SALISBURY – County officials say the clock is ticking to select a new county attorney.
The Wicomico County Council says an extension that allows for Paul Wilber to serve as acting county attorney will expire on Nov. 4.
But when asked for an update on the search process for a new attorney last week, County Executive Bob Culver said he declined to speak on the matter until Wicomico County Purchasing Agent Nicholas Rice could share his opinions on the procurement process and the reasoning for recommending Wilber’s law firm – Webb, Cornbrooks, Wilber, Vorhis, Douse, Leslie & Mathers, LLP – to continue providing legal services.
“I think you all need to know what his feelings are on that,” he said.
In May, the council voted 6-1, with Councilman Bill McCain opposed, to fire County Attorney Paul Wilber effective July 31.
Following his termination, County Executive Bob Culver put out a request for proposal (RFP) for legal services, and three law firms – the Law Offices of Hearne & Bailey, P.A., Robert Benson of Laws, Insley & Benson, P.A., and Wilbur’s law firm – submitted their proposals.
In early August, the executive recommended the council appoint Wilber as the county’s attorney, nearly three months after the council voted to remove him from the same position. Culver said Wilber’s firm was the most qualified and lowest priced.
At the time, however, the council voted 6-1 to reject Wilber’s appointment to the office of county attorney, with McCain the only member in favor.
It should be noted the charter allows the county executive to appoint an acting department head for 90 days without the approval of council, and the next day Culver announced Wilber’s appointment as acting county attorney.
With less than 30 days remaining in that 90-day period, however, the council last week revisited the issue in an open work session. Council President John Cannon questioned what the executive’s office was doing to find another county attorney.
“The same law firm being recommended was the same law firm that the council had fired,” Cannon said. “It’s highly irregular for us to turn around and make an agreement that we are going to hire the same legal counsel we just fired a week before.”
In a letter to the county council on Aug. 20, Rice noted the three bids for legal services were received in July and subsequently reviewed by an evaluation committee.
“In my professional opinion, I agree with the evaluation committee’s conclusion that the law firm of Webb, Cornbrooks, Wilber, Vorhis, Douse, Leslie & Mathers, LLP provided the County with the best value for Countywide Legal Services,” the letter reads. “Given the evaluation results and the fact that the process was completed in the same manner as all other RFPs, I do not believe the contract should be awarded to anyone other than the highest-ranked firm unless they were disqualified.”
Rice said a vendor can be disqualified if they are deemed non-responsive or non-responsible.
“Disqualifying a vendor without proper justification would put the County at risk for legal recourse,” the letter reads.
Council President John Cannon told Culver last week he dismissed Rice’s letter because an RFP was not required for legal services.
Culver, however, said he wanted Rice to discuss the issue with the council.
“We got it out there as much as we could, per your request we did that,” he said. “My point is now we have to go ahead and follow the procurement that we did do. I want him to come up here and answer that. He’s the one with all the qualifications in procurement.”