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7/2/2013
NCC land use leader Culver let go; Gordon parts ways with veteran official - News Journal

As part of his ruling, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III found that Culver and an attorney for the developer, Stoltz Real Estate Partners, incorrectly advised county council that consideration of traffic data would come after the lawmakers voted whether to rezone 37 acres to retail development.

Glasscock found that Councilman Bob Weiner’s vote – necessary to approve the rezoning – was invalid “because he admittedly and explicitly voted without information material to his vote that he mistakenly believed was unavailable to him.” The Barley Mill situation was brought up Monday, Culver said, though he added he didn’t know if it factored into the rationale to make a change in the land use department. Weiner, while saying he felt “badly” about Culver’s firing, believes the two are connected.

“I do not see how the Gordon administration could continue to permit Mr. Culver to serve as the essential policy maker for the department when the court specifically stated that Mr. Culver had no basis for his advice to county council,” Weiner said, later adding he believed there was “incredible political pressure” exerted on the land use department by the previous administration.
 
 
NEW CASTLE COUNTY: Land use leader Culver let go; Gordon parts ways with veteran official

By Andrew Staub The News Journal July 2, 2013

David Culver, who presided over New Castle County’s land use department during a contentious dispute over the redevelopment of a Greenville office park, was let go Monday, he said.

County Chief Administrative Officer David Grimaldi and Deputy Chief Administrative Offi-cer James McDonald told Culver his services were no longer needed during a morning meeting, Culver said. He was told the administration wanted a change in land use, he said.

“The position serves at the pleasure of [the county executive], so if they feel that it’s time for a change and a national search, again that’s certainly their right,” Culver said, adding he wishes the county well in the future.

Grimaldi released a short statement that indicated that Culver “is no longer with New Castle County.” While assistant land use manager Jim Smith will serve as acting manager, the county will conduct a national search for Culver’s replacement, Grimaldi said. Asked about Culver’s status, County Executive Tom Gordon deferred to county spokesman Antonio Prado, who said the county would not comment beyond Grimaldi’s statement. Culver’s departure came three weeks after a Delaware Court of Chancery judge struck down the 2011 rezoning of Barley Mill Plaza in Greenville.

As part of his ruling, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III found that Culver and an attorney for the developer, Stoltz Real Estate Partners, incorrectly advised county council that consideration of traffic data would come after the lawmakers voted whether to rezone 37 aces to retail development.

Glasscock found that Councilman Bob Weiner’s vote – necessary to approve the rezoning – was invalid “because he admittedly and explicitly voted without information material to his vote that he mistakenly believed was unavailable to him.” The Barley Mill situation was brought up Monday, Culver said, though he added he didn’t know if it factored into the rationale to make a change in the land use department. Weiner, while saying he felt “badly” about Culver’s firing, believes the two are connected.

“I do not see how the Gordon administration could continue to permit Mr. Culver to serve as the essential policy maker for the department when the court specifically stated that Mr. Culver had no basis for his advice to county council,” Weiner said, later adding he believed there was “incredible political pressure” exerted on the land use department by the previous administration.

Victor Singer, the former chairman of the New Castle County Planning Board, said he was not surprised Culver was dismissed. The former land use general manger was “so intensely pro-development” that he “tended to ignore” parts of the county’s Unified Development Code, Singer said, calling Barley Mill the “ultimate development of that notion.”

Still, Singer said he was surprised Culver’s dismissal came before it’s known whether there will be an appeal of the Chancery Court decision. Until the Barley Mill case fully plays out, Singer thought “it might be useful to have Dave still on the payroll.”

Others saw the situation as Gordon simply moving to place his own people in key spots. With land use a large part of county government’s responsibility, it’s not surprising an executive would want a manager with aligning viewpoints, said Larry Tarabicos, a land-use attorney.

Tarabicos said he doubted Barley Mill played a role in the dismissal of Culver, who he called a talented and honest public servant.

“I think that if there were any irregularities or if there were gripes that people have with Barley Mill, it’s of a political nature,” Tarabicos said. “Dave was never political. I think he treated everybody the same way and treated every application the same way.”

Another land-use attorney, former County Councilman Richard Abbott, said he had never heard anyone in the Gordon administration articulate any concern about Culver’s handling of the Barley Mill matter. Like Tarabicos, Abbott said it’s Gordon’s “prerogative” to hire his own people.

“But, again, the downside is that’s because Gordon likes to have 100 percent, total control,” Abbott said, saying Culver wasn’t apt to act as a “lapdog.”

Representatives for Save Our County – the citizen group that sued the county, county council and developer over the rezoning of the Barley Mill Plaza – could not be reached for comment.

Chuck Mulholland, president of the Southern New Castle County Alliance, said civic associations have been left with “a lot of bad tastes” after past administrations par-ticipated in “wholesale density giveaway programs” with developers during Culver’s tenure.

“The presents were handed out. Now maybe it’s time for some level of accountability,” Mulholland said.

Culver served as general manager of the land use department for just less than five years, serving under three different county executives. Before that, he worked as planning director for the City of Havre de Grace, Md., after a previous stint as planning manager for New Castle County.

Despite Monday’s developments, Culver said he has no ill will toward the county.

In an email sent to county council members, Grimaldi said the county invited Culver to apply for his former position as planning manager. 

Staff reporters Adam Taylor and Melissa Nann Burke contributed to this report. Contact Andrew Staub at 324-2837, on Twitter @AndrewStaubTNJ or astaub@delawareonline. com. 

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