Newark’s newest council member took the oath of office Thursday during a socially distanced meeting at city hall.
Councilwoman Dwendolyn Creecy replaces District 4 Councilman Chris Hamilton, who declined to seek a third term. Creecy is a resident of the College Park neighborhood and has worked as a teacher and a dental assistant. She previously served as a councilwoman in Upper Darby, Pa., before moving to Delaware.
Also sworn in Thursday were Councilman James Horning Jr. and Councilwoman Sharon Hughes, who each secured a second term. No one filed to run against any of the three, causing the April 13 election to be canceled.
All three will serve a two-year term.
Thursday’s swearing-in marked only the second time council has gathered in the same room in more than a year, with the other instance being a previous swearing-in ceremony. Council has been meeting virtually via an online live-streaming software since the pandemic began. It will return to online meetings Monday but gathered in person in order to allow for the new members to be sworn in by City Secretary Renee Bensley.
Three council members sat at the dais, and the others were at individual tables spread around the room. All wore masks the entire time, even while speaking.
The meeting was closed to members of the public, who instead watched via livestream.
During the hour-long meeting, Horning was unanimously appointed deputy mayor for the second year. The deputy mayor presides over meetings when the mayor is absent.
Council also amended its rules of procedures to slightly reduce the number of meetings it holds each year.
Historically, council met twice a month, but increased that to four times a month after Mayor Jerry Clifton was elected in 2019. At the time, Clifton said meeting more frequently would reduce the length of meetings – which occasionally ran past midnight – thus eliminating the need for citizens to wait hours to speak their mind on issues up for a vote.
Under the new schedule, council will reduce the frequency to three times per month in June and July to provide members and the public with breaks in the summer. March, August, October and November will continue to have four meetings. The other months already have three or fewer due to holidays and a break for the city election.
Councilman Jason Lawhorn, joined by Horning and Councilman Travis McDermott, advocated for even fewer meetings. They argued that the increased workload has made it harder to find candidates to run for council and alienated some members of the public who find it harder to keep up with city politics.
“I’ve heard, ‘I just can’t keep up because you guys have so many meetings. I used to pay attention, but you guys are having meetings all the time and I can’t keep up so I don’t pay attention anymore.’ I’ve heard that quite a bit,” Lawhorn said.
McDermott, who has young children, said four meetings a month take a toll on council members with families.
“If you want to truly have a diversified council with people from all age groups, all races, and all sexes, that includes working parents,” McDermott said. “It’s a huge deterrent, the amount of work that is actually required to do this job.”
Clifton countered that fewer meetings will mean longer meetings again, as he recalled watching in years past as members of the public got frustrated and left a meeting without getting a chance to comment on a development project or other controversial topic.
“If we move forward and it’s 11 or 12 o’clock, I think the pushback is going to be absolutely hard on that, especially since we have the option,” Clifton said.
“I think making any changes at this point would be detrimental to how much progress we've made,” Hughes said, adding that her constituents appreciate shorter, more frequent meetings. “I haven't heard any complaints that there's too many meetings, because they have become accustomed to it. They know every Monday, there's going to be a meeting and whatever is on their mind and whatever's going on and whatever they need to catch up on, they can dial in.”
Council also agreed to move more items to the consent agenda in an attempt to streamline meetings. The consent agenda consists of minor, non-controversial items and is voted on en masse without discussion. Any council member can request an item be pulled from the consent agenda for discussion and a separate vote.
Under the new rules, contracts under $75,000, monthly financial reports, debt/lease resolutions, grant support resolutions and certain staff reports will all be moved to the consent agenda.