to pay a portion
of social agency's utility bill
agreed to pay $101,620 against the long standing arrearage on
Police Athletic League of Delaware's utility bill to forestall
for at least two months Delmarva Power's threat to "click the
switch" and shut off lights and heat at the organization's
facilities in Hockessin and Garfield Park. The total debt was
reported to be in the neighborhood of $165,000.
Hollins, who sponsored an emergency ordinance to implement an
agreement with the electricity and natural gas company, promised
a quick effort to determine the future of county government's
relationship with the nonprofit agency. He rejected, however, a
proposal by Councilman Robert Weiner to put it into receivership
or otherwise "transfer management" to the Department of
The ordinance was
enacted by an 11-to-two vote, one more than the 'supermajority'
required to pass emergency legislation, after an amendment
offered by Council president Tom Kovach was defeated by the same
margin. Kovach and Weiner voted for the amendment and against
Referring to the
facilities by their acronym as 'pal centers', Hollins and other
Council members said the appropriation was necessary to prevent
the sudden loss of significant services to needy children and
families who depend on them. Most of the discussion centered
around the Garfield Park location.
"For me, it's all
about the kids and [their] having a safe place to go. ... I feel
a bond with these children," said George Smiley. Jea Street said
that "for some of the children the only meal they get is at the
auditor Robert Wasserbach presented a scathing report about the
league's financial condition at an afternoon meeting of
Council's finance committee on Feb. 8, Kovach proposed at
Council's evening plenary session an amendment that would have
reduced the appropriation to $50,000. He claimed that would be
more "fiscally prudent" than committing the larger amount with
no assurance that either sum can ever be recovered.
that the money is to be paid directly to Delmarva Power and
would not be considered a loan. It is hoped, he said, that it
can be recovered though a revised agreement with the league for
basing county-sponsored programs at its centers. The county
"expects to be paid back in services," he said.
The ordinance calls
for the money to come from the county's 'tax stabilization'
Provisions in the
ordinance were the same as those contained in a previous
ordinance that had been tabled. It was brought to Council as an
emergency measure because that was the least complicated
parliamentary way to do so without violating public notice
requirements, Hollins explained.
"We just spent a
million dollars so people over 18 could vote; [we can] spend 100
thousand so people under 18 can eat," Smiley said. That referred
to the special election in January at which Kovach was elected.
Hollins was more direct in telling Kovach, "You may take a
cavalier manner [to] doing what's right for the people of this
county who have the most need." It would be irresponsible, he
added, to jeopardize not only needed services but also plumbing,
heating systems and other infrastructure at the centers as a
result of losing heat during a severe winter. Hollins later
apologized for the 'cavalier' reference, but let the rest of his
Gregg Wilson stopped short of calling the amendment a deal
killer, but he testified that there was no guarantee that
Delmarva Power would accept the lower amount. "We were told in
January that the decision had come from higher up [in the
company]," he said. The $101,620 "was the position they
Wilson earlier told
the finance committee that winter "is the time of the year when
they know they have the most bargaining power."
declined an invitation to have an official come before Council
to discuss the matter on the grounds that it is against company
policy to talk about a customer's standing in a public
While it initially
appeared that the increasingly emotional debate at both the
committee meeting and the Council session could be signaling a
breakdown in the traditional nonpartisan approach Council takes
on significant issues, Janet Kilpatrick scotched that notion
when she accused Kovach of undermining Wilson's efforts to
negotiate an agreement with the company. Council had instructed
him to do so. She, Kovach and Weiner are the only Republicans on
the 13-member Council.
Tim Sheldon, the
Council member whom Kovach defeated at the election, did not
participate in the discussion.
What appeared to
doom the amendment and assure passage of the ordinance were
strong statements from two Council members who usually make
their comments in a reserved manner. Bill Bell accused Kovach of
failure to respond to the needs of residents of the Route 9
corridor between Wilmington and New Castle. "You -- all Council
members -- were elected to serve the needs of all the people of
the county," he said. Lisa Diller shouted that she supported the
agreement because "we do have children and adults in both county
programs and pal programs" at the centers who would be put at
risk. But, she added, that she "will not vote another penny
until we have a plan to go forward."
In a brief comment
at the committee meeting, James Riggs, executive director of the
league, said he didn't think that Wasserbach's audit "should be
played out in the newspaper." Neither he nor anyone else
attending the evening session availed themselves of the public
comment portion of the meeting.
Wasserbach said, found the league with current assets of $37,000
and current liabilities -- mostly unpaid bills -- of
$374,000 at the end of fiscal 2010 last June 30. He said it had
sufficient financial reserves to operate for six days, as
opposed to the three to six months that is considered normal.
Responding to a question from Street, Wasserbach said he found
no indication of theft, fraud or other misconduct.
Weiner accused the
league's board of wielding undue political influence with the
county administration, noting that former county executive Tom
Gordon is a member. Weiner also said that he had been approached
by an organization -- which he did not identify -- able and
willing to take over the league's function. He said Wilson had a
conflict of interest because he also is acting chief
administrative officer, the second-ranking position in County
Executive Paul Clark's administration.
Weiner saying that the issue "has nothing to do with who your
friends are and who are not your friends."