The Common Council's majority leader started a process today that could remove city Parks Commissioner Robert E. Delano from the city payroll after he declined to appear before a Council committee.
In response to Delano's refusal to appear, Council Majority Leader Eugene M. Fahey introduced a resolution that would allow the Council to subpoena Delano and force him to appear before the Council Finance Committee.
If Delano continues to refuse, or if he attends and won't answer Council questions, Fahey said, he will seek to remove Delano from his job by dropping him from the city payroll.
Fahey's wants Delano to be subpoenaed to appear at the next committee meeting Feb. 6. The full Council would vote on Fahey's request next Tuesday.
Assistant City Attorney Russell Sciandra said in an informal opinion at the committee meeting that the Council does not have the authority to remove Delano from the payroll. He did not explain further, and Fahey did not change his mind as a result.
Delano, in his first major response to charges coming from a federal investigation of his department, said Tuesday that media reports about the probe are filled with false accusations.
"I feel that appearing before the Council at this time would hinder any later litigation that might arise from this investigation," Delano said.
"I would like to begin by saying that I am willing to cooperate with Council members completely at the right time. Unfortunately, the news media has made so many false accusations and blown this investigation so far from reality that I was forced to seek the advice of an attorney.
"He has advised me not to make any statements pertaining to this investigation or my department."
Delaware Council Member Alfred T. Coppola today went one step further than Fahey and said Mayor Griffin should be requested to discuss the matter with the Council.
Coppola said the mayor should be subpoenaed if he refuses.
"Everyone is listening to these problems except the guy on the second floor," Coppola said.
Sciandra said he didn't know whether the Council could subpoena the mayor.
Coppola criticized Delano's claim that his situation is being exaggerated by the Council and the media.
"It's because of the situation he put himself into, not us and not the media," he said.
Fahey said today the Council should not bring Griffin into the controversy.
"I don't agree with subpoenaing the mayor at this point," he said. "This is an attempt to escalate the situation that isn't warranted at this point."
Fahey's subpoena would require Delano to appear before the Council and also demands that Parks Department records be produced. He is asking for records regarding the department's firewood lottery as well as a list of department purchases.
"Our job is to find out what's going on in the Parks Department, and if the reports are true in the newspaper, to get those people out of city government," Fahey said.
"The idea is the city Parks Department can't run as it is now," Fahey said. "Either Mr. Delano should go to another spot, or he should be forced to take a leave of absence."
In another development today, parks workers reported that a wooden barricade is being built inside the offices of the Delaware Park labor center where Delano and his top aides have their offices.
A parks employee who asked not to be identified said the barricade is going up just inside the office entrance and appears designed to keep television reporters from entering the offices and filming while they ask clerical workers for Delano.
The barrier is being erected, he said, by parks workers with material from the carpentry shop at the barns.
Another parks worker said that an employee is now assigned to watch the parking lot at the barns. Whenever a reporter arrives, he said, the worker sounds an alarm and closes all the garage doors.
Shortly after Delano's letter was submitted Monday, 10 Council members, including Fahey, attended a previously scheduled meeting with U.S. Attorney Dennis Vacco to discuss the case. Vacco asked the Council to avoid any questioning of Delano that could interfere with his federal investigation.
After the one-hour meeting, Vacco and the Council members held a brief press conference.
"It was a worthwhile meeting," Vacco said. "I had previously told them that I would not be able to reveal any details of the investigation, and they did not press me on that."