2021 Year In Review: Community powers through pandemic woes

Salisbury Independent
Posted 12/29/21

Covid-19 continued to dominate life on the Lower Shore as low vaccination rates kept the pandemic among 2021’s top stories.

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2021 Year In Review: Community powers through pandemic woes

Posted

Covid-19 continued to dominate life on the Lower Shore as low vaccination rates kept the pandemic among 2021’s top stories.

Local governments continued to make progress, with Downtown Salisbury continuing to position itself for continued growth.

A tragedy in Delmar reminded us how police officers risk their lives for us every day.

Through it all, the community and its citizens persevered.

Covid-19 woes

 The country entered the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic at the start of 2021, but as new vaccines became available, businesses reopened, children returned to classrooms and masks became optional in many public spaces.

In January, Covid-19 vaccine eligibility opened for Maryland residents over the age of 75, and then to people ages 65 to 74, postal employees and workers in agriculture. By April, vaccines were available to everyone in Maryland ages 18 and older.

Early on, the demand soon outweighed the supply, but the war against Covid-19 ramped up in March when the state opened a mass vaccination site at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center. By year’s end, 49.92 percent of Wicomico County residents were fully vaccinated, compared to 70.3 percent of the state, according to the Wicomico County Health Department.

Covid-19 infections began to slow by fall, but began surging again across Maryland with hospitals and doctors’ offices seeing a staggering number of infected patients in the week before Christmas with the spread of the highly contagious Delta and Omicron variants.

 Delmar officer killed

 In April, Delmar Police Cpl. Keith Heacook, 54, died from the serious injuries he received in the line of duty.

Heacook, a 22-year veteran of the Delmar Police Department, was attacked while responding alone to a call on the Delaware side of town in the early-morning hours of April 25. He died three days later.

Heacook responded to a call on Buckingham Drive in the Yorkshire Estates Community for a report of a fight in progress. The 911 caller reported one of the occupants, who was later identified as Randon D. Wilkerson, was being disorderly, fighting with other residents of the house and destroying items inside the residence.

Wilkerson assaulted Steve Franklin, 73, numerous times with a glass object and then repeatedly assaulted a 76-year-old Judy Franklin with the same object before fleeing the house, police said. Both Franklins sustained significant injuries and were treated at hospitals and later released.

Wilkerson, 30, of Delmar, was arrested and charged with first-degree attempted murder, second-degree assault, possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony first-degree burglary, third-degree assault and terroristic threatening.

Heacook’s death resulted in an outcry by town residents for better salaries and other changes within the town’s police department, and also led to the defeat of incumbent Mayor Karen Wells by challenger Ben Jorden and the election of two new town commissioners, Jacob Boothe and Cory Shaffer in the town’s Maryland election in November.

 Evidence Room

Some 18 months after it was revealed that an employee in the Salisbury Police Department's Evidence Room had improperly removed cash, an auditor’s report recommended broad changes in the way evidence is collected, handled and stored.

Also, in an effort to put the scandal in the rear-view mirror, city officials will implement sweeping measures designed to restore public confidence, improve community relations, and recruit and retain police officers.

The alleged thefts began as far back as 1982 and continued for decades. Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan said about $261,000 in cash and currency had been taken in all. The money, confiscated during criminal investigations, either should have been returned to defendants or placed in a police seizures account for department purchases.

The Police Department discovered the problem a year ago in the course of an internal audit of its property storage facility, which found evidence of a series of potentially egregious breaches of internal policy by a civilian employee.

The city ordered the audit for future recertification reviews by an accrediting agency, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. This internal audit was non-compulsory, and was initiated by the department to ensure adherence to best practices for property handling and storage.

Following the discovery of possible thefts, command staff determined that there was cause to believe that the civilian employee may have committed one or more thefts while working in the property storage facility.

The employee was later identified in court records as Mordeen Marie Cottman of Westbrooke Drive in Salisbury.

Cottman attempted to enter a plea agreement on theft charges late last year, but a judge rejected the agreement.

