Wicomico County Executive, Council At Odds

SALISBURY – Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver is calling on Council President John Cannon to step down from his position, highlighting the discord between the two branches and a letter from the council critical of the county’s chief elected official.

Culver sent a letter to Cannon on Monday requesting he step down as council president, citing distrust in his leadership and attempts to interfere with executive functions.

The letter appears to be fueled by comments members of the council made in a work session last week. As they were preparing to discuss the proposed Capital Improvement Program and Poplar Hill treatment facility, Cannon and other council members shared their frustration over the fact that members of the executive’s staff were not present to talk about agenda items.

“Led by you, you proclaimed the executive’s office did not show to answer questions on Poplar Hill and were stomping our feet and not showing up because we did not get our way on another request,” the letter reads. “You continued to proclaim that this was such a tragedy for the citizens of Wicomico County and it was no fault of the county council.”

Culver went on to dispute Cannon’s comments that the executive’s office was choosing to “stonewall” the council and said Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg had attempted to remove the Poplar Hill agenda item until more information was available. It was never made clear why members of the executive’s staff were not present to discuss the proposed Capital Improvement Program, which the council planned to adopt on Feb. 19.

“Laura [Hurley, council administrator] explained to the executive staff that you were asked twice to remove this from the agenda and that if we did not go through with this that you would be very upset,” the letter reads. “Once again, this proves that you were not looking out for the county residents’ best interest, rather you instead wanted to chastise the executive’s office for not keeping you informed on public television.”

Culver argued he was more than willing to keep the council abreast regarding plans for the Poplar Hill facility. He pointed to an hour-and-a-half-long conversation held with Cannon in the weeks leading up to the work session and offers to tour the facility and share ideas with the council.

“We have repeatedly advised you that there were many details that needed to be investigated before we could have a meaningful dialogue with the public,” the letter reads. “And yet you persisted with empty, negative rhetoric designed to undermine trust. You have succeeded. We no longer trust the council under your leadership as a working partner to improve the county. Rather we view you as an entity almost solely focused on undermining me and my administration.”

Culver then accused Cannon of interfering with executive functions and violating the county charter. In one example, he said Cannon had approached board members and department heads and asked them to resign, as they would not be confirmed by the county council.

“A similar action was taken against the Ethics Commission chair after you stated that council did not agree with the Ethic Board’s ruling,” the letter reads.

After summarizing his concerns regarding council actions in recent years, Culver called for a change in leadership.

“Based on the actions above, I have little confidence that these situations will change under your leadership,” the letter reads. “I request that you step down as council president and allow another member to step into your role to better accomplish the business and goals of the Wicomico County citizens. If you find this a harsh request, then maybe we can refer this matter to the Ethics Commission for resolution.”

When reached for comment on Wednesday, Cannon said Culver’s request was “not worth considering.”

“The whole concept of the letter and the recommendation is so off base …,” he said. “I’m not going to entertain it.”

Cannon added the letter was “a gross exaggeration” of events.

“It’s a very shallow explanation to cover the tracks and the reality of circumstances,” he said.

Cannon maintained there was more to the story than what was written.

“I think first and foremost it’s an unfortunate set of circumstances to begin with,” he said. “There is a lot to the letter that isn’t as accurate as it should be. The last thing we should be involved in is some type of back-and-forth arguing in public.”

Culver could not be reached for further comment this week.

Meanwhile, the Wicomico Council fired off a letter Wednesday of its own admonishing Culver for public airing his call for Cannon to step down.

“It is disappointing that the county executive has released a letter to the media making unfounded and personal charges against the county council president and, by extension, the county council,” the letter reads. “The county executive’s call for the council president to step down is completely inappropriate. The county executive has no role in the internal workings of the county council. The council is a separate branch of government that does not answer to the executive. To attempt to meddle in the internal governance of the council shows a stunning ignorance of how county government works and a profound disrespect for that charter that Wicomico County voters have approved.”

The council’s letter asserts Wicomico residents deserve more from their local government.

“Wicomico County deserves elected officials who will focus on the public good, not private disagreements,” the letter reads. “The executive may wish to focus public attention on personal issues he has with individual council members, but it is our job to work for the betterment of Wicomico County. It is our job to create a positive business environment that welcomes new residents and businesses to our community.”

The council’s letter suggests there is no will to remove Cannon and stands by its leader.

“The council will continue to address these and other issues as that is what the public expects,” it reads. “There will be no change in county council leadership.”

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.