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July, 2006

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CANDIDATES: Incumbents running for re-election in three of the six County Council districts up for election this year and the prospective replacement for one of the two retiring Council members will be unopposed in November. Republican Douglas Suiter is challenging incumbent Democrat Joseph Reda. Democrat William Powers and Republican Robert Gilsdorf will vie for the seat being vacated by Patty Powell. Drawing no opposition are Democrat Penrose Hollins and Republicans Robert Weiner and William Tansey. Stephanie McClellan, a Democrat, is the only one seeking Democrat Karen Venezky's seat. (CLICK HERE to access the complete list of candidates who filed before the July 28 deadline.)

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BLUE BALL CONNECTOR ALMOST READY: The new road linking Powder Mill Road with Concord Pike at Foulk Road and carrying Delaware 141 to Interstate 95 is scheduled to be partly opened to traffic on Aug. 21. For the first 63

 days, only the section between the pike and Childrens Drive will be accessible. Childrens Drive will be closed to allow construction of its intersection with Powder Mill. That will block direct access to the A.I. du Pont Hospital for Children. To reach it from west on Powder Mill, it will be necessary to continue to Concord Pike and use the new road, which will be designated the '141 Spur'.

With completion of the 'spur', Weldin Road will be rebuilt in its new configuration. It is scheduled to be reopened by the end of October.  Next phase of the Blue Ball road network project -- conversion of the former Concord Pike construction bypass to a

The new Blue Ball connector road will begin carrying traffic in August.

park drive, diverting Augustine Cut-Off onto the drive and widening the exit ramp from I-95 -- is about to get underway, with completion scheduled for August, 2007. That will require a 105-day closing of Augustine Cut-Off between Alapocas Drive and the pike, beginning next March. Also planned then is installation of 'traffic-calming' devices.

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NEW PRINCIPAL: Michael Pullig has been appointed acting principal of Mount Pleasant High School. He succeeds Gregg Robinson, who will be 'administrator-in-charge' of the International Baccalaureate and Career Technical programs at the school. A press statement issued by the district said "an administrator [with] Mr. Robinson's credentials" is needed to help expand the baccalaureate program. Pullig was assistant principal at the school. He will serve, the statement said, until the new district superintendent takes office and a committee "perform[s] a comprehensive search. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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GOOD MARKS: New Castle County will go to the bond market in August with its $70 million issue carrying the top endorsement of the three largest Wall Street rating firms. Standard & Poor's, Moody's Investors Services and Fitch Ratings all gave the bonds triple-A ratings. It is the third consecutive county bond issue to carry that rating from all three firms and the fourth to get the nod from Standard & Poor's. A proposed 2004 bond sale which was blocked by litigation also was top-rated. All three firms this time cited good financial management by county government.

Chief financial officer Michael Strine told County Council's finance committee on July 25 that the county figuratively balanced its checkbook at the end of the past  fiscal year. Revenue totaling $154.6 million was 7% higher than anticipated while the county spent $151.8 million, or 2% less than budgeted. As a result, it had to dip into the tax stabilization reserve to transfer $1.8 million, net, instead of an anticipated $15.8 million. The fund totaled $85 million on June 30. The forecast for the year which began on July 1 is for expenditures and transfers to be $17.4 million more than revenue.

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The New York Times, in its national survey of the outlook for the 2006 elections, lists U.S. Senator Thomas Carper and Representative Michael Castle as having "safe" congressional seats.

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The Brandywine school board apparently has decided who it wants to be the district's next superintendent, but is playing his or her identity close to the vest.

It is indicated by the wording of a notice of a special meeting posted on the district website that he or she will come from outside the district staff. Contrary to the impression Delaforum took from the board's meeting on July 17, the panel on July 24 will present what it refers to as one "finalist candidate" for the position and not a short list of candidates. The board will not actually make the appointment at the coming meeting, but will establish a process for arriving at that point. Board members evidently narrowed a field of applicants to a single candidate during a series of closed-door sessions.

According to the meeting notice, the final step will be taken after a visit by a delegation, which will include "community members", to the candidate's home district and two visits by him or her to Brandywine. The board's officers -- president Craig Gilbert and vice president Nancy Doorey -- will be authorized at the coming meeting to negotiate an employment  contract "subject to positive feedback from all site visits," according to the notice. A 'media advisory' issued on July 20 by district spokesman Robert Ziegler said, "the Brandywine community will have the chance to meet the candidate in short question-and-answer sessions." (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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STANDARDS MODIFIED: New buildings fronting on Philadelphia Pike between Darley Road and Governor Printz Boulevard can be as high as four stories under amendments to 'hometown' design guidelines approved by the Claymont Design Review Advisory Committee. The previous limit was three stories except in the planned redeveloped Brookview, which was given its own guidelines as part of a recent rezoning. Other changes require that buildings longer than 60 feet be designed to "look like more than one building." Automotive filling stations will be required to place pumps behind or beside the service building.

Committee member George Lossť voted against the height-limit change on July 20 saying that it would be counter to the wishes of community members who participated in drafting the guidelines. "We're changing them without a chance for community involvement," he said. County Councilman Robert Weiner argued that participants in a week-long planning session approved having taller buildings to visually 'narrow' appearance of the pike. Councilman John Cartier said nothing in the new version requires that all new buildings be that tall, although there is a remaining requirement that they have at least two stories. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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STAFFING DELAYED: Under budget restraint, county government departments cannot take on new hires until severance obligations to those they replace are met. Land Use general manager Charles Baker told a County Council committee on July 18 that will delay until autumn the  filling of five code-enforcement officer vacancies, including two new positions, a third of authorized strength. Lynne Howard, deputy administrative officer, said there is no hiring freeze and that staffing requests are being handled on a normal basis. Councilman John Cartier said the situation runs directly counter to a recognized need to "ramp up code enforcement."

