2018: A year of more progress in review

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day was a happy host all weekend at the National Folk Festival.

An election year, a Folk Festival, changes at the top of some major institutions, a return of economic growth and a progressive city government were all seen during 2018.

National Folk Festival

In September, Downtown Salisbury was transformed for the much-anticipated, three-day National Folk Festival.

In its first of three consecutive years in town, the event drew about 60,000 people to the ever-growing and much improved Downtown.

“It was, I think, a transformative moment for our city,” Mayor Jake Day said about the festival that brought a variety of types of music, arts, entertainment and foods to town from Friday, Sept. 7 to Sunday, Sept. 9.

“We have shown Salisbury what they are capable of. They are empowered now to know they are capable of so much more than they ever thought they were.

“And that’s really something. A community that thinks it deserve less is not going to try for more. Our community proved to the world we can do more so let’s keep meeting that new bar. We have to raise the bar and meet it,” the mayor said.

On Friday evening, 25,000 people attended. On Saturday, 35,000 were there and 7,500 attended on Sunday.

Day said 97,931 cell phones, smart watches and other devices were identified by the city’s Wi-Fi system. Those in city police cars and duplicates worn or carried were estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 and deducted.  More deductions were made considering children, and some adults, don’t carry cell phones and the total was about 60,000, explained Day who, during closing remarks at the Festival on Sunday said the feeling of pride was “so palpable it was overwhelming.”

“We love our city, and we had a whole lot of visitors this weekend who now see what we see in Salisbury,” he told a gratified crowd on Sunday, during closing remarks at the 78th Festival, a rainy day that caused crowds to thin, but had no effect on the quality of entertainment or enjoyment of those who stayed.

“I love you, Salisbury,” Day called to those who assembled as the event closed and they whistled and shouted, “We love you.”

During the festival, thousands strolled the streets, found seats in tents where they clapped along and swayed to music, sipped drinks, sampled various foods, admired the Wicomico River and made friends.

Festival Manager Caroline O’Hare called the Festival “spectacular.”

“Our community really showed that this is something they want and that they enjoyed. Rain or shine they were out there having fun, experiencing new things. I heard a lot of people saying they can’t wait to come back next year, and I heard people say they want to do more, not just volunteer,” O’Hare said.

During the festival, visitors applauded the talent of the Phil Wiggins Blues House Party, featuring Junious Brickhouse who, in rolled-up jeans, T-shirt, vest and hat, danced in traditional blues style.

Along the Riverwalk, on the way to a Quebecois performance by the Yves Lambert Trio at the Salisbury University Stage, seashells were arranged neatly on a colorful blanket with a sign advertising “Vampire sea snails kills by a vampire space clam.” They cost $3 each or two for $5 and there was a bucket with a little Honor System sign.

As the trio played a waltz the accordion player described as “very nice,” a man in a plaid shirt, olive drab shorts and matching brimmed hat stood and danced free-style, waving his arms and moving his feet to his personal beat.

Children listened as they sat on the Riverwalk, feet dangling above the water, watching kayakers paddle by. All around, walkers who had visited food vendors bit into wraps or dipped hot French fries into little cups of ketchup.

A mist of rain blew through the streets late afternoon Saturday, but it couldn’t dampen the spirits of The Sensational Royal Lights gospel quartet or fans who lifted their hands in praise and swayed to the music both inside and outside the tent.

The highest percentage from out of town were at the festival on Saturday. On Sunday, most were local.

Regardless of cities of origin, everybody was upbeat.

“Hello, Salisbury!” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan shouted in greeting Friday evening, after marching in the opening parade with Day and hundreds of participants who filled North Division Street as they approached the stage in front of the Government Office Building.

“Are you guys ready to have a good time? I couldn’t be more excited to be here,” Hogan said, thanking Jim and Jan Perdue who, with Hogan and his wife, Yumi, were named honorary chairmen and chairwomen.

James “Bo” McAllister, left, Wicomico County Clerk of Circuit Court, swears in County Executive Bob Culver as his sister, Susan Dunsten, holds their family Bible. Culver’s children, Chris Culver and Courtney Culver, look on.

Bob Culver re-elected

Three men wanted to serve as Wicomico County Executive, setting up an interesting first-ever contest that pitted Republican, Democrat and independent challengers,

When the votes were counted Nov. 6, incumbent Bob Culver was easily re-elected County Executive, topping Salisbury Council President Jack Heath, with the relatively unknown John Hamilton trailing far behind.

