WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

City of Wilmington / New Castle County: Two budget showdowns, two leadership styles

Both Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams and New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon face budget showdowns this week.

Both tests of power between these executives and their respective legislative bodies could color executive--legislative relations.

If one had asked someone last year which person - Williams or Gordon - would display the more muscular, aggressive style (at least in public), a lot of folks probably would've said Gordon.

But Williams is coming off more like the bull in the china shop, and Gordon more restrained, at least publicly.

New Castle Couunty Council will vote Tuesday night on whether to retain the Gordon budget pretty much intact, or whether to cut. It is a philosophical difference: Gordon would prefer to begin the fiscal year with maximum funding to begin repairing parks and othe programs. A group of council members favors funding only what are perceived as critical services and programs. Either way, Gordon says he seeks to avoid an ugly battle. At the same time, Gordon promises not to veto an amended budget, even if it passes with significant trimming. (Although don't discount what Gordon can do "under the radar".)

Now let's look at the City of Wilmington. A battle royale ensues. Mayor Dennis P. Williams has already vetoed the budget - as amended by council - and council will vote to override the mayor's veto Thursday. City Council President Theo Gregory dismissed Williams' call for a special budget meeting this Tuesday. (Gregory argued the administration had failed to produce the criteria for such a special meeting: Public necessity and no ordinance needing immediate consideration.) On the air with Peter & Mellany this Tuesday morning, Mayor Williams said his administration was seeking legally to compel city council to go into special session.

If Council overrides that mayoral veto, Williams, in an interview with me, vowed to take the dispute to court -- although Williams' chief of staff, John Matlusky, characterized such a legal challenge as "speculative".

The hot potato in all this is a quarter-Million-dollar allocation council members assigned to themselves during the budget process.

And now enter former Mayor Jim Baker. In an interview with me, Baker sides with council members, saying council has the right to set its own budget under the city charter, that council did not pirate executive responsibilities for itself. (High irony here, considering Baker's legendary battles with council!) Baker says Williams has got it wrong and Williams is likely to lose this battle.

But in interviews with me and others, Williams continues to insist council wants him to acquiesce to something that violates the state Constitution and that it's time to turn aside "business as usual".

Probably the final gambit from the Williams Administration before city council's Thursday meeting: The administration contends city council could botch the use of that quarter Million bucks, particularly contracts awarded earlier this year to an advocacy outfit called "Education Voices".

The mayor's office notes Education Voices' contract with New Jersey attorney James Rolle, who clerked at Council President Theo Gregory's law firm and whom Gregory describes as a "trusted family friend."

Adding to the Harper Valley PTA aspects to this, City Councilwoman Maria Cabrera says it's ironic the Williams Administration would construe inappropriate relationships within "Education Voices" given the mayor's employment of Velda Jones Potter (wife to his cousin, State Representative Charles Potter, Jr.) as his "chief strategy adviser". And lest we forget, the mayor's office also hired the Potters' son as a special events / marketing co-ordinator, although that son resigned in under five months.

Behind the scenes, the intense lobbying continues.

Intrigue: Can Williams pick off one or two votes? It will be a supreme test of the mayor's political chops.

But if Williams loses the veto override, he seemingly comes off a lot weaker, a lot more bloodied, than if Gordon got an amended budget with the cuts he didn't want. It would also be telling if Williams did proceed with a court battle.

Win or lose, the mayoral--city council relationship would be toxic. Not exactly a positive omen for a city still battling street shootings and other ills.

Posted at 6:48am on May 28, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Tue, May 28, 2013 4:40pm
As a casual observer on the two styles, they speak loud to me that Gordon has been through this before, Williams hasn't.

Tue, May 28, 2013 7:44pm
I think it's time for Jim Baker to retreat to his bungalow. Who made him referee?

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