Clark may face early exit as NCCo exec; AG examines state law affecting ballot winner - News Journal
County Attorney Gregg Wilson said he’s doesn’t think the Attorney General’s Office has reached a decision yet. But Policy Coordinator Kristin Dwyer emailed County Council members and their staffs, instructing them to forward any legislation for the Nov. 13 council meeting directly to the clerk of council, rather than the county law department, which routinely receives such correspondence. Wilson said the email does not mean that the Clark administration is planning to leave office on Nov. 13.
Councilman Bob Weiner disagrees. “That’s exactly what it means,” Weiner said. “The email is intentionally cryptic. There would be no reason for them to send it if they intended on being there on the 13th.”
Paul Clark may face early exit as NCCo executive; Attorney General examines state law affecting ballot winner
Nov 6, 2012 Written by Adam Taylor The News Journal
Delaware’s Attorney General’s Office is considering whether the winner of today’s election for New Castle County executive should take office next week, a decision that a state lawmaker claims will force County Executive Paul Clark out of office early.
State Solicitor Ian McConnel said the decision on when the winner takes office has not been decided yet. But state Sen. Karen Peterson, who asked the attorney general to rule on the issue, said Monday that McConnel has told her he thinks Clark’s term should end Nov. 13 and the state is prepared to go to court the next day to remove him.
“He said if the Clark people didn’t vacate by then, the AG’s office would have to take legal action and they would be prepared to go into court and get a writ to get him out,” Peterson said, recalling her conversation with McConnel.
An email from a top Clark official Monday also appears to show that the Clark administration is preparing for the possibility of leaving on Nov. 13.
Until two weeks ago, Clark had planned to be in office until Jan. 1, when the newly elected county executive typically takes office. Clark lost his primary bid to Democrat Tom Gordon, who is challenged in today’s general election by Republican Mark Blake.
Both Gordon and Blake also thought the winner would take office Jan. 1.
But a closer reading of a state law suggests that Nov. 13 could be the correct date.
The controversy stems from the fact that Clark is serving the unexpired term of Chris Coons, who left the office in November 2010 to become a U.S. senator. Clark was automatically elevated from his position as County Council president, as the law provides.
One portion of the law says that when a county executive doesn’t complete his term, the county council president fills in and the next elected county executive takes over on the first Tuesday after the election. Nov. 13 is the first Tuesday after today’s election.
McConnel said the issue would be resolved no later than Nov. 14. “We’re still working on it. We’re taking it very seriously to make sure we make a good decision,” he said.
Clark said in a written statement Monday that he would not have to be forced out of the office.
“We have been seeking a definitive answer to the question regarding when the current county executive’s term of office ends,” he said. “We have been engaged in research and discussion with the state Attorney General’s Office and we are willing to abide by any opinion from the attorney general or the court.”
County Attorney Gregg Wilson said he’s doesn’t think the Attorney General’s Office has reached a decision yet.
But Policy Coordinator Kristin Dwyer emailed County Council members and their staffs, instructing them to forward any legislation for the Nov. 13 council meeting directly to the clerk of council, rather than the county law department, which routinely receives such correspondence.
Wilson said the email does not mean that the Clark administration is planning to leave office on Nov. 13. Councilman Bob Weiner disagrees.
“That’s exactly what it means,” Weiner said. “The email is intentionally cryptic. There would be no reason for them to send it if they intended on being there on the 13th.”
Wilson said it’s not clear in the law that the new executive would take office next week. He’s focusing on another section of the law that says, “The vacancy shall be filled for the remainder of the term by the president of the county council,” which would mean Clark serves until January.
In his statement, Clark said protecting the county is the most important consideration. When the issue first came up, people wondered if a county employee or taxpayer could sue over any county decision if Clark stayed and the new executive didn’t take office on the correct date.
“It is important to safeguard the legitimacy of the office and to protect the county from possible legal challenges in the future,” Clark said.
Clark said he would work with Gordon or Blake to ensure a smooth transition. The candidates said Monday they would be ready on Nov. 13 if necessary.
Gordon and Blake said they would wait for the Attorney General’s Office to act. They won’t go to court to force the issue, they said.
“If the AG’s office says he stays, he stays. If they say he has to go, he has to go,” Gordon said. “I’ll be ready on the 13th. I did the job for eight years. I could do it in my sleep.”
Gordon was county executive from 1997 to 2004.
Blake said he hopes the Attorney General’s Office doesn’t wait until the 14th to make a decision.
Peterson said she believes the law says that Clark has to leave on Nov. 13. She noted the possibility that the office could be considered vacant on that date if the new executive isn’t sworn in, which would mean the new County Council president, Democratic candidate Chris Bullock or Republican candidate Mike Protack, could become county executive.
“I don’t think there’s any wiggle room on the date,” Peterson said. “We don’t want any bizarre outcomes.”
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