Wicomico Reappoints Legal Counsel

SALISBURY – Wicomico’s legislative body agreed this week to rehire Paul Wilber to serve as county attorney, more than a year after his termination.

On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted unanimously to confirm Wilber’s appointment as county attorney and to engage the law firm of Webb, Cornbrooks, Wilber, Vorhis, Douse & Mathers, LLP to serve as the county’s department of law.

This week’s vote – made with no discussion by members of the council – comes more than a year after the legislative body agreed to remove Wilber from the county attorney post.

In May 2019, the council voted 6-1 with Councilman Bill McCain opposed to fire Wilber – who had served in the office of county attorney since 2015 – effective July 31.

Those who voted to remove Wilber from office did not provide their reasoning for the termination at the time. Two weeks prior, however, 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 County Executive Bob Culver – who passed away in July – requested that he remain.

In the months that followed, Culver put the legal services out to bid, and three law firms – the Law Offices of Hearne & Bailey, P.A., Laws, Insley & Benson, P.A., and Webb, Cornbrooks, Wilber, Vorhis, Douse, Leslie & Mathers, LLP – submitted proposals.

In an August 2019 meeting, Culver recommended the council rehire Wilber’s law firm, submitting Wilber’s name 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.”

But after a lengthy discussion, the council voted 6-1 to reject Wilber’s appointment.

“I was somewhat surprised to see the executive would turn in the name of a county attorney that we had just fired …,” Councilman John Cannon said at the time. “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.”

It should be noted that the county’s charter allows the county executive to appoint an acting attorney for 90 days without the approval of council. The next morning Culver announced Wilber would serve as the acting county attorney effective immediately.

But since that 90-day period expired last November, Wilber has continued to serve as the county’s “de facto” attorney despite council’s requests that the executive select a new candidate. Without a duly appointed county attorney, the council argued the county would be unable to conduct essential business transactions, such as issuing bonds, ratifying contracts and legal documents and accepting grants, among other things.

“The Charter expressly states that the appointment may not exceed 90 calendar days except by Council approval,” Cannon wrote in a letter issued last November. “During that period Mr. Culver could have worked with the County Council to select another County Attorney or asked Council to extend the temporary appointment but did not do so. Instead, Mr. Culver has informed Council members that he intends to continue to use Mr. Wilber as the County Attorney.”

After months of back-and-forth debate, Acting County Executive John Psota in September submitted Wilber’s name for appointment to the office of county attorney, according to the resolution approved on Tuesday.

With no discussion, the council voted 7-0 to rehire Wilber and engage the services of his law firm.

“Based upon the recommendation of the Acting County Executive, the Council believes that it is appropriate and in the best interest of the County to confirm the appointment of Mr. Wilber as the County Attorney,” the resolution reads, “and approve the engagement of the Firm to serve as the County’s Department of Law.”

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.