Psota named to lead Wicomico administration

John D. Psota will become Wicomico County Director of Administration on July 1.

Fruitland City Manager John D. Psota has been selected as Wicomico’s next Director of Administration.

The highest-ranking appointed official in county government, Psota will oversee all county departments and agencies within the Executive Branch. He will also be responsible for the preparation of the county’s budget, both in the general fund and capital spending arenas.

County Executive Bob Culver made the appointment last week, and it was approved unanimously by the County Council. Psota will be paid $120,000 annually.

Psota has been Fruitland’s administrative leader since 2014. Previously, he worked for the Maryland State Police from 1987 through 2012, beginning as a State Trooper and later serving as an administrator.

A 1981 Wicomico High School graduate, he holds a Political Science degree from Salisbury University and is a 2017 graduate of the Maryland Municipal League’s Academy for Excellence in Local Governance.

Psota will succeed Wayne Strausburg, who has held the Administration Director’s post since 2011. Strausburg, 72, had announced he would retire effective May 29, but agreed to stay on until the fiscal year ends June 30. Psota’s hiring is effective July 1.

“I wish to thank the County Executive, Bob Culver, for this opportunity and for having the confidence in me to fill this position and thank you to Wayne Strausburg for his support,” Psota said in a statement.

“I am excited, proud and humble to join this team of hardworking men and women who strive to  make Wicomico County a safe and great place to live, work, and raise a family,” he said.

Psota, who lives in Salisbury, is a lifelong Lower Shore resident. His late father, John W. Psota, was locally famous for his work on radio, broadcasting as “Johnny Williams” on WJDY-AM and WBOC-AM, and hosting music events.

As Fruitland City Manager, he has overseen municipal administration, finance, the Police Department, utilities and Public Works.

Rick Pollitt, the county’s first-ever elected County Executive, was the former City Manager in Fruitland, which is the county’s second-largest municipality, behind Salisbury.

In his announcement, Psota saluted his current employers and staff.

“I would also like to thank the Fruitland City Council, both past and present, for their guidance and support,” he said, “as well as all of the dedicated Fruitland City employees who I have had the pleasure of working with through the years.”

Wayne Strausburg.

Strausburg’s predecessor was Ted Shea, who transitioned with the implementation of the County Executive form of government in 2006. Unlike both Shea — and now Psota — Strausburg’s experience was primarily in the private sector, having led the holding company that operated English’s Restaurants for many years.

Deputy Director of Administration Weston Young, the county’s former Public Works Director, was seemingly being groomed to succeed Strausburg, but Young bolted this spring for a similar post in Worcester County’s municipal government.

Psota’s official hiring last week was among the least transparent and telegraphed hirings of an important post in county history. A single page in the County Council’s briefing book for June 2 included a hiring resolution that contained blanks for the candidate’s name. Council Vice President John Cannon made a motion that Council Administrator Laura Hurley essentially hand-write Psota’s name in the appropriate space and the council then voted unanimously to approve the hire.

Culver’s office had not publicly announced  the appointment; the council voted without even discussing the matter in public.

Neither Psota nor Culver were in attendance for a public introduction at the June 2 meeting.

In his new job, Psota is walking into a difficult situation and doesn’t appear to have a lot of help to assist him. Among the issues facing the County Executive’s Office:

  • Culver has been ill with cancer and has been working remotely.
  • The county’s Department of Law has been operating for five years in a format that strays somewhat from the County Charter’s intent, and the current County Attorney — who is paid by the hour — has continued working in his position even though the council terminated him months ago.
  • The county has neither a duly approved Finance Director.
  • The Public Works Director’s position is open.
  • In the fiscal 2021 budget expected to be formally approved later this month, money to fund positions including a Deputy Director of Administration and Chief Budget Officer have been eliminated.
  • The budget reduced the Finance Director’s salary to a beginning pay range.
  • The county still hasn’t been able to borrow money for pending Capital Improvement items, which could affect construction of big-ticket items such as Beaver Run Elementary, a new Mardela Middle and High School and the Westside Collector Road extension.
  • Anticipated revenue hits related to unemployment stemming from the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • Expense challenges related to the pandemic, state minimum wage hikes and state initiatives to increase local funding for public education. 

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