Wicomico HR Director hiring sees complications

These days within the Wicomico County government, not even the hiring of a new Human Resources Director is an easy proposition.

When County Executive Bob Culver personally presented his choice to lead the department that oversees the policies affecting the nearly 600 full-time county government employees, he told County Council members that he was there only out of “courtesy.”

“I’m assuming this is a submission for an appointment?” asked Council Vice President John Cannon.

“No, this is an introduction,” Culver replied, while sitting across the table from the seven legislative branch members. “The appointment process was changed when the (County) Charter was changed.”

And so began a typically tense 6-minute back and forth in which Culver and Cannon debated competing interpretations of the county’s documented rules for naming its department heads.

Caught in the middle of the exchange was Culver’s new hire to lead Human Resources, Jaclyn “Jaci” Curry, who had been working in the director’s role for several weeks.

Curry has been in the Human Resources field for more than 18 years, most recently at a health care facility in Sussex County.

Culver has never issued a news release on her hiring or had the news posted on the county’s website, but he did list Curry’s hiring in his annual State of the County address last month.

Council President Larry Dodd said he met Curry at a recent Maryland Association of Counties meeting, and followed up the introduction by inviting her and Culver — in a formal letter dated Dec. 9 — to meet with the council as part of the work session.

Dodd also used the letter to remind Culver that the charter demands department heads face council approval.

“As a reminder, under Section 315 of the Wicomico County Charter, the permanent Human Resources Director is subject to confirmation by the County Council,” Dodd wrote. “If the council fails to act to confirm or reject any appointment within 45 days of its submission to the County Council, the appointment shall stand approved. The 45-day period will end in mid-January 2020, so we would like to get the confirmation process moving forward as soon as possible.”

In a sign that the council was out of the loop on the hiring, Dodd added: “Please forward a copy of her resume and any other information you would like to share with council ….”

He concluded the letter by saying, “It is not the council’s intent to reject her appointment, but it has the obligation to follow the County Charter.”

That was the same ground Cannon appeared to be treading when, at the Dec. 17 meeting, he began questioning Culver about both the appointment and the charter. The conversation appeared to distress Curry, which prompted Dodd to cut the conversation off.

“We can’t have this discussion,” Dodd said, pointing at Curry. “I don’t think it’s fair to her.”

Late last week, the council announced it would hold a closed work session at approximately 5:20 p.m. Tuesday “to discuss the confirmation of an appointee,” but did not reveal whether Curry’s appointment was the topic.

The council has also scheduled time on that night’s agenda to consider Curry’s appointment.

The confirmation of county department heads has been an ongoing battle for at least 10 months. The charter calls for department heads to be reconfirmed following an election, but Culver has disputed the council’s reading of the county rule book.

The council fired the County Attorney last spring, but Culver has managed — through some procedural rules — to keep the attorney in place. The council also voted not to re-confirm the county’s previous Human Resources Director, who Culver has since named as county Finance Director.

Culver contends the County Attorney, Finance Director, HR Director and Public Works Director fall under separate categories and are not like other department directors.

County Attorney Paul Wilber has said he can’t legally support Culver’s contention. The executive told the council he has a legal opinion from outside attorney Kevin Karpinsky that supports his position.

Cannon asked Culver why that Karpinsky opinion hadn’t been shared; Culver blamed the council, saying they refused to allow a payment for Karpinsky to come address the board. 

At the end of the Dec. 17 exchange at the council table, Culver turned to an obviously rattled Curry and told her in a reassuring tone: “We’ve been arguing for four years and we’ll be arguing for the next four years.”

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

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