During its public meeting on Jan. 22, Delaware County Council announced a new series of immediate ethics reforms for the members of County Council and County Department Directors as well as the broad changes to how government operates that it expects to enact in the coming months. The announcement follows earlier institution of three immediate reforms designed to make local government more open and accessible to residents and employees. The reforms are part of the new majority’s commitment to changing how Delaware County government operates, which began with a widely-cast invitation to all interested citizens to submit a statement of interest and qualifications to join a Transition Working Group.
“For too long, taxpayers in Delaware County have paid a ‘corruption tax’ — taxes are too high, and the waste of money is the offshoot of the way county government often did business, with insiders, patronage, and no-bid contracts. That has to change and under this new majority, it will,” said Council Chairman Brian Zidek. “Under the previous majority, any reform — even something as important as hearings on ethics and conflicts-of-interest — was blocked time and time again. That’s why we are taking these immediate steps to ensure members of County Council and Directors are living up to the highest standards, and beginning the process to reform how Delaware County government does business.”
The need to set an example of what can and should be done is why, effective immediately, Council is taking steps to set a new standard for its members and County Department Directors. Proposed changes include scheduling ethics and conflict of interest trainings, banning acceptance of any gifts or meals, prohibiting County Council and County Department Directors from serving as paid political staff for any candidate or organization, and requiring disclosure and approval of any additional paid position or consulting work.
“It’s not enough for our new majority to say that we are going to do things differently,” said Elaine Schaefer, who highlighted the need for reform in her 2019 campaign. “We have to change the processes and policies that have for too long allowed insiders and special interests to benefit at the expense of the residents and taxpayers of Delaware County.”
Delaware County government has for decades been subject to whispered allegations that connections, and not qualifications, were what mattered when applying for a job or bidding on a contract. The facts that there is no standardized recruiting process lends credence to the belief the whispers were true.
To ensure the County’s hiring process is transparent and easier, Council announced the County has hired a consultant to assist in the development of new Human Resources programs and policies. As a first step, the County’s website has been expanded to add more detailed job descriptions on the personnel page and individual pages for higher level job openings. As of Jan. 21 applicants can now, for the first time, email their resume and application. Previously, applicants had to mail or hand deliver paper copies of any application.
The new job openings page can be found here: https://www.delcopa.gov/employment/bytitle.html
These needed reforms come just weeks after Council announced three reforms during their first public meeting of the year, including:
Changes to Council meetings to increase public participation in county government, such as moving meetings to the evening when working residents can attend, increasing the opportunity to offer public comment to both the beginning and end of the meetings, and broadcasting the meetings live for those who cannot attend.
Set public office hours for each Council member to allow employees and residents to directly ask, and get answers to, important questions. Office hours for each Council member are posted on the County’s website: https://www.delcopa.gov/council/officehours.html
A plan to have each Council member assigned to oversee and be accountable for the performance of individual county departments.
In the coming months, Council will work toward enacting broad ethics and government reforms for the entire County through a series of public hearings designed to examine best practices in other communities and adapting the best ideas for Delaware County. Among the subjects to be addressed at these hearings will be proposals to develop policies that establish an independent Board of Ethics and Inspector General, eliminate pay-to-play and self-dealing, institute a complete gift ban for county employees and increase public reporting of what government is doing and why.
The first Ethics and Reform public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 6, at 6:00p.m. in the County Council Public Meeting Room. (201 W. Front St., Media, PA.) Please use the Government Center entrance located on Orange Street, between Front Street and 3rd Street.
Additional Ethics and Reform public hearings will be announced at a future date. At the conclusion of the hearings process, Council will release a report and introduce, debate and pass legislation designed to institute broad based ethics and government reform.