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3/9/2011
New Castle County Council Signals Truce - News Journal

New Castle County Council 'moving forward' with votes
United action on rule changes signals truce

Written by ADAM TAYLOR 
  
A bitterly divided New Castle  County Council called a truce Tuesday, passing two changes to the council's rules.

The unified front came a day after members of different, warring camps said they didn't think the council would come together anytime soon.

Yet a proposal by Councilwoman Lisa Diller requiring rule changes to be submitted to council members in writing a week in advance passed by a 12-1 margin. Councilman Dave Tackett's proposal to require that agenda titles specifically describe the items to which they refer passed 13-0.

The council has been at odds for six weeks, since Republican  Tom Kovach was sworn-in as council president. His detractors on the council said he has overstepped his authority as president and were angry that he hasn't signed an ordinance unanimously approved by council last month.

His supporters said the detractors were simply resentful that Kovach beat Democrat  Tim Sheldon in a special election for the seat in January.

"We're moving forward," said Democrat John Cartier, who recently cast a vote  to give Council President Pro Tem Penrose Hollins the authority to sign any ordinance or resolution not signed by the president, a rule change that was viewed by some as stripping Kovach of his authority.

"Moving forward, absolutely," Kovach agreed.

The rule change to give Hollins the authority to sign any legislation Kovach wouldn't sign was made when Hollins made an oral motion proposing the change. The council didn't have a copy of Hollins' proposal in writing, which is what prompted Diller to craft  the new rule requiring advance written notice.

"It isn't complicated," Diller said. "We should just be doing business by giving each other that courtesy."

Hollins voted against Diller's rule change, saying he thought it was "an indictment" of him and intimated he had been sneaking something through. He said he placed the item on the agenda in advance, although the agenda said only "council rule change."

Councilman Bob Weiner said Tuesday's meeting represented progress toward healing strained relations.

"There were moments of civility with brief moments of incivility," Weiner said.

The ordinance Kovach refuses to sign lifted a series of deed restrictions on the proposed site of the controversial Governor's Square III shopping center in Bear.

The restrictions were removed by a unanimous vote of the council, but several members didn't know what they were voting on because it was placed on a section of the agenda for noncontroversial items that are voted on in bulk and without discussion.

Also, the agenda listed only a tax parcel number, not mentioning Governor's Square, so several members said after the meeting they didn't know what they had approved. That led to Tackett's rule change requiring more specific agenda titles.

As the council discussed the deed-restriction vote Tuesday, there were some disagreements, but they fell short of the personal attacks that have plagued recent meetings. And everyone showed up for the meeting, unlike last week, when six members of the anti-Kovach faction boycotted the meeting. That move resulted in a lack of a quorum, so Diller's and Tackett's proposals could not be voted on.

The two camps couldn't agree on everything, however.

Hollins suggested he and Kovach take turns in chairing the council's Executive Committee  meeting. Hollins noted that all other council committee co-chairs alternate in running meetings. That has not been the case for the Executive Committee meeting, which the president always runs.

Kovach said there is nothing in the council's rules to require that he allow Hollins to share in running the meetings and would not relinquish the gavel.

In committee meetings over the last six weeks, that would have sparked a heated argument, council members said. On Tuesday, however, Hollins let it go and accepted Kovach's decision

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