SNOW HILL – Commissioner Josh Nordstrom’s comments to the media drew criticism from his peers this week.
At the close of Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Chip Bertino brought up comments made to the media by Nordstrom regarding his efforts to get funding for the south end of the county. Prior to voting in support of a countywide room tax increase, Nordstrom said he wanted to make sure his fellow commissioners acknowledged the needs of his district.
“When I read in the paper that there were deals that were made, that the votes were there to pass something, when we didn’t even have a debate, to me rings a little bit hollow,” Bertino said.
He said he’d been reluctant to bring up his concerns but felt that it was his responsibility to do so.
“We are a body, but we are individual commissioners who have our points of view and our own perspectives on different issues,” Bertino said. “This government moves when four commissioners, at least, make a decision, and government moves forward. There has been no designation by the commissioners to have a spokesperson for this body other than our Public Information Officer Kim Moses or our president. Yet over the past several months the public, and the media, has been led to believe that issues have been taken up by the commissioners.”
He said it had been reported that the commissioners were going to discuss funding for Snow Hill and Pocomoke at a particular meeting. When the time came, however, Nordstrom’s motion to use 10% of the county’s table games funding to increase annual grants provided to Snow Hill and Pocomoke was tabled.
“If the votes were there I suspect that particular issue would not have been tabled and the vote would have been taken,” he said. “Then government would have moved forward. It did not.”
Bertino said the issue was written about in local papers, however.
“I’m not blaming the media … they’re reporting what they have been told,” he said. “But it was stated in print that if when this particular issue is discussed at budget time, which I believe is the time to do it, that if it is not passed the commissioners reneged on any promises that were made.”
Bertino stressed that he’d made no promises.
“I didn’t make a promise in signature or in word that I was going to vote a certain way,” he said. “In fact, that particular topic was never even discussed with me. Nor did I have the benefit or the opportunity to discuss it in open session as it should have been discussed. I don’t know what the vote will be. I don’t know if that particular issue is going to be brought up. But no one up here, no one speaks for any one of the commissioners other than themselves.”
He said the commissioners didn’t speak as a body until a vote was taken.
“Over the last several months, the media and the public has been led to believe certain things about the operations, the interaction, among the commissioners that to me rings false,” Bertino said. “I just wanted to make clear on this particular issue and some others I’ve seen in the press recently that accusations or comments have been made that do not ring true to this body … it’s something that’s been going on for several months. I think it’s wrong. I certainly can’t stop it. But I think the public and the media have a right to know that one commissioner, two commissioners, do not speak for this entire body unless or until a vote is taken on a particular issue.”
Commissioner Jim Bunting agreed and referenced a “Between The Lines” opinion column from The Dispatch that expressed Editor Steve Green’s opinion that a majority of the commissioners were unlikely to support Nordstrom’s funding request come budget time.
The opinion piece read, “It’s going to be interesting to see what transpires in the spring involving a deal made among the Worcester County Commissioners. In exchange for his vote two weeks ago for a room tax increase, it’s clear Commissioner Josh Nordstrom was promised some funding for the south end of the county by his colleagues. … Perhaps it’s a conspiracy theory on my part, but I would not be surprised if a majority of the commissioners renege on this deal at budget time.”
Bunting said no “deal” has occurred.
“I want whoever wrote this line to know that I have not made a deal with anybody,” Bunting said. “I have not talked to anybody about making a deal. I will not make a deal.”
Bunting added that he’d heard an affidavit regarding the funding proposal had been put forth to other commissioners and the county attorney.
“The county attorney wisely said she couldn’t do that,” he said.
While Bertino and Bunting didn’t address Nordstrom by name as they spoke, he quickly acknowledged he was the subject of their concern.
“Let’s be clear here,” he said. “They’re talking about me. When I speak to the press or to anyone else I speak for myself. I believe I’ve made that clear to the reporters.”
He said he was working to do things to help his district.
“Sometimes my tactics, the way I go about things, may not be the regular way to go about things,” he said. “I just want to do the best job that I can. When I talk to the press, I speak for me. I do not speak for you or anybody up here. I never have claimed to. Let’s be very clear on that. I enjoy doing press. I think people should know what is happening here. I do not violate the sanctity of the closed session. Neither of you have come and talked to me personally about this. You chose open session to do to do it which is unfortunate but that’s your right.”
Nordstrom said if he said something wrong he would apologize.
“I represent myself and only myself when I speak in the press,” he said. “To talk about how I am somehow falsely representing this board, this commission up here is untrue. Some of the things you’ve heard may or may not be true but none of them are illegal or immoral or have any negative connotations whatsoever. They just might be something you don’t approve of or don’t like. But I haven’t done anything wrong and I won’t do anything wrong. I’m going to continue to do press when they ask me because I think people should be informed. It is not my intention to cast dispersions or bash any of you up here. I respect all of you but I will let people know my opinion.”
Commissioner Bud Church said he was offended when Nordstrom called him and asked him to sign an affidavit prior to a vote.
“That’s pretty far out of line,” Church said. “I’ve been here going on 18 years. We’re all in the same ballpark. You don’t try to force a commissioner into voting your way and have them sign an affidavit.”’
Nordstrom said that had been a mistake on his part.
“That was a learning moment for me and I apologized to you for even broaching the subject,” he said. “It was a learning moment for me. You won’t see me do it again, but I thought it was the right thing at the time. But again, not against the rules, not illegal. Just trying to make sure that I have the votes. That’s all.”
Commissioner Ted Elder said anyone who thought the commissioners were making deals out of the public’s eye simply needed to watch a meeting.
“I’ve been on the losing end of a 1-6 vote several times and also been on the winning end of a vote,” he said. “We’ve had the discussions right here in front of everybody. I’ve never made a deal with anyone. Many times I don’t have my mind made up until I’m sitting right here and listening.”