Wicomico meeting Friday to discuss executive selection

In a meeting in the Civic Center’s Midway Room, the Wicomico County Council meets to select a new County Executive.

The Wicomico County Council is expected to meet in a public session on Friday at 5:30 p.m. to chart the next steps in its botched effort to appoint a new County Executive.

The public can attend or view the meeting via PAC 14, the county’s Public Access Channel.

The clock is ticking on the council’s taking action — under the County Charter, the body has 45 days to name a replacement for the late Bob Culver, which puts the selection deadline at Wednesday, Sept. 9.

The council thought it had made its selection, but the man it voted 4-3 last week to appoint — Dr. Rene Desmarais — on Monday formally abandoned the job.

Seemingly, there are two potential courses for the council:

  • Select from the other two applicants: state Delegate Carl Anderton or former senior county employee Michele Ennis.
  • Somehow vote to extend the selection deadline and start the whole process over from scratch.

Beyond Friday, the council is scheduled to meet in a regular session Tuesday night at 6 p.m.

But if the panel is planning to make any decisions at that meeting, the agenda it published Wednesday doesn’t reveal that.

Michele Ennis.

The public “Briefing Book” agenda posted Wednesday on the county’s website makes no mention of the County Executive matter. It’s possible, however, that the council could update the agenda following Friday’s closed-door session. 

The charter is intentionally vague when it comes to replacing a County Executive — it merely says the council will select someone.

The council had initially planned to keep the process closed, but ultimately released the applicants’ names and scheduled public interviews.

Given that track — and public pressure to make the process even more transparent and open to public input — it would be difficult for the council to make a second selection in a closed session.

Carl Anderton.

Desmarais’ stunning withdrawal followed an equally stunning selection, made in public at a special council session held last Thursday at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.

Following Desmarais’ appointment on a razor-thin vote, council members engaged in tense exchanges and then a succession of prominent citizens took to a public microphone to decry the choice.

Desmarais’ announcement on Monday came a few hours after a Salisbury business group and some other organizations staged a news event Monday morning to draw attention to the council’s process for selecting a Wicomico Republican to replace Culver, who died of liver cancer on July 26.

The County Executive is responsible for crafting the county’s annual $150 million budget, orchestrating its vast bond borrowing and overseeing the county’s roughly 1,000 employees.

Ennis and Anderton have already been interviewed publicly and citizens have been forwarding input on their candidacies. 

Anderton, 47, a former mayor of Delmar, was elected to the House of Delegates in 2014. He is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and former president of the Maryland Municipal League.

As a delegate, Anderton has been known to reach across the party aisle and work with Democrats. In the abbreviated 2020 session, Anderton worked closely with Salisbury Mayor Jake Day to make changes to the county’s Board of License Commissioners, which oversees county alcohol laws.

Michele Ennis, 43, was the county’s former Human Resources Director and the appointed but never confirmed finance director for the Wicomico County government. She left her post Aug. 5, after being at the center of a power struggle between the County Council and Culver.

Culver never formally submitted her name for legislative approval and the council went to great lengths to publicly vote against her holding the job.

Ennis played a role in the development of the just-enacted fiscal 2021 budget. Her signature was included on the county’s formal budget document.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Salisbury University, a master’s in Human Resources Management from Wilmington University and a doctorate in Philosophy in Organizational Leadership from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. She is a Certified Public Accountant candidate and a member of Government Finance Officers Association.

For now, Wicomico Director of Administration John Psota will continue serving as Acting County Executive. But the same clock is ticking on his hold on the position. Psota would have to be reappointed acting executive if the process goes beyond Sept. 9; the charter makes no provisions for extending an Acting County Executive’s term.

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