County prosecutors were negotiating a new plea agreement when Cottman -- just 53 -- died May 10 of this year.

According to court records, Cottman had a long history of bill payment problems. Salisbury Mayor Jake Day conceded that part of the city’s new checks-and-balances would be reviewing financial actions filed against employees in significant city roles.

The mayor said prospects for recouping the stolen money from Cottman’s estate are unlikely.

The audit firm hired by the city -- SB & Co. of Owings Mills, Md. -- presented nine recommendations for processing, handling and storing evidence.

Meanwhile, the Wicomico State’s Attorney created a special investigative unit to review cases that may have been impacted by the theft scandal and was forced to ask that one case be vacated.

At the request of State’s Attorney Jamie L. Dykes, a county Circuit Court judge vacated the convictions of Aaron Jesse Carey, 35, formerly of Salisbury. In a 2013 jury trial, Carey was convicted of illegal possession of a regulated firearm, transporting a handgun and resisting arrest. He was sentenced to 28 eight years in state prison.

Carey’s case was reviewed by the newly established Prosecution Integrity Unit, which found that a prosecutor failed to disclose information that might have impeached the credibility of a witness.

According to Patrick M. Gilbert, Chief of the Prosecution Integrity Unit, the nondisclosure of that information had a reasonable probability of affecting the outcome of Carey’s 2013 trial.

“This information should have been disclosed to Mr. Carey, but was not,” Gilbert said. “As prosecutors, we have a duty to fix that.”

Horizon Tax Incentives

The city’s elected officials were quick to act on a plan to allow tax abatements for large-scale residential projects in Downtown Salisbury, but it took many more weeks for county leaders to embrace the so-called “Horizon” program.

Horizon is the acronym of “Hotel or Residential Incentive Zone,” which is a plan for tax abatements to incentivize residential development projects costing more than $10 million to build.

Salisbury’s City Council approved the program unanimously in early summer, but the Wicomico County Council was reluctant to approve an abatement of county property taxes.

The city immediately accepted a project to be included in the program -- The Ross, a multi-story building planned for Downtown.

While The Ross became the development most associated with Horizon, five other projects – and possibly two others – are considered to be in the developmental pipeline.

The total assessed value of the five is more than $70 million.

Its proponents have touted The Ross as a bold development proposal that will transform Downtown; its opponents have cited it as a vehicle for developers to profit off the city’s desire for residential housing in the urban core.

Being developed by Nick Simpson, The Ross includes lots at 130, 132 and 144 East Main St. and would include  a 12-story apartment building and an adjacent eight-story structure.

When both buildings are completed, the complex will have 79 apartments. The taller building will have an open-air rooftop event center, offices and a ground-floor eatery.

The Horizon project zone would include the Downtown area and extend west to the Salisbury Marina and along the North Prong of the Wicomico River, known on the city’s zoning map as the Central Business District, and the Riverfront Redevelopment District.

Salisbury has thus far approved 20-year tax abatements, with credits changing over blocks of years.

During the first five years, developers would receive a 100 percent city property tax credit. In years six through 10, the credit would be 80 percent. After that it would gradually be reduced to 40 percent in year 20.

In return, the city would recoup taxes from a boost in Downtown commerce, as the city’s center adds residents to its inventory of private office buildings and municipal complexes, including the two courthouses, the Government Office Building, old post office and Health Department.

After multiple meetings that included tense discussions, the County Council implemented its own tax breaks on a 4-3 vote.

The benefits to the county government, apparently, weren’t as obvious -- which made the Horizon program controversial for those who live outside of Salisbury.

Opponents saw the program as potentially detrimental to the county’s immediate revenue needs.

Proponents have portrayed the program as a “no-brainer” that will both send a pro-business message while encouraging residential growth in the urban core.

Folk Festival to return

 In a surprise announcement, the National Council for the Traditional Arts and the city of Salisbury said the National Folk Festival will continue its tenure in Salisbury for another year and will be presented in Salisbury on the final week of August in 2022.

For Salisbury, the National Folk Festival has been a catalyst for the newly completed renovations in the city’s Downtown, as well as encouraging wide-ranging community engagement.

