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2/21/2013
Councilman Weiner sponsoring Comprehensive Ethics Reforms - News Journal

The ordinances will be introduced by Council President Chris Bullock, a Democrat who ran for election on Gordon’s team last year, and Republican Bob Weiner, a former political enemy of Gordon.

Weiner said he “wasn’t selling out” by co-sponsoring Gordon’s proposals.

“I’m pleased to support the Gordon administration’s initiatives when they are open and transparent, but I will not hesitate to be critical if the conduct of the administration fails to keep high ethical standards,” Weiner said.

Gordon pushes ethics reform; Proposed package targets land use

By Adam Taylor The News Journal Feb 21, 2013

New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon will announce “a comprehensive ethics reform package” today that he said has the sharpest focus to regain control over the government’s land-use process.

Top county officials would have to disclose more information about their and their families’ outside businesses interests, vendors would have to disclose campaign contributions and private attorneys who help author legislation would have to be identified.

Citing the 2011 commercial rezoning of part of the Barley Mill Plaza office complex without new traffic data as an example, Gordon said developers have too much control over the county approval process for new projects.

“It’s a mass of confusion. It could not have taken place if the public had seen it happening and who was doing it – and it’s scary,” Gordon said. “These protections would keep it from happening, because the public will see everything and who is doing it.”

The new proposals include disclosing any noncounty employee who helps a council member or other county official draft a piece of legislation. The county auditor’s office would triple in size and all county contracts, employees’ titles and salaries, and documents sought by the public via recent Freedom of Information Act requests would be posted on the county’s website.

For the Land Use Department in particular, employees would not be allowed to use their personal cell phones while doing county business. A new position of land use compliance manager would be created to monitor employees’ communications.

Some have noted the irony of Gordon’s being the champion of ethics reform. His first stint as county executive from 1997 to 2005 was marred by a federal corruption in-vestigation. He won election to his former post last year and took office in November.

Gordon was indicted in 2004 and accepted a plea deal three years later in which he admitted to failing to provide accurate tax information for two employees who performed political work on county time. He paid a $250 fine and did not serve jail time. The entire county Ethics Commission resigned en masse in 2002 in protest during a dispute with Gordon about funding and independence. Former County Councilman Rich Abbott, who lost his 2002 re-election bid, was one of the targets for which Gordon used county employees to do political work. Abbott lost to Gordon-supported Bill Tansey by nine votes. Federal prosecutors have said that Gordon is on tape saying he’d wreck Abbott’s legal career if he could.

“Scary?” Abbott said. “I’ll tell you what’s scary: Any ethics legislation proposed by Tom Gordon.”

Abbott said he thinks the county’s current ethics code is more than sufficient to deal with any transgressions by government officials.

“It sounds like a solution searching for a problem, which is secondarily aimed at concocting a faux perception that Gordon is now magically cured of his checkered past,” Abbott said.

Gordon said he doesn’t think his past is relevant to the reform package he’s announcing today.

“I’m very pro-ethics,” Gordon said. “I always have been.” The ordinances will be introduced by Council President Chris Bullock, a Democrat who ran for election on Gordon’s team last year, and Republican Bob Weiner, a former political enemy of Gordon.

“I think the legislation is ambitious, but achievable with bipartisan cooperation,” Bullock said. “It will send a strong signal to the citizens that county officials are serious about transparent and open government and take the people’s business seriously.”

Weiner said he “wasn’t selling out” by co-sponsoring Gordon’s proposals.

“I’m pleased to support the Gordon administration’s initiatives when they are open and transparent, but I will not hesitate to be critical if the conduct of the administration fails to keep high ethical standards,” Weiner said.

After the measures are introduced, they will be reviewed by the county Ethics Commission, which will make nonbinding comments and recommendations, then re-turned to the council for a final vote. “There will be a full public airing of whatever is in the pipeline,” commission attorney Rosemary Killian said.

Council members Janet Kilpatrick and George Smiley said Wednesday they have not seen the proposals. “They should have at least told us about this, but maybe it’s a secret document between the administration and the council president,” Kilpatrick said. “I feel like I’m on a really bad amusement park ride with this administration. It’s a really crummy roller coaster. Every day is something new.”

Smiley said he thinks it’s been the Gordon administration’s attorneys who have been behaving badly in the civil suit over the Barley Mill rezoning. Attorneys for Gordon in the past month have tried to formally change their stance, saying they hope the plaintiffs win the case. “His own attorneys lack ethics, in my opinion, so it’s ironic that all of the sudden he’s proposing ethics reform. I think it’s extremely hypocritical of him.” 

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

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"Iíd like to express my appreciation to Councilman Bob Weiner who exhibits strength, determination and fortitude and is always on the side of the people. I followed Bobís actions when he was head of CCOBH's zoning committee and made strong efforts to try to stop the Brandywine Town Center construction. He has continued with energy and zeal in many pivotal positions in spite of enduring a lot of negative professional and personal attacks. I appreciate that he is never deterred."

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