NCC Executive Clark's attorney wife will resign; Will Scott's next employment still be a conflict? - News Journal
County Council President Tom Kovach said what Scott does next will be important. "Clearly, steps needed to be taken and this was one of the options that was there to attempt to minimize conflicts," he said. "I wish her well, but until it's really clear what she's going to be doing next, it's hard to have a reaction. We don't know if this means she's not going to be a land-use attorney in Delaware. But the step she took is noteworthy."
New Castle County Executive Clark's attorney wife will resign
Scott's work raised conflicts of interest
Written by SEAN O'SULLIVAN and ADAM TAYLOR
WILMINGTON -- Pamela J. Scott, the wife of New Castle County Executive Paul Clark, announced in a letter submitted Friday to The News Journal that she will be resigning from her position as a land-use attorney, addressing lingering questions about potential conflicts of interest with her husband.
Opponents and activists have long complained about the apparent conflict Clark had, first as New Castle County Council president and now as New Castle County executive, because Scott has represented high-profile, high-powered land-use clients seeking approval from the county for sometimes controversial developments.
On Thursday, the county's ethics commission said, despite assurances from Clark of a "firewall" between his office and the work of his wife's firm, there was no way to prevent conflicts or the appearances of improprieties without Clark or Scott resigning.
While Scott announced Friday she would be leaving the law firm of Saul Ewing, effective March 31, she insisted nothing improper had taken place.
"No one has been able to find any unfair advantage garnered by the firm, myself or my husband as a result of our respective positions," she wrote. "As an attorney, I abide by a high ethical standard and the suggestion that these ethics were somehow violated is absolutely and completely unfounded and untrue."
Scott wrote that having spent many years in public service, "I support and applaud my husband's desire to serve the public," so she made the decision to resign and "explore other opportunities."
John Danzeisen, president of the Kennett Pike Association and a board member for Citizens for Responsible Growth, said Scott did the right thing.
Scott is representing Stoltz Real Estate Partners, which has plans pending before the county to redevelop the Barley Mill Plaza office complex as a commercial and residential facility and add buildings to its Greenville Center shopping complex, both of which are opposed by Citizens for Responsible Growth.
"It's an important step in getting to that 'best choice' that the ethics commission talked about," Danzeisen said.
Bob Valihura, a Widener law professor and former Republican state legislator, agreed. "One of the two had to resign, because the conflict here was too great," Valihura said. "It's sad that an exceptional litigator and land-use attorney had to take this drastic step in the middle of her career. That said, I think she will end up doing fine no matter what it is, because good lawyers always do."
Scott refused to answer questions Friday, stating in an e-mail that her letter to the newspaper spoke for itself.
Clark said Friday evening he knew his wife was considering such a move but had not discussed it in detail with her and only found out the exact details and timing of the resignation when the newspaper did on Friday.
"This is her personal thing," Clark said. "It does surprise people, but she is a very private individual and when it comes to work, we don't talk much about it."
Clark acknowledged that since he was elevated to New Castle County executive in January -- after Chris Coons was elected to the U.S. Senate -- "it was clear that my role as county executive was a potential conflict with her career."
"I asked the public for time so Pam and I could find a solution to this issue, and I believe that is what you are seeing now," he said.
Scott's letter does not spell out what other opportunities she will pursue, but Clark said after his wife leaves Saul Ewing, she will no longer be doing land-use work or other legal work that will bring her before the county. "It has been a headache for six years," Clark said, adding he hopes this will now finally put to rest any questions about conflicts of interest.
Danzeisen said he could not imagine that Scott would resign from Saul Ewing and still practice land-use law before the county government.
"She wouldn't have taken this step with the intention of trying to come in some side door," he said. "I think this is the solution that ends all the controversy. I admire her for doing it and we should be grateful that she did."
County Council President Tom Kovach said what Scott does next will be important.
"Clearly, steps needed to be taken and this was one of the options that was there to attempt to minimize conflicts," he said. "I wish her well, but until it's really clear what she's going to be doing next, it's hard to have a reaction. We don't know if this means she's not going to be a land-use attorney in Delaware. But the step she took is noteworthy."
Kovach stepped down as a partner with his law firm Parkowski, Guerke & Swayze in 2008 when he became a member of the state House, but stayed with the firm. He said Friday he recently resigned from the firm. He said, however, he still represents some clients that he started working with when he was with the firm.
Clark said he did consider resigning, or not running for office again, but each time, his wife discouraged him from doing so.
"She said no," Clark said, adding they both believe in the value of public service. "She said my beliefs were worth it and I should stay in it," he said. He noted that Scott had been an attorney for the county and the Delaware Department of Transportation before going into private practice.
He said after March 31, his wife was going to take time "to sit back and relax."
"Being a land-use attorney is a high-pressure position," Clark said, involving years of work to get a project through the process.
He said there was no particular significance to the date of March 31, other than that was the date by which Scott believed she could tie up and close out all her business at the law firm.
"It is my sincere hope that Pam's decision will give the public a sense of the level of commitment that we share toward this community. We both believe in transparency and openness, and we want residents to have complete confidence in their government," Clark said in his formal statement.
Clark also defended how he has handled the allegations of conflict, saying he viewed the ethics commission ruling -- which called the measures he took "the second-best solution" -- as a vindication.
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