County commissioner Matt Meyer is running for Governor! (S3E26)

Matt Meyer is the county executive for New Castle County, Delaware. He has four words for delivering good government to his citizens, Honesty, transparency, efficiency and inclusivity. Listen to how he explains that.


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Matt Meyer: My staff is all like, What are we going to do? We got to get the budget passed. And I guess, well, we’ll wait them out. That’s what I do at the sixth graders. And it often works. Every day when I talk to county employees and I talk to we have over 2000 employees. I talk to every single one on the first day and I say, you have three jobs.

Your jobs are honesty, transparency and efficiency. Those are your three jobs. You should elect people who are sitting in the seat making decisions, who are trying to identify who doesn’t have a seat at the table and making sure that their voice is heard, she said. There are kids in America today who were dreaming that one day they’ll be a president or a governor or a senator, or maybe even a mayor.

Like dreaming at night when they were eight. What do you want to be when you grow up? She said there is not a single kid in America who’s writing down county executive or a county commissioner.

David Martin: Welcome to the Good Government show. I’m your host, Dave Martin. On this episode, I have a conversation with New Castle County executive Matt Meyer. Matt has an interesting background, including being my former neighbor in Brooklyn, although we never met. He was a schoolteacher, a Wall Street lawyer, and he worked in Iraq helping start small businesses among other things.

Before that, he started a small business in Nairobi, Kenya. We talk about that and we talk about how all that led him to New Castle. We talked about the county’s expanding bike trails, infrastructure projects, and how he became sort of an expert in sewage. Matt is also running for governor for the state of Delaware. So there’s a lot to talk about.

And I’ll have all that and my conversation with Matt Meyer coming up right after this.

The Good government show is sponsored by NACO. That’s the National Association of Counties County Government. It’s actually the oldest form of government in the United States, and it touches more people directly. Roads, highways, hospitals, schools, recycling law enforcement, water and sewers in most of the country, those services are maintained by the county that’s county government. Naco is a nationwide organization that represents all 3069 counties across the U.S. Naco helps county government work better together through things like sharing best practices.

Because when county government works well, well, that’s just good government.

Welcome to the Good Government show. I’m your host, Dave Martin. And today I have with me as our guest New Castle County Commissioner Matt Meyer. Matt, welcome to the good Government show.

Matt Meyer: Good morning, David. Good to see you.

David Martin: You are the county commissioner of New Castle County, which I understand County executive county executive Executive.

Matt Meyer: It’s like the mayor of the county.

David Martin: Yes. Yes. It’s my mistake. It is the most populous and I believe northernmost county in Delaware. Tell me a little bit about your county. What’s going on?

Matt Meyer: Delaware just passed a million people. Close to 600,000 of them live in New Castle County. It’s about 60% of the state population lives in our single county. I’m a sixth and seventh grade math teacher by training. I’ve an interesting background. I was a corporate lawyer for a while. I was a diplomat in Iraq. I started a couple of businesses in Nairobi, Kenya, then came back home to Delaware, where I taught in school and then ran for office for the first time for my current position, running Delaware’s largest county.

I’m now in my second term. I’m the first county executive to get reelected in this position since a man named Chris Coons, who’s now a senator, of course, and I’m in charge of the second largest police agency in the state of Delaware, Fine. New Castle County Police, the largest non one center, the largest paramedic service, our largest library system by largest local park system, and probably most importantly, our largest sewer system being in charge of the sewers.

Because if a sewer pipe breaks, you better fix it right away or you won’t be in office long.

David Martin: And it turns out we used to be neighbors. We didn’t know each other, but we used to be neighbors in Brooklyn.

Matt Meyer: That’s right. I did some time at Hoyt and Bergen right across in the great Brooklyn.

David Martin: And so, you know what? We probably were standing at a bar together. So good to see you. Yeah, that’s.

Matt Meyer: Right. I apologize for never by any injury to.

David Martin: Come on back to where the Brooklyn is. Still there. Now, you are one of the several actually, county commissioners and political leaders I’ve talked to who was a schoolteacher. Does being a schoolteacher prepare you for a life in politics and political leadership?

Matt Meyer: So I’m in our form of government, and every many counties do it differently on the executive and have a county council. It’s a legislative branch. And I beat a three term incumbent when I ran and my first budget. Many people on county council still sided with holding my predecessor, so we had trouble getting my budget through and they were threatening to do this and that.

And my staff was like, What are we going to do? We got to get the budget passed. And I go, Well, we’ll wait them out. That’s what I do at the sixth graders, and it often works. And so I think not to compare all county Council members to sixth graders, but there are a lot of things I’ve said.

David Martin: That let me just say.

Matt Meyer: Yeah, there jokes aside, there are some tremendous public servants who serve in county government, all levels of government and certainly true on our County Council budget. But there are tactics to use. You learn as a teacher to motivate and incentivize people to actually work at any age, and we certainly put those to use in my county administration.

David Martin: Are you surprised to hear that there are lots of teachers who are in politics now?

Matt Meyer: Does that in some ways, yes. And others no. I not many of my colleagues had much interest in politics. There’s sort of teachers that attracts do gooders. It attracts people that want to make change in this world. And the best of politics and the best of policy making also attracts do gooders and people who want to make change in the world.

