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February, 2006

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Most county employees would be allowed to accept gifts and gratuities of nominal value provided they tell the public about it under a proposed ordinance making its way to County Council.

Rosemary Killian, lawyer for the Ethics Commission, told Council's personnel committee on Feb. 27  that it has taken more than a year to come up with a draft of a law that would, apparently for the first time, codify the dos and don'ts of gift taking. Until now, she said, the commission has, when asked, decided appropriateness of gifts on a case-by-case basis. There have been policies, she added, "but I'm not sure if [they] were followed over the years." The draft states that county government "discourages the acceptance of gifts" and forbids taking any with a direct connection with the recipient's official duties.

The rather complicated proposal lists 10 circumstances in which gifts may be accepted. Key feature of the new arrangement is to be a public gift log in which any gift with a value greater than $50 would have to be recorded within 30 days of receipt. Killian said the log would be open to the public, but neither she nor the draft specified how members of the public could gain access to it. The proposal forbids solicitation of contributions unless they are deemed "non-coercive" and intended to "benefit charitable entities or events." Exempted from coverage would be political contributions and banquet tickets valued at less than $101.

Councilwoman Patty Powell declared she already has decided to vote against enacting the ordinance. Her alternative: "zero-tolerance" for accepting any gift.


Brandywine assistant superintendent Tammy Davis has  been hired as superintendent of the Winnisquam Regional School District  in Tilton, N.H., effective July 1. She came to Brandywine in 2002 from Columbus, Ohio.


OPPOSITION: It will be another month before County Executive Christopher Coons presents to County Council a proposed fiscal 2007 budget which probably will contain a recommendation for a first incremental installment on what his administration calls an inevitable property tax rate increase. But county Republicans are starting what they call in a 'press release' an "effort to fight Chris Coons' massive tax hike." It quotes Kelly Gates, chairperson of the party's county committee, as saying that an increase on top of this year's hike in the sewer fee rate would further burden residents already buffeted by rising cost of a variety of necessities.

The 'release' suggests that a 60% tax rate increase is in the offing near-term. Actually, that is what  has been projected as being needed to balance the budget in fiscal 2010 if nothing is done to increase revenue before then. It charges that county government spending is growing at an annual rate of 7% and that the Coons administration "is paying some of the highest salaries local government has ever seen." There are two Republicans -- William Tansey and Robert Weiner -- on the 13-member Council, but neither has given any indication he disagrees with the presumption that county government faces a mounting budget problem. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


The plan for a sanitary sewer system south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal "must be fair and equitable in sharing risks, costs and benefits," County Executive Chris Coons told County Council.

In a letter to Council members, he lauded the existing "large unified system that includes all ratepayers, [which] has allowed the county the resources and flexibility to undertake much-needed modernization and rehabilitation projects in recent years." The letter goes on to say "it [would be] unfair and financially unwise to make current taxpayers and ratepayers wholly subsidize the risk that we may not find better solutions for the long term than are currently available." And, Coons said, "I believe charging substantially higher capital-recovery fees to new homes ... is an appropriate way" to finance building the initial system.

As previously reported, a consultant recommended a limited extension of the present system while concurrently designing a complete system for the entire area. Coons's letter referred to the short-term arrangement. Christy Gleason, his spokespereson, said referring to financing "merely points out some of the issues that relate to [the] decision point" and should not be regarded as his preferences for what legislation authorizing going ahead with the project should contain. That, she said, will come in early March when he completes what he refers to as an extensive  "evaluation of the alternatives and their implications." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Providing the new system is expected to be the largest-ever public works project in the county. Coons said the previous county administration "left critical long-term financial and operating questions unresolved."


FIREHOUSE COST: Constructing a new eight-bay front section of the Claymont Fire Company station on Philadelphia Pike will cost approximately $3.8 million and the entire expansion will be a $5 million project. Thomas DiCristofaro, president of the company, said that information was provided to the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee at a recent public meeting before it voted to recommend that the county Department of Land Use approve the plan. A previous Delaforum article incorrectly reported that costs were not disclosed and misidentified DiCristofaro as the Claymont fire chief. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


FIREHOUSE EXPANSION: The Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the county Department of Land Use approve a plan to replace the front part of the Claymont Fire Company station with a two-story structure. The social hall in the back would remain. Dave McCarthy, chairman of the company's building committee, said the new section housing the company's fire and ambulance apparatus, would have eight bays instead of the present five. The second floor would house administrative offices. New parking arrangements and landscaping are included in the plan.

Fire chief Thomas DiCristofaro, who is a member of the committee, abstained from voting. He said that rebuilding would take about 18 months, during which apparatus would be housed in temporary structures in what is now the hall's parking lot on Lawson Avenue. The bays will continue to open onto Philadelphia Pike. The hall wing will be closed to public functions so that the offices and other support functions can be located there. He did not disclose the cost of the project. The building will meet Americans With Disabilities Act standards which, he said, rules out having a traditional fire pole for quick transit between floors.


Mark Huxoll has filed for re-election to a second five-year term on the Brandywine school board. No one seeking to oppose him has filed. The deadline to do so is Mar. 3. The election, if one is needed, will be held on May 9.


ONE DOWN; TWO TO GO: County Council received an ordinance to rezone the Brookview Apartments site as it approved bringing the property under Claymont's hometown ordinance 'overlay'. The measure, introduced by John Cartier on Feb. 14, would designate 50 acres to be 'suburban transitional', a residential category and 15 acres as 'neighborhood commercial'. The entire complex currently is zoned for 'garden apartments'. The proposed rezoning will go before the Planning Board and Department of Land Use for their recommendations before it comes back to Council, probably in June, for action.

