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3/15/2014
Councilman Bob Weiner sponsors tougher ethics legislation to advance transparency, in the aftermath of Barley Mill Plaza - News Journal

In the aftermath of the perception of conflict of interest as between former County Executive Paul Clark and his wife, Stoltz attorney Pam Scott regarding the Barley Mill Plaza rezoning, the Gordon Administration and Councilman Bob Weiner team up to champion tougher ethics legislation to advance transparency.  

Councilman Bob Weiner said he’s been pleasantly surprised by Gordon’s work on good-government is-sues during his most recent term. Gordon also was county executive from 1997 to 2004. Gordon battled with the commission during his first time in office. At one point, all the members resigned in a feud with Gordon about the commission’s funding.

“In most endeavors, Tom Gordon 2.0 has been a ready and willing proponent of good government,” Weiner said.


NEW ETHICS POLICY: Spousal information part of NCCO reform;  Reform: Info could expose conflicts and defuse rumors

By Adam Taylor  The News Journal March 15, 2014

Elected officials, board members and some employees in New Castle County government now have to provide more information than they used to on their financial disclosure forms, including information about their spouses’ jobs and incomes.

The expansion is the result of an ethics-reform plan County Executive Tom Gordon announced 13 months ago and the work of a county Ethics Commission task force that began its work before Gordon took office in November 2012. The County Council approved it this week.

The new financial information about spouses –including domestic partners – and immediate family members of the approximately 300 county employees who have to annually file the Statements of Financial Interest is a reaction to the conflicts that arose when Paul Clark was county council president and county executive. Clark’s wife Pam Scott was a land-use attorney during that time who sought county approvals for her developer clients’ projects.

“Clearly when we took office, we found a flaw in the system and we had to take steps from that occurring again,” county Chief Administrative Officer David Grimaldi said.

Clark said Friday he didn’t think the changes sounded new at all. More often than not, he noted Scott’s position as a partner at Saul Ewing “to be safe,” even though it wasn’t clear that he had to disclose it.

“It doesn’t sound like there’s anything that wasn’t already there,” Clark said. “As far as Pam and I are concerned, our life couldn’t have been more of an open book.”

The people who must file financial disclosure forms include elected officials, general managers and other department directors, members of dozens of boards and commissions, and employees whose jobs include dealing with vendors or with the public in a regulatory way.

The filers still have to report where they work and whether their employment is connected to or regulated by county government. They must also disclose their real estate interests, non-government boards they serve on, personal liabilities and gifts they receive valued at more than $200.

Now, the forms require the disclosure of where their spouses and immediate family members work and whether they are county employees.

Some of the information required is new for both the filers and for family members. That information includes fiduciary positions for anything other than their primary job or business, interests in trust and estates with property located in the county and whether anyone is late in paying county taxes, fines or penalties.

Rosemary Killian, the attorney for the Ethics Commission, said the changes were made to provide more information to taxpayers and residents about the people who serve them.

“This is a little county,” Killian said. “It’s important to know not only what the interests are of the people who work in the government, but those of their spouses and immediate family. People should be able to evaluate those kinds of things. The more information they have, the better.”

Killian said the extra information on the forms could not only go a long way to expose conflicts, but to debunk rumors of conflicts.

“In some cases, an employee could have a relative who also works at the county. But it’s in a different department, so that situation could be reasonable,” she said. “With less information, there’s more paranoia. Rather than assume there is some nefarious network out there, more information could reduce suspicion.”

The council also passed a measure naming the human resources department as custodian of forms that lists financial interests an employee has with companies that are regulated by or do business with the county. The ethics commission used to keep those forms.

The outside-work forms, which are confidential and not available to the public, were of little use to the ethics commission because they rarely look at them unless a complaint was lodged against an employee, Killian said.

The human resources department, with more staffing, is in a better position to review them for potential conflicts, she said.

Councilman Bob Weiner said he’s been pleasantly surprised by Gordon’s work on good-government issues during his most recent term. Gordon also was county executive from 1997 to 2004. Gordon battled with the commission during his first time in office. At one point, all the members resigned in a feud with Gordon about the commission’s funding.

“In most endeavors, Tom Gordon 2.0 has been a ready and willing proponent of good government,” Weiner said.

Last August, Gordon instituted an anti-nepotism policy for all employees, except public safety workers. The policy forbids new hires from having a relative act as their boss or have a say in how much they are paid. When the policy was enacted, however, white-collar union President Rich Krett said Gordon’s practice of giving some of his political appointees hefty raises shortly after they were hired largely negated the crackdown on nepotism.

A month later, Gordon restricted the use of overtime and comp time for general managers and political appointees, saying their salaries were sufficient compensation for them to do their job, no matter how many hours they worked.

Contact Adam Taylor at (302) 324-2787 or ataylor@delawareonline.com.

 

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