Wicomico Council dismisses County Attorney

Rocketing itself into uncharted governmental space on Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council confirmed county department head appointments the County Executive hasn’t made and used a super-majority vote to dismiss the hand-selected County Attorney.

In its unprecedented actions, the council used its stipulated powers to act independently on the attorney’s position in government and used implied powers to approve eight members of County Executive Bob Culver’s official Cabinet.

Under the 2006 Charter, the County Attorney “serves at the pleasure of the Executive and council” and can be removed by the Executive, with the council’s majority approval, or by the council itself, with a three-fourths vote.

Paul Wilber was terminated on a 6-1 vote, with only Councilman Bill McCain stating the attorney should remain.

McCain, who represents the county at-large, said he had received several calls from constituents opposed to the council’s acting to remove Wilber.

No one cited any public reason for dismissing Wilber.

As County Attorney, Wilber oversees the Department of Law, which the county really hasn’t had since Culver assumed office. Fulfilling a campaign commitment to reduce county legal expenses, Culver said he wanted to combat bureaucracy and has instead employed Wilber’s law firm for the past four years.

The council approved the other department heads for continuation in their positions:

  • Dallas Baker, Public Works Director.
  • Steven Miller, Recreation, Parks & Tourism Director.
  • Lori A. Carter, Planning & Zoning Director.
  • Michelle Bradley, Director of Wicomico Partnership for Families and Children.
  • John Monar, Department of Information Services Director.
  • David Shipley, Emergency Services Director.
  • Ruth Colbourne, Department of Corrections Director.
  • Dawn Veatch, Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport Manager.

There was no vote on the county Human Resources Director, because no one currently holds that title. Michele Ennis was recently named to a new role in county government, that of Finance Director.

Culver has said repeatedly since winter that he wouldn’t be forwarding any names and will instead challenge the charter provision. He is also challenging a charter amendment approved by voters in November that now allows the council to also approve deputy department directors.

He recently called on the council to re-form a citizens Charter Review Committee to address what he sees as confusion within the charter.

The County Charter that was adopted in 2004 when Wicomico overhauled its system of government makes clear that department nominees must receive the council’s initial approval and then are subject to reapproval after an election.

The deadline for that reapproval is six months from the election date, or in the current case May 6. That deadline passed with no renominations.

At the council’s May 7 session, Council Attorney Bob Taylor advised that members could “assume the current people are appointees and confirm or reject department heads.”

He reiterated that position prior to Tuesday’s vote.

In a letter released earlier this month, Wilber revealed that “certain members of the council requested that I resign from the office of County Attorney,” but said he would remain until a successor could be appointed.

In the letter, the lawyer went on to say that the County Charter requires a County Attorney to be in place and is needed to advise the County Executive and County Council on any legal issues.

“Without a County Attorney, the interests and affairs of the county will be immediately disrupted,” Wilber wrote. “No county contracts or agreements can be signed. County departments and personnel will be left without a legal advisor. The county’s exposure to legal liability will be increased.”

According to the termination resolution, Wilber would continue in the post until July 31.

In his letter from earlier, Wilber wrote: “If a successor is appointed and confirmed, I will fully cooperate with an orderly transition to the new attorney. I believe this course of action protects the interests of the County and prevents any undue harm to its citizens.”

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

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