County Executive outlines plans for new term

James “Bo” McAllister, left, Wicomico County Clerk of Circuit Court, swears in County Executive Bob Culver as his sister, Susan Dunsten, holds their family Bible. Culver’s children, Chris Culver and Courtney Culver, look on.

Bob Culver was officially sworn in last Tuesday as the second County Executive to serve Wicomico. A Republican, Culver won re-election by a wide margin, running a campaign that feature two opponents but no stumbles.

In his next four-year term, Culver has a list of measures he’d like to see passed and executive actions he wants taken.

Through it all, he’ll be navigating inevitable differences of opinion with county school officials, the Salisbury city government and the legislative branch of the county government, the County Council.

Culver’s interview from PAC 14’s “One On One” appears at the end of this story.

 

Q. The election results — tell us what happened from your perspective.

A. You know I spent some time at the polls while the election was going on, at the Civic Center for early voting and was at the polls during election day and a lot of people went straight R or straight D.

I don’t think that there was any vacillation back and forth.

Q. I think we all knew you were going to win but I think we thought Jack Heath was going to do better.

A. I always felt confident but I you know there was a lot of talk going around town that it was going to be a close race and ‘it’s gonna be tight.’ Jack certainly did have his followers and had his supporters and I wasn’t sure where it was going go, but I felt confident as I got out a lot and heard from people.

I don’t do door-to-door (campaigning) and never have, basically because I don’t like people coming to my door. But I made every function I could, just like I did in my previous elections and I felt good about it.

I had no idea it was going to be as big a gap between Jack and I. It turned out to be that party labels still matter to people — it does. This year, from the national level state level on down to local levels, you know now.

Q. This is your fourth county election and you’ve won three.

A. The first one, I didn’t get through the primary, but I won the others.

Q. How does this win compare to the ones you’ve had before?

A. Unfortunately, this was the worst one I’ve ever been in. Not because of the people or anything else other than the fact that the rhetoric that was put forward — the questions about my integrity.

You know, I take that very personally. I’m a stand-up person and I’ll tell you what I feel, but that doesn’t mean I have no integrity. To bring, you know, integrity into this race, I was somewhat mystified as to why.

Additionally, there were a lot of signs being stolen. I don’t think for a minute either John Hamilton or Jack Heath went out and stole either sign.

But there was a group of people that went around and took pride in taking the signs down or writing on signs or something of that sort, so on that part I’m very dismayed.

Q. Before when you were on the council, you were part of a collective. But now people talk about you and the things that you put forward, that you accomplished or wanted to accomplish, so the critiquing probably just feels more personal.

A. It is. You know, I’m willing to take the personal hits on things where I’ve made mistakes. I’ve always admitted any mistakes. But a lack of integrity was not one of them.

There were questions as to why I did this, why did that, and that’s fine — I’m more than happy to answer those questions. But to bring personal aspects into a race like that is not needed.

Q. You’re going to be County Executive for another four years now, and I know you’ve got a list of stuff you want to get going on.

A. The airport is one of our main concerns as far as an economic growth factor here.

We’ve worked with the city very closely on trying to get (municipal) water out to the airport and that’s going to take place in 2019. Then we should be able to bring in new businesses that will need larger than 10,000-square-foot hangars.

We’re excited about that and that’s going to start taking place very soon as a matter of fact.

I think you’ll hear announcements between now and Christmas as to what’s going on so that’s exciting.

Q. The idea is to get the fire suppression into these hangars.

A. Right. Anything over 10,000 square feet has to have a fire suppression system, so you need a constant pressure of water to run these suppression systems so that’s that’s why it’s so important that we have a city water supply in your director out there.

Q. Airport Manager Dawn Veatch has all kinds of ideas. I have trouble keeping up with her. Her restaurant idea seems to be working though.

A. The restaurant has done very well here — Rosenfeld’s (Deli) is in there from Ocean City and people are actually driving out to the airport for lunch. It’s wonderful. I mean, you can get a sandwich that would feed two people, really. It’s just good food and a great little atmosphere out there so we’re very happy.

County Executive Bob Culver talks Karen Lemon, Register of Wills, prior to being sworn in.

Q. Tell me what’s going on with the runway extension. I’m hearing different things — it’s coming, it’s not coming, we’re waiting for federal money — where does that stand?

A. As I told you last time, we sent a contingent up to D.C. to meet with Sen.(Ben) Cardin and Sen. (Chris) Van Hollen, so it’s in the works. You know, government does not move fast but it is in the works and it looks very positive right now.

We’re not only pulling (support) from the federal level, we’re pulling on a state level also and we’ll see what we have to do countywide.

Q. There’s been talk of another carrier.

A. Well, we are very close on that. As a matter of fact we’re, looking for a carrier to be able to service BWI Airport, and I think there’s a lot of people who go to BWI who would rather fly out of BWI than Philadelphia, so because you could get to Southwest Airlines flights).

Q. One of the difficult issues that came out in the election was a need to solve the problem of failing septic systems, especially in some neighborhoods east of the Salisbury city line.

A. I think this is going to be a big problem for the next 10 years. The county and city will have to work through it. When I came into office, I talked to members on the Greater Salisbury Committee who had done a Central Sewage System Study. I learned a lot from them. Then (Salisbury Mayor) Jake (Day) and I met along with department heads from Public Works and that type of thing to to determine what could be done.

The county has gone on and actually done the planning for the Chesapeake Heights the Atlantic Avenue the Pacific Avenue (neighborhoods) to see what it would take to do that. We have done the engineering and we know what would be needed in the way of lift stations, that type of thing, to get it all tied into the city.

