Wicomico Council Ousts Attorney In ‘Unfortunate Set Of Circumstances’

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County this week voted to remove County Attorney Paul Wilber from his position.

On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted 6-1, with Councilman Bill McCain opposed, to remove Wilber from the office of county attorney.

The decision comes nearly two weeks after Wilber issued a letter outlining disagreements regarding his role in representing the county. He wrote that certain members of the county council requested he resign, while County Executive Bob Culver requested that he remain.

The county charter reads, “The County Attorney shall serve at the pleasure of the Executive and the Council. The County Attorney may be removed from office by either: the Executive with the consent of a majority of the Council; or a two-thirds vote of the entire Council.”

Council members who voted to remove Wilber from office this week did not provide their reasoning for the termination. But in an interview this week, Council President John Cannon said the council had shared its concerns regarding Wilber’s representation to the administration as early as last November.

“It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances,” he said, “and we felt it was our only option.”

McCain, however, told the council Tuesday he had received several calls from county residents on the issue.

“I’ve had numerous people reach out about this issue and they were not in favor of this,” he said. “I’m on the record as not in favor of this. I don’t think it’s a good move by the council.”

Cannon said he recognized concerns that the county would be left without representation. He noted, however, that Wilber would remain in his position until July 31.

“It should leave more than enough time to appoint someone else,” he said. “We had previously notified them of this.”

In his letter, Wilber said he would work with the county to ensure a smooth transition.

“It is an honor and privilege serving Wicomico County and its citizens,” he wrote. “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.”

The council this week also voted to confirm the directors of eight county departments without Culver’s formal submission of nominees.

In April, the council learned Culver would not be forwarding the names of department heads for council confirmation.

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.”

However, 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 County 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.”

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

Both Wilber and Council Attorney Robert Taylor, however, disagreed with Culver’s interpretation, and earlier this month Taylor advised the county council to proceed in confirming the existing department heads.

On Tuesday, the council voted to confirm Public Works Director Dallas Baker, Recreation, Parks and Tourism Director Steve Miller, Planning, Zoning and Community Development Director Lori Carter, Wicomico Partnership for Families and Children Director Michelle Bradley, Information Services Director John Monar, Emergency Services Director David Shipley, Warden Ruth Colbourne and Airport Manager Dawn Veatch.

Cannon said requests to legally substantiate Culver’s interpretation were not answered.

“The council has received no written legal opinion, as we have requested of the county executive, in support of his position,” 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.