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Delaware County residents face lack of transparency while workers worry about accountability

December 13, 2023 Category: FeatureFeaturedLong

Disclosures

Disclaimer: Several sources in this article requested to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation.  The EEO laws prohibit punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination including harassment.  Asserting these EEO rights is called "protected activity," and it can take many forms.  It is unlawful to retaliate against applicants or employees for: filing or being a witness in an EEO charge, complaint, investigation, or lawsuit communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination, including harassment.   

Updates

Disclosure: Our Editor and Publisher, Monique Curry-Mims, attended the December 5th Delaware County Budget Hearing as a resident of Delaware County and provided comment when the floor was opened for public comment section - disclosing her position at Generocity. Updated: 12/13/2023 at 6:20 pm to update blocked link in 14th graf and quotation error in 26th graf.

Employees say their reports to HR about bad treatment have been ignored and constituents say there’s a lack of  transparency. They are rumored to be selecting a leader who has been named in multiple lawsuits, and are about to ask residents to pay five percent more on property taxes. Who is this referring to? The Delaware County government.

People are not liking what’s happening: Residents want higher wages and a plan for how to get there represented in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget and sources who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation told Generocity, county workers are facing a hostile environment at the hands of leadership.

Despite a lack of budget line for filling the many county vacant jobs, the Delaware County Council, solicitor and Chief Administrative Officer, held a public budget proposal hearing on Dec. 5. With just several attendees, county officials discussed the importance of raising property taxes, improving government worker wages, bettering facilities and how the FY 2024 budget will address these issues.

Budget, taxes, & transparency

Council proposed raising property taxes by five percent to increase revenue – the county is facing a deficit of $60 million.

“There’s got to be other ways to fix the budget than to raise it,” Bob Whiteside, a business owner and Delaware County resident, commented at the public hearing.

Hoping the property tax increase will bring in revenue, Chief Administrative Officer Marc Woolley said he’s asking “folks to reach into their pockets more,” to make repairs at George W. Hill Correctional Facility, the Courthouse, the Government Center Parking Garage, Fair Acres Geriatric Center and fund a 911 Center Radio System Project.

From our Partners

While Woolley, Councilwoman Christine Reuther and Councilman Kevin Madden explained the needs to increase compensation costs for county workers and fill vacant roles, there is no budgeting for this in the budget proposal.

The job posting for the Executive Director of Delaware County— Woolley is currently filling in for the position as council searches for someone to fill the role— lists the annual salary at $200,000.

“I appreciate government service. I appreciate people that come and work. I don’t appreciate $200,000 for some of the jobs,” Whiteside said. “I don’t make that much, you know? I probably could but I like to pay more employees. I guess we need more employees at a lower rate, more than $15.” 

The county’s had a hard time attracting people to jobs as Target pays more than some county jobs, Reuther said. She explained that some start at nine dollars an hour.

What is the strategic plan to include those employees who are not making the $15 an hour, what is the plan to bring them to the level that you want to invest in and retain good employees if we’re going to do that, what is the plan and the strategy that’s going to help that happen?” Valerie Cook Henry, a Delaware County resident, asked.

Our editor and publisher, who is also a resident of Delaware County, explained during the hearing’s public comment that using Zencity, which the county launched in February of 2023 that “engages residents in digital dialogues to help determine how budget and resources should properly be allocated,”  according to the their website, would have been a good way to create transparency while accessibility and process were not.

Everything is very secretive just across the board to the point where people don’t always even have the information to engage as civilians, as what they did with the budget,”  a source who is a longtime Delaware County resident said. 

December 5th’s Public Budget Hearing, a $285,531,743 Operating Budget was proposed and presented to the public, at December 13th Council Meeting, an Operating Budget of $353,426,326 will be approved.

Priorities without a strategic plan

The current county council has made impressive moves deprivatizing the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, initiating the conservation of a 213-acre green space which is now a park,  establishing the Delaware County Health Department and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department. However, “staff are fearing for their safety,” and Council has not built a strategic plan or done the financial planning to help internal processes run smoothly, the source said.

“In isolation, these huge initiatives sound great, but there is no internal core infrastructure to manage and support employees to take on these heavy lift projects,” The source said.

This source isn’t the only one who thinks so. After Baker Tilly’s consulting arm facilitated a retreat with the council, then-executive director and higher level staff in August 2022, it said in a memo, council members recognized how they needed “to set strategic priorities that would be shared with the staff to implement in accordance with their vision.”

However, sources say, instead of council members working to build out structures which would help county staff do their jobs and provide services to residents, some take on the duties of leaders of county departments – going beyond the boundaries of being a liaison to these departments

When workers have expressed concern over it, they were told to just go along with whatever council members want instead, the source said.

Several think this lack of internal infrastructure is one of the reasons Delaware County is now facing a nearly $60 million budget deficit. Another, they added, is the county’s hiring of outside counsel to consult with, about the multiple grievances.

A look at the proposed budget shows that the County’s solicitor’s line item has grown significantly – $1,916,635 more than FY 2023’s solicitor budget. However, Solicitor Bill Martin, who is expected to retire soon, told Broad and Liberty the 2022 $3 million expenditures on legal counsel is due to events that took place before the sitting council entered office. The county spent $426,000 on legal counsel from Ballard Spahr, a former employer of both Reuther and Woolley.

screenshot of Broad and Liberty DELCO Budget Review

Mistreatment and Accountability

While it is unclear if the 2023 line item is due to increased grievances and investigations, Delaware County has faced a lawsuit from a former employee for unlawful and retaliatory termination, according to case files. Woolley, who is named in the lawsuit, fired Hector Figueroa, the plaintiff who was working as the Assistant Director of Labor Relations, in August 2022 after Figueroa issued reports of discrimination. 

Many feel that “if you speak against him, there’s a fear that you may not have a job,” the source said.

A quick search finds that Woolley has been named in several other lawsuits. While findings state that Woolley has not engaged in any improper activity or wrongdoing, several county employees continue to have grievances.

“When you say, ‘Oh well, staff can go file grievances.’ No. Only thing the grievance does is put you on a list for him to target you,” a source said.

Employees of Delaware County do not believe they have a safe place to report unprofessional work incidents as the team who handles human resource issues and complaints about the Executive Director of the county do not follow-up with action to employees’ complaints, another source said.

When Generocity asked for clarity on this process and what employees are experiencing, Delaware County said in a statement:

“Your ‘trusted sources’ are mistaken. Any complaints of inappropriate behavior by County employees are fully investigated, and appropriate actions are taken based upon the results of those investigations.”

While the results of those investigations were not disclosed, sources have shared that county employees have gone on family and medical leave due to distress from an environment they experience as hostile.

Looking forward

With Delaware County’s Council vowing to make county government more transparent and protect taxpayers at the start of its 2020 term, residents and employees hope more people will talk about these issues and that others will pay attention to Delaware County and hold its leadership accountable.

 

After they read the budget at the Dec. 13 Council Public Meeting, the council will finalize this budget.
December’s Public Council Meeting is December 13th at 6pm
Meetings are held on the 1st Floor of the Government Center Building, 201 W. Front Street in Media, PA.

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