Culver received 49.1 percent of the vote, Democrat Hamilton received 29.8 percent and the unaffiliated Heath managed 21 percent.

Conspiracy lovers immediately alleged Hamilton was secretly lured into the race to take votes away from Heath. To believe that, however, one would have to believe the opposite, that Heath took votes away from the Democrat and helped Culver to victory.

Culver has a long list of things he wants to accomplish in his second term. He has highlighted a need to tackle stormwater management and neighborhood flooding, municipal sewer expansion to neighborhoods with failing septic systems, infrastructure improvements to the county airport, a possible new mission for the county’s liquor dispensary system.

A new County Council

Education spending was the chief topic of the election, and while it didn’t seem to factor in the County Executive’s outcome, it was seen as factor in the County Council races.

Republicans now have a 4-to-3 council majority, compared to the 6-to-1 majority of the previous four-year session.

The two council newcomers are both Democrats, Bill McCain and Josh Hastings, and each man ran on pro-public education platforms that called for increased education spending.

In the aftermath of the election, they appeared determine to keep a focus on education and schools spending.

“Education was the first question asked at nearly every forum, interview, or event during the campaign season in Wicomico County,” said McCain. “It is the No. 1 issue of concern expressed by the citizenry, as well as the business community.

“Thus, it consequently needs to be the No. 1 priority addressed at budget time,” he said.

Two-term council members John Hall and Matt Holloway didn’t seek re-election. Ernie Davis faced no opposition in the general election; Joe Holloway faced no opposition at all. John Cannon and Marc Kilmer were re-elected by wide margins.

Focus on education

Initiatives put forward by schools Superintendent Donna Hanlin received a great deal of attention and some surprising support in 2018. Her “Achieve 2.0” program became a focal point of discussion and her desire to add pre-Kindergarten classes universally to the school system seemed to gain support as the year progressed.

To achieve many of the superintendent’s goals, the school board requested $5 million over so-called Maintenance of Effort. That didn’t happen, but the council and executive did contribute an extra $500,000 to the schools budget, a spending gesture unseen in the last 12 years.

“Achieve 2.0” projects a blueprint for where county education should be within four years, or 2022.

The strategic priorities in her plan:

  • Increase the percentage of students who enter kindergarten ready to learn from 33 percent to at least 38 percent by 2022 (the state average is 42 percent).
  • Increase the percentage of students who enter Grade 9 and graduate four years later from 82 percent to at least 87 percent by 2022.
  • Decrease the three-year employee turnover rate from 20 percent to 15 percent by 2022.

While school officials have often talked favorably in recent years of their success in recruiting new teachers, retaining those employees has been more of a challenge.

Elected school board

Wicomico Republicans have been trying for years to see the county’s school board transformed from a gubernatorially appointed body to a popularly elected one. The first such race was held this year but just two new faces will serve on the board.

Incumbents Don Fitzgerald, Michael Murray, Allan Brown, John Palmer and Gene Malone each withstood election.

Anne Suthkowski, a former educator was elected. Incumbent Bill Turner was beaten by just two votes, so newcomer David Goslee assumed a board seat.

The seats were elected without party designations. One interesting fact about the school board: While many are former educators, none is the parent of a student currently in the school system.

New amphitheater

Just in time for the National Folk Festival, the Riverwalk Amphitheater was formally opened and dedicated by Maryland First Lady Yumi Hogan.

In December, the public venue was renamed in honor of the Pohanka Automotive Group of Salisbury, which donated $75,000 to complete the second phase of construction on the performance venue.

The amphitheater has been a dream of Downtown planners for decades. Steel panels along South Salisbury Boulevard were also erected to mark the amphitheater’s location.

Modernized garage

In late August, work began on wrapping the city’s parking garage in mirthful colors, brightening it in time for the city’s first National Folk Festival Sept. 7, 8 and 9.

Wrap material arrived on a truck and was attached by Signature Graphics Inc., based in Porter, Ind. Adhesive was used to secure it over each panel until every white concrete area was finished.

The process took about one week.

“We had power washers out there … as the last step before the wrap,” Amanda Pollack, Director of Infrastructure and Development for the city of Salisbury, said before wrapping began.

“All the concrete will be wrapped. It will all have color so it will pop out instead of blending into the background,” Pollack said.

Costing $93,000, the wrap has no words, as banners hanging from the parking garage do, but feature a picture of Downtown and blue, white and green waves.

