SALISBURY – Wicomico County officials agreed last week to hire a law firm for special assistance.
On June 15, the Wicomico County Council voted 6-1, with Councilman Joe Holloway opposed, to engage the services of attorney Timothy F. Maloney and the law firm Joseph, Greenwald and Laake, P.A. to aid in inquiries, investigations or the drafting or codification of legislation for certain legal matters.
Holloway told the council this week he would not support the resolution over concerns regarding liability and payment. Because the executive branch controls the county treasury that disburses funds, he questioned if the individual council members would be held responsible for paying attorney fees should the administration decline to pay.
“What that means is the county executive might not pay the bill,” he said. “These attorneys are going to want to get paid and they are going to look for the low-hanging fruit to get paid from. When all this is said and done, whether we win or lose, they are going to want to get paid, and they are going to go after whoever they think they can get paid from. This council person doesn’t want to be liable for this.”
When asked to clarify his comments, or if the council had plans to pursue a lawsuit against the executive branch, Holloway told The Dispatch last week the council was hoping to avoid any litigation.
“They are hoping to avoid that by sending out letters,” he said.
Since last year, the council and executive office have been at odds over the appointments of certain county leadership positions.
As outlined in the county’s charter, the county executive is required to submit the names of department heads for council confirmation within six months of his or her election.
In April of last year, however, the council learned that County Executive Bob Culver would not be forwarding the names of department heads for council approval. 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 2018 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 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.”
In a statement, Culver asserted the ballot question did not “add to or supplement the existing law, but rather amends it to read differently.”
Since that time, both branches of government have publicly disagreed with each other’s interpretation of the charter. Highlighting the issue were the subsequent appointments of the county attorney, finance director and human resources director.
In May 2019, the council voted to terminate county attorney Paul Wilber from his position effective July 31. In early August, however, Culver announced Wilber’s appointment as acting county attorney, a position he has held ever since.
Culver also announced Michele Ennis as the new finance director last May. Although her appointment was rejected by the council last June, she continues to serve in that position.
And in a work session last December, Culver introduced Jaclyn Curry as the county’s new human resources director. When asked if Curry’s introduction was considered a submission to the council for confirmation, Culver said it was not.
In recent months, officials have made it clear the two branches were deadlocked on the issue.
In March, for example, the council voted to table two resolutions that would have transferred funds for two projects after arguing the county had no duly appointed finance director who could certify the appropriations. And without a certified county attorney or finance director, the county has not gone to the bond market to secure funding for capital projects.
In this week’s council meeting, Holloway said his concerns could have been addressed earlier this month when the council adopted the annual budget.
“We could have taken care of this problem two weeks ago when we voted for the budget,” he said. “However, the budget was amended as the budget was written originally. Taking the funds out of that budget as we did, as we had written it originally, would have solved this problem … Now we want to hire a lawyer, pay money for a lawyer, taxpayers’ money, so I’m not going to be able to support this.”
Council attorney Bob Taylor, however, noted that Holloway’s concerns over liability and payment could be addressed with the law firm.
“I think that could be done before or after the engagement is approved,” he said. “At the moment, he hasn’t done anything or incurred any fees.”
With no further discussion, the council voted 6-1, with Holloway opposed, to hire Maloney and his law firm.