Wicomico Council deadlocks on new member selection

Wicomico’s County Council will continue on with just six members, possibly until it can consider a new batch of nominees submitted by the Republican Central Committee.

On Tuesday, the council deadlocked on three votes concerning the matter — members voted 3-3 to delay a decision on the District 2 seat; they voted 3-3 on whether to select nominee Joe Collins of Mardela Springs; they voted 3-3 on whether to select Austin Whitehead of Salisbury.

The council followed party lines on all of the votes: The three Republicans supported Collins, the three Democrats supported Whitehead; the three Republicans supported a delay.

While the council did not say so specifically, the selection process broke down over questions about Whitehead’s residency status. The three Republicans wanted more time to review rumors that Whitehead – a lifetime resident of the Clara Road and Pemberton Drive area – was possibly planning a residency move outside of District 2.

Both Whitehead and Collins are Republicans who were vetted and approved by their party’s Central Committee. The panel used an applicant’s voter-registration address to determine residency.

Council President John Cannon didn’t offer a clear course on what will happen now, except to say that the council will need to solicit legal advice and likely turn the matter back to the Central Committee.

“I’m afraid by allowing it to go to a tie vote, we’ve probably thrown the baby out with the bathwater,” Cannon said. “There was true concern on the part of some council members, which needed legal clarification, as to the true residency. We’ll have to start the process over again and we will go back to the Central Committee for their recommendations.”

The County Charter doesn’t offer any instructions for a council deadlock in replacing a member. When Marc Kilmer, a Republican who was re-elected to the seat in November, departed the council effective June 15, his departure set off a succession process in which the Republican Central Committee screened and interviewed more than a dozen contenders, and then presented four nominees to the council for selection.

Central Committee Chairman Mark McIver on Tuesday said the charter “is defective” on the issue, but also said the expectation is that the council would find a way to make its own decision, rather than throwing it back to the committee.

“The six have to agree on something,” McIver said.

He said his committee will ultimately “do whatever needs to be done” and will seek legal counsel of its own in the meantime.

Cannon indicated the council could ask the Central Committee for four new nominees. That move that was immediately challenged by Democratic Councilman Bill McCain, who said the council was obligated to vote on the panel’s recommended list, not expect the committee to reset the process.

The charter calls for a reappointment within 45 days of a resignation, making July 30 the deadline. Cannon said the council could meet in a special session in the next two weeks and make a new choice.

District 2 is the county’s largest in terms of area. It includes most of the county’s western communities, including Sharptown, Mardela Springs, Quantico, Hebron and Nanticoke. The district also encompasses communities just east of the Wicomico River, including Eden, Allen and Shad Point.

The four finalists nominated to fill the seat were publicly interviewed on June 18 and July 2. The names of the other two nominees, Nicole Acle of Salisbury and Julie Brewington of Eden, were never mentioned in Tuesday’s discussions.

Collins, a pilot for American Airlines since 2000 and Piedmont Airlines for five years before that, has lived in Mardela Springs since 1998. He has held several local leadership roles, having been appointed to the county’s Redistricting Committee, elected to the Wicomico Central Committee and being appointed to the Board of Elections by the governor.

Whitehead, widely regarded as one of the community’s rising young leaders, is a Realtor who operates Whitehead Rental Management Inc. and works with his family selling homes with Whitehead Real Estate Executives.

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

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