The Torne Spin: How Rockwood Mansion will cost you money, thanks to Tom Gordon

    As a political cartoonist, I’ve come across my fair share of head-scratching decisions made by bumbling bureaucrats. But there is a new high water mark for the most boneheaded issue I’ve come across in a long time.

    Here is Rob Tornoe’s commentary:

    As a political cartoonist, I’ve come across my fair share of head-scratching decisions made by bumbling bureaucrats trying to please conflicting special interests while propping themselves up at the same time. But what’s going on now between historic Rockwood Mansion and New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon might be the single most boneheaded issue I’ve come across in a long time.

    If you’ve never been to Rockwood Mansion, I’d urge you to go. My wife, a fan of the supernatural, thought it would be neat to take their ghost tour one evening. Although I don’t really get into the notion that ghosts can be detected by little EMF meters, I was struck by the beauty of the mansion and the history of the Shipley family, who built it in the mid-19th century as a retirement home.

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    But Rockwood is in desperate need of renovation. The nonprofit Friends of Rockwood, not wanting to burden the taxpayers with the cost of renovating the dilapidated mansion, raised $100,000 in private money to conduct the repairs.

    But nonsensically, Gordon and seven NCCo Council members think it would be better not to allow Rockwood to use that money, and have opted instead to force union labor (which will cost millions) to complete the work. So instead of the Friends group generously picking up the tab for repairs, it’s left to you and I to pay for.

    Why? Because the county owns Rockwood Mansion (for some reason) and insists workers on the project must be paid prevailing wages (i.e., expensive union labor). Not able to complete the work under the higher costs, the Friends project was canceled, and $40,000 was simply returned to the Crystal Trust. The rest will be donated to other philanthropic efforts.

    “It’s a shame, but I guess you really can’t fight city hall,” Friends President June Zappa told the News Journal. “The taxpayers lose and the mansion loses on this one.”

    Does this make any sense to anyone?

    This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Back in 1997 (you know, before Gordon pleaded guilty to reduced charges stemming from accusations of public corruption and wrongdoing), The Friends of Rockwood spent nearly $90,000 over three years to research renovations in accordance with museum specifications. After initially praising the dining room and the research, his administration rejected the research and slammed the door shut on The Friends.

    As an editorial in the News Journal explained, these are financially tight times, especially for New Castle County residents. We don’t normally get generous offers to fix country property like this, and to fight it because of some perceived threat to organized labor is beyond ridiculous.

    I’m a supporter of unions, and ironically, it’s boneheaded decisions like this that have caused public support against unions to plummet in recent years. Just this Tuesday, State Reps. Danny Short (R-Seaford) and Deborah Hudson, (R-Fairthorne) wrote that it could be argued the state’s prevailing wage laws are an “anachronism that has outlived its usefulness.”

    So not only is Gordon screwing taxpayers, he’s harming the public perception of the very group he’s ridiculously trying to prop up. Great work from “Delaware’s comeback kid.”

    Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Check out more of his work at, and follow him on Twitter @RobTornoe.

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