“It’s an abstract. It will brighten up the parking garage and give it an artistic look,” Pollack said.

Later, the words City of Salisbury were added to the garage, on the Division Street side.

Banners with the city’s signature colors of blue, orange and green and words such as Riverwalk, Recreation and Downtown, were hung.

City officials also approved lighting improvements, including up-lighting, and landscaping.

“For the banners, we have $20,000 in the FY18 budget,” Pollack explained.

“For the structural repairs, we have $400,000 in the FY19 budget and have programmed the next phase in the Capital Improvement Plan for $600,000 in FY20. The final phase from the structural study is programed for FY21 and includes waterproofing and non-structural repairs such as the new railings at a cost of $180,000,” she said.

The four-level, 700-space garage was set to receive upgrades costing about $400,000 in the current fiscal year, including replacement of bearing pads, where parking garage levels rest on each other, and replacement of surfaces between levels. Built in 1976, the parking garage was expanded in 2002.

In FY20 or later, concrete repairs and waterproofing will be done.

Carozza replaces Mathias

When the Maryland’s Legislative Session begins next month, the absence of longtime politician Sen. Jim Mathias will leave a gap where familiarity has long been a constant.

Mathias, who lost his bid for a second term as Maryland senator, representing District 38, to Delegate Mary Beth Carozza in November, has been a ubiquitous, energetic and smiling face since 1987, when he was appointed to the Ocean City Board of Zoning Appeals.

In 1990, he was elected to the Ocean City Council and, six years later, elected mayor of the resort.

The Baltimore native and Democrat became a Maryland Delegate in 2006 and, most recently, served one four-year term as senator before being toppled by his challenger, Republican Delegate Mary Beth Carozza.

The race was close, with Carozza taking the lead with 52 percent, garnering 24,370 votes to Mathias’ 21,530.

“I understand the people spoke and I clearly abide by that,” Mathias said shortly after his defeat.

“I’m not bitter over it. I clearly wish it had a different outcome. That’s what we worked toward, but this is a trusteeship for the people and I understand that.

“It was bigger than us this time. We had a lot of unfortunate partisanship. We had a governor who demonized me as a liberal, saying I voted with the bad guys.

“If you want to do the push-ups and you want to get in the ring and take your best shot, that’s fine, but don’t go into the ring and put a brick in your glove when the other person is truly fighting fair,” he said.

Soon after Election Day, Mathias — who campaigned on protecting family values and constantly working to help constituents — posted on Facebook thanking constituents for their support and urging them to stay in touch.

“I’m not hard to find,” he said, standing in front of one of the many bodies of water that make the Eastern Shore so inviting.

During his campaign, he referred to the Senate as “the workbench of Maryland, where we come to build solutions, build consensus and build a better Eastern Shore and Maryland.”

The win for Carozza, a 57-year-old Republican, was the result of her governor-endorsed, hard-hitting campaign against Mathias, a 67-year-old widower.

Certainly Gov. Larry Hogan’s support helped her succeed, his popularity across party lines, endorsing her while slamming Mathias on TV commercials as a liberal who repeatedly “votes with the bad guys.”

As senator, Carozza, hard-working and characterized by Delegate Carl Anderton as a highly intelligent woman with a deep understanding of government and policy, will be called upon to illustrate how she tackles problems.

“I will be a strong voice for the entire district and I am more representative of the people of District 38. I also will be a strong partner with Gov. Hogan in the State Senate working on our Shore priorities,” she promised, naming the state’s growing heroin and opioid crises as one of them.

“My focus has been a comprehensive one, focused on prevention, education, treatment, recovery and law enforcement,” she said.

During her campaign she repeatedly pointed out Mathias’ differences of opinion with Hogan and emphasized she approaches from another, better angle.

Carozza campaigned for fiscal responsibility and tax relief and chided Mathias for voting for former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budgets. He defended his votes saying much good came from those budgets, including funding for Salisbury University, Wor-Wic Community College, the Shorebirds stadium and dualization of Route 113.

Focus on county airport

The star receiving the most attention in the county’s constellation — undoubtedly — is the Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport.

Municipal water will soon be extended to the facility east of Salisbury, clearing the way for new construction of hangars to accommodate multimillion-dollar aircraft. Plans call for a terminal expansion that includes a destination restaurant and other amenities.

A runway extension is needed to accommodate larger planes; the county is working with the state and federal governments to secure the necessary millions of dollars.

