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In The News

Commentary: Accountability, transparency reform needed to rebuild public trust

From: Bay to Bay News ,By Rep. Bryan Shupe

The debate over whether indicted State Auditor Kathleen McGuiness should resign or take a leave of absence from her post highlights a larger systematic failure on the issue of government accountability and transparency in Delaware.

Over the last 18 months, we have seen five Delaware elected officials accused of misconduct. While every citizen should find this disturbing, almost as troubling is that each case has been treated differently. As it stands, legislators pick and choose which colleagues will be held accountable and which ones will be subject to a lesser standard.

I do not believe justice is something that should be decided on an arbitrary sliding scale, based on the personal whims of legislators or the political affiliation of the accused. There should be clear protocols for handling all cases of official misconduct involving elected officials in an equitable fashion. Without a systematic approach written into law, legislators cannot expect to retain the public’s trust, which is the foundation of our republic. Read more.

Legislators eye ‘Ready in 6’ bills next year

From: Delaware Business Times

DOVER  — With the business in Delaware stabilizing in a new normal, legislators are reportedly drafting bills to expedite development in the First State.

Rep. Bill Bush (D-Dover) told Dover business leaders last week that he was working on bills that will move the needle on the state permitting process and ideally land regional development projects as a result. Bush is the chair of the Economic Development Committee and also sits on the board of the Delaware Propensity Partnership, the state’s public-private economic development agency.

“It’s been talked about for years, but it seems like stakeholders are really on board with this,” Bush told the Downtown Dover Partnership executive committee during its October meeting. “I’m looking forward to next year, and hopefully the governor will have it on his agenda for the State of the State [address], but we will see.” Read more.

How States Can Responsibly Expand Broadband

From: American Action Forum 

The bipartisan infrastructure legislation that has passed the Senate provides $65 billion for internet infrastructure, primarily intended for states and localities to expand access and help close the digital divide.

Effectively employing these funds will require that state and local policymakers understand the causes of the digital divide in their communities, focus on expanding connectivity to those most in need, remove barriers to deploying internet infrastructure, and embrace a range of technological solutions. Policymakers should resist top-down, government-run solutions such as municipal broadband.

The bipartisan infrastructure funding package that passed the Senate and awaits a House vote includes $65 billion for internet infrastructure. Much of this funding will be directed to state and local governments to undertake projects to close the digital divide. As state and local policymakers prepare for this potential influx of broadband funds, they should look to ensure sound policy will enable it to be utilized to its fullest potential impact and be mindful of pitfalls that could fail to achieve the goals of closing the digital divide. Read more.

 

 

Delaware Senate Leader Supports Creation of Inspector General’s Office

From WDEL News: State Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola supports the creation of an inspector general’s office in Delaware.

Sokola told WDEL he’s working with advocates from the Delaware Coalition for Open Government (DelCOG) on the issue.

“I think it would be a good first step,” said Sokola. “Many states have these, and they seem to have pretty good track record in most states.”DelCOG President Nick Wasileski said the Office of an Inspector General (IG) is needed to eliminate partisan politics and special interest influence. He pointed to the dismantling of the Rodney Square bus hub and the demolition of the General Motors plant on Boxwood Road, which has since become a massive Amazon fulfillment center.

“It seems like every few months, some issue comes up that really begs the question why isn’t somebody digging into this, looking into this, and for whatever reason it is not, and whether it’s the [state] agency failing to act, to look at a complaint about its own operation…or whether it’s some other issue that’s come up that people feel like the only real way to do it is to have an independent organization look at it, and that’s what an IG is, essentially, when structures right…they would be able to go in and have the authority to look at it, and nobody could really stop it from being examined, investigated,” said DelCOG Vice President Keith Steck.

The indictment of Auditor Kathy McGuiness on felony charges of witness intimidation, theft, and official misconduct has renewed the group’s charge, DelCOG said. Read more.

States Bolster Program Evaluation Work With American Rescue Plan Funds

From: The Pew Charitable Trusts  The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides funding for states to address immediate challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic and to develop sustainable solutions to help their economies recover. To meet these goals, the law includes $195 billion in flexible funding for states to use for various services and capacity-building efforts. And in a push to improve the efficacy of state programs, the money can be used for “data analysis, targeted consumer outreach, improvements to data or technology infrastructure, and impact evaluations.”

Since ARPA’s enactment in March, Results First has encouraged states to focus on that last potential use of the federal money: investing in impact evaluations. These are rigorous assessments of programs’ effectiveness that can inform decisions about which interventions to support, revise, or eliminate; they are key components of evidence-based policymaking efforts. Read more.

Keeping Local Governments’ Hands out of the Broadband Cookie Jar

From: Citizens Against Government Waste

Despite the availability of $800 billion for infrastructure projects, including broadband, the bipartisan infrastructure package includes another $65 billion for broadband deployment.  The funding is being made available with few, if any, guardrails against local governments using the funding to overbuild over top existing broadband networks, and it is neither vendor nor technology neutral.

The need for access to broadband was never made clearer than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when tens of millions of Americans suddenly needed to go online to work, learn, and socialize.  As a result of the investment of more than $1.8 trillion by the private sector to create the technology necessary to build the world’s most resilient networks, a competitive marketplace, and mostly light touch regulations, the U.S. telecommunications network held up far better than its global counterparts.  In June 2020, a few months into the lockdowns and shutdowns, fixed and mobile broadband download speeds in the U.S. were 150 percent and 75 percent higher, respectively, than the comparable global median download speeds.

