlier in the fiscal year,
projected unencumbered reserves totaled $10.8 million.
said Council was "not told exactly the truth" about the county's
financial condition. As a result, he said, it was decided
"behind close doors" to distribute grants to some social service
agencies without any clearly defined application or approval
Cartier described code enforcement as "a critical
quality-of-life issue in the Eighth District." He proposed
establishing an administrative court to handle cases involving
violations of building and property codes. As it is now, he
said, fines and even responses to citations are haphazardly
Smith, assistant general manager of the Department of Land Use,
noted that enforcement of community property deeds is difficult.
Even if they have not been allowed to lapse, as many have in
older suburbs, enforcement requires civic associations or
neighbors to bear the cost of bringing litigation in Court of
Chancery. Referring to deed restrictions that are common to
several areas, he said that "the more of those we can get into
the [Uniform Development] Code the better." Those that are would
be subject to county government enforcement.
Cartier called the code as it applies to development "a
greenfields code" that does not apply properly to Brandywine
Hundred "where the only development we will have is 'in-fill'
and redevelopment." He said he would advocate changes in the
code, but was not specific about what they might be.
who previously served on the Board of Adjustment, which judges
when exceptions to the code are justified, said it "is one of
the most stringent codes out there." He said he agrees with what
is considered both state and county policy of encouraging
'in-fill'; that is, filling in with additional development areas
that already have adequate sewers, roads and other
closest the meeting came to controversy was when an attender
questioned Hicks's firing. Clark responded that the special
session of Council at which that was done was scheduled and
conducted in accordance with the law. "It was the desire of the
Council that they go forward with a new staff," he said, adding
that he could not comment further because the matter is a
personnel issue and is in litigation.
who attended the meeting in what he described as his role as a
civic activist but did not participate in the discussion, had
previously indicated that he would consider filing a
discrimination suit. But he said nothing in that regard has been
done yet. Common Cause of Delaware and Green Delaware have
filed a joint request with the attorney general seeking a ruling
on whether the Council session complied with the state's Freedom
of Information Act.
said that Hicks "served very capablely as auditor while I was
[Council] president." However, he repeated a previous comment
that he respects the decision about the auditor as a prerogative
of County Council just as Council agreed to his realignment of
positions in the executive office and did not dispute his
successful effort to have state law changes to restore the
executive's power to appoint department managers.
Use general manager Charles Baker told a group of Paladin Club
residents that the department soon will issue a ruling on the
wall, adding that "it shall probably be good."