Bringing Wilmington Together
Beginning with City Council
Meetings of Wilmington City Council today are bad advertisements for our City. If you didn’t know Wilmington and you went to a Wilmington City Council meeting today or watched one online, you wouldn't want to move to here. Many who live here have tuned out.
Changing this is partly about changing how City Council does its business.
More civility. At times it seems like City Council Members are more concerned with crafting one-liners to zing their perceived adversaries than in crafting public policy. Members of City Council need to be able to discuss serious and sensitive issues with civility. At times, that is going to mean, for individual Council Members, resisting the temptation when attacked to go on the counterattack.
More substance. It is easy for City Council to devolve into bickering because so little of Council Members’ time together is spent focused on the substance of the city’s needs.
City Council needs to conduct meaningful hearings. Wilmington City Council does not conduct the kind of serious and informative hearings that most legislative bodies in America, at every level of government, do. Legislative hearings are important not only for providing transparency and accountability in government and for informing the public, but for giving context and focus to Council’s legislative work. They can further be an opportunity for Council to learn from the public and experts in various fields. Since Council’s discussions of proposed ordinances and resolutions are so rarely grounded in relevant and accurate information generated through meaningful hearings, Council meetings all too often lack focus and are unproductive.
City Council needs to work on problem-solving legislation. City Council spends too much time debating resolutions that proclaim Council’s opinion and otherwise have no legal effect. Conversely, Council spends too little time bringing forward substantive solutions to the city’s challenges in the way of impactful legislation. Even where policy changes are needed at the state and federal level, direct engagement with state officials and the federal delegation by Council Members is by far more likely to bring about needed change than declaratory resolutions. Meanwhile, City Council agendas full of declaratory resolutions turn Council into a debating society rather than a community-focused, problem-solving legislature, which is a recipe for division and futility.
Changing how City Council does its business is only part of the solution. To truly overcome the division that is all too raw and on regular display on Council, City Council needs to change what it conceives of as being its business to begin with. City Council must begin to address in a serious, candid and proactive way our historic and enduring challenges as a city. That means addressing systemic racism. That means addressing the deep and continuing disparities in opportunity in Wilmington. That means directly addressing, where it exists and is communicated to Council, community alienation and distrust of those in authority.
On this last front, City Council has missed some important opportunities. It should not have taken the murder of George Floyd and protests in the streets of Wilmington for City Council to establish a definite plan and timeline for deploying police body cameras, as has been done for years in the County. It should not have taken the murder of George Floyd and protests in the streets for Wilmington City Council to insist on transparency around WPD’s policies and procedures. Appropriate oversight and accountability of the City’s largest department is simply impossible without legislative and public transparency.