So in that respect, I’m not surprised, but I’m surprised in that in in politics, in policymaking, often it can be indirect. Often you’ve got to go through an awful lot of hardship to make it to to make glacial change. Whereas in teach, in teaching, it’s much more direct. And in some ways that’s satisfying.

David Martin: Have you heard from any of your former students now that you’re a county executive?

Matt Meyer: I hear from almost all of them. One of them is my driver now. He’s my age in college. It’s his summer job. He got straight A’s in my classes. So I don’t know if you.

David Martin: Floated to the top, did it.

Matt Meyer: So many of them have had summer jobs and various things. A number of them are teachers now, which is scary to me. And also having a former seventh grade student drive you around is no small feat. For my heart either. All right. Palpitations. But no, I mean, oh, I’m a wide range of students. Some of them I was teaching in a one of the roughest middle schools in Delaware, but I initially was in Teach for America, a program that sends individuals to high need schools.

And so a number of my students have passed away, a number are incarcerated. Some of my finest students are sadly incarcerated, and some of them I got one guy who showed up for a video shoot for my gubernatorial campaign, who’s in med school in Philly. And so you get a broad range and we knock it. It’s helpful for me in making policies to have a direct line both to students, teachers and quite frankly, their families to understand what we’re doing that it has actual impact to real people and what is not really either not making a difference or maybe making a difference and they don’t even know it.

David Martin: So I read recently that you have invested a lot in infrastructure in your county. So my first question is, as someone who drives over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, often you’re putting a lot of money into rehabbing the bridge. Am I okay to drive over the bridge now?

Matt Meyer: You’re always 2 to 3 hours there. DELLER Memorial Bridge is a it’s not directly my jurisdiction. There’s something called the Delaware River Authority. There’s a authority where the state in collaboration, state of Delaware, in collaboration with the state of New Jersey manage that bridge. But they are investing quite a bit. It has been safe. It’s always been safe.

It will continue to be safe.

David Martin: Good. So what’s going on with the bridge? It looks like there’s.

Matt Meyer: Still more also. So you pay tolls. I’m not there’s there’s no River Bay Authority knows the details of the infrastructure, but I think it’s fair to say it is proactive rather than reactive. You do reactive infrastructure, which is a lot of what’s happening across the country. You get into trouble when there’s when there’s deferred maintenance, you get into trouble.

And this is an attempt to take maintenance that’s been deferred for years and pay for it before anything happens and upgrade the bridge, that there’s no issues.

David Martin: I see you’ve invested a lot in bike trails.

Matt Meyer: Yeah, I’m a biker myself. The primary way that we in the county have invested in infrastructure is based on our journey. So all three ways, based on our jurisdiction is sewers and parks, open spaces as well as your sewers and also bike trails. We set out a vision about five years ago to connect our county by walkable, bikeable trail connecting Wilmington and Newark, our largest city in the state, and the site of our flagship state university, University of Delaware.

You can’t get from one to the other now by bikeable walkable trail. We not only developed division do it, but now we’ve gotten the resources to actually build about half of it, and it’s probably 60 70% of the resources we need to build the trail we have. And we’re going to continue to pursue ways to people for more and more people to move around by safe, walkable, bikeable trail Newcastle County.

Like many suburban counties across the country, have an extraordinary high rate of pedestrian and bike fatalities. It’s not acceptable and we’re doing what we can to to address that concern.

David Martin: And are they getting.

Matt Meyer: Used to the usage? So Governor McKell funded a county project to link Wilmington, our largest city with the city of Newcastle, which is the third or fourth largest city in the state, Old New Castle. It’s a beautiful it’s like historic Williamsburg, beautiful old town with about a six and a half mile trail. And that has been used beyond our wild wildest imaginations, as you can imagine, during COVID usage spiked because people were, you know, and for some people in their office, you’d see people walking on on Zoom calls.

And a lot of that has continued. We were expecting hundreds of users. This is Delaware traditionally, and Wilmington is known as more of a car community. We think that’s changing in part because of the more cultural. I know people who are professionals here who are living, working and playing every day without using a car, which is really unusual for Delaware.

And we’re trying to develop the infrastructures that more and more people can do that.

David Martin: Have you bike that yourself?

Matt Meyer: Yeah, I get two or three times a week. I’m known to bike commute every every now and then. We’re building a trail actually that will that is connecting the city of Wilmington with Christiana Care, which is our hospital system, our largest private employer. And that trail goes right by my office so it can carry me from my home to my not carry me provide a pathway where I can carry myself from my home to my office.

So we’re working on that. We expect that to be completed by the end of the summer.

David Martin: So before you’re a county executive, what did you know about the sewage system and what do you know now?

Matt Meyer: I knew that if you flush it or if you wash the dishes, the bad stuff should go away. And I knew that it didn’t go away. I was getting out of office, whoever was in charge of it. And that’s sort of where I start today, is that it’s you got to take it away. We we have expanded on that mission so much.

So that’s the most important thing we do. And in fact, if you look, I as I mentioned, I’ve lived outside the country and I know many immigrants who come here when you talk to them, one of the biggest differences in public was in foreign particularly developing places, developing countries and societies. And the United States is how we deal with wastewater.

When you have sewage literally in the streets, when it rains or it’s a public health concern. So it’s among the most important thing we do. And you learn that these systems are fragile. Getting the funding is not easier. Sometimes you have to cobble together the funding. We have something called a Force Maine, which is like the I-95 of it’s the major highway of our sewage system running.

