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11/12/2012
NCCo Council readies two oversight laws; Members prepare defenses as Gordon, Bullock step in - News Journal

Weiner said the economy isn’t the only motivation behind the bills. He noted that Gordon had a more combative relationship with the council when he was executive from 1997 to 2004 than his successors, now U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and Clark.

“Both of these ordinances allow us to better protect the taxpayer by allowing council to be a counterweight to overreaching by the executive branch of government,” Weiner said.

But Weiner said the rule change could help prevent Gordon or newly elected County Council President Chris Bullock from assigning their supporters on council as lead sponsors for important bills. Bullock and Gordon ran as a team during the election.

Weiner, however, said members of the old Gordon administration would sometimes enter council members’ offices unannounced.


NCCo Council readies two oversight laws; Members prepare defenses as Gordon, Bullock step in

Nov 11, 2012   Adam Taylor The News Journal

New Castle County Council will vote Tuesday on two proposed laws that would give the council more oversight on the government’s finances.

On what will be newly elected County Executive Tom Gordon’s first day in office, council also is set to vote on a rules change that could reduce Gordon’s power over the council.

Without mentioning Gordon by name, council members George Smiley, Janet Kilpatrick and Bob Weiner said the body needs more control to counter the executive branch’s power.

The first proposed law would lower the threshold for contracts that need council’s approval from $50,000 to $25,000. The second would no longer allow the executive branch to automatically renew certain contracts without council’s approval.

Smiley said the economy played a role in trying to change the first law, with county contracts getting smaller in recent years.

“We feel the need to adjust the amount so council has more oversight,” Smiley said. “It’s just to help council feel comfortable.”

Smiley acknowledged that council didn’t feel the need to introduce the law in the nearly two years that County Executive Paul Clark was in office. Gordon beat Clark in the Democratic Party primary in September. Gordon takes over Tuesday. Smiley, who supported Clark in the primary, sponsored both bills.

Weiner said the economy isn’t the only motivation behind the bills. He noted that Gordon had a more combative relationship with the council when he was executive from 1997 to 2004 than his successors, now U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and Clark.

“Both of these ordinances allow us to better protect the taxpayer by allowing council to be a counterweight to overreaching by the executive branch of government,” Weiner said.

Gordon said Friday he was unaware of the proposed laws. He is scheduled to be sworn-in at 5 p.m. Tuesday, two hours before council votes on the measures.

“This caught me by surprise, but I’ll find out about it,” Gordon said.

Smiley said he could have introduced his proposals earlier in the year, in time for Clark to sign them into law. Under the current timetable, it will be Gordon who could do so if he agrees with them, or veto them if he doesn’t.

“I put them on hold because I didn’t want them to be turned into a political football by any candidate,” Smiley said. “I didn’t want any of them to be able to say that they were being moved forward because of another candidate.”

The change to council’s rules would require that any law that originates from the executive branch list the senior member of the appropriate council committee as the lead sponsor. A bill’s lead sponsor has the most control as the legislation goes through the approval process.

Smiley, who suggested the rule change, said it’s simply to memorialize the government’s current informal practice.

“You’re going to have new people in the administration and we just want them to send legislation over that has the right name on it,” he said. “We’re trying to keep things the way they are and avoid turmoil in the committees.”

But Weiner said the rule change could help prevent Gordon or newly elected County Council President Chris Bullock from assigning their supporters on council as lead sponsors for important bills. Bullock and Gordon ran as a team during the election.

The rule will be voted on at one of council’s committee meetings Tuesday, held just hours before Bullock will be sworn-in at 5 p.m. Bullock said he’s troubled by the timing of the vote.

“I would prefer they not change anything until I’m sworn in so I can give my opinion and influence,” he said.

In another matter, Council Clerk Betsy Gardner sent an email to council members and their staffs Friday reminding them that any visitor to council’s offices should be escorted to their destination. A new sign instructing visitors that they must sign in will soon be displayed, the email said. Reached Friday, Gardner said the e-mail was not because Gordon and Bullock will be taking office Tuesday.

Weiner, however, said members of the old Gordon administration would sometimes enter council members’ offices unannounced.

Kilpatrick said she thinks the 13-member council could be split almost evenly on any controversial initiatives put forth by the Gordon administration.

“I can’t definitively count seven votes on one side or another, so there’s a lot of anticipation at this point,” she said. “There’s a lot of fear.”

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