SALISBURY — Hoping to bring in an outsider immune to conflict of interest complaints, the Salisbury City Council has been given permission to use Worcester County attorney Sonny Bloxom to advise the Salisbury ethics board.
“That’s what we really need, someone that is removed,” said Councilwoman Laura Mitchell.
The council has seen numerous ethics complaints thrown around in the past few months. All members of the council, except for Mitchell but including new City Attorney Mark Tilghman, are staring down ethics violation allegations.
Councilman Tim Spies has complaints filed against him from Councilwoman Shanie Shields regarding his vote for a charter amendment granting the council control of the city attorney, traditionally a purview of the mayor.
Spies was involved in legal proceedings with the city at the time over his property. He recently plead guilty to housing code infractions on the property after two years and 10 extensions in the case and has until April 15 to address any remaining issues.
Spies responded with his own ethics complaint against Shields and a possible conflict of interest with her landlord. Former Council President Mike Dunn then fired a complaint at Spies, Tilghman, Council President Terry Cohen and Councilwoman Debbie Campbell over a wide list of grievances including conflicts of interest over campaign contributions.
When the dust settled, the council found itself walking on eggshells over further complaints. To avoid exacerbating the situation, the council has been considering hiring an unaffiliated attorney that has no prior relation with the council to serve as a legal advisor to the ethics board.
“It should be somebody outside of this realm, this body,” said Mitchell.
As the attorney for Worcester County, Bloxom has no history with the city of Salisbury or individual council members that could fuel the already simmering ethics bonfire.
Bloxom was one of a field of seven potential candidates being considered. Attorneys from Wicomico and several surrounding counties were put under the microscope. Bloxom is considered one of the most qualified.
“He’s less likely to have conflicts,” said Cohen.
However, Bloxom is also operating exclusively as Worcester’s attorney and permission to contract him first had to be secured from the County Commission.
The commissioners agreed to allow Bloxom to step outside his exclusive contract and extend his services to Salisbury free of charge.
“If we can assist other municipalities or counties, we’re happy to do so,” said Commission President Bud Church.