It’s a seven foot pipe running underground. And about a year and a half before COVID, we had a 12 foot piece of it break off. It just showed up at our head works. It showed up at our sewage treatment plant. And we had actually not to discuss your your listeners, but we had to send divers down into the sewage to figure out, well, imagine a 12 foot piece brace off your sewer.

You don’t know where it is. This is a hundred, 100 mile line sewer. Where is it? So we send divers down and they found where it was. Luckily, it wasn’t that far from the sewage treatment plant, so they didn’t have to dive too far. And we’ve built redundancy and now we’re working on a 200, $250 million plan to build redundancy across the whole force.

Maine, across the whole center, seven foot center sewer pipe.

David Martin: As a person who had no background in sanitation or sewage or any of those things, how do you learn that system so quickly and how do you learn that and then be able to administrate it?

Matt Meyer: You know, I was I had a cousin here who passed away from cancer too young. He worked in New York and he was a researcher. His job was researching Wall Street firms. And he taught me at a young age, you know, Matt, if you read every book you can find and try to talk to leading experts, you can usually become an expert in something in about six months.

He’s like, Don’t don’t go become an oncologist based on it. Right? Don’t go to go. There’s nothing you can do. Everything but a lot of things. If beat up, you can become really smart on it. And I take that approach to a lot of the things I do. So, yes, I got an office. I was in sixth and seventh grade math teachers, started a couple of businesses, had experience practicing law, and as a diplomat in Iraq, nothing I did suggests that I knew how to run a sewer system.

But you learn, number one, read a lot, try to understand a lot. And number two, surround yourself with people who have a lot of experience and don’t always agree with each other. Get one expert who believes, you know, you need bigger sewer pipes, who’s been working in the sewers for decades, and then get another expert in the room has been working in the sewer for years who says, no, you need a lot more smaller pipes and have them argue with each other in front of you and enables you to become smarter.

And so I think in a number of ways, whether running a police agency, running a library system, running a paramedic service, 911 we’ve done a lot of that. And over time you start to learn a little.

David Martin: Bit approach and is that what you did with the sewer.

Matt Meyer: System as I do with the sewer system? It got to the point where I actually brought an article to our sewer people because I was obsessed about reading everything. And what’s interesting is that people who have been in something for decades who maybe were reading everything in the beginning, aren’t reading everything anymore, their mid-career late career. And so I start to read at the beginning of code how how a community in France was using its sewers to understand our commuters.

And based on that, we’ve become a leading county in the country using our wastewater system not just for COVID, but for public health. We’re now using our wastewater system in collaboration with a woman owned company called Bio Bond, a startup out of MIT to look in our in our sewers, to understand what’s going inside people’s what’s going on inside people’s bodies across our county, to understand where in our county people are using tobacco, where in our county people are using fentanyl, cocaine, various methamphetamines, both for policing and for public health.

David Martin: That’s research you can’t get anywhere else, I guess, right?

Matt Meyer: Yeah, That’s as as as my Tracy circles my head of sewers. She likes to say everybody poops. If you don’t, please call 911. Now, guess there’s.

David Martin: A book about that for kids. Yeah, you’ve talked about this a little bit. It’s. It’s kind of an intriguing background. You worked overseas in in Iraq. What were you doing over there?

Matt Meyer: I had an opportunity of a lifetime. I was I was working on Wall Street and felt like it wasn’t right. We had peers of mine, but not entirely, but mostly who wanted to get a college education or needed money, needed a job, who joined the military, and they ended up on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. I did while I was working with, you know, millionaires and billionaires, just trying to make money in New York.

I felt like we all had a duty to serve. Deep down in my heart, I believe that everybody should serve. And so I ended up I was a little too senior to get into the military by latching on with the State Department. I was what’s called a senior economic adviser. I was deployed to Mosul, Iraq, embedded with the U.S. Army for a year.

We leave the base 3 to 4 times. I basically lived on the base, which is there, about 500 of them, 504, I think at that time in Iraq that that there were about 10,000 Americans living on my base. It was like a small, dusty southwestern American town. That was kind of the feel. And I’d leave three or four times a week with Americans with a platoon of.

So it was a.

David Martin: Bit of a hot spot for a while there.

Matt Meyer: It was when I was there, there were about three what we call kinetic events. There are three violent events, three bombs going off every day in our area, Ninawa, our province. And by the time after my 12 months, I don’t think entirely because of my work, but I like to think at least in part due to my work, we were down to about three kinetic events a week.

Two went from three a day to about three a week, and we’re proud of what we did. We did nonmilitary intervention. So a lot of it was deploying capital, trying to take individuals who were attracted by the money of violence because it was so an economy of violence there and trying to attract them into farming, into small business and to some degree into the oil economy.

And so that’s what we were doing.

David Martin: And you said you went to Nairobi.

Matt Meyer: I lived in Nairobi after college learning Swahili, started my my first business was starting a snowmaking factory in a in a chanty town in Nairobi with young people who ended up owning the factory, making sandals out of used tires. We wow, our timing was right. started while we were doing this stuff. So next thing you know, we were online.

We were selling sandals all over the world. We had 30 employee owners, and for a time the business was.

David Martin: Still have yours.

Matt Meyer: Gosh. Oh, my sandals. I do know it’s not nearby, but I do wear them.

David Martin: Okay.

