Pension board apointment sparks debate

By Tom Lehman 1:31am, April 10, 2013 - Updated 9:09pm, April 10, 2013
Council members Janet Kilpatrick and John Cartier and County Chief Administrative Officer Dave Grimaldi discuss the proposed appointment
An appointment to the board of trustees for New Castle County employee's retirement system sparked debate at Tuesday night's council meeting.

WDEL's Tom Lehman has more.

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Dave Grimaldi, Chief Administrative Officer for County Executive Gordon, opposed the appointment of Terry Stone to the board, saying that the council should select someone who has the proper background and education in finances.

Grimaldi says he and the administration had been unaware what board Stone was being nominated for, and would support his appointment to a board that was more suited to his experience in human resources if there was an open spot on that group.

"This is too critical a time to have an amateur, a financial amateur to manage 400 million of the county's assets," Grimaldi says.

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However, Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick, who sponsored the resolution in question, says Stone fit the guidelines for a vacant seat on the board. She says Stone had volunteered to serve on a board, and since there was a vacant seat on the board she was nominating him to fill it.

Council is allowed to appoint four members to the board, two of which are required to be involved in banking and investment while another had to be a retired member of the system. The other spot was reserved for a member of the public.

"He is not a finance person, but he is a well-respected member of the community," Kilpatrick says.

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Kilpatrick expressed surprise over the administration raising their opposition to the nomination for the first time at a committee meeting, only hours before the council session began.

Grimaldi says he and the administration were aware that there was a nomination, but not which board he would be appointed to.

Michael Coupe, the county's Chief Financial Officer, also stressed the importance of appointing someone with the appropriate financial capabilities to the board.

FOP Lodge 5 President Mike Zielinski spoke at the meeting and told council that he believes the current status of the pension fund necessitated the appointment of someone with proper financial background and experience and that another candidate would have been preferred.

Councilman Bob Weiner echoed concerns raised by Grimaldi and was among the four council members who voted against Stone's appointment.

"I join you in your concern that this pension was funded at 120 percent, and now it's funded at 74 percent and by the new definition it will be funded by 54 percent," Weiner says.

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The resolution eventually passed in a 9-4 decision, but not before some council members like Jea Street, expressed their dissatisfaction with the timing of the administration's opposition.

"This is politics at its finest in New Castle County and what this is, is a power play," Street says.

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Councilman John Cartier was among those who voted for the resolution and said the appointment shouldn't become a "political football" and that there were larger issues for both the county executive's office and council to be concerned with.

Cartier says that he believes if the pension fund's situation is as Grimaldi claims, then it will require work from both sides to correct the deficit.

"The reform of the pension management is a huge issue and it will require more than one appointment," Cartier says.

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Cabela's expansion at Christiana Mall approved

County council also approved a development plan of about 109,000 square feet to allow for the construciton of a Cabela's outdoors shop at the Christiana Mall.

Jim Whitcome, a senior development officer for General Growth Properties says the store will be built on an area that's currently being used by Cavaliers Country Club.

"Part of the land that we're constructing on is land that we've owned for 30 years that we've allowed the country club to use, basically that accommodates the 12th hole and the 13th tee," Whitcome says.

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The plan will also relocate the DART Park & Ride closer to the mall.

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