The seven members of the Wicomico County Council will meet in a special legislative session Thursday evening to interview possible successors to the late Bob Culver as County Executive.
Treading on new ground in county governmental history, the council has decided to hold the interviews in public in the Midway Room of the Wicomico County Youth & Civic Center.
There are three applicants for the position; the interviews will begin at 5:30 p.m.
When the interviews have been completed that evening, the council will move into a closed administrative session to both to discuss and form a consensus regarding the applicants
There is a possibility the council could reconvene in open session and appoint a new County Executive by resolution. The council doesn’t have to act Thursday night -- under the County Charter, it has until Wednesday, Sept. 9, to name a replacement for Culver.
Three people – all Republicans as required by the County Charter’s replacement procedures – have been cleared as contenders for the post.
District 5 County Councilman Joe Holloway of Parsonsburg, who had been an applicant and whose selection had been seen as a growing possibility, suddenly withdrew Tuesday afternoon.
Council President Larry Dodd announced that Holloway couldn’t compete for the post because of an ethics and conflict ruling.
“Councilman Joe Holloway had to regretfully remove his name today as a candidate for Wicomico County Executive,” Dodd said. “At his request, legal research was done to determine whether the council could vote for Mr. Holloway as a sitting council member for this position.
“The County Attorney and Council Attorney researched this matter and, according to Maryland case law and an Attorney General’s opinion, it was determined that his fellow council members would not be able to vote for him to be County Executive,” Dodd said.
Paul Wilber is the County Attorney and Robert Taylor is the Council Attorney. The county’s Ethics Commission, chaired by retired Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Ernie Colburn, was also involved in the ruling.
Holloway, 67, the longest-serving member on the current council, was elected to represent District 5 in 2006. He served as Council President for a year in 2011.
While the charter makes clear that any council member can vote for any matter placed before the body, the notion of council members rewarding one of their own had been seen as problematic.
The charter makes no restrictions against a council member/contender from either participating as a questioner in interviews or voting for himself. That could have given Holloway an advantage over the others, because he would only require three votes from his colleagues -- plus his own -- to win the office.
After researching precedent, however, the attorneys declared otherwise.
While the council is not limited to choosing from among the applicants, it is now expected to choose between a final three people:
•State Delegate Carl Anderton of Delmar.
•Salisbury cardiologist Dr. Rene Desmarais.
•Former County Finance Director Michele Ennis of Delmar.
Anderton, 47, a former mayor of Delmar, was elected to the House of Delegates in 2014. He is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and former president of the Maryland Municipal League.
As a delegate, Anderton has been known to reach across the party aisle and work with Democrats. In the abbreviated 2020 session, Anderton worked closely with Salisbury Mayor Jake Day to make changes to the county’s Board of License Commissioners, which oversees county alcohol laws.
Michele Ennis, 43, was the county’s former Human Resources Director and the appointed but never confirmed finance director for the Wicomico County government. She left her post Aug. 5, after being at the center of a power struggle between the County Council and Culver.
Culver never formally submitted her name for legislative approval and the council went to great lengths to publicly vote against her holding the job.
Ennis played a role in the development of the just-enacted fiscal 2021 budget. Her signature was included on the county’s formal budget document.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Salisbury University, a master’s in Human Resources Management from Wilmington University and a doctorate in Philosophy in Organizational Leadership from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. She is a Certified Public Accountant candidate and a member of Government Finance Officers Association.
Salisbury cardiologist Dr. Rene Desmarais ran for District 37B state Delegate’s seat in 2014, finishing third in a race in which the two top vote-getters were elected. A Shore resident for 25 years, he campaigned on a health care, education and environmental platform.
Desmarais grew up in New England, graduating from Xavier High School in Middletown, Conn., in 1979. He earned a Biology degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1983 before attending medical school at the University of Connecticut. He moved back to Baltimore for his residency at Johns Hopkins, then worked at the University of Virginia, and in 1993 moved to Salisbury to work at Peninsula Cardiology Associates.
Process opens up
The council had initially planned to keep the process closed. The Salisbury Independent filed a Freedom of Information Act request last week asking that the contenders’ names be made public.
The charter sets the County Executive’s annual salary at $85,000.
The appointed County Executive would hold the office until the November 2022 election. Culver won re-election to a second four-year term in 2018.
The charter also mandates that someone who holds the office cannot hold a county office or position – except as a County Council member – for one year after the termination of their appointed term.
Culver died of liver cancer on July 26, after nearly six years in the post. While there are several probable contenders to succeed him, Culver left no obvious successor.
The County Executive form of government has been in effect since 2006 and only two men have served in the post: Republican Culver and Democrat Rick Pollitt.
Wicomico Director of Administration John Psota is serving as Acting County Executive until the County Council can appoint a successor. The charter gives Psota, who formerly served as Fruitland city manager, all of the powers that Culver had while in the position.
The seven-member council has a 4-3 Republican majority, but all members get to vote on the selection.