SALISBURY – Wicomico County’s executive is looking to get out from behind the desk and be more proactive in making Wicomico more attractive for businesses to anchor and families to flourish.
County Executive Richard Pollitt presented a plan Tuesday to reorganize county departments and add two new positions to the executive office — a Chief of Staff and a Constituent Services and Communications position.
The county executive position has been active only for the past few years, which Pollitt explained to be a transitional stage. He informed the County Council he is ready to step out of the office and perform his duties as designed.
Pollitt presented the council with a handful of objectives he hopes to accomplish if his leash is lengthened from administrative duties. His objectives included restoring the county to the economic level it once was, becoming more business friendly and improving education.
Some strategies included organizing meetings with the poultry industry to develop comprehensive strategies to “deal with intrusive and ill-advised federal and state policies in regulation to stifle and discourage the liability and health” of the county’s economic engine.
“Poultry is king in Wicomico County,” Pollitt said. “Wicomico County is the No. 1 county in the state for agriculture, and we want to keep that goal.”
He also plans to thoroughly examine the county’s fee and tax structure in order to create methods to support expansion in businesses and security so that Wicomico County can become more business friendly. Pollitt would like to recreate a “one-stop shop permit process” by combining all building activities under one umbrella. In doing so, he will work to incorporate outside agencies, such as the health department, in the process of gaining a permit through the county.
“It requires a focused concentrated comprehensive effort, something that I just am not able to do by myself with the current staff set up we have,” he said. “The thing that really makes this work is a new position called the Chief of Staff.”
According to Pollitt, every county in Maryland holds a Chief of Staff position in its executive office. He said the position is the tool to have a county executive put forth an agenda.
“That is why we have a county executive system in the seven counties,” he said. “He or she is elected to present a certain agenda, a big picture, and a plan for moving the county forward.”
Pollitt said during his first term he had found he had plenty ideas but not the time to implement them.
“The Chief of Staff is designed solely to implement the agenda of the County Executive and to make the point that there are so many more things we could be doing than we are,” he said.
Council Vice President Joe Holloway asserted Wicomico is not comparative to others, such as Harford and Montgomery counties, in terms of population, tax rate, and budgets.
“I am looking at this as it being a growing of government,” he said.
Pollitt rebutted the plan is not to grow government but “giving the executive the tools to do what he was designed to do.”
“I think this is the one you and I are really going to disagree on,” Councilwoman Stevie Prettyman said. “I don’t believe our county, right now with the financial situation it is in, can afford to expand.”
Pollitt added his concept would not increase the department’s budget one dollar more than it has already been allocated and his plans are not only viable but essential.
“Wicomico County has lost a lot of ground compared to other counties,” he said. “If we are going to be competitive with other counties in economic development, we have got to have some strategy … I am talking about one position that gives me the hand to get out and get these things accomplished.”
Councilwoman Sheree Sample-Hughes agreed with Pollitt. She said her understanding of the County Executive was not one of administration.
“You also have to promote a quality of life, a place to live and raise your family, that’s regardless of money,” she said. “We are the Eastern Shore and we still need to promote ourselves to be an area where businesses will come and people will sustain themselves.”
Pollitt explained that the position of Constituent Services and Communication is a “beefed up” public information officer.
The position would be responsible for serving as the initial point of contact between the public and the County Executive and County Council on all constituent issues, as well as be responsible for facilitating appropriate responses and providing information as requested.
“The whole idea of having a County Executive in the first place is to be able to develop comprehensive strategy … and have the ability separate from the administration and the day to day work to go out and accomplish it,” Pollitt said.
He pointed out that the County Executive was initiated as part of a taxpayers revolt and because there was a loss of confidence in the traditional way of doing things.
“I’m going to be out trying to have Wicomico County be a place businesses want to come, and people want to come and raise their families, and make Wicomico County a better place, where people want to be,” Pollitt said.