Tuesday could be a big day as far as the future direction of the Board of County Commissioners in Snow Hill is concerned. Tradition has it that a vote will be held at next week’s meeting to determine whether Commission President Jim Purnell and Vice President Louise Gulyas will retain their respective posts.
The time has come for a leadership change in Snow Hill. While we see no problem with Gulyas staying put as the board’s No. 2, Purnell needs to be replaced. He may be a reliable voice for the minority community in his district, but Purnell has not demonstrated the skills necessary to be a respected leader of this board. The professionalism of the meetings has eroded under his reign. The meetings are often disorderly and the proper protocol is not being followed in many cases.
One year ago, as they are prone to do, the commissioners elected their officers in private. Once the decision was made behind closed doors to keep Purnell as president and Gulyas as vice president, the commissioners voted unanimously in public on the leadership posts. Nonetheless, their collective body language indicated all was not as it appeared.
In the weeks after last year’s election, Commissioner Virgil Shockley made a well-known play to be president. It seemed he had the support of Commissioners Judy Boggs and Linda Busick, while Purnell had the backing of Commissioners Bud Church and Gulyas. That labeled the newly-elected Cowger as the swing vote in the process. Cowger sided with Purnell and the rest is history. Shockley learned the hard way he and Cowger, who represents Pocomoke, would not share the same relationship he had with Cowger’s predecessor, Sonny Bloxom.
One year later, it should be interesting to see if there has been a change of heart in Snow Hill. Although it’s likely the status quo will win out once again and Purnell will return as president, we think Shockley, who has served since 1998, should take over as president. It’s a job he clearly wants and he’s a natural leader who would represent the county well in Annapolis and at other speaking engagements germane to the president’s chair. He’s an active commissioner who is eloquent, experienced with the matters at hand in Snow Hill and can be a strong voice during meetings. He understands the issues confronting the county and has the familiarity with government procedures to maintain a proper meeting.
Whoever sits in that president’s chair, change is needed in the way the county operates. Simple shifts in philosophies could make a huge difference in the board’s perception. Whether they like it or not, the commissioners currently operate in a bubble. It’s obvious they do not want to be questioned about how they make decisions and see no reason to be more open to the public. They want to continue hash out issues in private and then basically announce their decisions in the public meetings.
Why else would they refuse to allot on their meeting agendas time for public comments? Why else would they not audiotape or video tape their meetings? Why else would they give the press agendas with little to no information about the upcoming meetings? Why else would they give special treatment to some familiar faces who come before them? Why else would they not make the government packets available to the public like nearly all other governments do?
It’s unclear whether Shockley as president would have the desire or even the ability to get the votes to open up and improve the manner in which the county governs. However, we do believe he would improve the way the county government operates at its meetings and be a better face for the commission as a whole. He understands government better and has the intellect, fortitude and experience to be the better president.