City Council giveth and taketh away from mayor

By Tom Lehman 10:09pm, June 27, 2013 - Updated 12:22pm, June 28, 2013
Councilwoman Loretta Walsh and Mayor Williams' chief of staff John Matlusky discuss the outcome of the budget amendment vote.
Wilmington City Council approved an amendment to the fiscal year 2014 operating budget Thursday night, possibly ending a long struggle with Mayor Dennis Williams over the spending plan.

WDEL's Tom Lehman has more.

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The amendment restores $80,000 to finance department for the hiring of temporary workers for revenue collection. It also allocates $18,000 to the city's planning department for a temporary hire of an American with Disabilities staff member.

However, the amendment, which was passed unanimously in a 11-0 decision, did not include restoration of $300,000 to the mayor's contingency fund.

"The ongoing not working together has left a very sour taste in many council members' mouths and so they didn't see any necessity to extend a hand of politeness any further," says Councilwoman Loretta Walsh (D-At Large), who presided over the meeting for an absent Council President Theo Gregory.

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Council had initially planned to return the contingency funds as part of the amendment, using the $300,000 as leverage in budget negotiations with Williams' administration. However, the allocation was cut from the ordinance during a finance committee meeting Monday.

John Matlusky, the mayor's chief of staff, says Williams likely won't challenge that reduction.

"The mayor is very focused on running the city, public safety and parks and rec. and making sure that kids have summer jobs," Matlusky says.

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Williams had previously claimed council passed an unbalanced budget last month and the city would lose $1.5 million in revenue collections as a result of cuts in the finance department.

Although Gregory disagreed with Williams' assertions, council allocated the $80,000 in the ordinance. He says the move was part of a compromise, but the mayor's office called it "vindication" for arguments it made during the budget process.

The amendment wraps up an often contentious conflict between Williams and the council that began in mid-May.

He vetoed the operating budget passed by council, saying it was unbalanced and had also been revised in such a way that it was unconstitutional. His largest concern centered on $250,000 council allocated to itself for youth initiatives, which the administration called a slush fund.

His veto was overridden a week later, but not before Williams unsuccessfully attempted to compel council members through legal action to attend a special meeting to introduce another operating budget.

As a result of Thursday's vote, the operating budget expands to $145.2 million. The spending plan, which goes into effect on July 1, is now expected to result in a $497,000 surplus.

Walsh makes history

Councilwoman Walsh became the first woman to preside over can entire council meeting in which the president was absent.

Walsh, an at-large council member and also Council President Pro Tempore, says she was honored to serve in the role Thursday night.

"It is indeed humbling to be the first female to preside over an entire session of Council," Walsh says. "I will cherish this night for the rest of my days."

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