Groups seek public input on executive hiring decision

Greater Salisbury Committee CEO Mike Dunn address a crowd Monday in front of the Government Office Building in Downtown Salisbury.

Insisting they were alarmed by the process — and not the actual person chosen to serve as County Executive — Wicomico County’s top two business advocacy groups hosted a public meeting Monday morning on the steps of the Government Office Building.

“We are here today because it has become obvious in the four days since the council made its decision — as shockwaves have rattled the public — that two questions are looming rather large over the selection process,” said Greater Salisbury Committee CEO Mike Dunn.

“Why? And, what in the world just happened?”

Dunn was joined by representatives of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, the Wicomico NAACP, the Wicomico Republican Central Committee and Fraternal Order of Police to enlist the public in seeking an explanation for the council’s appointment last week of Dr. Rene Desmarias as County Executive.

In a 4-3 vote held Thursday night to appoint a successor to the late Bob Culver, three Republicans and one Democrat on the council selected the Salisbury cardiologist over former county senior employee Michele Ennis and state Delegate Carl Anderton.

The council held public interviews with the self-nominated candidates and made a decision that night.

“Today, we are here, as are our community partners, to talk about the selection process,” said Dunn. “Put simply: We believe it was flawed, and it did not serve the public well.”

Dunn noted that the meeting wasn’t broadcast live to county cable-TV subscribers via PAC 14, and delays in the public being able to view the meeting delayed any possible reaction.

He also wondered aloud why three council members involved in the voting never said a word the entire night about why they were supporting Desmarais for the post.

Most importantly, he pointed out that the council could have waited for the public to view the interviews and offer feedback before casting their votes.

He noted that a recently controversial vote regarding the county’s airport had been delayed to better-inform citizens and gather public input.

Addressing a crowd of about 60 people, Wicomico NAACP President Mary Ashanti urged the council “to reconsider and vote again” after receiving public input.

Nate Sansom, Chairman of the GOP Central Committee, urged the public to “reach out and share your thoughts, questions and concerns with the leaders who represent you in this community.”

Wicomico businessman Blair Carey referred to Culver’s service and legacy, and announced he had launched an online petition effort on Change.org to get the council’s attention.

“It is important for our county, our citizens and our representation on the council to take due diligence in the appointment of who is to fill (Culver’s) shoes,” Carey said.

“I feel I’m in the company of many citizens who at this time feel our voice must be heard.”

Dunn said the groups were seeking five separate actions from the council:

  • The County Council and County Executive appoint a Charter Review Committee.
  • That the public have more time to view the interviews — which are now available on the PAC 14 YouTube channel.
  • The three council members who said nothing about why they did or did not support the two candidates — Council President Larry Dodd, and Councilmen Joe Holloway and Ernie Davis — explain their votes.
  • That the council, at its next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 1, allow public comments on the interviews at the top of their meeting, before they take the next step on the County Executive decision.
  • That the council — after hearing public comments at their next meeting — reconsider the resolution approving Desmarais’ appointment.

Under the appointments rules in the charter, the council has until Wednesday, Sept. 9, to make a final decision.

Demarais has yet to be publicly seen or heard from since his appointment last week. He has issued no announcements or made any postings via social media. He did not attend the Republicans’ election headquarters opening on Saturday in Salisbury.

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