Posted: Jan. 30, 2004

Here is the text of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's veto message on a bill that would keep the New Castle County Council at seven members, instead of expanding it to 13 members with the 2004 election.


 Pursuant to Article III, Section 18 of the Delaware Constitution, I am vetoing Senate Bill No. 53 by returning it to the Delaware State Senate without my signature for reconsideration. 

 Senate Bill No. 53 seeks to repeal action taken by the General Assembly nearly eight years ago to expand the New Castle County Council, from its current seven members to thirteen members (comprised of twelve members representing councilmanic districts, and a president of Council elected at large).  In 1996, the General Assembly determined that a seven-member Council for our State’s most populous County had become unworkable, and directed that the Council be expanded from seven to thirteen members during the next election cycle, that is, incident to the 1998 election.   Subsequently, the deadline for the expansion of Council has twice been extended, and under current law the Council is to be expanded as part of the upcoming 2004 election.  In reliance on the law as it is currently written, New Castle County Council has specially appointed a bi-partisan commission of citizens to consider new councilperson election districts.  That commission painstakingly prepared new district maps for the twelve newly drawn council districts.  The commission’s proposed maps were subject to review and comment by the public, and on September 22, 2003 – just over 4 months ago – these maps were finally adopted.   

Two critical factors compel a veto of Senate Bill No. 53.  The first factor is procedural:  it is simply too late in the day to again deprive the citizens of New Castle County the Council structure that they have been promised for eight years.  An immeasurable amount of time, money and effort has been expended to clear the way for this expansion of Council in the coming year.   While reasonable people can debate whether the expansion should be to nine, ten, eleven or twelve seats, the time for that debate has passed.  County government, and the citizens of New Castle County, have all expended too much effort and energy in preparing for a new structure of government to cavalierly dismiss such efforts.

Second, and more importantly, the grounds supporting an expansion of New Castle County Council are more pressing today than they were when the General Assembly initially approved the expansion due to population growth.  Currently, the average ratio of citizens to Council members in New Castle County is over 84,000.   Allowing the expansion of Council as previously planned reduces that number to about 42,000 residents per Councilperson.  Even with that change, it is significant that New Castle County’s councilpersons will still represent on average a substantially greater number of citizens than other elected officials in our State.  By comparison, each member of the State House of Representatives represents 19,418 citizens; each member of the Delaware State Senate represents 37,912 citizens; each Commissioner of the Kent County Levy Court represents 21,511 citizens, and each member of Sussex County Council represents 32,254 citizens.  When reviewed in context, it is clear that the expansion of New Castle County Council merely makes the ratio of representation of Council members comparable to the ratio of other elected legislative officials.  Conversely, an expanded Council structure helps to assure that each citizen of New Castle County has a better chance of being well-represented, with the opportunity to meet with his or her Councilperson and share views and suggestions, and that important legislative matters will be addressed in a timely and efficient manner.  The citizens of New Castle County have waited too long for representation on par with that of other counties and legislative bodies to turn back now.

 In light the timing with which Senate Bill No. 53 has been adopted and presented, as well as the sound policy reasons that continue to support a substantial expansion of the New Castle County Council, I have concluded that veto of this legislation is appropriate and in the best interests of New Castle County and its citizens.