SALISBURY – An act to add two new positions to the Executive Office was up for an introduction this week and the Wicomico County Council left it to die.
County Executive Rick Pollitt had proposed a plan to restructure the county executive office within the department’s budget in means to increase efficiency of services.
The Wicomico County Council found it hard to believe that the acquisition of two new positions, Chief of Staff and a Constituent Services and Information position, would add no additional costs to the department’s allocated budget.
“I am still having trouble grasping the fact that you have got one pie for the executive office,” Councilman Bob Culver said. “If we have a Chief of Staff, why isn’t that taking out more of the money of this same pie?”
The council questioned the assigned duties of the Chief of Staff, especially since it was brought to the council’s attention that the Chief of Staff would be assigned to travel with Pollitt to different Maryland Association of County’s (MACo) meetings.
“I thought that was interesting because I thought one of the parts of Chief of Staff was to handle the in-house when Mr. Pollitt was absent,” Council President Gail Bartkovich said.
Council Vice President Joe Holloway added that the taxpayers of Wicomico County should not be held responsible for the Chief of Staff’s additional travel costs.
Acting Director of Administration Sharon Morris explained that the Chief of Staff’s responsibility is not just to be Pollitt’s assigned driver.
“We don’t want the position to be seen purely as a driver,” she said. “That person’s duty will be varied, that will be only one of his responsibilities.”
The council wondered if the decision of whether the proposed positions are to be approved was slowing down the process of hiring the vacant position of a new Director of Administration.
“I understand that this plan is important for the executive moving forward, but I do not look at it as a neglect to put out for Director of Administration,” Morris said. “That is a process and it is probably going to take some time, but we will get through it.”
Councilwoman Sheree Sample- Hughes pointed out that a Director of Administration can’t take office until November because changes to the budget would be necessary to create its salary.
“I am wondering whether they are saying they won’t have money until November because they are trying to keep the money available for these other positions,” Bartkovich questioned.
Holloway explained that all the other counties in Maryland hold a Chief of Staff position in their executive office, but they also have much larger tax rates, budgets, and populations in comparison to Wicomico County.
“I am real concerned over growing this office,” he said.
The majority of the council was adamantly against adding two new positions to the local government.
“When we have been looking over the last couple of years of other departments that have shrunk … at county employees that have furloughs and I think it just does not suit Wicomico County,” Bartkovich said.
Culver said it was a waste of time to proceed with the discussion and paper work involved with Pollitt’s proposal.
“I want to see an administrator in the office,” he said. “I think there are enough problems in the county right now instead of going on and increasing staff and positions.”
Councilwoman Stevie Prettyman and Holloway said they had heard from a large amount of citizens on the topic and not one was in favor.
“I would like to see this die today and be done with it,” Holloway said.
Barkovich and Sample-Hughes were not in favor but both agreed that a public hearing was necessary to hear from the citizens personally on the matter.
“The citizens elected us to listen to them,” Bartkovich said. “I really think that is important that they have the opportunity to speak about this.”
When the time came Sample-Hughes set the motion to introduce the legislative bill to add the two new positions, Chief of Staff and a Constituent Services and Information position, to the Executive office but no other councilmember would dedicate a second leaving the proposed bill to “die”.
“I don’t think the public was really shorted by not having a public hearing on this,” Holloway said. “I would urge the County Executive to move forward by putting his office back together and replacing the folks that have retired because he needs to put the county back on track that way.”
Although the council turned down Pollitt’s proposal to reorganize his own department, his suggestion to restructure others was sent forward.
First was an act to reorganize functions among the Department of Public Works and the Department of Planning, Zoning, and Community Development, and to shift the function of risk management from Human Resources to the Executive Office under the Purchasing Agent.
Culver supported the proposal because it would create an “easy flow” to obtain a building permit and it will keep the county more user and business friendly.
Next was an act to add a job position to the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism. The department’s director, Gary Mackes, said the position is in need due to the county’s increase in tourism.
“One of the things you do as you grow is you look at your exposure,” he said. “One of the reasons we want to do this is to make sure we have all our checks and balances in place.”