“State of Delaware County” Report
Kevin Madden, one of the two senior members of the now all-Democratic County Council, delivered a State of the County report at the Haverford Democrats’ December 8 Zoom meeting. Those in attendance are pretty informed about local government, but their faces on screen revealed genuine surprise at hearing Madden’s candid assessment of the “enormity of the issues” created by decades of “broken governance.”
Consider one story Madden told to illustrate Delco’s much bigger problem: The County Commissioners Association of PA (CCAP) is a non-profit group founded in 1886. It brings together county officials from all over the state for up-to-date information and conversation about best practices on a whole range of issues that county governments address. Seems like a good idea, no? When Madden and Zidek attended their first CCAP meeting in 2018, they were received with surprise. No one from Delco had attended those meetings in over a decade. Delco was the only PA county not in attendance. Our Republican council members chose outdated isolation over professional dialogue and modernization.
Recall that Madden and Brian Zidek won four-year terms in November, 2017, becoming the first Democrats elected to the council in 150 years. For two years, the three Republicans on the council resisted Madden and Zidek’s efforts to bring county policies and practices into the 21st century. But by speaking out publicly on the range of county issues in dire need of reform, Madden and Zidek sparked the citizen zeal needed for the 2019 election of three Democrats to council: Monica Taylor, Elaine Paul Schaefer, and Christine Reuther.
Madden’s report on December 8 offered stunning proof that elections matter and that Democrats in Delaware County performed a significant public service when they went to the polls and voted to change how our county operates. This year, Delco faced “a perfect storm of challenges”:
- $23 million deficit left by phony budget hawks
- resignations from half the employees in Media after the 2019 Democratic victory
- a global pandemic when Delco still lacks a public health department
Madden reviewed not only the difficulties the county council faced in 2020 but the solutions that Delco’s Democratic council members have devised. On every issue addressed, Madden emphasized that building strong operating systems and qualified teams of employees is the key to responsive, efficient governance. For your convenience, we are summarizing Madden’s key points below:
- Hired Howard Lazarus as the new Executive Director for Delco after a nationwide search that drew 140 candidates.
- Created 21st century hiring & compensation infrastructure which is attracting top applicants with fresh energy and new perspectives.
- Made social & racial equality integral to every hiring process so Delco creates a county workforce that reflects Delco’s whole population.
Problem: Public Health
Delco is the most densely populated county in PA outside of Philadelphia, but Delco is not among the six PA counties with a public health department. (FYI: those six are Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Erie, Montgomery, and Philadelphia.)
- Chester County generously agreed to provide Delco with targeted support during COVID, such as monitoring and reporting the number of cases & hospitalizations. Delays were inevitable.
- Delco joined with 4 neighboring counties to share “best practices” on COVID in thrice-weekly phone meetings because “that’s what governments ought to be doing.”
- Developed a multi-year plan for building a public health department.
- Plan starts with hiring a Board of Health Director in 2021 and moves toward having a Delaware County Public Health Dept. in place by January, 2022.
Decades of Republican focus on patronage & low taxes resulted in the county’s “failure to invest in itself,” which meant, among other things, a “crumbling infrastructure.” With a do-nothing council, Delco became a “laggard” in creating green projects or a sustainability plan.
- Hired a Chief Sustainability Officer to develop & manage long-range policies and practices.
- Created public/private partnerships to develop a “solar array” and a fleet of hybrid and electric vehicles for the county.
Problem: Criminal Justice
Public Defender’s office was running “a racket” in which attorneys paid by the county were allowed to earn private salaries working for private clients on county time while neglecting those in need of a public defender.
- Hired Chris Welsh as our new Public Defender a month after the all-Democratic County Council (and Democratic District Attorney) were sworn in last January.
- Fostered good working relations between the D.A.’s office and Public Defender’s office. As Madden put it, “adversaries in court can make progress together” in building fair, effective law enforcement & criminal justice systems.
Problem: Prison system
Delco may not have a public health department, but we do have the only private prison in the state. Madden described a “reprehensible” operation at George W. Hill Prison, where profit was tied to detaining incarcerated individuals as long as possible and providing barely minimum conditions.
- County council has hired a consultant to move Delco toward de-privatization of George W. Hill Prison in 2021.