SALISBURY – Minutes from a closed session meeting of the Wicomico County Council in March confirm there was a debate on whether to oust Council Vice President Bob Culver after being accused of divulging private legal information regarding the State’s Attorney office lease bid process.
Last October, the county went through a Request For Proposal (RFP) process to find the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office a new home after 22 years of being located at the county’s Circuit Court building.
In early April, the council voted to accept the bid of G Plus Properties in a 15-year lease to renovate a building at 309 E. Main St. in Salisbury.
After receiving complaints from two companies, Downtown Development and Salisbury LLC, that the bidding process was misleading, Councilman Joe Holloway and Culver questioned re-bidding the project. The majority of the council felt the process was not been flawed and decided not to re-bid it.
What was not made public a few weeks prior was a closed work session when council majority members debated the repercussions for Culver after County Attorney Bob Baker disclosed he had been contacted by a member of the public in regard to information that had been discussed in a council closed work session.
According to the minutes, Baker explained he had received a phone call from Bob Eaton of Salisbury LLC saying he wanted to “protest the bid”, which indicated to Baker that information has been leaked from a closed session held on March 5 where he was asked for legal information on protesting bids, and Baker had responded there is a bid protest and that was the only time he had used those words. Baker was not concerned over the legal advice but that his office can’t give out legal information and it must stay between council and staff.
According to Culver, he had been contacted by Eaton regarding the dismay over the bid process, and had responded there was a procedure to follow to protest the bid but he would need to contact Baker, conscious not to divulge closed session information.
Culver was prepared and handed out a packet of information, including text messages and emails that were sent regarding the topic between him, Eaton, local attorney Charles Dashiell, attorney and owner of Downtown Development David Moore, Baker, Council Administrator Matthew Creamer and County Administrator Wayne Strausburg.
The parties were in communication due to Eaton, Dashiell and Moore questioning why they could not attend the closed meeting regarding the State’s Attorney office lease. Culver said he had received a text from Strausburg that read the bid process was over and he would take legal action against anyone trying to stop the project.
Culver furthered that he felt he had not divulged any kind of information by telling Eaton there was a formal process to be followed. Joe Holloway interjected there had been two reputable agencies complain over the bid process, which makes it questionable. He asked the council what they would have done differently from Culver, who had been receiving numerous phone calls with questions over the issue that had gone unanswered by the County Executive’s office. Joe Holloway added he had a problem with Strausburg responding he was going to sue someone.
After further discussion, Baker said there are three options; do nothing, a private reprimand if the council felt confidentiality had been breached or a censure, or a resolution which says they should not disclose information. Baker did not feel a removal from office was appropriate.
Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich said she would have done the same when questioned over a misleading bid process, either contact Baker or follow procedure. However, she a felt a private reprimand was appropriate.
Councilwoman Sheree Sample-Hughes felt the conversation went beyond what was revealed, and that confidential information has been disclosed in the past. She agreed with a censure done by resolution and not have Culver participate in closed work sessions. Baker responded a council member cannot be barred from closed sessions.
Councilman John Hall felt the real issue came down to the private information that was released from closed session. He said this does a lot of harm and does not add to the council’s reliability. He was in favor of a private reprimand.
Councilwoman Stevie Prettyman also alluded to information being leaked in the past that has eroded the integrity of the County Council. She too was in favor of a private reprimand and ask Culver step down as council vice president.
Council President Matt Holloway said he does not feel there was malice in Culver’s disclosure and he was only trying to help the citizen. He still felt that keeping private information confidential is an issue with the council, and doesn’t want the County Attorney to not want to have any communication with the council except by writing. He agreed a private reprimand was needed and the meeting being conducted at that time would suffice as all the concerns were addressed.
Culver said he ran on transparency and believed he did not leak private information. However, he apologized and agreed with a private reprimand.