Also this year, Piedmont improved its services to provide an all-jets fleet, sending prop-planes into retirement or service elsewhere.

Spin bikes come and go

In July, Spin, the company that provided popular, bright orange bicycles for short jaunts around town, surprised residents when they announced a switch to motorized scooters and pulled the bikes off city streets.

Officials at Salisbury University, where the bikes were heavily used, waited to hear when the bikes would be removed from campus and started figuring out how payments would be refunded.

Meantime, Salisbury Mayor Jake Day said bikes would not be removed from Salisbury streets because the city had control of them.

Wayne Shelton, director of Sustainability & Environmental Safety at SU, though, confirmed Spin had stopped operations nationally.

Later, Day said the city was being “courted by multiple bike share vendors” but none was announced by the end of the year.

Neither Day nor Shelton seemed interested in switching to scooters.

“We are thinking about the whole situation and how scooters could be misused,” Shelton said.

Both men offered statistics proving how popular traditional bicycles were.

On the SU campus, where there were 100 Spin bikes, there were 3,600 trips from May 1 to June 1. The average distance traveled was .67 miles and the average trip time was 186 seconds.

In the city, there were 15,596 rides and more than 17,000 miles traveled as of June 30, Day said. On average, there were 120 rides per day.

Bull Hudson dies

Hearts were broken throughout the community when Salisbury Police Officer Aaron “Bull” Hudson died suddenly, late on the evening of Nov. 19.

Word of his death spread quickly, prompting scores of Facebook posts, the creation of a makeshift memorial on the Downtown Plaza and prayer vigil that night.

At the funeral for the 27-year Police Department veteran and father of two, at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center, Mayor Jake Day recalled Hudson wrote his badge number, 142, on the white wall in the mayor’s office, encircling it with a heart.

Although he could have drawn a circle around the number, or badge or star, he chose a heart, indicating his global love, Day said.

“He had a taste for life. The man had an appetite for life and he was unforgettable,” Day said, repeating a description that was bestowed upon Hudson earlier in the funeral — a legend commonly known as Bull.

“If we love a little bit like Bull, I guarantee you we get stronger and I guarantee you we will get a little more like Bull,” the mayor said.

“We are going to wear our hearts on the outside, just like Bull. Just like Bull,” Day said.

Hudson’s death by suicide shocked many, including the Rev. Martin Hutchison who remembered him as “a kind, outgoing, lovable, huggable guy” and “everybody’s friend.”

“It hurts on multiple levels,” said Day, who ordered flags flown at half-staff “until further notice” and announced the fountain at City Park would be illuminated in blue through 2018 “in awareness of suicide prevention and to pay tribute to the life of … Hudson.”

Day captured Hudson’s personality by posting on Facebook a photo of the laughing officer, pen in hand, sitting at the mayor’s desk, with “Bull” printed on a yellow piece of paper covering Day’s name.

“He had a charisma that could bring a smile to your face as he brightened the day of all he came into contact with. Officer Hudson embodied the quintessence of what it means to be a public servant,” Day wrote about his friend.

The Rev. Ryan Weaver of Remedy Church, the pastor who married Hudson and his wife of two years, the former Heather Herbert, called Hudson “very much a friend and a mascot to many.”

“He served as the face of the Salisbury Police Department at a time when we needed such things in our community, someone to be a face of the SPD, alongside Chief (Barbara) Duncan and our police department, who are hurting,” Weaver said.

As his funeral ended, The Vince Gill song “Go Rest High on That Mountain” played before friends and family left to reconvene on the Downtown Plaza, where a “Bullevard” sign had been erected.

There, where Hudson regularly patrolled, Amazing Grace was played on bagpipes and the hearse that carried his body stopped as police issued his last call, thanking him for his service to the community.

A man in the crowd took a step closer and blessed himself by making the sign of the cross.

“He was quite a guy,” he said. “Quite a guy.”

SU has new President

In April, Charles Wight, president of Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, was named president of Salisbury University, succeeding much-loved Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach, who retired in June after 18 years, during which she led the university to national distinction.

Wight took over the top SU position July 1.

“This is an amazing moment and an amazing opportunity, so I thank you for the opportunity,” he said at a gathering in Holloway Hall during his first visit to campus.

“I have received many messages from people on campus welcoming me to Salisbury University and a lot of help with the transition already. Thank you all for that,” he said.

“Being president is mostly about cultivating relationships, getting people excited about supporting students through their journey and celebrating their many successes along the way. That puts a smile on my face almost every day,” he said.