Matt Meyer: And not just in the shower. I wear them out and about every now.

David Martin: And All right. So they’re you. They’re sturdy. They hold up good.

Matt Meyer: Yeah, you do. Hey, man, tire tires Don’t. When I say 30 years or 3000 miles, I think was our motto.

David Martin: Yeah. They don’t go away. Yeah. So you’re running for governor?

Matt Meyer: Yeah. A few weeks ago announced a run for governor. Listen, here’s what I love. I love that in a time where our country is terribly divided. Right? Terribly divided. I was at a conference for the New Economy Foundation, I think it’s called last year. And the first question I was asked is mad. There are these terrible divisions in Washington.

How does that manifest itself in running local government? I say when someone calls me and their sewer broke, their toilet doesn’t flush or they have some 911 need, nobody cares if they were Republican or Democrat. My job is to deliver a fantastic and efficient government service. And what’s interesting is when you think about the variety of services, private sector, public sector, getting your Amazon delivered, whatever it is, services that that you get every day, I think they’re services that local government are providing are among the most important services public safety, sewage.

As we talked about free libraries, service parks and the outdoors and providing those in the highest quality way is really important to me. And so we’ve done it in the county, a small state, the state government, a little like a local government, where interest in doing that on a state level.

David Martin: One of the things I consistently hear from from county executives and county commissioners is the county at the county government level, it’s almost nonpartisan. It’s get it done. Do you agree?

Matt Meyer: Yeah, I do. We have we have partizan elections in that our county council members and county executive. We are you run as a Democrat or a Republican. And the we have right now 11 Democrats and two Republicans or I’m sorry, we had 11 Democrats and two Republicans and throughout now we have 12 Democrats, one Republican throughout my time.

But the Republicans have been often my closest allies. There aren’t the traditional Republican Democrat issues just don’t often come up. A lot of it’s about growth. It’s about the cost of housing. It’s about number one response. And it’s about your toilets flushing.

David Martin: And those aren’t partizan issues.

Matt Meyer: I like to hope that you don’t know. Sometimes things become partizan that you don’t expect to, but they’re by and large, not, not partizan issues. And you go to neighborhood association meetings. People don’t want to talk about partizanship, they want to talk about how to make sure the street looks beautiful, the pothole is gone and the police show up and are courteous and do their job.

David Martin: So being governor is a hard job. You’re the chief executive for the entire state. You’re one of the 50 in the nation. Why would you why would you take that on?

Matt Meyer: I think that when I started the small business making sandals from tires, there was an urgency about getting the highest quality product environmentally friendly as quick as possible to the customer. There was an urgency about keeping our revenues up, keeping our cost low, increasing profitability and increasing what we could provide for the workers. It’s frustrating to me when I see governments that don’t have that level of urgency.

When we run county government, we run what my staff says on that, my air time, things when they when there’s a presentation and people tell me the bike path or the new the new division within our police department is going to be created in three or six months. They know what I’m going to say. I’m going to say, okay, try to do it by next Monday and I want to see a report by next Monday.

I want you to spread. Right. Because that’s what when people pay their tax money, they’re I find they get most prostrated when they think there’s people just not moving quickly at 4:00 time to go home for a one. And so we I surround myself with sprinters, people who are going to work really hard and deliver for the people of the county and hopefully in about eight months, the people of the state.

David Martin: So one of the things I read when you what I read a couple of articles about you announcing you’re running for governor is you were running a.

Matt Meyer: Few of which maybe were true.

David Martin: And then all I.

Matt Meyer: Saw, you’re a journalist. I got to be careful.

David Martin: Yeah, you don’t care. But you said you were running on effective governance. We like that here at the good government show. Explain effective governance, your version of it.

Matt Meyer: So effective governance.

David Martin: Exactly right. I mean, you know, I don’t want you to slow down and you say I an effective governance.

Matt Meyer: So I’m so in in 2015, I’m a sixth and seventh grade math teacher. Right. Spent time in Iraq, came back home to Delaware, had this crazy idea that I could run against a three term incumbent. According to polls, one of the most popular elected officials in Delaware. And I can beat him and I didn’t know what I was doing.

And I hired a campaign manager who taught me how to knock on doors. And so along with three volunteers, we knocked on about 10,000 doors. I did environmental work and actually sold knives for a brief time. I’m not I’m not nervous or shy about, oh.

David Martin: You can’t just gloss over sold knives. You sold knives door to door.

Matt Meyer: Yeah, they were in Ginza. There was some Ginza take off. Okay. In college, you know, I did it for like three days. And then I said, This is a for me. But I could cut through a penny. It was.

David Martin: Real. Okay.

Matt Meyer: If you cut through a penny. And I love, you know, going up to be on presenting, I mean, sales were I guess a lot of what I do now is sales work. But sales work wasn’t necessarily for me, but I was really into software at the time in software development. But the point is, I wasn’t shy about going up knocking on someone’s door unless they have a really big dog.

I’m cool with it, which is shown up. But I didn’t know what to say. And so this was the guy who hires campaign managers and knock on the door and just say, What do you think of your local government? What do you think of your dummy government and write it down? And so quite a few people were positive, but more people were were negative than but were critical then were positive, which is a good thing for me.

That’s kind of how I won the election. And we we cataloged everything people said and almost everything people said fell into one of three categories. They felt like their local government was dishonest, right? They’re just not telling us the truth. Those politicians, they felt like it was not transparent. I’m sending you to my tax money and you’re misusing it.

