Wicomico Council, Culver Conflicted Over Appointments

SALISBURY – The Wicomico County Council this week debated what action it should take after learning the county executive had not met the deadline to submit the names of department heads for confirmation.

County Executive Bob Culver’s deadline to submit the names of department heads for council confirmation was Monday, May 6, as required by the county’s charter.

The charter reads, “Within six (6) months after each election for County Executive, the County Executive shall appoint all heads of each department or agency of the executive branch as defined by Section 502 and 503 of this Charter and the Code of Wicomico County, subject to confirmation by the Council as required by Section 315 of this Charter.”

In April, however, County Attorney Paul Wilber told the council that Culver would not be forwarding the names of department heads for council confirmation. And by Tuesday’s council meeting, it was clear Culver remained resolute in his decision.

Culver’s position not to submit the names of department directors for council confirmation rested on a charter amendment passed by voters in the November election.

The ballot question reads, “To amend the County Charter to provide: (A) the County Executive shall appoint the Director of Administration, the Assistant Director of Administration, and the initial appointment of the Deputy Department Directors subject to confirmation by the Council Council; and (B) within six (6) months after each election for County Executive, he or she shall appoint the Director of Administration and the Assistant Director of Administration.”

In a statement this week, Culver asserted the ballot question does not “add to or supplement the existing law, but rather amends it to read differently.”

“I have fully complied with the new charter requirement as I have submitted and received Council’s confirmation for the Director of Administration and the Assistant Director of Administration within the six (6) month time period after the election,” he said. “There have not been any initial appointments of Deputy Directors of Departments.”

Both Wilber and Council Attorney Robert Taylor, however, disagreed with Culver’s interpretation, and on Tuesday Taylor gave the council his views on the matter.

“What was on the table, and by that I mean the ballot question that was before the voters last November, couldn’t have removed anyone because that wasn’t part of the council’s resolutions that started the process to amend the charter that resulted in a ballot question,” he said. “It wasn’t within the cards.”

Taylor reiterated that Culver was still required by the charter to submit the names of department heads for council confirmation. But he urged the council to avoid litigation.

“In my view, the council should try as best it can to conform to the charter and proceed as the charter lays out,” he said. “I understand the amendments requiring the appointments have not been presented, but I think in this instance it would be appropriate and reasonable to assume whoever is now serving as a department head is essentially an appointee … The only thing he hasn’t done is turn in the list of the names.”

To that end, Taylor suggested the council continue to either confirm or reject department leaders currently holding the position. According to the charter, the council has 45 days after the six-month deadline to act.

“We know, or I think it’s a fair assumption, that there are department heads in place right now,” he said. “They are his appointees since they are in that position.”

But in his statement this week, Culver called on the council to take the amendment – with clearer language – back to the voters at the next election.

“The law states that all charter amendments must be voted on by the public,” he said.

Councilman Joe Holloway said his concern was for the department heads of Wicomico County.

“The sad thing is these folks are out here in limbo …,” he said. “I’m surprised we haven’t lost somebody over this.”

Taylor agreed.

“That’s another reason,” he said, “to assure the people who were appointed that everything is going to go on as if he had made the appointments.”

While it is unclear how they will proceed in the matter, members of the council this week made it clear they did not want to see the issue go to court.

“I don’t want to see the county taking the county to court …,” Council President John Cannon said.

Holloway agreed.

“We shouldn’t even be having this conversation,” he said. “We should have gotten the appointment list and do what we were supposed to do.”

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.