I watched County Executive Julie Giordano’s mostly hype and histrionic news conference on Aug. 2, in which much of her presentation was hard to understand if not completely incoherent.
She also made misstatements of fact, including that the situation with Mr. Leitzel, who is serving as the Deputy Director of Administration, is the same as the appointment of Bunky Luffman as the Director of Administration.
This is malarkey.
In a message to the County Council dated Dec. 6, 2022, Ms. Giordano announced her appointment of Mr. Luffman and requested “confirmation of the appointment” by the council, which confirmed that appointment at its meeting on Jan. 3, 2023.
This has been the practice to comply with Section 315 of the County Charter since that was added when the County adopted the “elected executive” system of charter government under the “Home Rule Amendment” of the Maryland Constitution, and Ms. Giordano is well aware of the methodology specified in that section.
For example, a message to the council dated Jan. 20, 2023, requested that the council confirm her reappointment of Paul Wilber as the County Attorney and also the engagement of his law firm as the county’s “Department of Law.”
In these and other similar instances, the confirmation request was promptly scheduled for action by the council, which has approved many of her appointments.
As discussed at the County Council’s meeting on Aug. 2, Ms. Giordano’s conduct regarding Mr. Leitzel is completely different – notice of his appointment as the county’s Assistant Director of Administration was not sent to the council until late June, stating that he was serving in that position.
Thus, until then, the plainly worded language of section 315.A. of the charter was not followed, so the 45-day confirmation proviso stated therein did not begin to run until then, and the Council rejected the appointment during that time period.
And there are similar and other impediments to the appointment of Heather Lankford as Deputy Public Works Director.
Ms. Giordano is simply and obviously trying to disregard the longstanding provisions of the charter – essentially doing what the late former County Executive Bob Culver did just a few years ago.
As the County Council Attorney during that episode, I assisted the council in passing legislation to penalize future conduct of that kind. It provides for, among other things, the removal of the County Executive and other officials from office under circumstances that may already exist regarding Mr. Leitzel and Ms. Lankford.
The Maryland Code authorizes the County Council to enact local laws to “govern the conduct and actions of all county officers … in the performance of their public duties” and “provide for penalties, including removal from office, for violation of the local laws.” The Wicomico County Charter also provides penalties for the improper expenditure of public funds, which is a common law crime (misfeasance in office) in Maryland.
Some years ago, the then-Wicomico County Treasurer was convicted for the improper expenditure of county funds, and in 2014 the County Executive in Anne Arundel County was convicted for misconduct and sentenced to serve time. Both were removed from office.
Following Mr. Culver’s death in July 2020, no action was taken involving his conduct. At the time, there was no notion that this legislation (and, possibly, the common law provision mentioned above) would become significant so soon regarding the conduct of another County Executive and, possibly, other county personnel.
Now, Ms. Giordano is complaining in public and in the Circuit Court that the Council has rejected her request to approve a “special legal counsel” for her to litigate the matter of her fictitious appointments mentioned above. In my opinion, the council has an unconditional discretion not to approve her request, which would involve an absurd waste of the County funds to appease her ego.
During her news conference mentioned above, Mr. Luffman was present and acted as her spokesperson and cheerleader. Those tasks, which seem to have become his standard practice, are not included in the functions of the Director of Administration specified in section 412 of the County Charter.
Robert B. Taylor is a former legal counsel for the Wicomico County Council. He was in private legal practice for many years, during which a significant part involved local governments in counties and towns on the Lower Eastern Shore.