I don’t know where it goes, but they felt like it was inefficient, honest, transparent and efficient, those three things. So when I came in, in fact, on my challenge to coin, I don’t know if I’m honest, it says honesty, transparency and efficiency. So every day when I talk to county employees and I talk to we have over 2000 employees, I talk to every single one on the first day and I say, you have three jobs.

Your jobs are honesty, transparency and efficiency. Those are your three jobs to deliver that to the people. Again, on WhatsApp, what that has produced is things that a lot of voters don’t think about a whole lot. When you call 911, it often takes too long. There’s a national standard that over 90% of 911 calls should be answered in 10 seconds or less.

We for years for some reason, were hovering around 60%. No one was looking at it. No one’s paying attention to it. So I created a series of metrics, things you do standard in business and said, Here’s where we need to be. We need to hit these national standards. It took about six weeks for us to hit most of these standards.

It was just a matter of focusing a matter of staffing and allocating staff based on when call volumes were coming in and and the acuity, the seriousness of the call volume. And we’re now running for like four or five years now, we’ve been running it now 93, 94% of calls coming in in 10 seconds or less during normal call volume times, it’s much more than 90%.

But when there’s a major event, you know, a storm or a big car accident, obviously the speed at which we can answer decreases.

David Martin: Where does the election for governor.

Matt Meyer: The the general election is November of next year. Right now, I’m the only announced candidate. Conventional political wisdom in Delaware is that the Democratic primary is effectively the election. If there’s anybody else running the the primary will be in September of next.

David Martin: Year and you expect to have opposition there.

Matt Meyer: I hear different rumors every day. I tell them I said, where we’ve raised just about the most that any candidate for governor has raised at this point in the race. Jack Martel raised more than me 15 years ago. But we’re doing our fundraisers, doing really well. We’re you know, we’re going to have a lot of we believe that we have a great story to tell.

We’ve accomplished quite well. We have hundreds of accomplishments that we can talk about here in the county. We have a vision for the state. And as long as we raise the resources, go to Matt McCormick, if you like, and throw something in the pot. But as long as we keep fundraising and have the money to communicate, we think we’ll be fine.

David Martin: Well, that’s going to lead us to our questionnaire. So our good government questionnaire and we’re going to get to the heart of your philosophy of governance. Are you ready?

Matt Meyer: I don’t know if I’m ready, but we will find out.

David Martin: All right. We will. Yes, we will find out. So as county executives, possibly future governor, what is good government?

Matt Meyer: Good government to me is honesty trans I should say. We’ve added honesty, transparency, efficiency and also inclusivity, a government that looks like the people we serve. And so honesty is is means that when someone files a FOIA requests Freedom of Information Act saying that, you know, I have a I’m a taxpayer, I’m a journalist, I’m a voter who has a right to this piece of information that you’re trying to hide from me.

We disclose it. I’m I work for you. And so we do everything we can to get you information. Transparency means when you pay money into our system, you can go on a website just like that. We set up just like you. You you can check your credit card bill or your bank statement and see where the money went.

You can do the same with the taxes that you pay and efficiency. We have an obligation to look across this country on this world to find the most efficient systems and either replicate them, modify them to our needs, or create them anew. And I, of course, now talk quite a bit about inclusive, making sure that our government, the people we hire, the people working for you, the police out on the street and paramedics and librarians look like the community that we’re serving.

David Martin: How do you judge your success? What do you use as your yardstick for whether you’re being effective in the four things that you say you want to be effective in?

Matt Meyer: So back in Ronald Reagan’s time, he had Jim Baker, his chief of staff, had a parable about about chipmunks and antelopes that. Have you heard this before?

David Martin: Not yet.

Matt Meyer: LYONS Newt Gingrich picked up on it years ago. And to be clear, to fully disclose, I don’t believe in all the politics that Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich subscribed to, but I thought it’s a it’s a great organizing principle for leadership. When you run a government with 2000 people or any government, but also many organizations and businesses, every day you’re bombarded with chipmunks.

You know, we have a house burned down, we have a tornado or a couple of people lose their roof. And each day we’re dealing with those chipmunks issues that are usually small, measurable issues that we can deal with. But they take time. I could spend my whole eight years, my two terms as county executive and hopefully, God willing, two terms as governor and deal with chipmunks all the time, deal with the issues that are incoming.

Right. But at the end of the day, we have an obligation to the people of the county and in the future the state to move us forward, to be thinking about big things, to be thinking about the challenges of Chad GB to the challenges of an inflationary environment, the challenges of a small group of people getting very wealthy and a large group of people who are really struggling.

We have an obligation to address those issues. We call those antelopes because lions can go and eat chipmunks all the time. But smart lions gather together in the pride and they go and hunt antelopes. We are antelope hunters in my administration. Anyone that works directly for me gets this speech on in their first week of office that says You need to define your analysts.

Everybody working for me defines three no more than three antelope. Sometimes it’s just one antelope saying we’re going to design and build 50 miles of new bike paths across the county. And in eight years, that’s what we’re going to do. And so every week we get an update. How have we moved the ball forward? Yes, there are all these other ways.

There’s storms, trees are down. We need to deal with that. But what have we done in the last week to move the ball forward so that when we’re done, we can say we successfully built 50 miles of bike paths in our county, things of that sort.

