Wilmington Mayoral Debate — Public Safety Edition

Filed in National by on February 28, 2012

Last night, the two unions representing the Wilmington Police Department and the Wilmington Fire Department sponsored a Mayoral Debate held at the Chase Center. Candidates Kelley, Johnson, Montgomery, Williams, Spencer and Bovell (!) attended, and Senator Marshall sat this one out again. This one was not open to the public, which accounts for the kind of topics covered. Much of the night’s focus was less on issues of public safety and alot more in union issues. Not much of a surprise, I guess, but there’s something quite corrective in being in a room full of police and firefighters where citizen safety was a topic addressed by just a couple of the candidates.

During the Opening remarks, Kelley and Bovell conveyed themes — Kelley providing a precis of his Public Safety Plan including TAG teams, and Bovell previewing his “depend on ourselves” theme where he would take the city’s 1400 vacant properties, renovate them and rent them out for a revenue stream so he could provide the WPD and WFD with a 5-7% raise. Williams and Spencer wanted to “listen” to the experts and presumably do what they said. No leadership in that, but certainly a preview to some of the overt playing to the audience that the both would do this evening. (Williams talked specifically about having no plan — he would make a focus on getting the bad guys and getting the guns off of the streets. I sat way in the back and cringed — waiting for the entire room to erupt and ask him what he thought they were doing all day?) Johnson talked about some union issues and discussed the kudos he had gotten from other places (Savannah, GA; Eastern PA) for some of the work he had done with PDs in those places. Montgomery established himself as someone who has been working with the WPD and WFD for a very long time, with a unique view of and respect for how they work. All of them discussed the rolling blackouts of fire stations (trying to eliminate that) and to look at upgrading FD facilities.

Now to questions:

How would you bring more jobs and businesses downtown?

Kelley notes that the easiest way to bring more business activity to downtown would be to make the entire city safer. He rightly notes that the crime problem and its associated headlines leads to a perception that the city is unsafe everywhere. Williams wants to help businesses stay afloat and establish some partnerships with them (even though the WPD has 24/7 community policing downtown). Spencer wants to work with the WPD to reduce crime. He wants to start a rewards fund that will pay for tips and establish programs for immunity and protective services for those who talk.He also went into his idea to bring factories from China to Wilmington. And he supports the hotel. Montgomery talked about achievements — more people living downtown, expansions of housing, improving retail, plans for a new transit center, working with Connections to help with some of the street people and he blamed the City Council for the fact that there isn’t a Sargent overseeing the police deployments downtown. He would keep doing what is going on now. Johnson talked about attractions and marketing. He also talked about Connections and their concentration of services downtown and in WCC — he noted that those services can be balanced all over the city. Fixing parking issues and providing some diversity of products and services in the shopping district rounded out his answer. Bovell largely discussed having government offices open longer.

WPD is down from its authorized strength, what would be the right number of officers and how do you get there?

Williams just wants to bring the number up to its authorized strength and go past that to a new strength of 350 officers. He will get there by ending some city sponsored events and cutting back on outside vendors. The city ought to monitor the red light cameras itself and manage that. Basically, he would rely on magic. Montgomery notes that the current authorized strength is 328, we did have 340 but that number wasn’t sustainable. He would think about changing some of the rules for when to form a new Academy and he would work on a plan to recruit already sworn officers from other jurisdictions. Johnson also wants 350 officers and says we already have the money and cites the $6M spent to date on the Hope Commission, some of which is a waste. Spencer wants to do consulting with the people in the WPD to determine the right number, no idea about money. Bovell is still working on his Landlord-in-Chief pitch to make lots of money. Kelley makes the case that finances are hard everywhere, not just here. Increases to authorized strength have to be met with hard choices on what else you aren’t doing, although he notes that people do deserve a raise.

Would you support the creation of an EMS services unit owned and run by the city (with some claims about how this would make the city money and employ younger people)?

