Wicomico County voters could decide form of county government for second time

By Richard Caines
Posted 5/22/24

SALISBURY — Wicomico County voters could be tasked this November with deciding what form of county government will exist in the future, nearly 20 years after a similar vote created the current …

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Wicomico County voters could decide form of county government for second time


SALISBURY — Wicomico County voters could be tasked this November with deciding what form of county government will exist in the future, nearly 20 years after a similar vote created the current County Executive role.

Since 2006, the county has used a government structure led by a County Executive, but now County Council is proposing a resolution that would eliminate the position if passed through a referendum.

“Wicomico County was a charter form of government in 2006 whenever they voted on it,” Council Attorney Robert Benson said during a May 21 work session. “And it will remain a charter form of government. It would simply revert back to a council charter form of government as opposed to county executive charter form.”

Current Wicomico County Executive Julie Giordano was elected to her position in 2022 – the first woman to ever hold the post in Wicomico’s history. Rick Pollitt was the first popularly elected County Executive, succeeded by Bob Culver and John Psota.

The proposed resolution said the current executive form of government does not “fully align” with the county’s vision for “transparent and responsive governance.”

“County Council believes that amending the Charter of Wicomico County to a council form of government transition to a council form of government will allow a more inclusive and collaborative governance structure and will better reflect the aspirations of the community and improve the efficiency and accountability of county administration,” according to the proposed resolution.

In addition to Wicomico, County Executives head eight other Maryland counties: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George.

Councilman James Winn said during the May 21 work session that he is for the executive form of government because it “gives more choices and more of a voice for the people to be able to pick who runs their county.”

“Regardless of who the executive is, that executive you can hold accountable,” Winn said. “The only people that can really hold your county administrator accountable would be the council members.”

Giordano told the Salisbury Independent on May 22 that the proposed resolution is a “completely reactive and reckless decision.”

“Obviously, we are frustrated,” Giordano said. “One because, when this was done in the past, it was citizen-driven, and they don’t have the citizen backing to do this. It is definitely a council-driven initiative.

“To completely blow up our fabric of government because of personality differences is really frustrating to me and I think it’s really just reckless, honestly. Especially because four of the seven council members have publicly stated they are not coming back.”

Councilwoman Shanie Shields said during the work session that the County Executive used to sit beside her at the end of the council desk, but doesn’t anymore, and it makes it appear the council is divided.

“We get along,” Shields said. I don’t always agree with you, but we get along. But the thing of this is, the County Executive, whoever the person will be, has to work with the council.

“And work with the council before our meetings, so we don’t have to iron out our dirty laundry in public.”

Giordano said she doesn’t sit at the council table during meetings because it’s the council’s meeting, not the executive’s meeting, so she doesn’t get to respond to the public in that type of setting. She said her office is open five days a week for the public to come and meet with her.

“When you look at the difference between our meeting and let’s say Salisbury City Council, there’s mayoral comments at the end and the city administrator has his comments at the end,” Giordano said. “If was able to have comments and could respond to any concerns or comments that they have, maybe a different scenario.”

Councilman Joe Holloway said on May 21 that the budget for the County Executive’s office in 2023 was $544,134. In 2024 it was $706,570 and the proposed budget for next year is slated to be $837,447.

“That’s huge,” Holloway said. “That’s a big jump in just a few short years when you really don’t see any results.”

Giordano countered on May 22 with concerns that the council also has expenses that are “frivolous in her mind.”

“If you look from 2022 to 2023, they raised their budget, I think 36 percent,” Giordano said. “It was $250,000. They have their own attorney even though we have a county attorney.”

Giordano said the increases stem from a prior study where Wicomico is the second lowest-paid county in the state when it comes to department heads.

“The way that it worked was that anybody who worked here, while the study was being implemented, couldn’t negotiate their salary based on experience,” Giordano said. “So, this is just writing wrongs. We have to keep good talent, so I am willing to up their salaries a little bit, because they are worth it due to their experience.”

There was an additional discussion during the May 21 work session of whether to introduce term limits to the resolution, but Benson warned against it, saying they could separate the two to limit confusion.

“And there may be people inclined to vote for one and not the other,” Benson said.

Giordano said on May 22 that she would be in favor of term limits for both her position and the council.

“We have terms limits at the presidential level and at the governor level,” Giordano said. “So, I think it would definitely benefit this county.”

During the public comment portion of the May 21 work session, Delmar resident Linda Luffman said she did not vote for Giordano but it’s not about the current County Executive, it’s about the County Council.

“It should be power to the people, but you are trying undue the will, the voice and the vote of the people of what we already duly elected to this county,” Luffman told the council.

Giordano said her employees were shocked when the proposed resolution was posted, thinking she would be out of her position as soon as it was passed by the council. She said if it makes it to the ballot box, she doesn’t believe it will pass.

“There’s nothing positive about this whatsoever,” Giordano said. “It’s creating uncertainty with our stakeholders, our employees and our citizens. To me, that’s just bad business.”

Council President John Cannon said on May 21 that a public hearing on the resolution is slated for June 4 and a final vote could be held at the June 18 meeting.

“Not required, but we feel like we should do a public hearing,” Cannon said.

Reach Managing Editor Richard Caines at rcaines@iniusa.org.

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