This will be the fourth year the National Folk Festival is presented in Salisbury, an extension of the partnership that brought the 78th, 79th and 80th National Folk Festivals to this community. It also marks a date change for a festival that has taken place the weekend after Labor Day since 2018.

The 2018 festival was seen as a huge success, despite heavy rains that lowered attendance on the final day. More than 150,000 people attended the 2019 event. The festival in 2020 -- because of the pandemic -- was moved to a virtual celebration.

This year’s event was slightly reduced in scale, due to Covid-19 that affected travel and social interaction. 

In spring 2022, organizers will begin publicizing the 81st National Folk Festival performers and other details of the event with news announcements.

Mayor Day returns

 A year after he deployed with the Army to the Horn of Africa, Salisbury Mayor Jake Day came home in May, but took a few weeks off to ease back into civilian life and spend time with his family before returning to the mayor’s office.

Day arrived back in the U.S. after a 24-hour trip from Djibouti with stops in Bulgaria and Germany along the way before finally landing at Fort Hood, Texas. He got to Salisbury on May 3 where he surprised his daughters, Lilly and Olivia, at their school.

In Africa, Day – who was promoted to the rank of major during his deployment -- worked as an information operations officer with Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa in a 12-country region. He spent time in Somalia and Djibouti with a focus on fighting violent extremist organizations such as Isis and Al-Shabaab.

Day enlisted in the Army in 2009 before his 2015 election to mayor. His Maryland National Guard unit, the 110th Information Operations Battalion, is on ongoing rotation to support the effort in Africa and Day knew he would eventually be deployed. He was part of the 13th team from the battalion to be sent overseas. The unit is tasked with integration and synchronization of Information-Related Capabilities (IRCs), including cyber, psychological operations, electronic warfare, civil affairs and others.

Hanlin announces retirement

In November -- in what could be considered an announcement of significant surprise – Wicomico County’s Superintendent of Schools Donna Hanlin announced she would retire after six years. The 65-year-old career educator cited a desire to spend more time with her growing family as the reason to depart just midway through her second four-year board-appointed term.

Hanlin, who has served as Superintendent since July 2016, announced that she will retire June 30 after an education career of more than 43 years.

The Board of Education gave her a new four-year contract in 2020, just before the pandemic. The terms of her contract allowed for the possibility of retirement prior to the end of the contract in 2024.

Hanlin brought an education background that was both homegrown and broad and varied to her position. After graduating from James M. Bennett High School and receiving her bachelor’s degree from Purdue University, she began her career as a classroom teacher in Wicomico County Public Schools.

Later, as a school counselor, she assisted in the design of the school system’s elementary guidance program. She went on to serve students and families as Assistant Principal at Wicomico Middle, Assistant Principal and Principal of James M. Bennett High, and Director of Secondary Education. 

Hanlin earned a master’s degree in Education from Salisbury University and a doctorate in Education Leadership Policy Studies from the University of Maryland College Park. After 26 years in Wicomico Schools, she moved to Washington County, where she served the public school system as Supervisor of Special Education, Director of Elementary Education, and Associate Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer.

Lynching memorial

Nearly 90 years after the lynching of 23-year-old Matthew Williams in Salisbury, he and two other men lynched in Wicomico County were remembered when the city of Salisbury and the Salisbury Lynching Memorial Task Force hosted a Lynching Memorial Unveiling ‘Silent No More,’ on May 22.

The event included a symbolic march following the route of the Williams lynch mob, starting at TidalHealth Peninsula Regional and proceeding to the Wicomico County Courthouse where a memorial sign was installed.

On the evening of Dec. 4, 1931, Williams was pulled from a bed in the old Negro Ward at Peninsula General Hospital by a mob that was angered by the shooting death of Williams’ employer earlier that day.

Williams, who was being treated for gunshot wounds he received during the incident, was pulled from his bed, stabbed with an ice pick and then dragged behind a truck three blocks to the courthouse lawn where his body was strung up in a tree. 