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SHORT LIST: The Brandywine school board is about to narrow its search for a new superintendent to an unspecified number of finalists for the job. It has called a special meeting for July 24 to decide who they will be. That meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., will be open to the public. "We've pushed our consultants very hard" to comply with an "aggressive schedule" for conducting a national search, board president Craig Gilbert said after the regular monthly meeting on July 17. He declined, however, to say how many finalists will be selected. The board postponed its annual 'retreat' until after a new chief executive is hired.

It was revealed at the meeting that the board has recently had several lengthy private sessions with representatives of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the search firm conducting the search. Before calling for a vote to approve minutes of those meetings, Craig amended the proposed texts to substitute "discussion of a matter concerning citizens' interest in applying for a position with the Brandywine School District" in place of "discussion of personnel matters," the usual vague terminology employed to describe what was talked about behind closed doors at its executive sessions. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Financial officer David Blowman told the board the district finished the fiscal year on June 30 with a balance of $3.96 million. He said that was adequate to get through obligations this summer, but "nothing that really changes our underlying [financial] picture."

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ICE CREAM FESTIVAL:

County Executive Chris Coons took a turn scooping out the cold stuff as county government provided two days of mid-summer entertainment at the annual ice cream festival in Rockwood Mansion Park.

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OPENS IN OCTOBER:

Opening of the Woodlawn branch of the county library system (above) has been pushed back about a month into October, Dinah Brown, of the Department of Community Services, told County Council's finance committee. The new library will replace the Wilmington Institute library's Woodlawn branch, (below left) which closed on June 30 in preparation for moving its collection. That facility on Bancroft Parkway  had been serving Woodlawn Trustees' Flats neighborhood in west Wilmington since the 1920s. A pedestrian bridge over the CSX railroad tracks (below right) will connect the new library site with the northern portion of Bancroft Parkway. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

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A new taskforce has been charged with taking a deep look at New Castle County's financial structure and recommending steps to address six key issues.

Chief financial officer Michael Strine told County Council's finance committee that the administration is looking for "a balanced solution" to assure long-term fiscal health in time to "build a [fiscal 2008] budget around [it]." Councilwoman Karen Venezky, who initiated the idea for the study, said residents can expect "significant change in the tax structure ...  significant change in delivery of services" or, more likely, a combination of both. Strine agreed. "You don't just do one thing," he said. Council at its session on July 11 approved a resolution establishing the nine-member panel with members to be appointed by both branches of government.

The charge lists "realignment of county assets" -- which could imply selling or leasing parks, libraries or other facilities -- and the pay structure for county employees as prime areas for discussion. Also included are possible changes in the property tax system involving exemptions and assessments; fees charged for some services; "efficiency and effectiveness of county programs and services"; and plans for future development, redevelopment and expansion of the sanitary sewer network. Venezky said taskforce meetings will be open to the public and direct involvement by people "with relevant experience" will be sought.

The panel is to present its recommendations to a joint meeting of Council and County Executive Christopher Coons on or before Dec. 30.

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Andy Brandenberger began work as acting superintendent of the Brandywine School District on July 5 and will be paid $625.53 a day until a successor to Bruce Harter is hired and settled into the job.

The per-diem rate is said to be equivalent to the average salary of the state's 19 school superintendents. Brandenberger, retired superintendent of the Cape Henlopen district, will not receive any employee benefits, but will have use of a one-bedroom apartment in the Paladin Club complex and be reimbursed for travel and other personal expenses. His contract with the district was provided to Delaforum under a Freedom of Information Act request. Ellen Cooper, the district's attorney, said unspecified parts of the agreement are not considered to be public information under the law and were not in the "redacted copy" that she provided.

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the executive search firm hired to find a replacement forHarter, is charging the district $25,000 to conduct a national search. That includes an estimated $4,500 in expenses atop its standard $20,500 fee. Pre- and post-hiring workshops will cost an additional $2,000 and $4,000, respectively. The agreement -- also provided under the Freedom of Information Act -- prohibits the firm from taking on the successful candidate as a client for five years after his or her hiring. Harter stayed in Brandywine for five years to the day. The firm said 90% of its placements since 1987 either are still on the job or retired from it. (CLICK HERE to read previous Delaforum article.)

Brandywine has not yet determined how much of a raise administrators will receive during the new fiscal year, according to financial officer David Blowman. He said he intends to make a recommendation in that regard to the school board in August.

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CIVIC PRESIDENT: Harvey Rubenstein moved up from vice president to president of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred. An attorney and past president of the Delaware Bar Association, he succeeds Daniel Bockover who reportedly told the council's executive committee that he was stepping aside in the middle of his two-year term for health reasons. The committee chose Charles Landry to succeed Rubenstein as vice president. The 'umbrella' civic association has cut back its schedule of public meetings from monthly to four times a year.

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RECOGNITION: Hickman Row, a small rowhouse community off Naamans Road in Claymont, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1919 as company housing for black workers by Worth Steel. Houses there have been available on the open market since 1962. The company, a predecessor of Citi Steel, also built and managed Knollwood -- originally known as Worthland -- for white workers. An application is pending before the National Park Service to have it also placed on the register. Listing recognizes that a place is "worthy of preservation" although no federal law guarantees it will be protected.

Last updated on December 28, 2007

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