Johnson just says yes, Spencer wants to know if it can pay for itself and then has on about innovation, Bovell thinks it is a good idea and positions it as a way to pay for the firefighters added by the SAFER grants because we should be able to do all of this ourselves and not rely on grants. Kelley acknowledges that there might be some merit in the idea and it deserves some examination. It might be possible to use reserves to start up the service but would have to take a look at the payscales. Montgomery notes that the EMS has been privatized sine 1996 and a city-operated one may be vastly more expensive. He is looking to an expected benchmarking study to see if the current WFD staffing is too low. But he does note that the WFD can respond to the current EMS RFP to demonstrate that they can be competitive. Williams will do the city-owned EMS and he goes on to tell the WFD folks in the audience that he doesn’t need studies to know that they need more people, their EMS and whatever else is on their wish list. Of course he does not discuss the costs.

Would you live with the recommendations of the benchmarking study or would you go in another direction?

(This is a study being procured by the City to examine the current staffing and deployment of the WFD. It is pretty controversial.)

Williams would deep six all of the studies. He doesn’t think that they should be occurring at this late date in an effort to tie the new Mayor’s hands. Montgomery says the study will go on — there are fiscal issues that need addressing and they need some data to be able to access option. There are other opportunities to study efficiencies too — like trash collection. the SAFER grant runs out in 21014 — the next Mayor has to figure out how to pay for the WFD positions that were added by that grant. He notes that WFD staffing is only one person different than the 2001 staffing. Johnson also thinks it is unfair to do these studies now. Spencer also ways to stop the studies and stop spending money on them. Montgomery said he didn’t know what the study would cost (the RFP isn’t returned yet) and Spencer thought that was unacceptable, which said to me that he doesn’t quite get how consulting even works. Bovell thinks that we don’t need outside help to make this decision. Kelley notes that the optics of this study are not good, but there is a need to review the operations and staffing of the entire city government to make better decisions for resource use.

Everyone knows about the looming city deficit — would you layoff public safety personnel in the process of addressing it?

Bovell insists that his plan for the city to become a landlord will generate enough revenue to address the deficit issue and to provide everyone with a raise of 5-7%. Like magic. Johnson invokes his experience in building a church to show that he knows how to make financial decisions. But he does say that some cuts at the city level are likely inevitable and he would cut public safety last. Kelley makes the point that he does budgets for the state and works on the city financial package. He notes that the city does not have the revenues to sustain the employment of 1100 people. He would make sure that the city focuses on its core services and does those well. Won’t say no to layoffs if needed. Williams does say no to layoffs of public safety staff. He would rely on public/private partnerships , which sounds like he would get some money people detailed to him from Dover and private businesses to figure out what to do. Takes too much credit for work in Dover and seems to imply that he could get money from Dover to help bridge the gap. Montgomery discusses making tough decisions in a tough economic environment. Says that there are other places to study efficiency too. He acknowledges that city expenses go up 2-3% each year without adding services or people, but taxpayers are in no mood to pay more. Won’t say no to more layoffs and would like to be in a position to not do any. Spencer claims that he found ways on his consulting projects to not lay off people which doesn’t seem right to me. He says no to more layoffs, but would be open to reductions by attrition and makes noises about bridge financing.

Retirees have not had a COLA since 2006. How can you fix that (noting that there are now WPD retirees living in poverty)?

Montgomery notes that while the Baker admin has been able to offer COLAs a couple of times, they can’t do it this year since there is no money. He’s been trying to get Dover to help, as there is apparently a pot of money available for this purpose. The problem is that the city has to put in some funds to take advantage of this. They are trying to get a waiver. Bovell notes that we have to be responsible for ourselves and turns again to his City Landlord plan. Kelley notes that pension and health care funding is a problem everywhere. He would want to take a specific look at options for addressing this. Spencer reminds people that his dad is retired WPD and he would want to fix some of the unjust rules around these pensions. He would add revenue to the city’s coffers by expanding the number of businesses and residents in the City. Johnson won’t make any promises on this. Williams again trots out his relationships with Dover, arrogantly claims that he is the one who gets money for the city in Dover and says that the city hasn’t been able to come up with it’s 1/3 to get the COLA funds.

What will you do to help fix the relationship between city council and labor unions?

