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100 Days With No Plan, Delaware County Residents Want More

April 17, 2024 Category: Column

“Barbara is just a year fill-in and is way out of her league,” one Delaware County resident said anonymously about new Executive Director Barbara O’Malley in a Generocity online poll about various recent events in the county.

100 days into the new Delaware County Executive’s tenure, residents are concerned about Delaware County employees speaking out without retaliation, the County’s lack of regard for diversity, equity and inclusion and sustainability, and want more community programs from the county.

Shortly after O’Malley took office, an employee at George W. Hill Correctional Facility pointed out that in an environment of broken locks and violent incidents, the jail administration and supervisors retaliated against employees when they spoke out about the unsafe conditions for employees and people incarcerated at the county’s only correctional facility. That same month, February, 13 employees of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility filed a lawsuit against the county for being terminated without due process.

Shortly before taking office, O’Malley’s predecessor and current Delaware County Deputy Director Marc Woolley, faced a lawsuit for retaliatory termination and has a history of other lawsuits against him. There had also been staffing shortages and infrastructure issues at the County’s prison after the County took back ownership of it in 2022 while before it was under private ownership.

How does veteran local government worker feel about these issues? O’Malley declined multiple requests for comment from Generocity.

O’Malley (56) was appointed at a Jan. 3 County Council meeting. Prior to this position, she worked for Montgomery County for 26 years. Most recently, she was Deputy Chief Operating Officer.

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Coming from Montco, where in 2021 they released the nationally awarded “Montco 2040: A Shared Vision,” comprehensive county plan, Generocity requested records through a Right To Know Request from Delaware County regarding O’Malley’s Delco strategic plans. Anne Coogan, Open Records Officer for Delaware County, responded to the request with a letter stating, “With respect to your request for records related to Executive Director O’Malley’s strategic plan, your request is denied as the County has no such records.”

 

Public Insights

At the April 3 public County Council meeting, O’Malley congratulated staff of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility for receiving a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections following an annual inspection.

“They did receive a very clean report including there are no standing deficiencies or citations to report so they in full compliance and are in such a standard that they only have to be evaluated in two years instead of every year because of their compliance level so I just want thank the warden and again it takes every single staff person within that facility to make a report like this,” O’Malley said.

However, an investigation from the County into George W. Hill proceeding after Councilman Richard Womack and O’Malley visited the facility in February and employees who approached them are being retaliated against, Delaware County Daily Times reported in March. Former prison employee and President of the Delaware County Prison Employees Independent Union Frank Kwaning, revealed at the March 6 county council meeting that some union members and employees Womack and O’Malley had spoken to were subjected to retaliation.

After Generocity asked for details about the investigation at the April 3 County Council meeting, Womack said the County is working on making structural changes.

While the entire council agrees on those changes and addressing security issues in the prison, there are differing opinions on if “the operation itself is working within the prison employment,” Womack added.

He said people should not have been retaliated against for talking to him and O’Malley and that he hopes that is not the case. He will continue to monitor the situation, he said.

“I’m only one voice but I will be a loud voice if I know that anyone’s being retaliated against or anyone is being threatened or anyone’s being worked, working in a hostile environment. I will speak out against those things. That’s for sure,” Womack said.

“Our corrections personnel should be able to bring concerns relating to inmate safety, wellbeing and security to light without fear of reprisal. There is a compelling government interest in protecting public safety as well as protecting due process rights of the accused and convicted. If personnel can’t bring this forward, it will create a chilling effect,” said one resident via the Generocity poll.

Another resident said that this retaliation has been happening for a while and that it will get worse without state oversight. This resident also stated that the county knew about the retaliation issues before February and wanted to protect the warden, Laura Williams.

“I think the workers should be protected. Employees should be able to express their concerns without retaliation which is a violation of employment law. Those people who are initiating the retaliation should be disciplined or fired,” another responsed.

According to the United States Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court, it is illegal for an employer to take action against an employee for exercising their first amendment rights to speak on a matter of public concern.

“I would expect that anyone [who] speaks out against the County endures retaliation. Those who spoke up are brave,” reads a fourth response.

In February, the 13 former employees of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility who filed a lawsuit alleging that Councilman Kevin Madden, Delaware County, the Jail Oversight Board and the prison failed to establish policies to protect workers at the prison and their rights. Warden Laura Williams terminated 68 employees without notice or due process, according to the lawsuit. Williams fired Kwaning and Ashley Gwaku, the Vice President of the Delaware County Prison Employees Independent Union, in retaliation for their union activity and membership, the suit also states.

Madden declined to comment and Councilwoman Elaine Schaeffer did not respond when contacted by Generocity for comment.

The February lawsuit is not the first time in 2024 that a terminated Delaware County employee has claimed they lost their job in retaliation. In January, the County terminated its first African American, female director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion after she filed an EEOC complaint in November against Deputy Director Marc Woolley for racial and gender discrimination, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

In the Generocity online poll, residents said this shows that the County does not take diversity, equity and inclusion seriously and only created this office to create a better public image.

“There was a black history month event just for employees, and it honored Council. What a joke. Next it will be Sustainability that will be on the chopping block. The County is antiquated and only temporarily jumps on board to support hot topic items with no real idea of sustainable practices, or an initiative for such practices to be sustainable within its structure, hence no budget,” said one respondent.

On April 5, Executive Director Barbara O’Malley sent an email to Delaware County staff addressing requests to comments for this article and other media attention the County has gotten relating to the former DEI director’s termination.

She reminded staff of an ongoing disparity study researching if there are disparities in who gets access to the County’s public works contracts and said results are due in August.

Research currently from this study revealed the County’s procurement practices are do not follow a formal guidelines and that the County utilizes loopholes for procurement.

When Generocity asked Delaware County residents in the survey what they thought of the study on inequities and the County’s procurement practices, residents said they believe equity should be a priority, that the study is overdue, that there is a lack of transparency and that the County should follow a proper guide or standard.

“They do not want to create economic inclusion for diverse communities, just provide contracts to unions who support them personally/politically,” One respondent wrote about the council.

 

Responsibilities to Residents

Generocity asked O’Malley and the Committee of Seventy what responsibility Delaware County has to taxpayers and employees who are residents in the face of people filing lawsuits and EEOC complaints against the County. O’Malley declined to comment.

 Lauren Cristella, President and CEO of Committee of Seventy shared that “local governments absolutely have a responsibility to taxpayers when it comes to their operations and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and effectively. Our governments should be committed to fair and respectful workplace practices, striving to set an example for positive workplace culture within the communities they serve. Lawsuits and investigations take away time and resources, including public money, that could otherwise be invested in addressing pressing community needs.”

What resources are needed? When surveyed by Generocity, Delaware County residents stated that they want better communication, a renewal and focus on community support, housing assistance, healthy and safe environments, employment opportunities with living wages and paid time off, mental health services, parenting classes, support for juvenile justice, after school programs, and funding for public schools.

 

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