Bob Cairns: Delaware board faces a crisis of confidence

 Cairns 

I covered the Delaware County Board of Supervisors for a very long time.

When long-time Roxbury Supervisor Tom Hynes retired at the end of last year, there was no one there who had been around to see him join the board decades earlier.

I was there. I remember his predecessor, a guy named David Munsell.

I was a teenage reporter when I attended my first meeting of that board in 1980. I had little understanding of what I’d been thrown into, but I figured it out.

Over the decades since then (decades!) I’ve seen a lot of business transpire there. I’ve seen a lot of supervisors and several chairmen come and go.

My relationships with those supervisors have ranged from strictly professional to friendly, with occasional flare-ups of hostility. I’ve had a lot of respect for some of them and not so much for others.

But I’ve never seen supervisors so disillusioned with their leadership that there was an open challenge to the election of a chairman, as there was this week.

For background, the election of a chair is a done deal before a vote is taken each January. From time immemorial, Republicans have held the majority of the seats and weighted votes. They hold a party caucus in December of each year and decide who the leaders will be.

The vote of the board in January is merely a formality.

Because the caucus is a party event and not a government event, there is no requirement that it be open to the public.

Democrats, always in the minority, have always gone along. To do otherwise would be pointless.

That’s why it was stunning that Democrats ran their own candidate, Hamden Supervisor Wayne Marshfield, against incumbent Republican Tina Mole on Wednesday.

It was symbolic, of course, doomed from the start, but the very idea that it happened, and that Marshfield was willing to accept a nomination, is telling.

Marshfield is as dedicated and thoughtful a man as I have seen at the board table. I have not always agreed with his positions, but I have never doubted they came from a genuine desire to serve county residents. He makes a point of asking pertinent questions and explaining his votes. He’s not afraid to go against the majority when he feels it’s called for.

Confidence in Delaware County’s government appears to be at a real low in the wake of Mole’s costly removal of a Social Services commissioner who displeased her, by the county’s continued acquisition of buildings in the village of Delhi and the insistence by some board members that a pricey new Public Works facility be built on a Delhi farm, despite the wishes of Delhi residents.

I seldom go to the grocery store without hearing about it from someone.

Marshfield touched on that when our reporter talked to him after Wednesday’s meeting. He knew he was not going to be elected as chairman.

“Part of the goal was to make a statement,” he said. “Our county has been torn apart this past year and we need to come back together as one.”

It was nice to hear that Marshfield would have “vowed to be more transparent” and hoped to “regain a working relationship” with local media outlets.

It would have been nice to see him get that chance.

The secrecy of the county’s hierarchy — which pre-dates the current chair — has long been a source of aggravation for county residents and the media members who seek to inform them.

Mole’s recent, unwarranted claims that media sources were biased against her in the Social Services case did not help matters any.

This is hardly the first time the county has faced adversity.

For example, I remember the 1980s, when what is now the Senator Charles D. Cook County Office Building came to be. A historic Victorian house was torn down to make room for it, despite protests. The office building was the subject of lawsuits when the county and the contractor came to disagreement over their contract. It was a mess. Fingers were pointed and voices were raised.

But, it passed.

Today’s woes will, too, but it would be good for the people at the board table to take some lessons from them. More of them, as Marshfield did, need to “make a statement.”

Robert Cairns is the managing editor of The Daily Star. Contact him at rcairns@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7217.

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