The Salisbury event was the third in Maryland and was an effort led by the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project. The group has documented racial terror lynchings in 18 of Maryland’s 24 counties, and it is working with affiliate groups in 13 of those counties.

Gov. Larry Hogan issued a full posthumous pardon for 34 victims of racial lynching in Maryland between 1854 and 1933, on the basis that these extrajudicial killings violated fundamental rights to due process and equal protection of law. It was the first time in history that a governor has issued a blanket pardon for the victims of racial lynchings.

 Charter Review Committee

Just two weeks ago, a 15-member panel appointed to recommend any needed changes to Wicomico County’s charter issued some stiff advice for the government’s legislative and executive branches: Stay in your lanes.

Competing interpretations of the County Charter did little to ease Bob Culver’s tenure as County Executive, as Culver repeatedly sought to read the charter in a manner that suited his office best. Meanwhile, the County Council used two election cycles to pass charter amendments that were seen as weakening the executive’s powers.

Culver died in office in 2020 and the council appointed his top deputy, John Psota, to succeed him. But even that appointment process exposed communications weaknesses among elected leaders that took weeks to sort out.

After eight months of open hearings and discussion, the Charter Review Committee made its official report to the County Council on Dec. 21. And while the committee’s 24 recommendations could be regarded as mere housekeeping suggestions, the council-appointed group came away with some strong observations concerning county leaders’ conduct.

“Time and time again throughout the course of deliberations over these last eight months, issues were raised — and examples given — of actions by a prior County Executive and/or County Council that the CRC felt were likely violations of the plain language of the County Charter,” the members wrote in their report.

“The committee began its work after a period of great conflict between the two branches of county government,” the report said. “From the committee’s review, it seems clear that not only was there a lack of communication, but there appeared to be an outright dislike and/or distrust of the other branch.”

The Charter Review Committee’s appointment was unrelated to any ongoing issues between the two governmental branches. The charter requires that a citizens committee review the document once every decade and suggest any necessary changes — 2021 just happened to be the 10-year review window.

Rather than find problems with the County Charter as a document, the panel found problems with the leaders themselves.

“The consensus of the CRC was that these so-called ‘charter problems’ were more often, people problems and were best resolved by a stronger resolve by the County Council and the County Executive to work together, and to avoid taking/changing/altering the power structure that is outlined in the charter’” the committee members wrote.

The council will now review the committee’s report and debate what changes — if any — to accept.

New Wor-Wic Building

At a groundbreaking ceremony this fall, Wor-Wic Community College President Ray Hoy announced the start of the public phase of a $10 million fundraising campaign called “Preparing for a Stronger Tomorrow” for the construction of a new Applied Technology Building.

The event was attended by more than 100 people, including members of the college Board of Trustees, state and local dignitaries, major donors, college foundation members, the campaign steering committee, employees, students, alumni and other friends of the college.

Marty Neat, a member of Wor-Wic’s Board of Trustees, who is chairing the campaign, said that gifts and pledges totaling $8 million have been received to date.

During the silent phase of the campaign, the college was able to obtain two leadership gifts of $2 million each, from the Patricia and Alan Guerrieri Charitable Fund and the Richard A. Henson Foundation. 

In recognition of the $2 million gift from Alan Guerrieri, the new Applied Technology Building will be named the Patricia and Alan Guerrieri Technology Center.

The 50,000-square-foot building will be located on the south side of the campus on the site of the former soccer field and will support credit programs in the college’s occupational education division, with an emphasis on applied and emerging technologies such as industrial technology, supply chain management and alternative energy, as well as current and additional workforce development courses in the areas of transportation and industrial trades.

The building will also include a makerspace multipurpose laboratory where students and community members can gather to create, invent and learn. Several specialized industrial laboratories, a computer laboratory, classrooms, student study spaces, a conference room and offices to accommodate credit and non-credit employees to support these programs will also be housed in the new building.

Junior Achievement

Two giants of Salisbury’s business community, Frank Perdue and Richard Henson, were great friends who loved to challenge each other in areas of community involvement and quality of life. In July, the foundations bearing their names announced they would donate $1.25 million each to Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore for a new education center for financial literacy.

