Delaware County Candidate Forum, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021
100+ people in attendance on the Zoom. And that’s for a set of uncontested County races in the May primary.
Kevin Madden, elected to County Council in 2017, is running for another 4-year term (after which term limit rules say he can no longer run). Madden joined Council the year that Delco Dems began their effort to end Republicans’ corrupt control of the county. Madden recalled that he and Brian Zidek were outspent 3:1 in 2017, but the Democrats out-organized the Republicans and won, putting two Democrats on County Council for the first time since the Civil War.
- Madden noted how great it has been to work with Zidek and what a contribution Zidek has made. His decision not to run reminds us of the enormous demands made on the time of every County Council member. After four years of non-stop work for Delco, Zidek made the tough decision to turn his full attention back to his family business and family life.
- Madden touched briefly on many of the points he discussed at length in the “State of the County” report he gave to Haverford Democrats in December. If you did not see the summary of that report in the January newsletter, do yourself a favor and look at it now. Not lengthy, but quite informative.
- Madden explained that when the 2019 election resulted in an all-Democratic County Council, it was possible to institute “best practices” in regard to hiring, contract bidding, and budget creation and publication. Faced with a 15% deficit and the need to improve county services, the County Council has had to be creative and efficient in planning. He did not promise that Delco will not raise taxes, candidly explaining that all the services we expect from a good government cost money.
- He described this moment as a “historic opportunity in criminal justice,” and pointed to his work on the Jail Oversight Board, where he and others have taken the necessary steps to end Delco’s contract with the for-profit George W. Hill Correctional Facility, replacing this “a dark spot on the conscience of our county” with a county-run jail. Madden said that County Council aims to have the new jail become a “model” for how to help people “at a low point in their lives to get back on their feet.”
- Delco is the most populous county in the United States lacking a Public Health Dept. This County Council just opened a public health center in Yeadon to deliver vaccines and that center will be part of the network of centers we will have once Delco establishes its Public Health Dept. in 2022.
- Madden pointed to “sustainability” as a key priority going forward, noting that Delco is “over-developed,” is last in the state for open space, and must expand our open space and trails endeavors.
Madden admitted that the last four years have been difficult but, he said, have given him “the most personally rewarding experience of my life.”
Richard Womack is running for County Council in 2021. His presentation to the meeting emphasized a philosophy he learned from his father, a civil rights leader: “the best way to be a good leader is to be a good listener and a good servant.”
- Top priorities:
- Public Health Dept. to manage the health repercussions of COVID and the on-going opioid crisis.
- Ensure the hiring process achieves equity and diversity so Delco County’s workforce reflects the county’s population.
- Workforce Development programs, including incentives for contractors to hire local labor.
- Has lived in Darby Township his whole life.
- Served for 12 years as a Township Commissioner, 6 of those years as Vice-President and 2 years as President.
- Republicans’ long-time control of Darby Township required that Womack, first, demonstrate with evidence that resources in the township were not fairly distributed. Then he had to develop working partnerships with Republicans on the township commission. By using different strategies for achieving cooperation, Womack was able to increase revenue, accountability, and transparency in township government.
- A union member for 25 years, Womack currently works at the assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO, focusing on Civil Rights and Community and Religious Affairs.
Jerry Sanders is running for re-election as Sheriff of Delaware County four years after his first election to that office in 2017. Sheriff Sanders emphasized his commitment to public safety and “lifting up” the county’s sheriffs.
- No black sheriffs in 2017; no women in supervisory roles. Both of those situations have been remedied.
- By making diversity a priority in all hiring, the Sheriff’s Dept. can come to reflect the community it serves. Reaches out to community youth to give them a chance to see the Sheriff’s Dept. and consider a career in law enforcement.
- Delco’s Sheriff’s Dept. one of the FIVE in PA’s 67 counties that is accredited based on measures of record-keeping, professional standards, transparency with the public.
- Shout out to County Council for responding to Sanders’ request for a raising salaries in the Sheriff’s Dept. above “the lowest of the low” in the state. A $2/hour raise means sheriffs in Delco now earning $15/hour.
Joanne Phillips is running for re-election as County Controller. Like Madden and Sanders, Phillips was first elected in 2017. In introducing her, Madden said that the Controller’s office had been “the epicenter of corruption” in Republican-run county government. Phillips, he said, has brought her unrelenting work ethic along with the “utmost integrity” and an “independent voice” to the conduct of county business. Phillips herself said that her work in the last four years has been devoted to “changing the way we deliver government in Delco.”
- She noted that she is “in the office every day.” Think about what that says about prior practice in the Controller’s office. She operates with “boots on the ground.”
- Phillips has “professionalized” the office by hiring (gasp) “real accountants” to manage the county’s key functions: payroll, retirement, accounts payable, audits of every department of county government.
- Her new, diverse team has made the Controller’s office “transparent and accountable” by putting all reports online, responding quickly to “right to know” requests, creating a “fraud, abuse, and waste” hotline (the Republicans on Council before 2019 objected to including “fraud” in the hotline’s mission.
- Phillips brought to life the “unclaimed property program,” which returned tens of thousands of dollars to citizens.
- Her office tracked down and audited every Delco bank account and saved $750,000 in the process.
She invited “everyone” to visit the Controller’s office (after COVID) to see how the work is done.
Rachel Ezzell Berry was appointed Register of Wills in March, 2020. She is running for election to that office in 2021.
In her presentation, Berry handled with good humor the fact that she walked into a new job just as the county was shutting down for COVID. She had assumed the position after Mary Walk, elected to the office in 2017, moved to a new position in the county Office of Judicial Support. Tasked with transforming the functions of her office to online service, Berry took hold and made it happen. In describing the steps she took, Berry noted that Delco got an all-Democratic County Council “just in time” for COVID. We had a government in place, she said “that was able to steer the county through all of the challenges we have faced.”
- Register of Wills office handles all probate, marriage licenses, adoption records, and coordinates with the Court of Common Pleas in regard to Orphans’ Court.
- These functions had to be very quickly moved online, and if you go to the “Online Systems” page of the https://www.delcopa.gov/row/online.html Register of Wills office on the Delco website you will see a list of everything Berry had to put into place in order to serve county residents with, truly, life-and-death matters while still maintaining COVID safety. Her efforts made it possible for residents to conduct their business electronically during the pandemic.
- Some original paperwork still had to be filed in person so some staff had to be in the office. To assure safety for all, Berry rearranged offices and furniture, installed plexiglass dividers, and put tape on the floor to mark 6’ distances.
The Register of Wills is a “quasi-judicial office,” empowered, for example, to conduct hearings to determine who should be appointed as executor of a will. Berry is an attorney who has clerked for federal judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court and worked as an attorney at Dechert LLP. She was born and raised in Delaware County, met her husband at Strath Haven High School, earned a B.B.A summa cum laude in Economics and International Business from Temple University and her J.D. magna cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School. She had a toddler when she took on the job of Register of Wills. She had a baby in her first year on the job, during a pandemic that precluded use of childcare facilities.