karen hartley-nagle

Despite some strong opinions, New Castle County members are mixed on whether New Castle County Council President Karen Hartley-Nagle should resign in the wake of allegations of harassment exposed by WDEL.  

"I'd like to see her take a walk," said Councilman George Smiley.

In two exclusive reports, WDEL detailed harassment Hartley-Nagle is accused of inflicting on her former aide, Kate Maxwell, who settled with the county for $59,000, in exchange for vacating her position. WDEL also obtained a confidential 28-page harassment report that further detailed the allegations and the findings of an independent human resources investigator.  

The alleged abuse included Hartley-Nagle asking Maxwell whether she needed to "call her mommy," and whether she took the correct prescription medications. She also allegedly told Maxwell, the fiancee of fallen Wilmington firefighter Chris Leach, that she's "so over these deaths."  

"It's a problem, there's a lot of tension up there right now," said Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick.

Smiley said when Hartley-Nagle enters the office, doors close. Others echoed his sentiments.

"It's the worst it's ever been on council," said Councilman Bill Powers, who's been on council for 11 years.

But only Smiley would say with 100 percent certainty that he wanted her to resign. When asked, he said: "Absolutely."

"The problem with this woman is she's totally frustrated because she played a game on the public, she got elected to a job that she had not and still does not know anything about," said Smiley.

What he fears most--if something happened to County Executive Matt Meyer, Hartley-Nagle would be next in line to take over at the helm.

"I told Matt Meyer he's not even allowed to die while he's in office," he said. "We can't run the risk. Council is frustrated with having to deal with this type of situation, and as frustrating as it is, and the tongue-lashing that we take, and the articles negative about us, because of what we're doing, at least it's somewhat contained and not countywide."

Councilman Ken Woods said if "everything that's out there is true," then she should resign.

"At this point, I think yes, but I would say voters elected her, and I think until the truth comes out, I want to see all the stuff really come out before I would say, 'Yes I want her to resign.'  But at this point, it's pretty self-explanatory what's been going on. She's blaming others, I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt for the first few months here until a couple weeks ago when I had my own issue...she's all over the place, unfortunately," said Woods.  

Others said it would be convenient if Hartley-Nagle resigned.

"She could ask to resign, I don't think understanding her personality that, that would ever happen," said Kilpatrick.

"It would make everyone's life easier, if she did," said Councilwoman Lisa Diller. "I feel there's a victim here, and it's not the council president...I think everybody loses here."

Councilmen Bob Weiner and Tim Sheldon both said they don't think Hartley-Nagle should step down, and instead, should consent to the professional development and training that was ordered by a human resources investigator. Sources told WDEL training has come to a standstill, and she refuses to attend the sessions. 

"I think everyone deserves a second chance. I think she should undergo the coaching, and have an opportunity to continue as a council president, it's the duty of the electorate to decide at the time of re-election," said Weiner.

"At the moment, no, but what I do want to see her do is get some help. The $17,000 that we submitted for her to get her help, I'd like to see her do that, above everything," said Sheldon. "And then if it doesn't work then, of course, she's got to go."  

Councilman Tackett agreed with Weiner.  

"I actually think that's a question for the constituents, it's not for me to say whether I think [she should step down]...it's up for the voters at election time," he said.  

Kilpatrick, while not calling for her resignation, said she wants to see change--for the sake of council and its staffers.  

"I would like to see a calm, pleasant workplace without any harassment or hostile environment," she said. "If the president would calm down and learn how the process goes, and not question everybody, and not think that everybody is doing something wrong, I think we would all be in a better place," she said.

Councilmen Jea Street disagreed with any notion she should step down.

"No. She's elected, and whatever she's done--in my opinion--does not rise to the level at this point of calling for her to resign," said Street.

Councilman Bill Powers said he wasn't sure, but was skeptical of the report and council.

"They're pretty harsh on her," he said. "The report...nobody personally saw [the harassment]. So is that going to hold up in court? I've been on jury trials, I don't think it will hold up in court. So you're not guilty until you're proven innocent," he said. "I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I don't know, but I never saw [the harassment] happen myself.

Councilman Penrose Hollins, who ran against Hartley-Nagle, for the council president position, said he'd rather not pass judgement on the issue.

"Anything I say may be misconstrued so I'm going to remain neutral...the fact that I was in the race for president, its easy for her to say that I have sour grapes, and I have to run around and try to prove that I don't," he said.

Councilmen John Cartier and Bill Bell didn't return WDEL's requests for comment.

Hartley-Nagle called WDEL after hours in an effort to respond, but did not call the cellphone number left on her voicemail or respond to an email.  

Either way, what council members think, doesn't really matter. Their hands are tied. Short of any criminal wrongdoing, Delaware has no way of removing an elected official from office.

"There's no legal mechanism nor is there anything we have within our party rules to remove someone from our party from public office," said Delaware Democratic Party Executive Director Jesse Chadderdon.

The Democratic Party, though, said it's concerned by reports of "abusive and erratic behavior" on the part of Hartley-Nagle.

"Her behavior, as characterized through an internal investigation and reported in the press, diverge from [the] core Democratic values of tolerance and respect for others," said party chairman Erik Raser-Schramm. "There is also real concern that the strained relationships those behaviors have caused could have a long-term ramifications when it comes her ability to legislate effectively in collaboration with her counterparts on council."

Their statement stops short of calling for her resignation, and instead, issued her a wake up call:

"It would be a shame for a government that provides so much at such an incredible value to be overshadowed or in any way compromised by the behavior of one person. That's why it's time for that individual to step up and show the people of New Castle County that she is up to the task of governing in a way County residents can be proud of," said Raser-Schramm.