Brace yourself, Delaware County. Something will happen Monday that has never happened before.
When three new Democrats join two incumbents on County Council, Democrats will enjoy a 5-0 majority. That has never happened before. More than a century of ironclad Republican rule of the Media Courthouse will end when the winners of three seats up for grabs in the November election are sworn in.
But as council prepares for a transformation of its political makeup, Democrats are vowing the change will be evident not only in the faces and party affiliation of council but also in the way it does business.
"I hope that folks will see that the way Delaware County is run in the future is more transparent, more efficient and more responsive to its citizens," County Councilman Brian Zidek said, adding the new approach will be evident in every facet of government from finances to public health to the private prison to ethics reform.
The approach will be simple. Government business will be out in the open and general information will be available for anybody to see in a more robust and transparent manner, the councilman said.
For the last 150 years, control of County Council, and by extension the vast landscape of county government, has been in the hands of the Republican Party. That began to change two years ago when the first two Democrats – Zidek and Kevin Madden – were elected to council. They were joined by row officers, Controller Joanne Phillips, Sheriff Jerry L. Sanders Jr. and Register of Wills Mary J. Walk.
Last November, the blue wave continued, washing over the courthouse as Democrats took all three seats up for grabs on County Council. Dr. Monica Taylor, Christine Reuther and Elaine Paul Schaefer all were victorious. Democrats also won four seats on the bench of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas as Nusrat Rashid, Kelly Eckel, Rick Lowe and Stephanie Klein all were victorious over their Republican challengers.
The judges were sworn into their offices last week; the new county council members will be sworn into their roles Monday. That will be followed by council's organization meeting at 11:30 a.m. Monday in which the chairman and vice chairman will be determined.
At 10 a.m. on Tuesday at the County Council Meeting Room in the Government Center, the new council will hold its first agenda meeting. Its first official council meeting will be held in the same room at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Evening meetings are something that will become a usual occurrence in an effort to give people an opportunity to attend, Zidek explained.
"We're going to try to live-stream the meetings so people don't have to wait or they don't have to come if they don't want to," he added. "We're hoping to get that in place for this week."
Two issues that were a constant from the campaign will be prominent in the new administration, including ethics reform and filling key county administrative positions.
"We want to make sure that the processes by which we hire folks are more transparent and more robust," Zidek said. In that way, people can be aware of the job openings that exist. And Zidek noted the county is looking to fill hundreds of positions.
While some of them may never be filled as there is no longer a need for the position, many will.
Others are recent openings, due in part to the change of power, and others because of natural workforce aging.
"There are a number of folks who have retired from the county in the last few weeks so we wish them well in their future endeavors," Zidek said, adding that dozens of employees have left, a number that could be as high as 100.
The impending political structure may have had something to do with it, the councilman acknowledged.
"This might have been the impetus for people to be retiring," he said of the Democratic takeover of the courthouse.
However, he said, a considerable portion of county employees were also identified as older in age, according to a recent study. So, he said, they may have decided it was time to enter into a new phase of their life.
In preparing for this transformation, the Democratic councilmen and the Council-Elect members set up set up a non-profit entity that created 12 working groups to bring forth ideas on specific issues, including the census, criminal justice, economic and workforce development, elections, ethics and transparency, finance, government administration, government facilities, human services, natural resources, public health and public safety.
More than 800 people applied to participate in the process.
Groups had been meeting and brainstorming since shortly after the election to create suggestions for the new council. Zidek said all of the groups are in the process of compiling reports that will be submitted to council.
"Citizens have devoted a ton of time and energy to these issues - Republicans and Democrats alike," he said, adding that they evaluated how Delaware County compares to other counties, both neighboring and those afar in terms of determining if Delaware County is following best practices and where improvements can be made.
"It's been inspirational," Zidek said, "to see how hard people were willing to work, especially through the holidays."
He said it has yet to be determined what will occur with these groups. As they work largely by consensus, each group will determine if they will continue to exist as a standing group or if their working is finished at the compilation of their report. Some of the groups also created subcommittees to delve into their particular issues deeper.
As the council begins to govern, its process will evolve with the input of the public and Zidek said one thing will be evident - that the promises made on the campaign trail and concerns aired by minority council members over the last two years particularly surrounding running a government that is more transparent and more responsive to citizens - will emerge.
"I hope and expect that people will see that the issues that we ran on ... that we do those things," Zidek said. "You'll have less of a government run by people of who you know and more of one based upon merit. I also hope to run a government that's more efficient."