Americans can now get connected through multiple means, including cable, fiber, fixed wireless, mobile, wireline DSL, and satellite broadband.  Families and businesses in hard-to-reach areas of the country have found that newer technologies like TV white space and low-earth orbit satellites are making the internet more accessible.  Consumers continue to reap the benefits of these technologies.  U.S. Telecom reported in its “ 2021 Broadband Pricing Index” that the U.S. has made three times the investment in broadband deployment and adoption as the European Union, resulting in better service and higher speeds at a lower cost, even with the increased usage during the pandemic.

While the best way to allow this incredible progress to continue would be to keep the government out of the way, President Biden’s June 9, 2021 “competition” Executive Order (EO) and his American Jobs Plan both prioritize a single technology (fiber) and networks owned or operated by local governments, cooperatives, and nonprofits rather than private companies.  The resiliency and success of broadband service and access depends on multiple technologies and a competitive marketplace.  A single technology and limited providers will result in higher prices, fewer choices, and less innovation, among other adverse consequences. Read more here.

 

VIEWPOINT: Delaware needs an inspector general avatarJacob Owens October 25, 2021

From: Delaware Business Times

Two recent revelations – the indictment of Delaware’s Auditor of Accounts and the existence of secretive state contracts with the largest mental health and substance abuse services provider involving tens of millions of tax dollars – puts the need for a nonpartisan, independent State Office of the Inspector General in the spotlight once again.

The inspector general not only would be authorized to investigate possible illegal activities of state agency officials, but also could investigate mismanagement issues that otherwise do not rise to the level of a crime but are detrimental to Delaware and its citizens.

Because an inspector general can act in concert with the Delaware Attorney General or the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a State Office of the Inspector General, promoting ethical and legal behavior and stopping agency mismanagement and abuse of office, would benefit all Delawareans.

It is important to note that citing agency mismanagement is not in any way a condemnation of the many Delaware state employees who serve with integrity and dedication.

But when state agencies fail in their missions, exceed their boundaries, or ignore their inherent responsibilities, the public has the right to demand solutions and expect them to be implemented.

Transparency, accountability, and “in the public interest” are essential guideposts to assist Delaware state-agency officials in making decisions and carrying out policies for the well-being, safety, and happiness of Delaware’s citizens, as well as properly using taxpayer money and following state laws.

When state agencies dismiss these guideposts and fail to employ effective internal controls, misconduct, mismanagement, and neglect of office swiftly can lead to conflicting policies and actions and even fraud. Read more.

Steel company to build turbine bases for wind project off the DE-MD coast

From: Delaware Business Now

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday  joined Ørsted and Crystal Steel in Caroline County on the state’s Eastern Shore to announce Maryland’s first offshore wind steel fabrication center.

“The entire mission of my administration has been to leave our state in better shape for future generations,” said Hogan. “That means adding jobs, it means making Maryland more affordable, and it also means investing in our state’s energy future. That’s exactly why I’m so pleased to celebrate this transformative partnership between Ørsted and Crystal Steel to establish Maryland’s very first offshore wind steel fabrication center.”

The $72 million partnership will allow Crystal Steel to increase its workforce by 30% in order to construct Ørsted’s turbine foundations. These turbines will provide renewable energy to 1.3 million homes across the state.

The turbines would operate about 20 miles off the coast of Fenwick Island, DE, and Ocean City, Md at Ørsted’s Skipjack wind farm.

Ocean City officials want to move the turbines and towers further offshore, claiming the structures will damage tourism. Wind power backers say the turbine towers that are equal in height to large skyscrapers will amount to a dot on the horizon.

While the Skipjack power would be counted toward Maryland’s renewable energy mandate, Ørsted says the wind farm will boost the Delaware economy.

Ørsted expects electric lines from Skipjack to come ashore in Delaware, with the Indian River Power Plant site a possible candidate. The coal-fired plant could close as early as next year.

Hogan noted that Maryland has experienced the nation’s fourth-fastest job growth and was recently named the most improved state for business in America.

State Senate releases draft district maps for public review

From: Delaware Public Media

State senators have released the first drafts of new district maps today.

In Delaware, state lawmakers are responsible for drawing the maps that split the state up for the next ten years.

And a ten percent increase in population from 2010 means the state senate districts have changed dramatically.

Districts around some of Delaware’s larger cities have shifted to be represented by just one state senator, Middletown being a prominent example alongside Smyrna.

Newark’s districts have also shifted, as was predicted by Senate President Pro Temp Dave Sokola. Sokola says Newark’s districts may look different because many students who are typically counted during the census were absent last year during the pandemic.

And according to senate staff, none of the current state senators have been pushed out of their own districts, although the districts they represent may encompass entirely new cities. Read more.

Wilmington officials, workers now required to take annual ethics training

From: Delaware Live 

Wilmington elected officials, appointed officials and city employees will be required to participate in annual ethics training thanks to an ordinance passed during Thursday’s City Council meeting.

The proposal, sponsored by the council’s lone Republican member, James Spadola, passed with 10 council members voting ‘yes.’

Councilwomen Shané Darby, D-District 2, and Yolanda McCoy, D-District 6, voted ‘present,’ and Councilwoman Loretta Walsh, D-At Large, was absent.

Under the ordinance, the city’s mayor, treasurer, council members and full-time city employees will be required to attend or watch a recording of an Ethics Commission-approved training presentation, then submit a certification verifying they attended the session.

“It’s important for ethics to be ever-present in our minds as we’re going about our day-to-day business,” Spadola said while introducing the ordinance. “This is about preventing unintentional mistakes due to not being up to speed on the ins and outs of the law.” Read more.