Both the 'hometown' designation and a companion measure to accept specific design guidelines for the redevelopment project were approved by 11-to-1 votes. Jea Street voted 'no' because, he said, there are "no assurances" that promises by Commonwealth-Setting joint venture developer to assist present low-income Brookview residents to relocate will be kept. The tenants council demonstrated before the meeting, but its spokesperson, Mary Ann Mason, joined two other speakers in endorsing the measures before Council voted. After rezoning, the final and decisive government action will have to be acceptance of the redevelopment plan. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


BROOKVIEW APPOVALS: Redevelopment of the Brookview apartments complex "can be a template for future residential development [throughout] the county," said Councilman John Cartier, sponsor of two measures which County Council will approve as the first official sanction for the project. Two more steps will follow before county government signs off on the development plan -- rezoning of some the parcels, likely to occur in June, and final subdivision approval later in the year. Councilman Robert Weiner described the Brookview project as a $300 million investment at a recent meeting of Council's land use committee.

Before Council at its plenary session on Feb. 14 will be an ordinance to annex the Brookview property into the Claymont 'hometown zoning' overlay and a resolution incorporating the specific design guidelines for Brookview into the area's overall guidelines. Land use general manager Charles Baker said "progressive developers" are making increased use of design guidelines in the planning process and the Claymont ones can serve as a model for conventional developments. Cartier said a formal development agreement with the county is being worked on and should be ready for approval as part of the rezoning. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


'IRON RICH' STUDY: The Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control is seeking a consultant to provide "an objective and independent evaluation" of Du Pont Co.'s proposal for capping the pile of 'iron rich' material off Hay Road. Civic leaders and environment-protection advocates have said that would not be effective and have demanded removal of the material. The material is a byproduct from the manufacture of titanium dioxide at Du Pont's nearby Edgemoor plant. It has been found to be toxic and no longer can be sold for fertilizer.  The company will pay for the study. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article).


PROBE REQUEST DENIED: The U.S. Department of Education told Jea Street that it will not investigate allegations of racial discrimination in the Christina School District because the district is looking into them. Thomas Moshang, of the department's civil rights office, said in a letter to the county councilman that any investigation on its part would be "a duplication of efforts."  That amounts to "saying they're satisfied if the district investigates itself and said there's nothing wrong," Street said. He also complained that Jonathan Brice, who is said to be doing the Christina investigation, is in charge of the area about which Street complained. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


PALADIN SUIT STILL ACTIVE: Paladin Club residents will continue to press a suit to put aside a Board of Adjustment ruling overturning a Department of Land Use order that the developer of the condominium community restore a stone wall it had partly removed two years ago. Superior Court recently dismissed on a technicality a suit by the Department of Land Use challenging the merits of the board's decision. Mary Jacobson, a county lawyer, failed to include the developer, Edgewood Village, an affiliate of Pettinaro Construction, as an 'indispensable' party to the suit. She has since resigned -- an apparently unrelated move.

Richard Abbott, the residents' lawyer, said their suit is based on a provision in county law which gives the Planning Board, not the Board of Adjustment, jurisdiction in such matters. He questioned how a lawyer in the other case would err in such basic procedure. Moreover, he said, Jacobson has filed an affidavit in his case to the effect that an appeal of a Land Use ruling to the Board of Adjustment is "consistent with county practice." That, Abbott said, not only is prejudicial to his clients but also, in effect, tells the court  that her client, the department, was wrong in its case. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


RECYCLING DEAL: Wilmington city government is negotiating with two Pennsylvania companies an arrangement by which residents who recycle will receive coupons redeemable at participating businesses in amounts determined by how much they recycle. Blue Moon, a recyclables processor, and Recycle Bank, a marketing firm, would team up with the city's trash operation. A similar program for Tri-State Waste customers in unincorporated areas of New Castle County, which was to have begun about March 1, currently "is on hold," according to Robert Anderson, of Blue Mountain. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)


RECRUITING PLAN: Brandywine School District wants to increase the number of male and racial-minority teachers hired this year by "at least 25% ... to promote diversity," Debbie Bullock, director of human resources, told the school board. Sixteen of the 98 hired for this academic year were men and 15 were black. She said hardest to come by are secondary-level and special education teachers. "We're not challenged when it comes to recruiting elementary[-level] teachers, " she said. Brandywine doesn't directly approach prospective applicants employed by other districts, but relies on tips from its staff and website to attract them, Bullock said.

In another matter at a special meeting on Feb. 1, the board approved hiring Bancroft Construction to be construction manager for the renovation of the P.S. du Pont Intermediate School building during the coming fiscal year. That is subject to negotiating an acceptable contract. Barbara Meredith, director of support services, said Bancroft was the unanimous choice of the volunteer Renovations Oversight Committee. Remaking the interior of the 70-year-old building  in north Wilmington will be the largest of the district's renovation projects. It will begin the third and final phase of the extended program.


COMING ALONG: Expansion of the Rock Manor golf course is expected to be far enough along to permit opening its new 310-yard driving range -- 'golf training facility' is the currently favored term -- by late summer or early autumn, according to Tom Quinn, executive director of the corporation which manages the city-owned course. The entire $5.2 million project is scheduled for completion by June, 2007. Rock Manor is being enlarged to a 6,400 yards, par 71, course from 5,900 yards, par 69, as part of the recreational component of Alapocas Run Park in the Blue Ball area.

Tom Quinn (above right)  said "no one in Delaware" and probably not even Tiger Woods would be able to hit a ball onto Concord Pike from Rock Manor's new driving range now being built (below) adjacent to the clubhouse and  parallel to the highway. The contractor is West Chester, Pa.-based Wadsworth Construction.

Last updated on December 28, 2007

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