A Wilmington City Council ordinance that would prevent nepotism failed to pass Thursday night after initially garnering strong support in a committee last month.
The ordinance got five yes votes, five no and two “present” votes, meaning it lacked the numbers it needed to succeed.
Ordinance 0273, sponsored by Councilman James Spadola, would prohibit members of the council from hiring close relatives of current council members.
A close relative would be considered a person’s domestic partner or parents, spouse, children, siblings by blood (whole or half), adoption or marriage.
The legislation was motivated by some issues at the state level, Spadola said, citing convicted former state auditor Kathleen McGuiness, whose charges stemmed from hiring her daughter.
PREVIOUS SUPPORT: Wilm. City Council nepotism law draws debate, moves on
“There’s also a carve out for current employees, so if anybody was elected to city council and their family member was already on staff, that person could remain on staff,” Spadola said.
Councilwoman Shané Darby supported the legislation.
“I’m in full support of this legislation and I think it’s important to put safeguards up to hold us accountable,” she said, “and for us to be ethical in our decisions that we’re making, and how we’re operating as a city council.”
An issue that has been brought up each time the ordinance has been presented is the fact that it only applies to the City Council.
“I did intend initially to have this for the entire city government,” Spadola said. “The law department wrote back that that would be a violation of the separation of powers and impede on the executive administration’s authority to hire employees.”
Councilman Chris Johnson opposed the legislation because “several groups oppose it, such as the NAACP.”
Attempts to reach the Delaware NAACP to comment on their opposition were unsuccessful Friday.
Johnson acknowledged the ethical component of the ordinance is important, but said the council needs to focus on making the lives of city residents better with issues like violence and affordable housing.
A couple council members questioned if this was even a problem or if it was unnecessary over-legislation.
“For us to pinpoint ourselves in a way that has the potential to dilute our authority is wrong,” said Councilman Vincent White.
Councilwoman Bregetta Fields said she would only support the legislation if it included all city employees.
Ernest Congo, president of the council, agreed that he would like the ordinance to include all city employees, but “we have to start with ourselves.” He voted for the ordinance.
Council members pointed out that there’s already an ethics commission, so there’s not as strong of a need for the council to be policing themselves.
The final vote was five for the ordinance, five against the ordinance, and two voting “present.”
Councilwoman Zanthia Oliver said this week that she should have voted “present” on a funding bill that sent money to her brother’s charity instead of voting yes. That yes got her a reprimand for violating council ethics.
Spadola said Friday that he’s “disappointed the council could not pass such a basic piece of legislation to prevent nepotism in its own backyard, especially in light of one of our own getting reprimanded for nepotistic behavior, but the fight for good government and ethics shall continue.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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