Physician Declines Executive Appointment; Move Comes Four Days After Being Chosen

Physician Declines Executive Appointment; Move Comes Four Days After Being Chosen
Dr. Rene Desmarais

SALISBURY – Salisbury physician Rene Desmarais declined his appointment to the office of county executive this week, days after being selected to fill the vacancy.

On Monday, Desmarais issued a statement declining his appointment as Wicomico County executive, a position held by Bob Culver until his death late last month.

Desmarais – a cardiologist with Peninsula Cardiology Associates – said his decision would allow him to continue helping citizens in his current capacity.

“After a weekend of self-reflection and consultation with a number of close personal and professional associates, I have made the difficult decision to decline the offer to become the next Wicomico County Executive,” he said. “This decision is consistent with my lifelong commitment to the highest ethical standards in the delivery of healthcare. I believe the greatest benefit I can provide to my patients and to my friends in Wicomico County is to continue practicing medicine.”

He continued, “I will continue to advocate vigorously for the medical causes important and essential to us all through my role as the Eastern Shore Group Trustee for The Maryland State Medical Society (MedChi), and the MedChi IDEA Task Force that aims to decrease biases and disparities in healthcare locally. I am humbled by the selection and grateful for the opportunity, however, my true calling remains my patients and the well-being of our community through my cardiology practice and being a full-time member of the Peninsula Regional Health System team.”

Desmarais’s announcement came four days after the Wicomico County Council voted 4-3, with Councilmen John Cannon, Josh Hastings and Bill McCain opposed, to appoint Dismarais as the next county executive.

In a special legislative session last Thursday, the council conducted public interviews with three candidates for the position – Desmarais, state Delegate Carl Anderton and former County Finance Director Michele Ennis – before convening in a closed session to deliberate the appointment. Each candidate was given the same questions, as well as an opportunity for introductions and conclusion statements.

Nearly half an hour later, the council reconvened in legislative session to appoint the new executive by resolution.

At the outset, Cannon submitted Anderton’s name for the position county executive. His motion, however, failed with Cannon, Hastings and McCain in favor, and Council President Larry Dodd, Councilwoman Nicole Acle and Councilmen Ernie Davis and Joe Holloway opposed.

Acle then made a motion to submit Desmarais’s name for the position of county executive, which passed 4-3.

The decision to appoint Desmarais as the new county executive came as a surprise to many members of the community who attended Thursday’s proceedings. In a public comment portion of the meeting, several residents expressed their disappointment in the legislative body for not choosing Anderton, who they argued was the most prepared for the interview process and most qualified to lead the county.

In the days following Desmarais’s appointment, community leaders called on the county council to reconsider the process for selecting the next county executive. According to the county’s charter, the legislative body has 45 days – or until Sept. 9 – to fill the vacancy.

In an open-air forum held on the steps of the Wicomico County Government Office Building Monday, Greater Salisbury Committee (GSC) President and CEO Mike Dunn told attendees the council’s decision sent shockwaves throughout the community, leading local organizations to join together and ask the council to reconsider the selection process.

“We are here today because it has become obvious in the four days since the council made its decision, as shockwaves have rattled the public, that two questions are looming rather large over the selection process,” he said. “Those two questions are ‘Why?’ and ‘What in the world just happened?’ Today, we are here as our community partners are, to talk about the selection process. Put simply, we believe it was flawed and did not serve the public well.”

Dunn noted the special session held last Thursday was not broadcast live for members of the community. He added the council did not wait for the public to view the taped interviews or offer comments before making its decision to appoint Desmarais.

“The council chose the next county executive within minutes of concluding the interviews and before most of the public had a chance to listen to the interviews and before those in attendance at the civic center had a chance to offer comments,” he said. “Three council members involved in the voting never said a word the entire night about why they were or were not supporting the two candidates who were nominated. This was ultimately a job interview and most of us know people who interview for jobs are not offered the job on the spot.”

Dunn said the GSC recommended the council appoint a charter review committee immediately and allow public comments at the beginning of its next meeting on Sept. 1 before taking the next step in selecting the county executive. A petition has also begun to have the council reconsider the resolution at its next meeting.

“The work now is up to the citizens of Wicomico County,” Dunn 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.