Delaware Wilmington

Watching the 108th Wilmington City Council

On January 5, the 108th City Council was sworn in and voted on their Organizational Rules. This happens every 4 years according to Charter. This Organization meeting had a twist — there were two sets of Rules, Committee Assignments, New Hires proposed. One set came from the newly elected Council President — Trippi Congo — and the other set came from Councilman Chris Johnson.

It is pretty typical for the Council to approve Rules as prepared by (or tweaked by) the Council President. It isn’t *required* to approve the Rules prepared by the Council President though. You’ll remember that the source of the dysfunction of the 107th City Council was the claim by portions of that Council that Council President Hanifa Shabazz had too much power. Some members of that Council complained every meeting that Council President Shabazz would not schedule their legislation, would not include them in hiring decisions, did not consult them on committee assignments and was generally not transparent with them or with the people of Wilmington. If you were paying attention to Council races, they all made commitments to make Council more inclusive and transparent in their operation — as a pathway to stop the dysfunction and to work better for the people.

The Council President’s power is defined by the rules adopted by the Council at the beginning of their session. The Charter establishes the Council President position, and says that this person runs the Council meeting. It has been the tradition of Council to assign a great deal of control of Council to the Council President via their organizing rules. I point out that the 107th Council did vote to adopt the rules that gave Council President Shabazz her power and duties — power and duties that many in that session objected to because they did not get their way. This is what the Charter says the Council President’s job is:

The president of the council shall preside over meetings of the city council and shall have the same rights and duties including the right to vote and speak therein as other members.

ARTICLE II, Chapter 1, Sec. 2-100. – Number, terms and salaries of council members.

Council President Congo drafted rules and Committee assignments that were not available for review until an hour or so before the swearing-in on January 5. Councilman Johnson posted his a week before the swearing-in. Councilman Johnson worked on his rules openly, with input from some other Council people, some discussion with Congo directly, and specifically asked for support for his rules. It seemed that Congo was expecting that everyone would capitulate to what he wanted without paying attention to either fixing the problem of the 107th or listening to campaign promises of those who won.

Counting votes an important skill for any legislator. The Organizing Rules required a simple majority to pass, which it did. Key to the new rules is that there is much business that can now pass with a simple majority. If you can ask for 6 more votes, you can get your legislation passed now. Councilpeople have say in what is on the Agenda. They have more say now in hiring. And as this Council proceeds, there are opportunities to amend the rules — you have to advocate for your position and collect 7 votes to pass it.

In many ways this is how the NCC County Council works. It is created to make sure that Councilpeople have the biggest voice possible in the operation of the body. I can’t figure out why anyone would object to a Council that is now built to create more say over Council operations — especially since some of them spent 4 years complaining that they did not have enough say in Council operations. It all looks like Council members — mostly women — who are advocating for Congo to have more power rather in figuring out how this new set (more progressive set) of rules gets them their agendas passed. Certainly none of these women every came out this strongly to support the power and the perogatives of the previous Council President.

It doesn’t make sense the maintain the narrative of Us vs Them when these rules make it easier to get anything at all done. It’s 7 votes to get your item to the floor and passed now — not 9. There’s nothing progressive in fighting to consolidate power in the hands of one person. There’s no point in 6 council members mounting up a fight to give Congo MORE power when he isn’t fighting this for himself. And I’ll note that fighting over these rules STILL rather than getting to the people’s business is a real failure of the people who want to stop the show to give Trippi Congo the power he (and his supporters) specifically did not want Hanifa Shabazz to have. Continuing the last session’s divisiveness — this time over whether the Council President *doesn’t* have the power that you railed against for 4 years is just foolish.

The divisiveness now on Council is the same divisiveness from the last Council. It bears watching. There’s literally no reason for it and we know that some of the worst offenders from the last Council were voted out. I don’t think that it is at all smart to invite Wilmingtonians to live with 4 more years of dysfunction.

2 comments on “Watching the 108th Wilmington City Council

  1. Jessica Lenore

    Excellent overview! Thank you for pointing out the obvious and the hypocrisy!

  2. Kathleen Patterson

    Very good overview. When I first heard there was controversy I immediately went to the City web site and looked up the code. I found the section you cite in this blog, nothing more on the role of the President.

    I had watched the swearing in of the 107th and recalled objections at that time to the rules President Shabazz introduced. Never the less the rules passed. Each Council passes their own rules. If those rules break with tradition so be it.

    To all of the 108th, please get on with the City’s business. You have an opportunity to make real and lasting change for the betterment of all of Wilmington.

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