The historic partnership marked the first time the two charitable foundations came together on a major initiative that will bear their names.

The new center is scheduled to open in fall 2023 in Oak Ridge Commons in Salisbury -- the former Kmart shopping center -- at the Route 50-Tilghman Road intersection.

Junior Achievement officials announced the start of a $5.5 million capital campaign to fund the new 25,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art learning center. They also announced receipt of an anonymous $1 million donation, bringing the total raised so far to $3.5 million.

The Perdue Henson Junior Achievement Center is an experiential learning facility that will house Junior Achievement’s capstone programs, Biztown and Finance Park, as well as a Career Center. These capstone programs include an in-classroom curriculum that culminates in an engaging real- life simulation to help students learn crucial life skills. A mock city will provide students the opportunity to build a foundation upon which they can make intelligent financial decisions that last a lifetime.

The center will host 10,000 students from schools in Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset and Accomack counties.

Downtown bridge

Downtown Salisbury’s newest attraction – a pedestrian bridge over the Wicomico River – opened in early October, linking Downtown to the Camden neighborhood.

The prefabricated bridge sits at the end of Camden Street behind the former Market Street Books and next to the city’s new edible garden.

Dedicated to honor Salisbury’s sister city relationship with Tartu, Estonia, the span allows pedestrians to walk from Downtown Salisbury to the Riverside traffic circle and will link the eventual Riverwalk off Riverside Drive and Mill Street.

The footbridge is listed in the city’s comprehensive plan as a replacement for the Camden Street Bridge that was torn down decades ago. “This geographic link remains important to residents. The Camden Avenue corridor will be reconnected to Downtown and Camden Street not by a vehicular bridge but by a pedestrian bridge,” according to the plan.

The new 12-foot-wide bridge was built off site and delivered on a truck. It was lifted in place by cranes.

 SU President to retire

 Salisbury University President Charles Wight announced in October that he planned to retire at the end of the current academic and fiscal year due to serious health issues.

Wight became SU’s ninth president in 2018. He began his higher education career as an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Utah in 1984, and has continued to play an active part in the classroom, teaching one course each year. He will continue that role into fall 2022 as a part-time faculty member in SU’s Chemistry Department.

A search for the university’s 10th president kicked off in November as faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders gathered at a town hall and offered their collective vision of the type of leader they hope to see.

University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman announced this month that a search committee has been chosen to reflect the SU community.

Perman said the plan is to have a new SU president in place by July 1, following Wight’s retirement on June 30.

 Powell Building rents out

The year 2020 saw the continuation of exciting development and redevelopment projects with trendy new apartments, retail spaces and a restaurant expansion in Downtown Salisbury.

In 2021, one of those major projects – the former Vernon Powell Shoes building – was completed and opened with amazing success.

Gillis Gilkerson moved carefully to redevelop the property. The upper floors of the old Montgomery Ward warehouse were converted to 20 upscale apartments.

Those units were gobbled up by eager renters in record time.

Prior to its sale in 2019, the property had been the single-largest Downtown building that had never been redeveloped.

The industrial-style one- and two-bedroom units have exposed brick walls and ductwork.

Tenants in The Powell Building have access to a roof deck that offers views of Downtown and the Wicomico River.

Businesses will be on the ground level of the building, including Main Street Kids.

Bond sale

In December, Wicomico County sold $58.235 million in general obligation and tax-exempt bonds to finance several major projects in the county.

The bonds carry a true interest cost of 1.63 percent and drew a strong market response of 12 bidders, which is indicative of the attractiveness of its bonds.

The County also sold $16.950 million in taxable bonds to refund existing debt at a lower rate.  The taxable bonds received eight bids and the true interest cost is 1.8 percent 

The refunding will result in debt service savings of $902,221.

In November, S&P Global Ratings affirmed the County’s strong AA+ and Moody’s Investors Service affirmed the County’s rating of Aa2.