David Martin: How do the voters, the people of your of your county and possibly state, how do they know if they’re getting good government and how should they hold you accountable to make sure you deliver on your promises.

Matt Meyer: That is a very, very challenge. That’s a hard question because I learned pretty quickly that in in when you’re in the it’s a big difference between private sector leadership and public sector leadership. Private sector leadership, more often than not, you’re judged by the top line. In the bottom line, if you can sell and if you can show profitability, that’s all that matters.

It doesn’t matter if you’re telling everyone that you’re profitable. If you are profitable, people will find out and you’ll be successful. There are many things in government where you’re successful, but no one’s paying attention. And it only it’s interesting that in my world it only matters if people know, which doesn’t sound that hard. So you go and tell people, but going to tell people in a media environment where local media has been decimated or in the worst case decimated and in the best case transfer formed just in a year is not there.

Right. It’s like nonexistent been taken over, sort of taken over by bloggers, social media and you kind of people can say anything. People can go out and say crime is awful in Newcastle. People are out there on social media saying this is the worst crime ever policing. We need to double the number of police. But if you look at the actual hard data of police reports, are are violent crime and quality of life crime, nonviolent crime is lower than it’s been in over ten years.

But how do you communicate that to people in a way they’ll believe when even if you stand up, there’s some politicians standing up and saying, hey, crime is really low. Look at the numbers. And there are other people yelling online saying, Oh my God, but my son, this happened to my sister, my cousin or my neighbor yesterday. You know, it’s it’s a challenging environment.

We do what we can. We try to do it creatively. We’ve started using the t word Tik tok, you know, trying to communicate with people, meet people where they’re at. But it’s a really fragmented environment and it’s really challenging.

David Martin: If they are if they feel like they’re not getting good government, what should they do?

Matt Meyer: So one thing that exists today in a way that they didn’t certainly 20 years ago, is there’s a lot of direct accountability. You can communicate directly with me in ways you couldn’t decades ago. I encourage people we try to be they people say I’m more available than than any other county executive before I make my email address that I personally read readily available to people now.

And in truth, I often skim it quickly and then just figure who I forward it to, who somebody reports to me to address the concerning issues, but I think I hope people hold me accountable in the quality of services they’re receiving and to some degree, by the price of those services we pay for the I’m a Democrat, I’m a hardcore Democrat.

I believe the public should contribute to the to the public good and government should spend to invest in our future. I reduced property taxes. I’m the first county executive ever to reduce property tax. I reduced property taxes this year by 5% just because we’ve been running surpluses for so many years and investing in things we felt like it was time to give some back to taxpayers.

So I hope taxpayers will look at that and say, hey, we’re getting higher quality services, we’re getting more parks, we’re getting higher quality libraries, we’re getting new policing strategies, and we’re getting all of that actually for reduced costs. When you factor in inflation, it’s a tremendously reduced cost.

David Martin: As an elected official, what would you like people to know about how government works? And you know, the inside look at government and you know, what would you like people to know about government?

Matt Meyer: I want most or most of what I think about is how and this was something I learned from Governor Martell, is that a lot of people, when I sit down to make a decision, there are a lot of people around the table who advise me and tell me what to do. You should elect people who are sitting in the seat making decisions, who are trying to identify who doesn’t have a seat at the table and making sure that their voice is heard.

Sometimes it’s, you know, single parent families facing some of the most serious struggles imaginable, living in violent commutes. Sometimes there’s farmers out in rural areas who just aren’t heard and don’t have a seat at the table. Sometimes students, younger people, certain demographics that certainly don’t participate politically. So the corollary to that is speak up, have a voice. You know, it’s somewhat cliche, but this is a time when you can If you can.

I mean, when I was a kid, when people say have a voice, it was sort of like you’re a lone ranger with a voice. Now, if you can put some out on social media and get 5100 followers to it. In Delaware, there are only a million people. That’s a really big deal. And so speak up and speak out.

We’re always trying to find people who don’t have a seat at the table, who have a following and have something to say and something to contribute.

David Martin: You have cited several politicians and local people up to Ronald Reagan, Who’s your political hero?

Matt Meyer: I feel some obligation to to say I worked for Governor Markel. He was just on a personal level. I also I spent time in Kenya learning from the teachings of someone named George Noory, who was the president of Tanzania. And he at a time when he was the first president of Tanzania. He had passed away by the time I was in Kenya, but he was renowned for at a time when African leaders were getting huge mansions and driving the nicest cars and buying jets.

He drove around in a little Volkswagen Bug, and he was famous for just kind of starting and stopping on the side of the road and talking to the woman who was selling tomatoes. And I know there are a lot of I had some interactions with Paul well, Stone years and years ago who have that similar I met him because I was a student at Michigan Law and he was coming to speak before he passed.

Senator Paul Well. Stone from Minnesota, and he insisted that students pick him up at the airport. He said he didn’t want to interact with anyone but students when he was there. Of course, he was a university professor by training, so he knew some of what he was doing. I’m attracted to people who are sort of of been for the people who get in front of people and like to hear directly the good, the bad and the ugly from people.

One quick story. When I was right after college, when I was in Teach for America, I taught in D.C. public schools and at the time a bell, mid-Atlantic and the city. The District of Columbia had a lawsuit and there was some settlement where Bell Atlantic had to wire all the schools with Internet. We fortunately, Leckie Elementary, the school I taught in, was among the first schools to get wired, and we were selected by the mayor’s office, my classroom to be the the showcase.

