Weiner: Council's Conduct Lacks Openess & Transparency; Governor's Square bill passed, but remains in limbo - News Journal
Weiner said it was a travesty of justice that Hollins introduced the measure Tuesday with no written version of it and without giving the council advance notice that it was coming. "This flies in the face of openness and transparency," Weiner said. "We're cavalierly changing council rules on the fly."
Deed vote fuels rancor in New Castle County Council
Governor's Square bill passed, but remains in limbo
Written by ADAM TAYLOR
WILMINGTON -- In a Feb. 9 late night e-mail conversation between New Castle County Council members about an embarrassing vote that took place the night before, George Smiley said he was "at war."
On Tuesday, the battle he spoke of erupted.
The issue surrounds the unanimous Feb. 8 vote to remove deed restrictions on the property for the controversial proposed Governor's Square III shopping center in Bear. Several council members said they unknowingly voted for it because it was placed on a part of the agenda where items aren't discussed. The move infuriated residents opposed to the project.
Council President Tom Kovach, who took office Jan. 25, has refused to sign the deed-restrictions into law because of how they were passed. In response, two council members at Tuesday's meeting of the executive committee introduced two changes to council rules that would limit Kovach's powers. One succeeded and the other was tabled.
Councilman Jea Street, who thinks Kovach should sign the restrictions into law, went as far to suggest that Kovach consider stepping down less than a month into his term.
"You're just the president -- you're one of us," Street said. "You need to sign it and do your job. If you're not willing to do that, you need to resign now."
Kovach said after the meeting he would not resign.
The anti-Kovach contingent also includes Smiley, Penrose Hollins and Joe Reda.
Hollins successfully got the council to pass a rules change Tuesday that would have the council vice president sign any bill passed by the council into law within five days if the president refuses to sign it. The measure passed by an 8-5 vote, but will not apply to the deed-restrictions measure, which remains unsigned and in limbo.
"Mr. Kovach is trying to be council president and the council attorney," Hollins said. "It's unprecedented and he's seriously undermining the process we have long followed on this council."
Hollins, Smiley, Reda, Street, Janet Kilpatrick, John Cartier, Tim Sheldon and Bill Powers voted for the measure. Kovach, Bob Weiner, Dave Tackett, Lisa Diller and Bill Bell opposed it.
Weiner said it was a travesty of justice that Hollins introduced the measure Tuesday with no written version of it and without giving the council advance notice that it was coming.
"This flies in the face of openness and transparency," Weiner said. "We're cavalierly changing council rules on the fly."
Resident Dave Carter agreed, noting that the public wasn't allowed to discuss the matter at length because the council was rushing to get to its semi-monthly regular meeting, which began at 7 p.m.
"You're going to shove this under the carpet like you do everything else," Carter said.
"This is the most flagrant disdain of the public interest that I have ever experienced," Carter said.
After Hollins' measure, Reda introduced a rules change that would prevent the council president from placing items on the council's agendas. Tuesday's arguments began when Kovach placed the deed-restriction vote on the committee agenda for discussion as to whether it should be the subject of a second vote or if he should sign it.
Reda tabled his vote when Kilpatrick said the idea came up too suddenly.
Kovach said he's disappointed at the efforts to undermine his power.
"I think they took away one fundamental power of the council president and tried to take away another," Kovach said. "The president should be allowed to call for a discussion of the council before he signs something that was passed in an unusual way. And he certainly should be allowed to set the council's agendas."
The Delaware Coalition for Open Government sent a letter to the council Tuesday urging for a new vote on the deed restrictions, saying the Feb. 8 vote was "deceptive practice."
Group President John Flaherty called Hollins' successful rules change and Reda's proposed one outrageous.
"You can't just do things like this on a whim with no advance notice," he said.
Smiley took his share of lumps. Resident Jack Dirr said the Feb. 8 vote "deliberately subverted" open government and showed a disdain for the public.
The council managed to call a truce at its 7 p.m. meeting, however, on another measure re-ignited by the Feb. 8 deed-restriction mess. The council unanimously passed a measure that will explore audio and video streaming of council meetings on the Internet.
Tackett also introduced a resolution that would put more specific titles on measures being considered by the council. The deed-restriction measure only had a tax parcel number on it and didn't mention Governor's Square, one of the reasons some members said they didn't know what they were voting on.
Tackett's idea seemed to have support from both the Kovach and Smiley camps.
Smiley, who has said he didn't sneak the deed restrictions through, said Tackett's idea would help disprove critics who distort the facts.
But it won't end his war with them, he said.
"Sooner or later I'm going to meet them in hell and I'll get my peace," Smiley said.
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