Wicomico will use the money to finance the Sheriff’s Public Safety Building, Mardela Middle and High School, landfill cell construction, Wor-Wic Community College’s new Applied Technology Building and other capital project needs.

Airport

While Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport is on track to receive significant financial awards from Covid-19 relief programs, the airport east of Salisbury received a setback when the Federal Aviation Administration turned down a request for $15 million to expand its primary runway to 7,800 feet.

The longer runway would allow cross-country air travel from Salisbury, as well as more air freight service. It would also mean that top tenant Piedmont Airlines wouldn’t have to reduce the number of passengers or amount of luggage carried, as sometimes occurs now.

Airport officials believe they will have enough money to lengthen the runway to 7,600 feet, or by about 1,200 feet.

According to Airport Manager Tony Rudy, wetlands permitting is needed with construction beginning by the end of  2023. The original plan was to get the runway paved by the end of next year.

Meanwhile, two other major projects were completed at the airport. The new drone center has opened and will be used by tenants expected to begin drone-related businesses. The airport also received a new firefighting apparatus that can be used in crash and other emergency situations.

County Executive Races

At year’s end, three people had filed for the Wicomico County Executive’s seat.

County Councilman Ernie Davis, 57, of Salisbury, is the lone Democrat to file thus far.

The Acting County Executive, John Psota, 58, of Salisbury, has announced as a Republican, as has Julie Giordano, 40, a resident of Hebron, who works as a public schools English teacher.

A small business owner, Davis said his focus will be to “jumpstart” the county.

“I’ve been on the council for seven years, and for the last several years the county has been stagnant,” Davis said. “We haven’t grown much in the last seven years.We’re going to jumpstart Wicomico.”

In his announcement, Psota said he “will continue to carry out the mission of providing the form of government the citizens expect and deserve by managing their resources, addressing their concerns, investing in their future and providing for their safety, as they go about their lives, providing for their families and making Wicomico County a great place to live, work and thrive.”

Giordano declared that “Wicomico County needs new leadership with fresh ideas,” adding, “With my experience in the private and public sector, I will be a County Executive of action and results, and that action starts now.” 

The executive and full County Council are on the ballot in 2022, making it likely that politics will figure in most every decision implemented within the local government.

The primary election will be held June 28; the general election is Nov. 8.

Chamber Celebrates 100

Three Salisbury institutions, each marking a century of community leadership, were feted in a grand social event in July along the banks of the Wicomico River.

The Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce held a birthday party of sorts for itself at Green Hill Country Club in Quantico. At that same event, Perdue Farms and the Rotary Club of Salisbury joined the business leadership group in being honored with the Salisbury Award.

“I just want to thank all of you for what you’ve done over the last year -- and you at the Chamber for the past 100 years -- as we celebrate your strength and perseverance, whether it’s through super storms or pandemics, you have helped the community go forward,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

With more than 150 attendees looking on, the senator raised a toast and presented a tribute from the U.S. Senate in celebration of the 100th anniversary and in appreciation of the Chamber’s role in fostering a thriving business community in Wicomico County.

Established in 1926 by Salisbury businessman G. William Phillips, The Salisbury Award is the community’s oldest civic award. It was created for the purpose of recognizing “service that has been the greatest benefit to the happiness, prosperity, intellectual advancement or moral growth of the community.”

The list of its previous winners is made up of the community’s most dynamic and influential leaders -- men and women who truly worked to better the community.

In presenting the award to Perdue Farms, Committee Chairman Mat Tilghman praised the foods company’s devotion to Salisbury.

“The fourth-generation of the Perdue family is now in the business, and Perdue’s contributions to our local economy and their gracious generosity to Delmarva are immeasurable,” said Tilghman. “We congratulate you on your 101 years now and we very much appreciate you being part of our community.”

In response, Perdue Chairman Jim Perdue replied: “We really appreciate it, on behalf of 21,000 folks, and one thing we do love is Salisbury, and always have.”

In awarding the Chamber, Salisbury Realtor John McClellan cited the group’s strong history.

“When I joined the Chamber about 25 years ago, I heard names that are still involved in the Chamber and community today,” he said. “I think that speaks to the legacy and long history of the things they’ve done.”