It’s an area that would be ideal for first-time homebuyers. It wouldn’t be fair to ask those people to go right into the city now — they would have to pay what we call Urban Services Fee.

But maybe over a 10-year period or a 12-year period, they could be taken back into the city.

I think in the long run we’re going to end up having to have package systems (mini-onsite sewer systems) that will cover 1,000 homes or maybe 3,000.

You can buy four different capacities, so the county could get into that business. We would perhaps form a Sewer Commission to do that right.

You know, we’re gonna have to get a lot of our land under water and sewer.

Q. In your last term one of your big successes was the getting the alcohol the civic center. It really changed the business plan there.

A. It has worked out well.

Q. Might you be thinking about doing something similar with the alcohol dispensary system, perhaps privatizing it?

A. Within the next four years, I will bring that forward. I have never agreed with with government taking over what something I feel should be in private practice — not only for the savings of the restaurant owners that type of thing but also for the people now.

I don’t want to hurt anybody’s job (in the dispensary system), so it should be through retirements (and phasing out jobs) that this will occur. l want to be able to to keep these employees on.

What they’ve done is they’ve actually doubled the amount of inventory, they’ve had they’ve gone from a million dollars for the inventory to almost $2 million worth inventory, so there’s plenty of money there.

So should the county be in that and it’s almost like a separate enterprise account. I think it should be funneled to the private industry.

This is a funny county though, I mean it took us forever to get Blue Laws passed.

(Even in privatization), we’re going to have our rules and regulations on it so I don’t see where the religious part would come into it — that’s that’s a business decision not a religious decision or even a moral decision.

Q. You recently hosted a Capital Spending hearing and there are a lot of big projects on the To Do List.

A. Most of what’s on the list has been approved, now it’s a matter of paying for it. The question is going to be how fast and how much money we can borrow for that we need.

We established a basic rule that we only are going to borrow what we’ve paid off this year.

We’re into the new Sheriff’s Offices right now and we’ve got $5 million for this year.

I think that’s important that people know that in 2019 they’re calling for another housing recession, so I mean if you don’t pay attention to what’s going on nationally — which will come down and affect us — then we leave ourselves out there to be right in a jam.

I’ve got to give credit to Wayne Strausburg, he’s an excellent financial manager he’s done a very good job in managing our debt ratio, so that’s put us a lot further ahead than Wicomico County has ever been.

One of the big projects has been approved is this public safety building for the sheriff’s the sheriff’s office. It will be started very soon. We just settled on the land, we now own the land in Westwood Business Park. It’s right on Route 50 and they’ll be on highways immediately from that office.

I want to continue on with my goal of 20 percent of the roads a year being repaved, so within the next four years all the roads will have been repaved.

Q. Where does your idea to have hockey team use the Civic Center stand?

A. We’re still working on that. The initial proposal was basic: Can we pay them (the hockey team) to come here? We were like “no we can’t do that.”

At this particular time no we have no one showing any interest in coming here as a hockey team. We have been asked by teams looking at some different leagues– leagues that have lost several teams — but you know I’m not here to subsidize a hockey team or anything else.

I’d love to have one here — I would love to have an indoor football team or or anything on a regular basis.

So we’re working on a lot of different avenues with that. We’ve just got a great facility there and we need to utilize it for whatever we can do.

Q. Going forward, how are you looking at education?

A. You know I’m a businessman. I look at the dollars. There’s the emotional part of (education funding debate) it and I think that once they look at, you know, the emotion part and look at the dollar and cents part, do (County Council members) want to go back and tell their constituents “I’m gonna raise your taxes so I can do this”?

I don’t think they will.

Pre-k is the big thing right now right and I’ve been working with an idea. By their own admission the kids that were more kindergarten-ready were the ones that came out of private care, so why doesn’t the county look at paying the private people to help take the Pre-K students. Then we don’t have to build the buildings, we don’t have to do any of that groundwork that we’re having do now for the Board of Education.

I don’t want to see (Pre-K) taking away from businesses. There are some nursery schools here that basically work with 4-year-olds and I don’t want to see that hurt them to go out of business.

So I think we need to sit down and work on this.

Q. When we were doing candidate interviews for the election, school board President Don Fitzgerald was very complimentary of your sort of mindset change, which he saw when Dr. Donna Hanlin arrived. He said you were much more cooperative with them and much more open to listening to what their ideas were.

A. I told you before it’s just general respect. With Rick Briggs (Assistant Superintendent) and Donna Hanlin (Superintendent) and Bruce Ford (Finance Director), I respect all of them — but they need to respect my position too. I’m the man who has to answer to 102,000 people — they’re only answering to people who have kids in school and that type of thing. I have to answer to 102,000 (county residents) as to why I’m raising their taxes or why their rents are going to have to go up because I’ve raised their landlord’s taxes.

Many of those people (without kids in school) have an attitude of “well, when I was in school, we didn’t have air conditioning.”

I think the general respect has gone a long way in helping you know repair any problems that we may have had before.

Q. I would think after winning re-election, you might rest a bit and not be so busy.

A. No. I don’t think it’ll be on a cruise. Actually, if anything, I’m going to be doing more because I’m so much more knowledgeable than I was my first two years in the office.

I’ve learned so much more. I know how to work the the legislature (which starts next month), as far as going up there asking for what I want.

I know how to talk to the council, you know, saying “look guys, I agree or I don’t agree.”

I feel like in this next four years, even more will get done than I’ve done the first four years.

 

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

As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment