Over the last few weeks, many people have been paying close attention to local politics as budget talks between Wilmington City Council and Mayor Dennis Williams were not going over well. For starters, City Council recently approved a $145 million balanced budget instead of the one Mayor Dennis Williams proposed in March. Last week Williams vetoed that budget for Fiscal Year 2014, calling it unbalanced and unconstitutional.
However, Thursday night council members came together to override the veto in a 10 to 3 vote.
“Not only did we stand together and stand strong to resist false and misleading criticism of our character and integrity as a body, but, most importantly, we took the high road in a very distasteful political fight. We had the fortitude to resist the negativity and craft a new budget that is balanced, fiscally responsible and reflects the interests and values of the citizens we represent,” said Council President Theo Gregory.
The difference between the two operational budgets for Fiscal Year 2014 is $250,000 that was originally planned for the Department of Parks and Recreation. However, Council Members claimed authority over that money. Gregory says Council has been awarded money since the seventies to do what they wish.
“We’re at quarter of a million dollars, it’s for us to execute policies that we think are relevant to the community by giving out grants,” said Gregory.
Councilman Justen Wright who voted against the Council’s budget two weeks ago wasn’t on board to override the mayor’s veto. “The process as I see it is flawed, Council has just taken the initiative to basically try to be the administration,” said Wright.
Shortly after Council’s vote, Mayor Dennis Williams issued a statement saying he’s “disappointed” by Council’s action. Williams says throughout this process, his Administration has worked “diligently” to achieve a compromise. “I remain concerned that the budget is unbalanced and contains provisions that are contrary to the City Charter,” said Williams.
Prior to Thursday’s council meeting, Mayor Williams asked for a special session to be held on Tuesday but Council President Theo Gregory refused the session. As a result, Williams sought help from the courts to force council members to attend. Unfortunately, a Delaware Chancery Court Judge did not rule in the mayor’s favor.
Councilman Gregory who later called the forced Council session move “embarrassing” said there was no reason to call a special session and after the judge’s ruling Gregory acknowledged the matter. “I apologize to the citizens of Wilmington for the way this budget process has played out in public. It is time to set aside our differences and move forward with each branch of government respecting the duties and responsibilities of the other. Council is ready to move on. We trust the Mayor is also,” said Councilman Gregory.
The mayor has said overriding the veto could end up in a lawsuit but that’s definitely not the tone of Williams’ earlier statement. “I was elected to manage this City, and while I do not believe this budget includes all of the resources necessary to meet next year’s obligations, we will do our best to move forward,” said Mayor Williams.
According to Council, many of the important elements of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget remain balanced such as the public safety, economic development, housing, public works and the city’s storm water fund. However, City Council eliminated pay raises for three of the mayor’s staff members who either recently received pay increases or were new hires.