When the Washington Post and the Washingtonian came to the City paper to show us what tremendous work. Bell mid-Atlantic. Bell to the telephone company had done in classrooms. They were going to come to my classroom the day before the mayor’s advanced team came, and there was one problem. While our building was wire, we didn’t have a router. I was trying to work for months through the city’s procurement system.

They wouldn’t let me buy it myself. And so the mayor’s team came. I said, Listen, I can fake something, but we don’t have the Internet. And so they came with a router an hour later. So we had to the night before the press conference, we got the Internet the next morning. We had kids doing really cool things. The journalists were there.

Marion Barry gave a beautiful, inspiring speech and then they left and they took the router with them. So we we didn’t have the Internet. And so it was like, What do I do? Like, that was really genuinely all for show. That was that’s all it was. Yeah. And so I my kids were forward and of course at the time, like it was the coolest thing, right?

You could go anywhere and learn anything. You could see a map of any. It was really cool. And then fortunately, no Tik Tok back then or Instagram, but I didn’t know what to do. So I called the mayor’s office and I say, Hey, you guys took my router, you need to give it back. Said, Now it’s our router.

Like you need to work through the system by router. So what? I woke up the next morning I call the Washington Post and they were very interested.

David Martin: I’m sure, because.

Matt Meyer: This story was published, right? Absolutely. All these And 2 hours later, the mayor’s also showed up with a router and that’s it. The more or less story from it. Now, I’m on the other side of that. Right. And I’m cognizant whenever I go to school or work with a community or or talk to a small business owner, there’s a good chance that’s how they’re seeing me.

They’re seeing me as the guy that takes the router or gets whatever I can and doesn’t bring it back. Make sure you get elected officials who keep the router there, who’s going to supply the router, not put it there for show and then take it away.

David Martin: Well, I am fairly confident that you’re the first and only person in our in our series of shows and episodes who is going to cite the president of Tanzania as a political hero. So congratulations you are out skills your area.

Matt Meyer: Hey, look him up.

David Martin: Yes, yes they got him.

Matt Meyer: Mwalimu teacher is his nickname. He’s a hero of mine.

David Martin: All right. So you are in Delaware on the Chesapeake down. The Delaware is famous for it. Sure you’re taking me out. We’re going out for a meal. What are we having Where we go and what are we doing?

Matt Meyer: A lot of choices and a lot of new choices. I happen to think I’m a little Bangkok Thai, owned by the mother of one of our assigned county police officers. A Thai woman cooks some of the best Thai food. I think I was a Thai food connoisseur when I lived in Brooklyn. I think it’s better here in Wilmington.

Badia is a is a new new like or four years old when blanking on his name. The most famous golfer who is here for the BMW championships. I can’t believe I’m playing on his name. He he he would go there every night. He he supposedly rumors have it he would turn to his caddy in the middle of the PGA Championship and said, I need a reservation tonight for Bardia.

So Bardia right on Market Street, Lafayette down the street has been here about ten years. And across from Bardia there’s a new rooftop bar. The Coyne to you. Oh, I am that is very bada A lot of cool places. I’m going to get shafted because I’m only going to get criticized because I’m naming a small fraction of the incredible places.

Matt Meyer: There’s also Old Faithful where Joe Biden brought President Obama. Vice President Biden bought President Obama, what, probably ten years ago now a place called Charcoal Pit, which is where I went after my high school graduation.

David Martin: I got a barbecue. I’ve got.

Matt Meyer: A child. But yeah, it’s not like Kansas City barbecue. It’s more like a down, down home old school diner with great burgers, great fries, great char dogs.

David Martin: All right, and.

Matt Meyer: Milkshakes.

David Martin: And all this. I did not hear any seafood. Oh.

Matt Meyer: These fishery. Yeah, And especially down down the beach, there’s a host of a place called Matt’s Fish Camp. Yeah. So, Dale Concepts, There are some great restaurants, some amazing Mexican food agave. It’s extraordinary Mexican place in Lewis.

David Martin: I saw out here Softshell crab right off the top. No.

Matt Meyer: Oh, yeah. There are crab tribes that are better than Maryland crabs.

David Martin: But I was waiting for.

Matt Meyer: Yeah, I don’t. I don’t. I’m not a big sea seafood eater. I’m a big fish guy. Yeah, but I don’t eat. I don’t eat shell. So crabs I got to brush up on my on my crab crab knowledge crab restaurants across our state.

David Martin: All right, I’ll you you’ve got to have a lot of eating to do. All right. Good. So you’ve had a a very varied career. When you were a kid, did you want to be president? Did you were you president of your high school class or college class? Did you aspire to politics growing up?

Matt Meyer: I had kind of a love hate relationship. I mean, one reason I think we’ve done well at the county level is I’m a little turned off by politics. I’m a lot more turned on by policy policy that impacts people’s lives. When I ran for student council in high school and nobody thought I was going to win and I won, but I was kind of turned.

The politics of it has never interested in meanness of it. The the the backstabbing, the the behind closed doors, secret funniness. I’ve never been a fan of that stuff. I’m a big fan of making good, honest, policy looking people in the eye. Tell them what you’re going to do. Love your hate. Having good, honest argument about what are the policies that are going to move us forward.

