County deals with redistricting and public comment


The Sussex County Council this week addressed two issues dealing with the inner workings of county government – both of which could prove controversial. The council adopted an amendment to its Rules of Procedure that address conduct during council meetings – specifically the time allocated for “other business,” during which public comment is taken. They also approved a process for redistricting the county council in the wake of the 2010 Census.

Redistricting has already taken center stage among the members of the Sussex County chapter of the League of Women Voters. The group held a workshop on the redistricting process – specifically addressing how it might be done in respect to the county council – earlier this year, and members offered a mixed review for the process the council adopted this week.

“The League of Women Voters would like to have redistricting done by an independent commission, as is done by Kent and New Castle counties,” said Catherine Ward, representing the SCLWV.

“In lieu of that,” she said, “we are pleased you will have two times for the public to offer input.”

Indeed, the procedure the council approved on a unanimous vote on Tuesday, June 28, will allow the public to offer their initial comments and suggestions on redistricting – in writing only – between now and July 19. A redistricting group headed by County Attorney J. Everett Moore Jr. will work on redistricting based on that input, as well as the Census data and redistricting maps provided by the state House of Representatives.

Once that work is completed, the proposed new district maps will be circulated with the media and posted on the Internet, Moore explained. A hearing will then be scheduled – likely in August or September – for which the public can comment in writing or in person.

Moore said he anticipated having district maps drafted sometime in July, which will allow the redistricting group to begin drafting the associated ordinances – something he described as a complicated process, as it requires the translation of the landmarks (roads, waterways, etc.) present on the redistricting map to then be described verbally in the written ordinance.

The process of redistricting in 2011, Moore said, differs from prior redistricting efforts in that the county is allowing public comment before districts are drafted. Thus, he said, if a small neighborhood or enclave would be split by district boundaries but residents would prefer to be in a single district together, they can ask that the boundaries are drawn in such a way that they can remain in one councilmanic district.

“That would be helpful to know,” Moore said, adding that he would like the public to comment with suggestions as to what they would like to see in the new districts’ makeup, so that they can then draw up maps and ordinances with that input in mind.

The public can submit ideas by email to redistricting@sussexcountyde.gov, or by standard mail addressed to the Clerk of the Sussex County Council, P.O. Box 589, Georgetown, DE 19947. Written and email correspondence will be accepted through 4:30 p.m. on July 19.

Based on the Census Bureau’s 2010 population results for Delaware, Sussex County’s population increased nearly 26 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 156,638 residents to 197,145 residents. Given those figures, each of the newly drawn council districts would encompass an average of 39,429 residents. Each district must be within 5 percent of that average, containing no fewer than 37,458 residents and no more than 41,401 residents.

A map of the County’s current council districts can be downloaded at www.sussexcountyde.gov/dept/assessment/mapping/othermaps/Council%20Distr....

County Council President Michael H. Vincent said he is hopeful the public will take part in an important process that only comes along once every 10 years.

“This is a fundamental part of our democracy. It’s about who represents you, your neighbors and your community,” Vincent said. “And it’s about who will represent you for the decade to come, so I urge Sussex County residents to get involved in the process.”

Rule changes raise watchdog’s ire

The changes to the county council’s Rules of Procedure voted into place unanimously this week were minor in the scope of the changes to the wording, but they held particular meaning for council watchdog Dan Kramer, who waited no longer than the end of the meeting to defy them.

With Kramer’s name and address on the list the council uses to record the identities of those who wishes to speak during “other business before the council,” Council President Michael Vincent noted that Kramer had not filled out the section of the form that asks the speaker to state the topic upon which they will address the council.

“The rules require you to tell us what you wish to speak about,” Vincent noted.

Kramer said he had not done so – and would not – and that he would speak to the council nonetheless.

“You cannot stop me from speaking,” he said. “If you want a lawsuit, I will give you a lawsuit. … For two and a half years, you have not permitted me to speak; and I am going to speak whether you like it or not. And I’m not going to give you a subject. You’re going to listen to what I’m going to say.”

