Black Friday Security Detail Leads To Accusations

SALISBURY — Foot-dragging and bureaucratic red tape cost Salisbury an opportunity to provide its police officers with extra seasonal work, according to Mayor Jim Ireton. Council President Terry Cohen, however, denies the allegation and rebukes Ireton for issuing what she called “an error filled” statement.

Earlier this week, Wal-Mart sent a request to the Salisbury Police Department (SPD) asking to contract off-duty officers for security at its Salisbury location during Black Friday. However, once the request made its way up the chain to the council, it stalled due to concerns over liability and whether the local management at Wal-Mart had sufficient authority to authorize a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the city.

“I would like to see it go to [city attorney Paul] Wilbur,” said Council Vice-President Deborah Campbell.

Though the arrangement proposed by Wal-Mart is a “shadow image” of a deal the city already has in place with the Centre at Salisbury, according to Police Major David Meinschein, Campbell still felt the city might need to discuss the details with the corporate branch of Wal-Mart, instead of just the local. However, with Black Friday quickly approaching and the council appearing hesitant, Wal-Mart rescinded its request and instead will be contracting the Wicomico County Sherriff’s Department for additional security.

After learning Wal-Mart decided to go elsewhere with its application, Ireton said, "Council President [Terry] Cohen rejected a deal to partner with Wal-Mart North to provide safety for shoppers on the busiest shopping day of the year. Politics played a huge role in Wal-Mart backing away from a supplemental agreement for security that mirrors the agreement the city has with The Centre at Salisbury.”

Councilwoman Laura Mitchell pointed to the hesitation as an example of larger problems in the city.

“And people wonder why we can’t keep businesses, can’t keep [police] officers,” she said. “They were willing to pay everything … the city would have been completely reimbursed.”

The deal originally offered officers their overtime rate as well as factoring in benefits.
Ireton saw the hesitance from the council as both unnecessary and petty.

“Council has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Council had the exact same MOU as we currently have with the Centre for security purposes,” he said, “but chose to question employee Muir Boda’s authority to sign the agreement; Mr. Boda being a candidate twice for city council against both Council President Cohen and Vice President Campbell. Politics over protection of our citizens and visitors wins the day here in Salisbury, and that is a shameful (and Scrooge-like) way to begin the holiday season."

After Ireton released his statement, Cohen quickly shot back. She pointed out that Wal-Mart had rescinded its offer. The council did not reject it as Ireton claimed. She also denied that the council held up the agreement because of Boda, noting that he didn’t run against just Campbell and herself but Mitchell and Councilman Tim Spies as well. In fact, she asserted, the council wasn’t even aware that Boda had signed the MOU.

“The council did not see the MOU referenced in the work session … Council was not given a name as to who signed the agreement, but was told it was signed by a ‘manager,’” said Cohen. “Since there was no mention of the name of who signed the agreement, the accusations by the mayor in his press release today that council’s actions were politically motivated against a specific employee of Wal-Mart are baseless and offensive.”

Ireton also called Cohen out for giving Wal-Mart a noon deadline Wednesday to provide a signed MOU, when one was already existed. For her part, Cohen asserted that she never set a special deadline. The deadline that Ireton is referring to is set in the council standards and that, if pressed, exceptions probably would have been made.

Overall, the council did everything within reason, continued Cohen, to carefully hurry along the approval process.

Despite Cohen’s argument, Mitchell remained skeptical about Boda not being a factor. She pointed out the council was aware that Boda was at least involved in the process several days before the Nov. 7 work session.

“The memo dated Nov. 3, 2011 from [Police] Chief Barbara Duncan clearly states that he [Boda] is the initiator of the request,” she revealed.  “In fact, his name is the first word of the memo, and is repeated in the last paragraph.”

Cohen admitted the council was aware that Boda was the initiator of the request but not that he was the manager who had actually signed the MOU.

“We never actually saw the document. It wasn’t passed around the table,” she said.

Cohen argued that the council majority was just trying to protect the city by taking reasonable precautions, such as allowing legal counsel to review the document and seeking corporate confirmation, which she felt wasn’t too remarkable a request.

Mitchell noted that, whatever the reason, the opportunity for Salisbury officers to take advantage of the offer from Wal-Mart is gone and hopes that similar requests from businesses in the future will come to a more satisfactory end for the city.