Williams will get rid of arrogance (an arrogance that Williams has put on display all evening), meet with unions every 30 days, keep an open door and not get spun around on the issues. No mention of city council. Montgomery notes that they already meet quarterly and wasn’t aware that the relationships were adversarial. Aware that the city can’t give unions everything they want, but that doesn’t make the relationship adversarial. Thinks the relationship with City Council is fine. Johnson also doesn’t think that the relationships are strained and notes that arrogance is not unique to the administration. Spencer will earn the respect of city council and unions and will meet more often if needed. Bovell wants us to take care of ourselves again. Kelley says that all of us have a job to do and it is important to talk. He does say that union contracts do take too long to negotiate and approve. He apologizes if there is a strained relationship with city council.

The closing comments don’t shed too much that is new, except it does give Williams to chance to specifically and arrogantly demean each of his debaters — one by one — and then talking about himself. Very bad form, indeed. Spencer takes the chance to talk about community policing which is the only time it gets mentioned outside of Kelley’s opening statement. Kelley closes by noting that he is not an “i” guy, he is a “we” guy working on the big issues.

Interestingly, there was no discussion about a better use of public safety resources or in legislative initiatives that make make the work of catching criminals and guns more effective. It was also interesting that there is a question about the health of downtown when there are areas all over the city that need to be healthy and do not have the attention or the funds from the city to get there. I wonder if this isn’t a key outcome of the decision to let city employees live outside of the city — a key segment of its employees only see the city as a place to extract resources. It doesn’t help that we have a bunch of candidates enabling that point of view.

So how did they do? I think that Bovell won’t be much of a factor in this race. His idea of making the City a mega landlord not only ignores the fact that there would need to be a large outlay to get those properties in order, but asks taxpayers to to approve the city getting into this business. Pastor D did a good job– he had a number of excellent points and spent the evening speaking to his audience, not preaching to it. He was better prepared than the first debate, but at the end, I don’t seem him making the full lap. Spencer is running to be Consultant In Chief and I think is counting on the fact that he is speaking to lots of people who don’t know how consulting (or business) works. Lots of business jargon without the right context. Montgomery made alot of sense and you can understand how he wouldn’t want to commit to union issues while he is currently governing. But this goes back to his real problem — he is running as the 4th term of Jim Baker and won’t get away from explaining, excusing and defending this administration. He should have let his job go on 1 January to run as his own person. He does not get that people think that this Administration is a failure. Kelley did fine — he did little pandering, tried to stay open to options and worked at respecting his audience. Williams did more of the bully boy act that is apparently going to be his campaign persona. Someone needs to tell him that he cannot criticize the arrogance of the man who he would like to replace by being arrogant and disrespectful too. The thing about Jim Baker is that you know pretty precisely why he is getting on his high horse. Williams does it because he thinks it looks good. It is insufferable, really, and doesn’t substitute for real leadership.


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"You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas." -Shirley Chisholm

Comments (15)

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  1. pandora says:

    Thank you so much for doing this, Cassandra! Excellent blogging!

    There’s a lot to be discussed here, and I want to read this again, but…

    I think that Bovell won’t be much of a factor in this race. Has he ever been a factor? LOL!

  2. Anthony Goode @wilmfire says:

    While I have always liked to here from Cassandra through her blogs and she does give great ones my perception of the event differed completely! Cassandra comes hard on Williams who made it obvious that he knew of the issues concerning rolling bypass, SAFER Grants and EMS. He was already aware of the RFP as we’re some of the other candidates. While there were those who spoke well to the two Public Safety Unions (hence the term public safety forum) they often did not answer all the questions and like Cassandra appears to have been doing, the often went back to trying to touch on how to handle crime in Wilmington. This Forum wasn’t about the Public’s safety in Wilmington it was a question answer opportunity

  3. Blu Gal in DE says:

    Thank you so much for all your work on this, Cassandra! Excellent!

    I found the tiny report in the NJ to be totally lacking in detail. I know they have a new city beat person. If this is how he is going to cover city politics in an election year, I’m not impressed. Of course, I guess he could be limited due to editorial priorities.

  4. Agree with Blu Gal. The News-Journal article was barely an article at all. Seemed like the reporter was unfamiliar with the beat.

    But we have Cassandra, and I’d stack her up with any reporter in the city. Great stuff, Cass!

