Meyer and Purzycki to meet with mayor who successfully merged services
By Kathy Canavan
Mayor-Elect Mike Purzycki and County Executive-Elect Matt Meyer have scheduled a meeting with a Kentucky mayor who successfully merged a major city and the surrounding county.
Meyer and Purzycki said today they will meet with Jerry Abramson, who was once dubbed “mayor for life” in Louisville, Ky.
Abramson, now an official in the Obama administration, served as mayor of Louisville for two decades ““ three terms as mayor of the old city of Louisville and another two as the first mayor of the consolidated city-county, which lowered costs for most operations.
Purzycki said he wants to see how others have consolidated services and found efficiencies. “For me, it is an opportunity to discuss ideas that have worked elsewhere, without any preconceived objectives at all.”
“I think we’re going to see an extraordinary level of cooperation like never before between a state, county and a city to make less government, to make more efficient government,” Meyer said. “I’m lucky because one thing that Mike Purzycki and John Carney have that I don’t have is experience working in county government.”
When Bill Freeborn introduced Purzycki at a Delaware Contractors Association meeting this morning, he said, “This is a guy who’s going to make stuff happen.”
More than double the usual number of members turned out to hear Purzycki and Meyer. Several were contributors to Purzycki’s campaign.
The former New York Giant used football jargon to explain why he ran at 71: “I took a look at what’s happening to the city, and I just felt compelled to do this”¦ It’s really important. Our city, somebody described it as fourth and 10.”
Audience members listened intently when Purzycki told them that he asked a young city resident how many of his friends have been in prison: “He said, “˜All of them.’ That is the world that we live in.”
He sketched the basics of his plan ““ reviving city neighborhoods, working with the legislature to give the city more autonomy, and, as he put it to the contractors, “treating people like yourself as valued partners.”
Sean Healy, vice president at Healy Long & Jevin Concrete Construction, told them how contractors are treated currently: “If you walk into a city or a county building with a set of plans, it’s like you’re bothering everybody. If you have a question and there’s eight people drinking coffee there, it’s like, “˜Hello?’ What do all these people do? I’m standing here for 40 minutes.”
“We’re in the customer service business,” Meyer said, promising that he will fix service and complaints will be channeled directly to his office. “We could infuse technology into the process, so, at least for some part of it, you don’t have to deal with human beings,” he said.
Purzycki got the group laughing when he told of the problems he had building a skating rink at the Wilmington Riverfront: “It’s a slab of ice a foot off the ground. It’s not like we had all the time in the world. I mean, you’ve got to skate while it’s cold. They wanted two ADA bathrooms at a skating rink. I said, “˜Can we get away with one? I don’t think we’re going to have a big rush of guys in wheelchairs trying to get off the ice to use the ADA bathrooms.”
He got a no answer, but he said he expects those who want to build in the city will get better service in the future. “If we don’t get it, then somebody’s going to be doing something else for a living,” he said.
Purzycki said he’s been briefed on the state of the city and he has a different perspective now: “It’s like Donald Trump –he gets the briefing on North Korea. Wouldn’t we like to be in that room. I got the briefing too, so my feelings are somewhat modified. The city has some structural problems we have to deal with.”
He said the city has a larger degree of state financial oversight than other municipalities. “Shouldn’t the city be able to screw up by itself or succeed by itself?” he asked. “We don’t even have the ability to fail by ourselves.”
For example, he said financial constraints led to city police being paid about 20 percent less than other police, so officers are given additional time off, and, when that’s added to officers on leave or desk duty or National Guard duty, there are not enough patrol officers. “We have plenty of cops, we don’t have enough cops on the street,” he said. “They’re underpaid, so they have to get paid more, but I can’t do that.”
He said Meyer’s chief of staff will make $140,000, but the city chief of staff made $112,000 last year.
“We keep doing things on the cheap, and doing it on the cheap causes the problems,” he said. “The giveaways they negotiated deeply impede the ability to run the office.”
He said the city has beautiful neighborhoods just blocks away from “war zones.” “We want to go into the worst parts of the city and say, “˜We’re not putting up with this any more,’ he said. “We have to prioritize our neighborhoods”¦Once you lose them, the only people who will move in there are people who don’t care.”