Library, Culver in dispute over storing voting machines

The County Executive’s plan to store voting machines in the Wicomico County Library’s basement met with opposition from the chairman of the Board of Trustees, who vowed he won’t hand over the keys even if it means a legal battle.

“He can take us to court. We will continue to refuse,” Rick Keenan, who heads the library’s board, said on Monday when referring to County Executive Bob Culver.

“This is just an unconscionable appropriation of space,” he said, accusing Culver of refusing to visit the library and see how space is allotted.

Culver wants to house about 34 machines in 3,000 square feet in the basement, where an entrepreneurial center opened last August.

“He told me the entrepreneurial center is a joke,” Keenan said. “If (Culver) puts those machines in there, it’s gone. It’s done. And we have programs booked in there almost through the year.”

Contacted Monday, Culver said he only pointed out the facts to the library’s overseers. Culver countered that the entrepreneurial center is not being used to its full potential and that other such business centers are available, including one at Salisbury University.

“The college has its own entrepreneurial center and the Chamber of Commerce has the Young Entrepreneur’s Academy. The one at the library has been sitting vacant,” said Culver. “They had some meetings there. There are a couple of chairs and a couple tables.”

State elections officials have told the county to find a new and larger home for the local Board of Elections, which is now located on Bateman Street. A proposal two years ago to move it to the E.S. Adkins Co. business complex on North Salisbury Boulevard was scuttled two years ago.

Since assuming office in December 2015, the matter — and the price tag for finding a new home for elections workers and their equipment — has been on a source of irritation for the County Executive.

“We’ve been mandated by the state to find additional space for the Board of Elections. We’ve been leasing a storefront in the K-Mart shopping plaza for the machines because they have to be climate controlled since we went back to paper ballots.

“We talked to the library because there is so much space down there in the basement,” Culver said.

He considered moving the entire Board of Elections operation there because, he said, “It will cost the county $1.1 million to buy and renovate a building– and the elections office is busy twice every four years.”

The machines must be moved by July 1. No longer renting space will save the county $75,000 to $80,000 annually, Culver said.

His plan is to leave the Board of Elections office on Bateman Street and store the machines in a building the county owns — the library. There is a dock and covered area to keep them protected when they are transported, he said.

Culver on Friday sent a letter to library officials asking for keys to the building. “We told them, ‘This is the best 3,000 square feet and we’re going to take it.’ We won’t disrupt the offices downstairs at all,” Culver said.

Keenan argued the basement is where “we have all of our functional offices.”

“We have a computer room with 16 computers in it. There’s a general classroom. Most of the work of the bookmobile is done there. We do the sorting of books on that level. We explained all that with diagrams and told them we had nowhere near that kind of space available. He (Culver) had the idea that everything could be moved around,” Keenan said.

“He said they are the owners of the building and they will move in and do this. On the 13th, last week, he said to turn over the keys,” Keenan said.

In a return letter to Culver sent Monday morning, Keenan informed the County Executive that he instructed Library Director Andrea Berstler “not to give  keys to anyone from the county who wants to disrupt or dismantle in any way the entrepreneurial center.”

Culver said entrepreneurs don’t visit the center, talk to, or advise those interested in starting businesses. Not only are they busy, but they don’t want anybody to steal their ideas, he said.

“If you had a reference center there for people to use, maybe, but they don’t. And we already have that business center at the college,” he said.

His annual budget included more funding than the library asked for and now there’s a request to build a library in Pittsville, he said.

“They’ve got some big lofty goals,” Culver said, “but they sure have been less than cordial to work with.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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