  5. Anthony Goode @wilmfire says:

    For each candidate to answer questions which address specific issues facing police and fire. This event had no applause or ra, ra cheering corners for the candidates it wasn’t meant for entertainment it was for the public safety unions to evaluate candidates and their proposed direction for public safety. I had an open mind to each candidate and I did not like everything that was said not did I feel that each candidate understood all of the asked about issues but while Cassandra had her perception of arrogance and what she felt may have been simple answers by some candidates, that may have been exactly what this audience was looking for. But everyone knows what they say about opinions!

  6. cassandra m says:

    Thanks everybody — there may be TOO much detail in this!

    And Anthony is right, there was no applause or cheering or jeering. The audience was silent, respectful and seemed engaged to me. And certainly everyone walks away with their own impressions. It is hard to look at the questions asked and think that there was a discussion of Public Safety going on. YMMV. What Anthony doesn’t know is that I had a number of WPD friends in the room and the Williams arrogance was noticed by *each* of them, so I’m certainly not alone in that. But it is OK if that is what you want to vote for.

  7. anon says:

    I’m just curious – if it wasn’t open to the public, how did you get in?

  8. Anthony Goode @wilmfire says:

    Im not saying that Cassandra, and I know exactly where you sat and who you sat with. While they are friends and respectful just as I don’t speak for all, neither do they! What I am saying is that for what firefighters were looking for they had a first time glance to see. Those who understand our issues and are willing to work towards solving them and those who either had no clue or dimply would not change a plan simply because it may have been their plan in the first place! Operational flexibility and adaptability is a key trait of any leader, so if the plan isn’t working, work to change it! If the citizens of Wilmington want to countinue to want more to be done with less or have expectations that we may have the ability to provide a service that is constantly being challenged by reductions in resources then they must understand how that effects their own safety. You see if you would have canvassed more than just those you sat near you may have learned about the others feelings towards all the candidates. That may have made you have a different perception of what you saw and heard. I like your down to earth honest blogs but they are based off of your perceptions. Please countinue to write them because like others have commented other media outlets were lacking in information!

  9. Anthony Goode @wilmfire says:

    Anon; as a respected blogger who’s blogs are widely followed, Cassandra was invited.

  10. cassandra_m says:

    Thanks Anthony — and may thanks to the WFD and WPD who opened their debate to me and Delaware Liberal.

    And the people who were my friends at that event weren’t sitting near me. In fact, one didn’t see me! I tried to stay pretty far out of everyone’s way.

  11. Jefferson says:

    Great job, thanks!

  12. Bob W. 7th district says:

    Facts well stated. As a recently retired WPD staff officer, city resident and candidate in the 2012 elections, I find it very important to get the facts out there in the open for all to formulate an opinion.
    All of the topics duscussed were important to both Departments. The need to have an administration to work in collaboration with is paramount. The days of negotiating in poor faith needs to be put to rest.
    The administration and both departments are stakeholders. It is shameful to see any entity of the City demonstrate in opposition of the administration. It woul lead business administrators to believe that they too might find themselves in similar situations, thus keeping their business out of the city.

    It is still early to determine a front runner, but forums like this and good honest reporting will allow for the true leader to emerge.

  13. fred smith says:

    Bovell insists that his plan for the city to become a landlord will generate enough revenue to address the deficit issue and to provide everyone with a raise of 5-7%. Great way to buy some votes since he probably wont get enough from the neighborhoods.

  14. cassandra m says:

    Thanks for your comments, Bob. Hope to talk to you sometime about your run for City Council! Want to comment on this:
    The administration and both departments are stakeholders.

    True. As are the property owners who face tax increases to pay for whatever gets agreed to here. It is the people who pay these bills who are the folks that the City is pretty deaf to.

    Fred — I don’t see Bovell as getting much traction with his City Landlord idea. Most folks will get that this is a pretty delusional plan.

  15. Bob W 7th District says:

    As a property owner, I know full well that my taxes fund the negotiations. As a member of the Union negotiating with the city I also know the shortcomings of flawed negotiations. All I’m saying is that the negotiations be forthright, honest, and sincere.
    A large company wishing to land its workforce within the corporate limits will take head to the negotiation practices of the administration.
    As for the financial outcome of the negotiations, time will tell the depth of the situation that faces the City and it’s people.
    I think the members of both departments are realistic in that they want to see a commitment from the city that the workforce is a priority.
    Some deep cuts will most likely be needed.
    I will be happy to meet and discuss my desire to serve the residents of this City.