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Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
  • New laws criticized for “handcuffing” NCCo leaders

  • Council voted 8-2-3 on an ordinance that lowers the dollar amount from $50,000 to $25,000 for required Council approval of certain contracts and 7-3-3 on another that will prevent the executive from continuing to renew contracts without going through council first.
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  • Two pieces of legislation designed to increase checks and balances on contract approval by New Castle County split council's vote Tuesday night.
    It also raised questions on if council was trying to restrict the new executive and council presidents' powers.
    Council voted 8-2-3 on an ordinance that lowers the dollar amount from $50,000 to $25,000 for required Council approval of certain contracts and 7-3-3 on another that will prevent the executive from continuing to renew contracts without going through council first.
    "This is the opportunity to give council greater oversight," said Councilman Penrose Hollins (D- Wilmington). "Our role is to make sure there are checks and balances."
    Councilman George Smiley (D- New Castle), who sponsored both pieces of legislation, said that past debacles that used tax payers' money to bail out certain projects prompted him to propose the laws.
    That's not how Councilman Jea Street (D- Wilmington) saw it though.
    "If I support this, I support [Council President] Bullock being cuffed," he said. "And I won't disrespect him."
    Street and Smiley sparred over the true reason the legislation was proposed, but Smiley stuck to his guns and said that the only person who will truly know why he did it – was himself.
    "It's good for the administration, council, and the residents," Smiley said. "The only person who knows why this legislation is going forward is me. I'm not using the term handcuffed."
    It prevents continual renewal of certain contracts without council's approval, he said. It makes the developers responsible.
    In 2008, New Castle County took over a wastewater treatment system in the Lea Eara Farms community near Middletown after Bass Properties abandoned it.
    The county took over the system to protect the 282 households that the system serves, said former County Attorney Gregg Wilson in 2010.
    This resulted in the county spending more than $545,000 in 2009 to bring the facility up to standards after being cited by the state for multiple shortcomings.
    A settlement between the county and Bass Properties was eventually reached in the past year in which the county accepted a land donation valued at $2.5 million from the developer.
    The substitute to county ordinance 12-106 changes the code eliminates the evergreen provisions and requires council approval and notification before the executive continues certain contracts and the substitute to county ordinance 12-107 lowers the dollar amount for required council approval from $50,000 to $25,000.
    Smiley said that after six months, he is requesting the general managers of each department to give feedback on the new laws to see if they are working in the county's favor.
    Council said it will monitor the fiscal impact of these ordinances because they may cause the county to have to pay for more staff time as a result of additional purchase orders that will require Council approval due to the changes.

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