MEDIA — The solid Democratic Delaware County Council met for more than two hours Wednesday and already began making changes by scheduling nightly meetings, live streaming meetings and setting hours during the week to make themselves available to the public and to county employees.
In addition, council approved paying $25,000 to Affion Public LLC to conduct a national search for a county executive director. The search is expected to take about three months, according to Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer.
In the meantime, Marianne Grace, the former executive director who has expressed interest in the position, has been named county chief administrative officer for six months.
"I've been tremendously grateful to Marianne Grace for her work both to the two years I have been on council and the many years that she has served the county," Councilman Kevin Madden said. "I think, rightfully so, she has many fans in this county in terms of the way she does her work ... I think she deserves a lot of credit for the way that she's handled this process ... and I think Marianne would say if she was here, she'd rather if she does earn this job under the new administration, I think she'd really like for that to be the right word, that she's not county executive director because she's the incumbent."
Other personnel changes included the appointment of Robert Scott as interim county solicitor and council Chairman Brian Zidek to the board of the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority. He said he would donate his stipend to a cause in Chester.
Wednesday's meeting, which included two public comment periods - one at the beginning of the meeting and another at the end - was live streamed on Facebook with the intent to have it live streamed on the county webpage at delcopa.gov.
The council also referred to its new office hours: Zidek will be available from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays; Vice Chairman Monica Taylor will have availability from 10 a.m to noon on Mondays; Madden will have office hours from 3 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays; Councilwoman Elaine Schaefer will have availability from 9 to 11 a.m. on Thursdays; and Councilwoman Christine Reuther will have office hours from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The council members outlined some of what's ahead for the new council, the new government and Delaware County as a whole.
"It has been an eye-opening week," Reuther said. "It has been a real pleasure to start to get to know some of the employees who are here. It is going to be a challenge I think to get our arms around a lot of the things ... We already have some substantial budget challenges not the least which is we, I think, have probably under-allocated for capital expenses in the past and our budget starting off knowing we have a structural deficit of $23 million that next year will require us to raise taxes to keep spending the same. It puts us in a position of most likely having to cut spending at a time when we are facing these capital challenge."
She said she was looking forward to the challenge and to working with the many county employees whom she said she thought were committed to helping the new council govern.
Schaefer said, "I agree we do have some challenges ... we have some really intense challenges facing us in this transition. I will say one thing, when I start to feel a little overwhelmed, I look at my four colleagues and I think, 'There is no team that could do this better than this team.' So, I feel very confident that we are going to get through this transition. We are going to make this a government that we can all be proud of and I'm really excited about it."
Madden noted the 20-some motions on the agenda that passed without any opposition.
"I hope it doesn't continue," he said. "We had, I think eight years before Brian and I came to council, in which there hadn't been a single 'no' vote ... I bring that up because while the five of us share the same party registration, we don't share the same brain."
Madden noted that all of his council colleagues were strong-minded in their opinions.
He added, "I think we all share an ability to disagree in an agreeable fashion, in a constructive fashion, something that really was unfortunate for me in the last couple of years was that quite often there may be disagreements and they were really not always the most constructive of conversations, that they became a matter of butting heads and I think that emotions would often take over from rational dialogue.
"What I hope you'll see from this council is that we're not always going to agree but when we disagree we're going to disagree in a way that's in the best interest of the county," Madden said. "So with that, onward."
Taylor expressed her enthusiasm for the potential of change.
"Every day, I have been meeting more and more of the county employees and I am so impressed with the people who are here and I think that somewhat they may have been being held back and they are excited and ready for this new era in county government," she said.
Zidek called on everyone - no matter their political party - to bring forth their ideas on how to make the county better.
"Change can be hard," he said. "Change can be hard for the employees of Delaware County, change can be hard for the citizens of Delaware County but typically one doesn't grow and one doesn't get stronger without having some sort of pain and some sort of discomfort so I ask those who perhaps are fearful of the change to give it a chance, to embrace it as a way for us to be collectively better."