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4/1/2012
Special election changes proposed for New Castle County - News Journal

Special election changes proposed for New Castle County
By ADAM TAYLOR The News Journal
April 1, 2012

State lawmakers want to get rid of a special election for one New Castle County office and create one for another.

Senate Bill 182, sponsored by Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, would eliminate a special election to fill a vacancy in the office of New Castle County Council president.

A second bill, which Rep. Mike Ramone said he will introduce soon, would create a special election in the event of a vacancy in the county executive's position.

Neither bill comes at the request of county elected officials, county spokesman Jim Grant said.

"That's all we have to say," Grant said, declining further comment.

Ennis didn't return a call, but the synopsis of his bill shows he's trying to save the taxpayers money, saying it "removes the requirement of a costly special election."

The 2010 special election for council president between Republican Tom Kovach and Democrat Tim Sheldon, which Kovach won, cost the county $500,000, said Howard Sholl, deputy director of the Delaware Department of Elections for New Castle County. Only 7.4 percent of the county's approximate 392,000 voters went to the polls.

If Ennis' bill becomes law, the 12 remaining County Council members would appoint one of the members to serve as president for the duration of the four-year term.

Council has 12 district members. Only the president is elected countywide. The person chosen under Ennis' proposal would still represent his or her district and earn only a district council member's salary. The president's post pays $45,604, about $3,000 more than a district council seat.

Chatham Civic Association'sSpecial election changes proposed for New Castle County Ray Buchta said the bill is a bad idea.

"There could be an even-numbered council for three and a half years, so there could be a tie on an important rezoning vote," Buchta said.

In October, part of Barley Mill Plaza was rezoned from office to commercial use by a 7-6 vote. Proposed legislation would fail in the event of a tie.

Buchta thinks there should be a special election for the seat of the district council member who assumes the president's post if Ennis' bill passes. The last special election for a district council seat was in 2009 and cost $38,570, Sholl said.

The Kovach-Sheldon special election was needed when Council President Paul Clark was automatically elevated to county executive when Chris Coons left the post after winning a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Under Ramone's bill, there would be a special election for the county executive's post.

The council has 10 Democratic and three Republican members, including Kovach. Ennis is a Democrat and Ramone is a Republican.

Ramone said he isn't proposing the bill to increase the odds of electing a Republican county executive. Kovach is the first Republican county council president since Phil Cloutier won in 1988. There are more than 96,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the county.

"It's not partisan," Ramone said. "I just think job descriptions are totally different for a good leader of the legislative branch and a good leader of the executive branch. I think voters should be able to choose a good executive and I think that person could have totally different personality characteristics than a good council president."

Councilman George Smiley said he favors Ennis' bill and opposes Ramone's because of the money involved.

"One saves the taxpayers $500,000 and one would cost them $500,000," Smiley said.

Councilmen Jea Street opposes both.

"Neither are appropriate," Street said. "Voters, not the council, should decide who is council president. With county executive, who would run the government while we wait for a special election to take place?"

Street thinks the bills appeared because some people don't like Clark and Kovach.

"You shouldn't pass laws because of the current personalities involved," Street said. "You should base it on what's best regardless of who's in office at the time."

Contact Adam Taylor at 324-2787 or ataylor@delawareonline.com.


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