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March  2,  2011

Council comes up short of
rules meeting participants

Only four members of County Council showed up for an executive committee meeting called to consider a change to Council's rules of order. Since that was short of a seven-member quorum, the proposal was put off for a week.

The four -- Council president Thomas  Kovach, Lisa Diller, David Tackett and Robert Weiner -- were among the five Council members who a week earlier had voted at an executive  committee meeting against a procedural rule requiring the president of Council to sign ordinances and resolutions passed by Council within five business days. The rule, which was approved by an eight-to-five vote, was regarded as a political slap at Kovach who had refused to sign a previous controversial resolution lifting deed restrictions on a property at Bear.

The deed restrictions resolution still has not been signed. The rule change, introduced by Councilman Penrose Hollins, does not require a signature and presumably does not apply retroactively.

It was not clear whether the absence of a quorum at the meeting on Mar. 1 was a deliberate boycott.

Two members -- John Cartier and Janet Kilpartick -- had previously been excused from attending committee meetings that day. Hollins, Bill Bell, William Powers, Joseph Reda, Timothy Sheldon, George Smiley and  Jea Street had attended two earlier Council committee meetings. Bell had also voted against the signing rule.

Meanwhile, Wilmington resident John Flaherty, who has been active with several 'good-government' organizations, filed a complaint with the attorney general's office alleging that the state's Freedom of Information Act was violated because the signing resolution was not listed on the published agenda of the Feb. 22 executive committee meeting. Flaherty attended that meeting, which was open to the public.

He alleged that the new rule, introduced by Hollins, was a "substantive matter" subject to the information law.

He also complained that another proposed rule change, which was discussed but not acted upon on Feb. 22, should have been included on the agenda.

That second rule, proposed by Tackett, was to have been a topic at the Mar. 1 committee meeting. It would amend the rules to require that legislation relating to land use matters specify in its title the subdivision or project involved.

Although Council on Feb. 22 unanimously enacted a resolution sponsored by Tackett that all legislation contain in its title and summary sufficient information to define its purpose, the agenda for the Mar. 1 committee meeting identified Tackett's proposed rule change simply as an "amendment to New Castle County Rule 2.2."

Diller at the Mar. 1 meeting brought forth another proposed rule change that would require that proposed rules amendments be provided in writing to Council members and posted as public notice a week in advance. If for any reason that is not possible, they should be distributed to members at least six hours prior to the committee meeting at which they are to be considered and the reason for the delay be stated on the published agenda.

She explained that she intended that that change not be acted upon immediately but considered on Mar. 8.

During conversation at the abbreviated meeting it was noted that Council rules do not provide for any penalties if they are violated. "Without sanctions these rules become simply guidelines," Kovach remarked.

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Read previous Delaforum article: Council approves requiring more specificity on items put before it

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