Culver envisions ‘Cabinet’ government role for council

In their first public forum in front of county business leaders, Wicomico’s newly elected government declared they have a public mandate to cut taxes and reduce spending, all while seeking to add jobs to the local economy.

And, in a surprise announcement, County Executive Bob Culver said he would look upon the County Council as a cabinet structure that will help guide his decision making.

“I’m one of eight people: seven councilmen and myself,” said Culver. “There’s no difference between any of us. We’re all here to help make a decisions for the county.”

On his 11th day in office, Culver told a legislative forum at the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce that he wants to be part of a leadership team.

“I’m not setting the executive’s office up any higher or lower than the council people,” he said. “We have a little plan that’s in the works now — this is like a cabinet.”

Culver explained that he would call on certain council members with particular areas of expertise to advise him. As an example, he said Councilman Matt Holloway, an agricultural businessman, would be his go-to figure on agricultural issues.

“I’ve asked Matt to handle all of my agricultural problems,” he said. “I can’t know everything there is to know. There’ll be ones (council members) who will be taking care of schools needs, one who’ll be taking care of manufacturing needs.”

Seeming to put ego aside, Culver said: “So I’m just more or less part of this cabinet that’s going to try to bring Wicomico County back to a more-leaner and more-productive county.”

Five of the council’s seven members joined Culver in the forum. Missing were Democrat Ernie Davis and Republican Larry Dodd; everyone at the table was a Republican, which reflected the recent election sweep.

Councilman John Hall made clear that voters were asking for a lot through their balloting.

“We have a mandate from the voters like we have never had,” he said. “The mandate is to lower taxes, have less government, but have the same services — but they’ll be less quality, we know that.”

While Hall said the council’s priority will remain education, he reminded the crowd that Wicomico County spending has been reduced 27 percent since the beginning of the 2008 recession and “we’ll have to get back that loss.”

“We need accountability from the education department,” Hall said, “we need a visions and we need to see the results.”

Councilman Joe Holloway was more blunt when it came to cuts and spending.

“I think the County Council is looking at a different situation than we have been in the last eight years,” he said. “I think we’re going to work together, trying to cut spending and make the county more efficient — I think that’s the way we need to go.”

Holloway, of Parsonsburg, sounded a theme that was heard often in the months leading up to Nov. 4.

“There’s been a lot of things going on in the past few years that haven’t been right, and I’ve tried to bring them to the forefront,” he said.

“I’ve brought them to the council meetings, some of the things (where spending was questionable) and I think the council now — or a ‘cabinet’ as Mr. Culver refers to us now — will have a better handle on how our money is spent.”

Joe Holloway has been publicly critical of school board spending on meals and conferences.

“Voters spoke and they spoke pretty loudly that they were tired of the way the county was being run,” he said.

Newly named Council President John Cannon said the campaign had made clear to him that jobs were a top issue, and bringing new jobs to the county was his priority.

“Job growth is going to be part of what we do — and we have to make that happen,” he said. “We we can grow our economic base, then we don’t have to raise taxes.”

On the subject of a cabinet-style government, Cannon said: “Along with the executive (Culver), we’re going to have to sort through what our job is as a council and what leadership roles we want to take, and merge those goals with the executive.”

Councilman Matt Holloway said the county leaders needed to keep in closer communication with state representatives so as not to be blind-sided by issues coming out of Annapolis. He pointed out that county officials only found about about the state’s proposed restrictions on phosphorus emissions from farms in the 11th hour.

Councilman Marc Kilmer, the successor to longtime District 2 representative Stevie Prettyman, predicted constituents would “see a lot more working together on the council and lots of agreement with the executive.”

Said Kilmer: “I told Bob that the council is not going to be a rubber stamp for him, but I don’t think it’s a case of being a rubber stamp. I think it’s a case where the voters spoke, and there was a mandate, and we’re ideologically aligned — at least more so than in the past.”

Most of the eyes in the room were, of course, on Culver, as community leaders sought to read his reaction to his colleagues’ visions.

“You’re asking what I’m going to accomplish,” Culver said in a moment of self-deprecating humor. “I guess I have to be talking to these gentlemen here on what they’re going to veto on me in the next four years.”

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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