Council, Culver enter war footing on hirings

Appointments of key Wicomico officials have reached a new level of consternation as the County Council is standing up to County Executive and refusing to greenlight at least three hires he has made.

At the council’s first meeting of the new year, members took an assortment of actions that push back on County Executive Bob Culver’s intentions to select his staff without interference:

The council refused to take a position on the hiring of Jaclyn Curry to serve as county Human Services Director. While Culver in December introduced Curry to the council in a meeting last month, he has not formally nominated her under the expectations outlined in the County Charter.

Seeking to bring to a head the controversy surrounding the County Attorney’s position, the council agreed to send a one-page letter to an assortment of entities that do business with the county, warning them that Wicomico has no certified attorney serving under the charter’s provisions.

In the same vein, the council tabled a routine legislative bill requested by the Parks, Recreation & Tourism Department to move some budget monies around to advance-finance some capital projects. Because the measure relies on actions to be performed by the county’s Finance Director, the council blocked it and declared that the Finance Department leader’s job had also been filled outside charter compliance.

In a surprising move, the council also unanimously refused to confirm Culver’s appointment of David Fitzgerald to serve as Deputy Director of Emergency Services. Fitzgerald was nominated in compliance with a charter amendment approved last year by county voters. Council members complained, however, that they were denied an adequate opportunity to interview Fitzgerald in a session that would have been closed under personnel rules.

The confirmation of county department heads has been an ongoing battle for nearly a year now. The charter calls for department heads to be reconfirmed following an election, but Culver has disputed the council’s reading of the county rule book.

The council fired the County Attorney last spring, but Culver has managed — through some procedural rules — to keep the attorney in place. The council also voted not to re-confirm the county’s previous Human Resources Director, whom Culver has since named as county Finance Director.

Culver contends the County Attorney, Finance Director, HR Director and Public Works Director fall under separate categories and are not like other department directors.

County Attorney Paul Wilber has said he can’t legally support Culver’s contention. The executive has told the council he has a legal opinion from an outside governmental attorney that supports his position.

Under Chapter C of the County Charter, in a section pertaining to the confirmation of appointments, the charter reads:

“Appointment by the County Executive of the Director of Administration, the Assistant Director of Administration, department heads or the initial appointment of a deputy director of a department in the executive branch of the county government shall be subject to confirmation by the County Council. If the council fails to act to confirm or reject any appointment within 45 days of its submission to the County Council, at its legislative session, by the County Executive, the appointment shall stand approved.”

Councilman Joe Holloway of Parsonsburg defended the council’s actions by saying he and his colleagues took an oath to follow the charter.

“Our charter is not a real complicated document,” Holloway began. “It’s easy to read — this old country boy can understand it most of the time.

“For the County Executive to keep snubbing his nose at the charter — it’s got to end — and it can’t end if we condone it. We can’t keep condoning acts that are basically illegal under our charter.”

While not absolving the County Executive, Councilman Bill McCain raised concerns that the council’s actions might be negatively affecting county business. “Tabling these issues is not going to resolve our issues with the executive.”

Concerning the Curry posting as HR Director, McCain said: “It’s best that we move this forward. It’s not the candidate’s fault. We need to keep the business of the county going forward.”

Reacting this week, Culver suggested his legislative counterparts have a political bent to their decision making.

“The individuals I selected for the Director of Human Resources and the Deputy Director of Emergency Services are more than qualified and are well respected in the community,” Culver said. “Politics are being played while I am trying to do the job the citizens voted for me in for.”

Culver also said the members’ actions “are not in the best interests of the citizens of Wicomico County.”

“I am disappointed that the fund transfer request regarding Cedar Hill Park was tabled,” he said of the budget measure. “This action by the council creates unnecessary delays to an important quality of life improvement to such a well-used park on the Westside.”

Though Culver and the council majority are Republicans, Culver paid a compliment to McCain, a Democrat.

“I would like to thank Councilman McCain for being the voice of reason and attempting to communicate that the work of the government needs to continue while the impasse is being worked on,” Culver said. 

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