Vincent repeatedly told Kramer he was out of order – a power reserved for the council’s presiding officer, who, according to the rules, has the discretion to silence or have removed anyone who breaks the rules “or who is so willfully or seriously disruptive as to prevent the council from accomplishing its business in a reasonable manner.”

“You don’t want to be called a turkey, don’t act like a turkey,” Kramer responded. “You don’t want to be called an idiot, don’t act like an idiot.”

That statement could be in violation of another of the strictures on addressing the council during “other business,” which had stated that the time should be used to address the council as a body, rather than individual council members, but which was changed on Tuesday to prohibit using the time to critique the council or council members, or county contractors.

The new rules note specifically that nothing in the rules should be construed to prevent the council from seeking comment from persons with particular knowledge of matters in front of them.

Council members also chose to drop on Tuesday language that would have required comments to be related to items on that day’s agenda, but they retained a requirement that topics be related to areas over which the council has jurisdiction.

Vincent asked for a motion to adjourn the meeting, cutting off any further comment from Kramer on Tuesday. Moore had noted that the changes had been suggested based on some recent court decisions.

Local towns to receive police grants

The council voted unanimously on Tuesday to award local law-enforcement grants to the towns of Frankford, Millsboro and Ocean View.

Frankford will receive its full $20,000 grant for 2011 to go toward the purchase of a new Dodge Charger police patrol car, as part of its expansion from one to two full-time officers. Additional funding in the 2012 fiscal year will be needed to fully fund the purchase.

Millsboro will receive the remaining $10,553 of its 2011 grant funds, which will go toward equipment, cameras in police cars and the installation of those cameras.

Ocean View will receive its full $20,000 grant allocation, for equipment, ammunition, staff analyses and training, and some funding toward a new police car, among other uses.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver asked Deputy County Administrator Hal Godwin whether towns or their police chiefs request the funding and approve of specific requests that the funding is used for. He said the funds go into the police budgets, but that towns approve those budgets.

Councilman Vance Phillips said he thought the ordinance setting up the grant program had been intended to give authority over the spending to the police. “There was concern on the council that the money would be politicized and floated through the town councils. The money should come through the police chiefs,” he said.

Deaver said some of her constituents had suggested that the council reconsider who can approve the requests.

“I haven’t heard of any issues,” put in Councilman George Cole. “It seems to be working. I’m sure the towns know what’s going on. If they don’t, they can change it,” he said.

“I got a complaint about how one police chief used the money, from people on the [town] council,” Deaver replied.

“They should write us a letter,” Cole said.

“Don’t the police chiefs answer to the council?” asked Councilman Sam Wilson.

Finance Director Susan Webb suggested that the county’s accounting department could review the issue and make a presentation on policies and procedures involved in the grants to the council next June, when the local law-enforcement grants are discussed as part of the 2013 budget talks.

Also on June 28:

• County Administrator David Baker invited the public to submit suggestions to the county for its capital transportation program requests, which county staff will work up into a draft report for the council in late August before submitting requests to state transportation officials in early September. Suggestions could include improving roadways, walkways, public transportation and other related infrastructure and services. Those with suggestions can go to the county’s Web site at http://sussexcountyde.gov/ and click on “Transportation Ideas” on the right side of the page.

• Baker reported that the county had received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the ninth consecutive year, a feat that requires not only careful financial reporting but additional work done to provide statistical and other information that is not normally in other reports.

• Baker also reported that the county had opted to reject a bid submitted for replacing some generators and, by pricing them individually and making amendments to some specifications for the bid, had managed to save some $77,000 from the original $231,000 sole bid.

• The council voted unanimously to reappoint I.G. Burton to the Planning & Zoning Commission, to represent Deaver’s district.

The council will not meet July 5, due to the Independence Day holiday, nor on July 12, due to a summer holiday for the council. They will meet next on July 19.