Elected Officials, Executive Differ On Wicomico Attorney’s Future

SALISBURY – Wicomico County Attorney Paul Wilber said he has been asked to resign from his position, but maintained he would continue to represent the county until a qualified successor is appointed and confirmed.

Last Friday, County Attorney Paul Wilber sent a letter to County Executive Bob Culver and members of the Wicomico County Council outlining his position on representing the county after stating that he was asked by certain county leaders to resign.

“Recently, certain members of the council requested that I resign from the office of county attorney,” he wrote. “The county executive requests that I remain.”

Wilber said leaving the position of county attorney vacant would disrupt the county’s daily functions.

According to the charter, the county attorney represents the county and its departments, boards, commissions and agencies and is obligated to advise the county executive and county council on any legal issues that they request. The attorney is also obligated to review and approve all county legal documents – including contracts, deeds, resolutions and ordinances – before they are signed.

“No County contracts or agreements can be signed,” he said. “County departments and personnel will be left without a legal advisor. The County’s exposure to legal liability will be increased. Additionally, the status of several negotiations, proceedings, and court cases will be unnecessarily interrupted.”

Culver, when reached for comment this week, said the impacts of a vacancy in the office of county attorney would be disastrous.

“What this means for the county is for all intents and purposes a government shutdown,” he said. “All deeds, bonds, contracts, releases, agreements, advertisements, bids and other legal papers are approved by the county attorney prior to my signature, therefore our departments will be at a standstill. It will take a significant amount of time to find a qualified candidate, undergo and pass the confirmation process, and then get him or her up to speed on the hundreds of open projects Paul is working on at any given moment. The impacts will be devastating and are not in the county’s best interest.”

Council President John Cannon said this week that the council plans to discuss the confirmation of department heads – which includes Wilber’s position – at its May 21 meeting.

“As of right now, the council hasn’t taken any formal position,” he said. “But we have it on the agenda for discussion on the 21st, together with all the department heads.”

Wilber’s letter was sent just days after the county council held a work session to discuss how it would confirm or reject department heads without Culver’s formal submission of names.

According to the county’s charter, the county executive is required to submit the names of department heads for council confirmation within six months after each election for county executive. But Culver argued a recent charter amendment – which requires the executive to appoint the director of administration, the assistant director of administration, and the initial appointment of the deputy department directors for council confirmation – does not supplement the existing charter provision, but rather amends the charter to read differently.

While it is unclear how the issue will be resolved, Wilber stated he would not vacate the office of county attorney until another attorney has filled the position.

“Because the office of County Attorney is critical to the county, I believe that a vacancy in the office would unduly damage county operations and that withdrawing from representing the county would be a violation of my professional obligations as an attorney,” he wrote. “It is an honor and privilege serving Wicomico County and its citizens. I believe that I am professionally and ethically obligated to serve as the county attorney until the position has been filled by another qualified attorney in accordance with the requirements of the County Charter. If a successor is appointed and confirmed, I will fully cooperate with an orderly transition to the new attorney. I believe this course of action protects the interests of the County and prevents any undue harm to its citizens.”

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.