County councilman’s criticism of right-to-work proposal timing spurs verbal exchange

GEORGETOWN – Barring an unexpected development over the December holiday season, Sussex County government will not hold a public hearing specific to the controversial right-to-work proposal until the New Year 2018.

County council at its Nov. 28 meeting balked at scheduling a third December meeting following an inquiry posed by county councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford.

“It is prudent that this council would consider a date in December for that public hearing …?” said Mr. Arlett, who introduced the proposed right-to-work ordinance at the Oct. 31 council meeting.

Council is scheduled to meet Dec. 5 and Dec. 12 but not again until Jan. 2, 2018.

Neither of the two December dates would meet public notice advertising requirements, which Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson said would require an approximate total 20-day window.

“From my perspective we have two meetings left in December and neither one of those could meet the advertising requirements for a public hearing,” said county council president Michael Vincent, R-Seaford. “We had originally because of what’s going on in December … talked about having the meeting to deal with the issue of right to work, the ordinance and public hearing and the whole thing on Jan. 2, our first day back next year.”

Mr. Arlett’s inquiry was made during council member commentary punctuated by a verbal exchange with council colleague Irwin “I.G.” Burton, R-Lewes.

For more than a month, right to work has been a hot conversation topic at council meetings, drawing public commentary both support and opposition.

Delaware is not among the 28 states that have passed right to work laws, which prevent labor unions from requiring employees to join them.

Several speakers at the Nov. 27 meeting voiced support for right to work. Among those was State Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, who planted right-to-work seeds several years ago.

“I was here about two years ago and I presented two pieces of legislation, HB 86 and 87. Basically it was a right-to-work initiative for our state and it kind of zeroed in that even a county could become a right-to-work area,” said Rep. Dukes. “First of all, the council here voted 4-1 in favor of this; councilman Burton you were not here then. So, I went to Dover and I wish I could tell you it was successful. It went to Labor Committee and was tabled there, and it didn’t go any further and of course at the end of that session the bill died.”

“What I am here to say is that as a legislator … I want to see a healthy environment economic environment developed in the work force. I would like to see us to be able to initiative right to work,” said Rep. Dukes. “If it is not, I would like to see us develop enterprise zones or commercial zones. I am willing to work with you as a state legislator, work with the county and making things move quicker. That is one of the problems we have with businesses. Yesterday (Nov. 27) I was in a meeting in Dover with DelDOT with a business that wants to come to my own community and the amount of money that it is going to cost for road improvement almost made it impossible for this business to do that. We’re hoping that through communication that some things can be changed.”

Mr. Burton criticized council colleague Arlett on his timing with the proposal.

Sussex County Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton

“I’m going to weigh in on this and it’s from the heart. I just think this is the most poorly planned-out timed ordinance of one of the most important things that we are going to be asked to look at,” said Mr. Burton. “It is really for our children’s future. We all want more jobs. We all want higher paying jobs. We don’t want our kids to have to leave to find that.”

“If right to work is an answer it would be something to get a public hearing about. For the life of me I don’t know why this was introduced 45 days before the end of the year. I mean we’re going to be asked to listen to at least a five-hour hearing. And it’s going to have a plethora of information. There is going to be a lot of questions. This is not an easy ordinance,” said Mr. Burton. “If councilman Arlett has been working on this for 2 ½ years, to just come out without any notification to the county or staff until the 45th day of the year … I mean it just upsets me because it is just so important and it’s not going to be an easy public hearing because there are two very different views, and I take it pretty serious.”

“I want to understand both sides. I want to look at it. I want to know what are the ramifications of doing it and of not doing it. I was elected to give good thought on things; the five of us were. I just think this it’s almost disrespectful to Sussex County and it’s definitely disrespectful to me,” Mr. Burton added. “However, I do recognize the importance of it. I would make myself available for a special hearing in December if that was the will of everybody else.”

“I have not been working on this for 2 ½ years,” Mr. Arlett countered.

Sussex County Council members George Cole, left, and Rob Arlett

“That is what you stated,” Mr. Burton replied.

“I have never stated that. Give me the minutes. Give me the recording. I have never stated that,” said Mr. Arlett. “It was stated back in 2015 based on public comment that was provided by our assistant county administrator at the time based on Rep. Tim Dukes’ comments that he proposed a bill. I proposed a question: Do we have the authority to do this? … back in April of 2015. And I proposed the question back then that this should come back upon the agenda at a future date for possible discussion and action. After that date I hadn’t thought about right to work up until August of this year when I learned that there were conversations and meetings going on by some members of this council with others about this very subject. So, I have not been working on this for 2 ½ years. I was alerted once I realized that there were conversations for many months from some members of this council with others about this very subject. So, as a duly elected official I, too, would want to be part of those conversations as you would. So, hence, here we are.”

“So, we don’t get too far in the weeds here because this is not an agenda item, the question was based on the public comments provided earlier today: Is it prudent of this council consider a public hearing in December or not? That was my question,” said Mr. Arlett.

“It doesn’t appear we have three people to do that,” said Mr. Vincent.

“That’s fine,” said Mr. Arlett.

“Unless somebody tells me I am wrong, we’re going to move on with Jan. 2 (2018),” said Mr. Vincent. “We’ll advertise that date and have a public hearing.”

Councilman George Cole asked Sussex County Attorney J. Everett Moore Jr. for his opinion on home rule.

“Is there validity to that argument that we can pass something and then if the state hadn’t addressed it they are basically stuck with our ordinance …?” said Mr. Cole.

“Typically, that is not the case on home rule issues. Home rule issues are totally different because home rule involves power that is given by the state to the county,” said Mr. Moore. “What they can do if the state decides to pre-empt a certain field and they want to take over all authority, they can do that at any time. They can come in and say, ‘All of this needs to be controlled by the state’ and they could do that.”

“My concern is: is time of the essence? Do we have to get this under the wire so to speak before the state legislature? What you just indicated is, time is not of the essence. They can always do things that impact us because of home rule,” said Mr. Cole, who leaned toward holding off on addressing the issue until January. “We’ve two meetings left. We’d have to have a special meeting. At Christmas everybody is busy. Is it going to get the attention that it deserves? I’m 100-percent certain it is going to be deferred because as you have said Mr. Burton there is going to be a lot of information. We want to give both sides; everybody a fair chance, a fair shake in the whole discussion.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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