“The first thing I plan to do it to go on a listening tour. It’s important for us to get to know each other before I start making important decisions and start changing things.

“Going to college really opens students’ eyes. It is exceptionally important that every institution is not only welcoming to all kinds of students of all economic backgrounds but also that it’s a place where people feel immediately that they belong,” Wight said.

At Weber State, Wight was known for “making college affordable and accessible, supporting diversity and inclusion, maintaining a beautiful and sustainable campus, improving student success and building strong and mutually beneficial relationships with the local community,” according to a news release announcing he had been chosen.

He was attracted to SU, he said, because the university’s students and graduates “are so highly successful.”

A native of northern Virginia, Wight’s father, sister and their spouses live in Deale, Md., on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

During his five years as president, Wight led a $164 million fundraising campaign, expanded financial aid, created the first LGBT Resource Center and named the first Chief Diversity Officer. Student enrollment grew, and new academic and recreational facilities were constructed.

A graduate of the University of Virginia, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1977 and doctorate at Caltech in 1982.

Teaching was exciting for him, but he moved to administration “to be able to make a positive difference in the lives of a larger number of students.”

A pilot, Wight enjoys flying his 1976 Bellanca Super Viking, but said when he moves to the Shore, he might trade it in for a boat.

“I am both honored and delighted by the opportunity to serve as president of Salisbury University. It’s a great institution,” Wight said.

City hosts marathon

The SBY Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K on April 28 attracted more than 1,100 people from 35 states, and two overseas, prompting Mayor Jake Day to pronounce it a success.

Day participated and, the next day, was achy and sore.

“I can’t find enough Motrin and Tylenol,” he said, laughing.

But the mayor persevered and completed the 26.2-mile course in the city’s first marathon and, in the true spirit of competition, said he would have dragged himself over the finish line, bleeding, if necessary.

“This was my first one. It’s tough. There really isn’t any way you can practice for it except to just do it,” he said.

And they did it, Day and hundreds of like-minded runners, lacing up their shoes and making it through the full marathon course along the scenic trails and Urban Greenway the city promised, the 13.1-mile half or Pinwheels for Protection 5K, sponsored by the Life Crisis Center.

Proceeds went to both Life Crisis and Athletes Serving Athletes, an organization for those living with disabilities who want to compete in mainstream running and triathlon events.

Day and city officials will now work to get Salisbury “on the map as a national qualifier.”

As a Boston qualifier, the race, the mayor predicted, “will be unlike anything Salisbury has experienced before.”

“It’s a tremendous moment for us, a real triumph,” Day said.

“When you look at cities, and what basic, fundamental building blocks of any city is, this is an important thing. We finally have a marathon as part of our portfolio,” he said.

Whether or not Day will run again in 2019 is uncertain, but the city will continue hosting marathons. and benefiting from tourism and the economic impact. Restaurant and business owners reported hundreds of people were in town, greatly benefiting business.

“Everything I heard about it was positive. Everybody had something good to say. I won’t even say 99.9 percent. It was a 100-percent success,” Day said.

“I can’t wait to see this grow.”

Sixty Foot Road repairs

Following years of accidents at the intersection of Route 50 and Sixty Foot Road, the State Highway Administration, in August, began improving safety.

Currently under way is a $3.14 million project, expected to be completed in the spring, that includes installing traffic lights with left turn arrows on both the eastbound and westbound sides of Route 50.

Once it’s finished, new lights will replace the blinkers that were there originally.

The intersection, in Pittsville, has been the site of many accidents during the years, including a fatal accident there in 2015 that killed 71-year-old Margaret Ann Joiner of Rehoboth Beach.

In June 2010, Wicomico County Deputy State’s Attorney Sam Vincent was killed there.

The project includes improving rumble strips approaching the intersection and placing larger stop signs.

County officials asked state officials for a more detailed study to determine how it could be made safer, especially since 31,000 vehicles travel that portion of Route 50 every day, with higher numbers in the summer. More than 5,000 vehicles travel through the intersection every day.

During the current improvement project, new left turn lanes are being built and acceleration and deceleration lanes added, as well as landscaping and stormwater management controls, said Charlie Gischlar, assistant media relations for the SHA, based in the Baltimore office.

“We are very cognizant that having traffic lights, that stopping traffic in the summer, even for a couple minutes, can back things up, but we will time that to have maximum green time,” Gischlar told the Salisbury Independent.

 

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