A message to our local leaders: We can do better

How was your summer? Hopefully, it was full of beaches and boats and barbecues and boardwalks. And much more. That’s what summers are for, here on Delmarva.

Greater Salisbury Committee CEO Mike Dunn.

Locally, in the Salisbury/Wicomico area, summer was as busy as it could be. In case your hectic summer caused you to miss some of the community fun and activities that were going on, please allow us to recap:

We hosted, again, the USSSA National Championships, bringing 10,000 softball players and their families to our region; the County Fair was a huge hit; the Delmarva Shorebirds had a historically successful season; Downtown Salisbury now has an ice cream shop (Angello’s Scoops) and, soon, a brand new restaurant (Mogan’s Oyster House); the National Folk Festival returned for its second year, with perfect weather, great crowds, and record setting days for many local businesses.

Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Chambers.

And, just this past weekend alone, there was Mizzle Fest, a hip hop/reggae/urban event held at and near the Salisbury Amphitheater; Brew River’s Annual Boat Docking contest; a visiting Frederick Douglass scholar speaking at the Chipman Center; a Peace in the Park celebration; and Pemberton 24 — A Festival of 5K’s, held at Pemberton Historic Park.

You get the picture. Things in and around Salisbury and Wicomico County are humming along.

Things aren’t perfect, of course. They never are. But, viewed from the 30,000 foot level? The landscape is positive, active, community-centric and cohesive.

Except, that is, for where it isn’t.

To wit, over these past few summer months, this is what’s been going on, as viewed through the front pages of our newspapers and the stories being seen on our local TV stations:

  • The Wicomico County Executive and the Wicomico County Council President have been engaged in a very public back and forth over the firing/hiring/approving of various County Department heads — with letters from each flying across the hall of the County Government Building at dizzying speed.
  • In one of those public back and forths, the County Council fired the County Attorney. Then, about a month after that — and after a Request for Proposal was sent out asking for local attorneys and their firms to apply to be the NEW County Attorney — the County Executive chose to recommend (and seek approval from the County Council) and hire the VERY SAME person  that the County Council had fired the month before. Both the County Executive and the County Council President claim the County Charter (our constitution, if you will) was on their side in this. (The fired, then re-hired, new/old County Attorney is still on the job – without the approval of the County Council.)
  • Two high-profile positions — replacements for a Board of Education member, and a County Council member — that had to go through the County Council for approval left many an observer scratching their heads. The Charter said this. The Charter said that. In the end, the process worked — barely. And replacements were chosen. But many who paid close attention to these scenarios saw dysfunction and confusion. And, the consensus was that, as a community, it wasn’t our finest hour.
  • Most recently, of course, there was “The Letter.” On Aug. 27, the County Executive sent a letter to the Maryland Senate President, in which he wrote the following: “It is very troubling that the Comptroller of Maryland would approve these licenses that are illegal. I think it is important that you and others in elected positions are aware of this unlawful action of the Comptroller.”  The licenses in question were for beer and wine for the National Folk Festival. The County Executive believes the National Folk Festival should have obtained its beer and wine license through the local Board of License Commissioners, and not via a festival license issued by the Office of the Comptroller. The letter was written 10 days before the start of the NFF. Among other things, the letter led to a public excoriation of the County Executive by the Comptroller’s Chief of Staff, via social media – and more tension between the Mayor of Salisbury and the Wicomico County Executive.

We write this letter today, on behalf of the business organizations that we work for, to say that watching the above play out publicly is deeply troubling.

We believe we can do better.

We believe that our elected officials are good people, trying to do their best to serve their constituents. But, along the way, personal animosities have emerged. That happens in politics. We get that.

We urge our elected officials to try some of the following:

  • Establish (and re-establish in some cases) strong and open lines of communication.
  • Meet regularly and in-person with one another.
  • Follow the Charter — the City Charter and the County Charter are the “law of the land” and should be adhered to.
  • Appoint — as the County Charter requires — a Charter Review Committee. Over the last two elections, more than 15 Charter changes have been proposed by the County Council. That’s a lot for the citizens to weigh in on.

There is SO much that’s good about living in Salisbury and Wicomico County.

Being “One Wicomico” is a mindset that can keep our eyes on the ball, and keep our dirty laundry out of the headlines. Working cohesively is good for business, and, by and large, that’s how our community works best.

Both of our organizations, and our more than 700 combined members and stakeholders, representing more than 40,000 local employees, stand at the ready to work toward finding a better way forward, for all of us.

Mike Dunn is President and CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee. Bill Chambers is President and CEO of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce.

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