City’s Jack Heath enters County Executive contest

Surrounded by family members and friends, City Council President Jack Heath announces on the steps of the Government Office Building that he is a candidate for Wicomico County Executive.

By the time Salisbury City Council President Jack Heath announced his candidacy for Wicomico County Executive Wednesday afternoon, he had developed a plan emphasizing improved communication with the County Council.

“I know most of the guys on the County Council, some of them real well, others not so well, but I know them all and in their hearts they want to do what is right for the county. I think they are screaming out, silently, for the ability to talk to the other side of the table and work together and that is just not happening,” he told the Salisbury Independent.

“I see a great potential for the county. I’ve learned a lot about how to get things done and about how the government works. The one thing I’ve learned is communication is the key,” Heath said.

“One of the major things I am going to  do, based on my experience, is to try to communicate better, build consensus, negotiate where I have to and come up with things that are better for the citizens,” he said.

If elected, on his first day in office he will “listen, talk to people, find out what their goals and objectives are, spend time analyzing, meet with the council to set mutual guidelines on how we will behave, and then observe for a little while and get into it,” he said.

The former CEO of Lower Shore Enterprises, Heath has served on the City Council since 2014, when he was appointed to fill the seat vacated by former City Councilwoman Terry Cohen.

He had previously lost to Mayor Jake Day when Day was City Councilman representing District 2, during the 2013 primary election. In May 2015, Heath ran for City Council, representing District 3, and won.

He will continue on the City Council while campaigning for the county position.

In the Nov. 6, 2018, election, would likely face incumbent County Executive Bob Culver, 65, a Republican. There won’t be a primary unless a second Republican candidate files, as Heath is unaffiliated with either the Democratic or Republican party.

To be placed on the ballot, he is required to collect signatures from 1 percent of the registered voters in Wicomico County, or 670, a number he is confident he will collect.

Garnering signatures is enjoyable for him because it gives him a chance to chat with residents who, he has found, don’t think much about lines that separate the city and county.

“When people come in to 3rd Friday from all over they don’t say, ‘Oops, I crossed over into the city line now.’  I firmly believe what is good for the city is great for the county. If we’re successful in the city, then it’s good for the county and all the county benefits from that,” he said.

Once he oversees the county budget, Heath said he won’t be quick to propose tax increases.

“That is not always the solution to the problem. There are enough efficiencies we can find in government to protect the tax structure that we have. If we can get and attract more businesses to the community, the tax burden on the citizens becomes a lot less,” he said.

Among his top priorities will be funding education – not just academics and curricula, but school buildings and technology that needs updating.

“Either we educate the youth and get them ready to go into the workforce … or we end up paying for it later when they end up in ECI, etc. It’s money well spent because the return on the investment is so high,” he said.

There are three teachers in his family and all of them agree, “It takes a total picture to make a student successful, including the school and modern technology,” he said.

“When my son was in middle school, the ceiling collapsed one day. We’re not at that point but there are schools that are overcrowded. There are schools that haven’t been updated in years. It is important to look at that,” he said.

The student population is growing, making it important to hire top-notch teachers and feed students who come to school hungry, he said.

Calling his campaign “a journey,” he said he is running “because I believe that I am the person that can work closely with the County Council to maximize the potential of our county.”

“My experience and record have demonstrated that I am a consensus builder, a strong communicator and negotiator. Having run a successful $160 million business gives me the tools needed for the job.

“My community involvement has provided me with the opportunity to work side by side with the citizens of the county and hear their concerns.

“Every citizen wants a good quality of life that includes safety, a sound education system and job opportunities. These are desires we all share. However, our county is very diverse. The issues for those in the metro area are different than those in the more rural and agricultural areas. For that reason, during this journey, I will be doing walking tours of the municipalities in the county to listen to the issues that are unique in each area,” he said.

Throughout his career, he has kept Rotary International’s motto, “Service above self,” in mind and strives for four principles: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and friendships? Will it be beneficial to all?

“These tenets guide my life. Integrity matters,” the 71-year-old Heath, a native of New Jersey, said.

Unfazed by comments circulating in the community that he would be Day’s puppet if he were elected, Heath said, “I think people who know me and people who have seen me and my record and the way I conduct myself, I will let them handle that comment by themselves.”

“I think my commitment and my duty and my obligation and the way that I behave, especially, speak for myself,” Heath reasoned.

If the campaign turns ugly, he said, it won’t be because he has any input.

“We’ll see what happens. I’m ready to go. I just can’t wait to start. I’m going to say what I believe I can do, based on my experience. I have a track record that people know,” Heath said.

“My record speaks for itself. I love to have discussions and consensus, but also civility.”


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