anyone coming off a month's vacation, County Council
found its 'in-tray' close to overflowing. But some
legislative harmony and deft committee work enabled
it to clip through a litany of unanimous votes
wiping out most of the backlog.
The only indication that
the political juices are still flowing was a brief wrangle
over how far in advance to contract for some newspaper
The flow was so smooth at the
Council session on Sept. 13 that ratification of a new
three-year labor contract covering the largest bloc of
county employees sailed through on the consent agenda. That
is a parliamentary device which allows routine
uncontroversial matters that no one wants to waste time
talking about to be approved, usually unanimously, as a
A similar contract, with
another union local was ratified as a so-called 'Item J'
measure. That is another parliamentary device by which a
majority of Council can bring a matter they consider needing
immediate action to a vote without its having been publicly
advertised in advance and without subjecting it to the usual
two-week interval between introduction and passage. The term
'Item J' refers to its listing in the penultimate position
on New Castle County Council's agenda.
As Delaforum previously
reported, the contracts are with locals of the American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Local
1607 represents 423 rank-and-file county employees; Local
3109 is the union speaking for 101 professionals and
supervisory personnel. Both three-year pacts provide for a
3% pay raise retroactive to Apr. 1, 2005 and subsequent 3.1%
increases on the same date in 2006 and 2007.
At a briefing before the
plenary session, Council's finance committee was told that
there are increases in amount of co-payments employees
will have to pay under the county's self-insured
health care insurance plan. That, according to management
negotiator Jill Florey, is the result of a 17% increase in
health-care costs this year.
Noting that reaching
agreement on health care in labor contracts' benefits
package "is always a tough nut to crack," she indicated that
may well have been the reason why settlement was not reached
earlier. The previous contracts expired last Apr. 1.
Also as previously reported,
the contracts contain provision for a new plan under which
employees may donate a portion of their unused six leave to
a bank from which they can draw up to six months of paid
leave in the event of accident or catastrophic illness.
Charlotte Crowell, director
of human resources, said that the pay and benefits packages
and sick leave plan will be extended to nonunion workers as
well. Ordinances revising county's pay plans were introduced
for action at Council's next meeting, on Sept. 27.
According to the fiscal note
with the ordinances, the Local 1607 contract will cost
between $4,379,910 and $4,510,843 additional over the
three years. The additional cost of the Local 3109 contract
will be between $1,558,775 and $1,684,099.
was not discussed at the committee meeting.
Unexplained was the fact that
the Local 1607 contract was ratified by union members on
Aug. 9, but neither the union nor the county administration
made any public announcement that that had happened.
"We were just busy, I guess,"
chief administrative officer David Singleton replied when
Delaforum asked him why. He pointed out that County
Executive Chris Coons cannot sign a contract without formal
authorization from Council -- which is what the ratification
resolutions extended -- and therefore the contract process
was not complete. "We had to wait until Council got back
[from vacation]" for that to happen, he said.
Council president Paul Clark
said that he sought 'Item J' treatment for the Local 3109
contract because it is similar in its major terms and he did
not want to delay its implementations. Members of that union
ratified its pact on Sept. 9.
Still unresolved are expired
labor contracts with the Municipal Workers local
representing paramedics and two Fraternal Order of Police
lodges representing county police officers and employees in
the sheriff's office.
Council also enacted an
ordinance spelling out the responsibilities of community
management associations in providing minor maintenance of
stormwater drainage ponds. By doing so the community will
qualify for county-provided major repairs if that becomes
A one-year amnesty permitting
the associations to register and forgiving their not
maintaining the facilities in the past was approved.
Richard Przywara, general
manager of the Special Services Department, told Council's
special services committee that 28 ponds in 25 communities
regarded as having priority for major repair work have been
identified based on a variety of criteria. They were taken
from a list of 74 ponds previously identified as needing
There will be a multi-year
program to be paid for with money from a $3.3 million
state government grant and $900,000 of previously
appropriated county money. He estimated that spending on the
projects during the current fiscal year will amount to about
Describing that as a
conservative estimate, he added, "I'm worried about what
we're going to find when we get in there."
Eleven of the ponds are in
Council District 3, which William Tansey represents, and six
are in George Smiley's Council District 7.
Councilman Timothy Sheldon
questioned why ponds which are relatively new and in
affluent communities are first in line for publicly financed
work. Przywara replied that the selections reflected, in
part, the effect the failed and failing ponds have on
Communities where ponds on
the priority list are located are: Limestone Hills, Village
of Plum Run, Centennial Village (three ponds), Salem Woods,
Hunters Ridge, Winding Bridge, Christiana Green (two ponds),
Hockessin Hunt, Fox Fire, Summit View, Woods of Limestone
Hills, The Ridge, Christina Hollow-River Walk,
Hockessin Glen East, Village of Tahoe, Westwoods, Stenning
Woods, Barley Mill, Cedar Pointe at Wilton, Airport
Industrial Park, Forrest Knoll at Wellington Woods, Glasgow
Pines, Penn Manor Yorktown, Caravel East and Mendenhall
In action on another
significant matter, Council approved a new arrangement for
paying police officers for providing off-duty services to
community organizations and paying them for doing so.
The only controversy was over
a successful move by Councilwoman Karen Venezky to
limit an advertising contract with Community Publications to
the six months rather than have it extend for a year. That
reduces the cost to $82,800 from $143,520.
She said she wants to force
the county administration to come up with a communications
plan, which would include how it advertises public meetings
and pending matters. The plan, she added, should be "fair
Councilman Penrose Hollins
said the weekly newspapers which Community Publications
produces are circulated free of charge while the larger
circulation News Journal requires paid subscriptions.
Venezky said Community's papers reach only 40% of the
county's population "in the more elite districts."
During a brief discussion at
the plenary session, Hollins took his point further by
remarking, "This may be perceived as punitive action against
a newspaper for doing a good job." That referred to an
original proposal in 2004 to cut off advertising from
Community Publications which some people alleged was in
retaliation for unfavorable coverage during the
administration of former Executive Tom Gordon.
A potentially controversial
ordinance to permit use of variable-message signs was
withdrawn from consideration by Councilman David Tackett,
its sponsor. He did not specify a reason and seemed to
indicate the withdrawal was for an indefinite time.
It was learned that the
measure has been opposed by the Council of Civic
Organizations of Brandywine Hundred, but specific reasons
for its opposition have not been widely disclosed. The
areawide civic council conducts most of its substantive
discussions during closed-door executive committee sessions.
It has denied repeated requests from Delaforum to attend
In other action, Council
approved a resolution amending New Castle County Housing
Authority's policy to give preference to obtain
subsidized housing under Section 8 of the federal housing
law to households from places declared to be federal
disaster areas, provided they come with previously issued
'Section 8' vouchers or lived in public housing.
Also related to the
aftereffects of the Gulf Coast storm, Council commended the
Coons administration "for its efforts in assisting in this
national crisis." The administration was urged "to explore
every opportunity to assist the communities and individual
devastated by Hurricane Katrina."