Wicomico County Mulls Local Preference Policy

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County are considering a policy that will establish a preference for local vendors in the county procurement process.

In an open work session Tuesday, Council Attorney Robert Taylor presented the Wicomico County Council with a legal analysis about the risks associated with local preference.

Taylor told the council implementing a preference for local vendors could present challenges for the county.

“Because of the precedent in Maryland, in particular some rulings by the Court of Appeals, there’s an inherent risk in doing any kind of a local preference,” he said.

Taylor relayed different examples of counties in Maryland that implemented local preference policies, which were challenged and ultimately struck down by the court system.

“The principle on which it was struck down would be applicable here,” he said.

Taylor explained the county could adopt a local preference policy and be challenged by those adversely affected. He said a greater risk would be for another county with a similar policy to be challenged, making it easier for those individuals to challenge Wicomico County.

“That’s the nature of the risk,” he said.

Council President John Cannon questioned other examples from the state.

“It appeared to me … that these particular policies were alienating other vendors and only allowing for locals,” he said. “We’re not suggesting that. We’re leaving any bid process open to all vendors, but adding one qualifier.”

Taylor said the county could still be at risk.

“The difficulty is the Maryland Court of Appeals is kind of out there on this,” he said. “They take a very liberal or expansive view against local preference.”

Councilman Joe Holloway encouraged counsel to construct a local preference policy that would minimize the county’s risk.

“The reason this came up is I have a person that owns a pretty large business in Wicomico County,” he said. “It’s a family-owned business, it employs a lot of people and it has a lot of inventory and he lost a bid for just a few hundred dollars to a company outside the state. His statement was we are paying all these taxes, we’re employing all these people and I’ve been here for 50 years or 75 years. We should have some preference.”

Cannon said the council would reach out to other counties that have either considered or have adopted a local preference policy.

Taylor also suggested the council contact the attorney general.

“I think you are going to have a hard time getting anybody to give you a definitive opinion,” he said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.