Salisbury lawyer Vic Laws III presented The Rotary Club of Salisbury with its award and lauded the group’s perpetual determination to do good and help others.

“In 1920 when the club was chartered, Rotary International thought Salisbury was too small a community to charter a Rotary Club. … But if they look at our community, we get it done in a big way. We may be small but we get it done.”

Pickleball

It wasn’t an easy governmental exercise, but plans to renovate Harmon Field in Salisbury were approved in a near-unanimous Wicomico County Council vote in November.

An exhaustive and passionate debate about the matter had to first occur, however.

Enthusiastic pickleball players and supporters had besieged the county to offer dedicated courts in a central location for one of the fastest growing sports in the country.

In September, more than 100 people packed a meeting room at the Wicomico Civic Center in support of the project.

The proposed $1 million makeover at Harmon Field includes 12 pickleball courts, a second basketball court with lights, a new playground and permanent restrooms.

The county was awarded a $700,000 state grant that does not require matching funds. Additionally, the YMCA, adjacent to Harmon Field, offered $300,000 toward the project and agreed to provide access to its parking lot and a tie-in to its storm water system.

Harmon Field moved from Carroll Street to its current location on Church Hill Avenue in 1969. It has a softball field, a basketball court and playground, but there are no lights or permanent restrooms.

The field is now a seldom-used practice field, which has had declining usage over the past five years. The county already has more than 40 ball diamonds at its disposal, including eight at the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex in north Salisbury.

Pickleball is a sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, according to the USA Pickleball Association. It can be played indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court and a slightly modified tennis net, using a paddle and a plastic ball with holes.

HS Soccer Championships

Two Wicomico County high schools won state championships in soccer in November – an unprecedented achievement for any county in Maryland.

The Parkside Rams captured the Class 2A State Championship by defeating Harford Tech 1-0. 

Senior Brady Mancha scored the lone goal of the game, putting Parkside up in the second half. The Rams went through their Bayside season and playoff run undefeated, winning 15 games and tying in two.

Meanwhile, the James M. Bennett High Clippers boys soccer team captured the Maryland 3A State Championship trophy with a victory over C. Milton Wright High.

The teams were scoreless through two overtimes, and JMB won 4-2 on penalty kicks.

Notable deaths

Dr. Henry Vincent Wagner Jr., 69, a well-known educator in Wicomico and Dorchester counties, died in August at his home following a months-long battle with cancer.

Known as Hank, Wagner retired in 2017 as the superintendent of schools in Dorchester County where he was instrumental in the planning of the new North Dorchester High School in Hurlock.

Wagner was first appointed superintendent in July 2010 after serving as assistant superintendent for Instruction in Dorchester County since 2007.

Previously, he was director of Secondary Education for Wicomico County Public Schools from July 2004 and he served as principal of James M. Bennett High School in Salisbury from August 2002 to June 2004.

After retiring from Dorchester County, Wagner then went to work in the Education Leadership doctoral program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and he was teleworking up until a month before his death.

Longtime newsman Mel Toadvine died Thursday, Nov. 18, the 44th anniversary of the day he was named managing editor of The Daily Times.

A native of Wicomico County, Toadvine had been hospitalized for pneumonia but had returned home. His death was unexpected.

In 1977, at age 37, he was promoted to Acting Managing Editor of The Daily Times — at that time called the Salisbury Daily and Sunday Times — a publication he molded into a true community newspaper readers turned to, and depended on, not only for information but for editorial opinions, feature articles, sports and letters to the editor.

He was hired at The Daily Times in 1961 as a photographer and was Assistant News Editor at the time of the promotion. He was also, previously, General Assignment Reporter and Features Writer and worked on the News Desk.

After departing The Daily Times during a Thomson Newspapers corporate management shakeup, Toadvine and his wife moved to Florida in 1997.

There, he continued his career with a renewed vigor, writing, photographing and editing community news as he had done years before. He retired as editor of the Lehigh Acres Citizen newspaper in 2017, when he was 77.