County Executive seeks term limits discussion

County Executive Bob Culver’s request for the County Council to schedule a time to discuss term limits isn’t a push for change, but a desire for “a healthy public dialog.”

That’s why Culver, a Republican in his first term as executive, wants to see it on an agenda, County Administrator Wayne Strausburg told the Salisbury Independent.

“It was simply to have a work session that would lead to a public discussion about whether or not the voting public feels term limits for the executive and for the County Council are appropriate,” Strausburg said.

He spoke about the matter on Culver’s behalf, saying Culver had a busy schedule.

“We think a healthy dialog would be helpful,” Strausburg said.

State election laws establish term limits, and in Wicomico both the County Executive and County Council serve four-year terms. Altering an elected position’s service time would require a change to the County Charter.

Strausburg, who chaired the citizen-dominated Charter Review Committee before entering county government, said that when the panel discussed the issue in 2011, its members favored term limits.

Last week, Culver dispatched a news release that stated the issue should be examined because “people are tired of the way things are going.”

Strausburg explained that Culver meant the “political rancor the national government is embroiled in.”

“You see it at the state level but it’s not as contentious as it is at the national level,” Strausburg said. “And anyone watching county politics can see contention. People are looking for effective governance.”

Though Culver and the council majority share Republican affiliations, tensions have developed in recent months over who sits in the driver’s seat on county issues. The executive’s office contends the council doesn’t understand the executive branch has command and control responsibilities; the council feels it is being left out of the loop on major decisions.

Even Culver’s term limits declaration was a surprise, as the issue has been on a far back-burner, and seemed to generate new ire.

County Council President John Cannon said this week that the council did offer to put a discussion of term limits on an upcoming agenda and the matter didn’t have to become contentious.

“The whole thing sort of came out of nowhere. We are willing to discuss it,” Cannon said.

After Culver made the request, council members replied, asking for more documentation, Cannon said.

Culver, in his news release, said he wrote to the County Council in July but hadn’t received a response.

“There were inconsistencies and we asked the County Executive to get more supporting documentation. We never heard anything from that office since … we told him we would hold the Aug. 15 agenda open for him,” Cannon said.

Last November, county voters approved a slew of charter changes in a referendum.

“He’s coming out with all this and we’ve just come out with 10 or 12 charter changes, but during those discussions he never suggested it,” Cannon said of the County Executive.

In response to Culver’s announcement, the County Council issued its own letter, saying the body “to date, has received no request, other than the executive’s, to address the matter of term limits.”

The council letter advises residents who want to speak on the term limits issue to contact council members through the county’s website.

The 2018 general election is “well over a year away (and) the council has not yet begun discussing possible charter amendments,” the letter reads. “Once the council begins such deliberation, any amendment the executive proposes will be given due consideration and county residents will have an opportunity to express their views.”

Culver’s initial statement on term limits was posted on the county’s website, but Culver had it removed last week.

Strausburg confirmed it was taken down, saying it was done on the advice of the County Attorney.

“The county website is a repository for the presentation of statements of fact. It isn’t a repository for debates of the County Council and the County Executive,” Strausburg said, adding the public had been exposed to it in the media, so the matter isn’t being hidden.

But Cannon objected.

“I don’t think it’s ethical to use his office to manipulate what does or doesn’t go on the website,” Cannon said.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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