And so at various times, I, I mean, I found a love of business after, college, creating innovation, creating jobs. There’s few things as satisfying as when you create something in your head that becomes a business that is funded, that employs people and enables them to feed their families. Few things as as satisfying as that. So we’ve made it a big part of our platform trying to enable small business owners and startups to do that in Delaware.

David Martin: Was public service something you aspire to, though? I mean, was it always something in the back of your head that like, I’d like to go in to be a county commissioner or governor or a senator.

Matt Meyer: Certainly not county commissioners? Right after I was elected, a county council member who was strongly supportive of me in some ways against her own interest because she was going up against an incumbent county executive. She gave a very funny speech where she said there are kids in America today who are dreaming that one day they’ll be a president or a governor or a senator or maybe even a mayor, like dreaming at night when they were eight.

What do you want to be when you grow up? She said. There is not a single kid in America who’s writing down county executive or a county commissioner like no one wants to do this. It’s sort of like the offensive line of government with the drag queen when you’re when your toilets don’t flush or your number one call doesn’t get answered.

You know, it’s not Maya’s fault, but when it is answered or it’s all you flush the toilet, say, thank you, ma’am. I I’ve said that in a few speeches and I subsequently have gotten texts from people saying, Thank you, Matt Meyer. And that means that somebody flush the toilet and it worked.

David Martin: All right, So before we go, we like to bring it all to good government. Give me an example of a good government project in Newcastle County that you’ve helped to push through.

Matt Meyer: I think every government in the country should take all the resources that are coming in, all the internal accounting information and put it online so people can see it, so they can very easily manipulators, they can very easily view how much of when I pay my tax bill, how much that money is going to police officers, how much is going to police officers salaries, how much is going to paramedics?

How much is going to libraries? It should all be public. Write down to receipts so that you know, hey, if if Matt took it out, if there were two ambassadors who were coming through Delaware and that took them out to dinner in Newcastle County, he didn’t spend an unreasonable amount. That’s a fair expanse of taxpayer money or not.

So you can be a judge of the specifics. So we did that. We put that online. You can see it yourself at Newcastle.

David Martin: Counties.

Matt Meyer: On which are all our expenses are online, which also is good because to be honest it makes me think twice. Once when someone’s coming in, you know, I have a few county commissioners, county executives from other states coming in. They want to sit down and have dinner. And I think it’s a fair, expensive taxpayer money for us to talk about how our counties are related to each other.

We’re not going to go to an extravagant place. If if I knew that that would never be public, I might go out for a nicer dinner. Right. But it’s taxpayer money. There’s someone who worked really hard to to earn the dollars that spending that’s being spent on that dinner. And so we’ve got to be reasonable about it.

David Martin: So when people go out to dinner with you, you’re not always civic’s the first one to throw it out of their car.

Matt Meyer: Should they call and say, Matt, why don’t I pay for this one? And that means they’re going.

David Martin: To take you personally.

Matt Meyer: For that too, because I’ve got to pay my share based on ethics rules. Yeah, So it’s good. I think it’s all good and stuff. I there’s you really got to elect people who are about service. I always try to think that, listen, if I want to go and and stay in the nice places and go out to the nice dinners, I should be doing something else with my life.

I’m here because I agree to a certain degree of transparency in my professional life. Certainly people have a right to know how every dollar I spend and time I spend on the taxpayers dime, how that’s spent. And they have a right to that. Every taxpayer just.

David Martin: So did it with you. We probably are going to the diner for burgers. That’s this.

Matt Meyer: That’s right. Local? Definitely local. I’ll take you out for crabs if you are doing all right.

David Martin: Very good. Matt Meyer, County executive from Newcastle County, Delaware. It has been a pleasure talking with you and probably see you again since the broken end. You have to make me one promise. When you’re elected governor, you’ll come back and talk to us.

Matt Meyer: I definitely will. David, thank you for what you’re doing. As I stated earlier, the challenge that we have in getting out the message of good government is harder than ever. The reality, as you know, is that people click on controversy, they click on conflict, and you getting out a message of good government people across the country who are out there just trying to provide really high quality service to Americans is really important.

So thank you for doing that.

David Martin: Well, you’re welcome. Thanks for coming and thanks for helping us tell the story. We certainly appreciate your time and good luck in your in your run for governor.

Matt Meyer: Thank you. Appreciate it.

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Matt is also the first official who cited the president of Tanzania as his political hero and as his inspiration to run for office. So that’s a pretty unique political hero. Honesty, transparency, efficiency and inclusivity. Those are his words. And they’re all worthy goals for someone in office. Now, let’s see if he can build that into the governorship as he runs for governor of Delaware.

So that was my conversation with New Castle County executive, current New Castle County executive Matt Meyer. Join me again on the Good Government show for another conversation with another leader in government. Talk about what good government means to them. Make sure to like us on all your favorite social media platforms. Share our show with your friends. Help us spread the word of good government.

Check out our website, Good government, show e-comm and check out our shownotes. Until then, I’m Dave Martin. This is the good government show. Thanks for listening. The good government show and a conversation with is produced by Valley Park Productions. Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder are the executive producers. Our editor and producer is Jason Stershic. This is a good government show.

Thanks for listening.

**This transcription was created using digital tools and has not been edited by a live person. We apologize for any discrepancies or errors.