SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County last week voted against a recommendation to rehire Paul Wilber, who was terminated from his position as county attorney in May.
County Executive Bob Culver, however, has since announced the appointment of Wilber as acting county attorney effective immediately.
On Aug. 6, members of the Wicomico County Council had before them a recommendation to appoint Wilber as the county’s attorney nearly three months after the council voted to remove him from the same position.
In May, the council voted 6-1, with Councilman Bill McCain opposed, to fire Wilber effective July 31.
At the time, the council members who voted to remove him from office did not provide their reasoning for the termination. The decision, however, came 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 Culver requested that he remain.
Following his termination, Culver put the legal services out to bid, and three law firms – the Law Offices of Hearne & Bailey, P.A., Robert Benson of Laws, Insley & Benson, P.A., and Paul Wilbur and Roscoe Leslie of Webb, Cornbrooks, Wilber, Vorhis, Douse, Leslie & Mathers, LLP – submitted their proposals.
Last week, Culver submitted the name of Wilber to the county council for confirmation.
“Three bids were evaluated and Mr. Wilber’s firm was both the most qualified and lowest priced of the firms that bid,” Culver wrote in a letter to the council. “Given the results of the bidding and the overwhelming positive feedback from County Department Heads and personnel, I am submitting Paul Wilber to the Council for approval as County Attorney.”
McCain, the only council member to oppose Wilber’s termination in May, said he supported the confirmation.
“I haven’t had one single constituent say he should be terminated,” he said. “I’d like to see us support this.”
Council President John Cannon, however, said it was in the county’s best interest to remove Wilber from the office of county attorney, though he refused to comment on the reasons behind the decision.
“I was somewhat surprised to see the executive would turn in the name of a county attorney that we had just fired …,” he said. “To a certain degree it creates unnecessary delays. We all know this is of the utmost importance. This has to get done and come to some sort of resolution.”
Councilman Josh Hastings said he questioned the evaluation process.
“It certainly wasn’t clear to me how we arrived at the conclusion and the executive’s office decided this was the right individual to put forward,” he said.
Assistant Director of Administration Weston Young said each of the law firms were ranked based on factors such as cost and experience.
“Mr. Wilber’s firm ranked the highest,” he said.
Young also noted the urgency in finding another county attorney. Without representation, he said more than 400 active cases cannot move forward.
“That’s not lawsuits,” he said. “It’s contracts and things we are reviewing. It’s more than a one-main job for certain.”
After further discussion, however, the council voted 6-1 to reject Wilber’s appointment to the office of county attorney.
McCain, the only member to support Wilber’s appointment, then made a motion to amend the resolution the council passed in May to fire the county attorney. The amendment would extend the termination date by 90 days, allowing Wilber to remain in his position until another attorney is submitted to and approved by the council.
Several council members, however, took issue with the amendment. Cannon argued the council couldn’t extend the termination date for a county attorney who had already been fired.
“The county attorney has been fired,” Cannon said. “We don’t have a county attorney.”
Councilman Joe Holloway added that the charter allows the county executive to appoint an acting attorney for 90 days without the approval of council.
“I think that would be the way to go,” he said.
After an extensive debate, the council also voted against the amendment, bringing the discussion to a standstill at last Tuesday’s meeting.
On the next morning, Culver announced Wilber will serve as acting county attorney effective immediately.