Council formally rebuked County Executive
Christopher Coons for his apparent reluctance to go
outside the present workforce to fill one high-level
position in the Department of Public Safety even as
the Delaware Supreme Court was agreeing with him
that he should be able to do so to fill another one.
A non-binding resolution
adopted by an eight-to-one vote "respectfully urges the
executive branch to follow the procedures outlined in the
New Castle County Code" to obtain qualified candidates for
assistant chief of emergency medical services.
During committee discussion
of the measure, Councilman Penrose Hollins, its sponsor,
referred to the resolution's operative provision as "telling
him to obey the law."
Going back to the record of
debate among framers of the state's 1897 constitution, the
high court ruled unanimously that they intended for a
provision requiring that anyone appointed to a position in
county government be a county resident for at least a year
before being appointed to apply only to gubernatorial
appointments and that no subsequent legislative action
extended the restriction to the counties' chief executives.
That enables Coons to hire someone from another jurisdiction
to be chief of police.
Hollins and Councilman Jea
Street charged that there are racist overtones not only in
Coons's agreeing to seek candidates from the paramedics
cadre before opening the job to other applicants but also in
his allegedly usurping the code-defined authority of the
county's chief human resources officer to decide whether an
outside candidate search is required.
Hollins said his resolution
was not intended to allocate the position to a black or
Hispanic person but to assure that someone who is black or
Hispanic has an equal opportunity to get it. To do
otherwise, he said, would violate county government's racial
and ethnic diversity policy and be a throwback to hiring
practices which existed before the civil rights movement of
Coons did not respond to a
Delaforum request for comment.
During floor debate at
Council's plenary session on Aug. 22, Street implied that
the situation could end up in federal court litigation. "And
that would be so unnecessary," he said. But, he added,
"folks in the department are saying there will never be a
Council president Paul Clark
vehemently expressed resentment when Hollins, during a
discussion of his resolution at a meeting of Council's
executive committee the previous day, said that Coons, by
his stance on the matter, was downgrading the authority of a
Hollins, Street and Charlotte
Crowell, the chief human resources officer, are black. Clark
only paramedics who would be eligible by rank and length of
service to apply to be assistant chief, are white. Street
has contended that insufficient effort is being made to
racially integrate that service.
Clark cast the only vote
against Hollins's resolution. Hollins and Street were joined
by William Bell, John Cartier, Timothy Sheldon, David
Tackett, William Tansey and Robert Weiner in
supporting it. Joseph Reda, George Smiley and Karen Venezky
abstained. Patty Powell was excused for personal reasons
from attending the session.
What evidently prompted
Hollins to initiate a seldom-used if not unprecedented
action was a letter dated June 26 that Coons wrote to
Michael Begatto, executive director of the municipal workers
union, stating that the assistant chief's position would
initially be posted internally. "If there is not an
interested, qualified internal applicant for the assistant
chief position, the county would have an obligation to our
residents to seek well-trained, highly-qualified,
experienced candidates for the position from outside of the
current workforce," it said.
Delaforum was provided a copy
of the letter by county communications director Christy
In his resolution, Hollins
cited a provision in the County Code which states that "when
the chief human resources officer determines that there is
an insufficient number of well-qualified eligibles (eligible
candidates) within the service (county workforce)," outside
candidates may be solicited.
During discussion and debate,
it was brought out that the last time the assistant chief
position was advertised, three internal candidates applied.
Normal practice is to provide a list of the five 'best'
candidates as determined by testing and preliminary
interviews, to department heads who then decide among them
who gets the job.
Hollins said he understands
the code to require that the internal and external searches
be conducted simultaneously if Crowell determines in advance
that it is not likely there will be a sufficient number of qualified
internal candidates apply.
Union officials and others
contend that not giving preference to internal candidates
when filling higher-level positions violates the concept of
a 'career ladder' by which a person can advance
Crowell told the executive
committee that she believes in giving higher priority to
hiring from within but also believes that when the number of
internal candidates is limited "we have to go outside to
broaden the pool."
The situation is further
clouded by the fact that the existing assistant chief job
description lists as a prerequisite for hiring that he or
she have Delaware state certification. That would rule out
anyone from out-of-state and, as a practical matter, outside
of the county paramedics service. A proposed revision would
allow a person otherwise qualified to be hired with the
proviso that he or she obtain state certification within a
A resolution sponsored by
Clark to approve the revised job description has been
pending before Council. After the vote on Hollins's
resolution, Clark announced that he would leave it tabled
pending further discussion in an effort to come up with
acceptable wording. Hollins objected on the grounds that
beginning the process of filling the position has already
been too long delayed.
The court ruling on the
ability to hire a candidate from outside the county to be
police chief was technically in response to a request by
Governor Ruth Ann Minner for an interpretation of the
constitutional provision. Because only the governor can make
such a request, she did so at Coons's behest.
A national search was
conducted to find a successor to David McAllister as chief.
McLaren has been filling that position on an acting basis
since McAllister's resignation. It is not clear how many
finalists there are for the job, how many are from within
the department and how many from outside, or when an
appointment is likely.
After the court
opinion was made public on Aug. 24, Gleason issued a
statement on behalf of Coons which said: "I am pleased that
the court found that county governments should be able to
recruit highly qualified persons who came to the county
within the past year or reside outside of the county.
Recruiting the best qualified people to serve in leadership
positions in county government improves the quality of
government services for all residents."