Two incidents have rocked our county government to the core within the last two weeks. It’s sort of unusual for me to talk about county government affairs because these pertain only to a limited audience, but these events have made headlines throughout the state and nation.
I’m going to begin with Davis Ruark and his alleged DWI offense. After being pulled over and blowing an amount reported in some local circles to be way over Maryland’s .08 BAL, Ruark announced he was taking some time off to clean up his act, and this is commendable. I’m glad he’s addressing his personal problem, although it would have been preferable to have done so prior to his being pulled over under suspicion of drunk driving.
But it leaves his office shorthanded and unable to complete tasks at hand; meanwhile the fact that a loaded gun was found in his car could very well spell the end of his career should he be convicted of the charge of possessing the weapon while intoxicated. (This would be among items listed in the Constitution of Maryland as just cause.) Thus, several in and out of the blogosphere have called on Ruark to resign.
If you read further down the section, you find that unlike most offices of a political nature, it’s not the local party that recommends a successor for the State’s Attorney post but the county’s Circuit Court judges. If I’m reading this list correctly, we have three with two, including the Administrative Judge, originally appointed by Governor Glendening, while the other Associate Judge is an Ehrlich appointee. So I’d lay odds that Ruark’s successor would be one of his fellow Democrats but I could be pleasantly surprised too. Either way, it sets up what could be an intriguing and to the best of my knowledge rare contested race for State’s Attorney here in Wicomico County – one that wouldn’t have been on the radar screen for likely another decade or more since Ruark is only 52 and certainly could have held office as long as he wished without opposition. Even if he beats this rap and hangs on, this will be an issue in 2010.
Another impact of the Ruark absence may be a needless delay in trying the case of wholesale theft that local businessman Ray Lewis and several county employees have been accused of. Quite possibly the March 10 grand jury date cited in the Daily Times story by Greg Latshaw is jeopardized by Ruark’s sudden and extended departure from the county. Meanwhile, other fallout from this incident has been swift and severe as longtime Public Works head Rai Sharma abruptly retired last week. It was under his watch that the alleged thefts occurred.
Many point the finger at County Executive Rick Pollitt for not being diligent enough to notice items under his watch, while others defend him since he’s only been on the job for 14 months. I’ll get back to Pollitt shortly, but Bill Duvall at Duvafiles brought up a great point – our County Charter allows an Internal Auditor (Page 8 here); however, none was selected by this Council. Again, while it’s allowable to use the Pollitt defense for this group since most have only been on the job 15 months themselves (5 of the 7 were first elected in 2006), it’s worth asking if the IA job was even filled when the revised Charter was adopted in 2004. That period was when the County Council still held the task of running the county, and it’s interesting as a side note that all four Democrats who were serving there at the time declined re-election in 2006.
Returning to our County Executive, it’s unfortunate for him that I’m a saver. Not only do I have the Memory Division I call monoblogue, I keep campaign literature as well. Under “Responsive & Responsible County Government” Pollitt pledged:
A Pollitt Administration will demand the highest level of respect for our constituents and the strictest attention to our financial responsiblities. We will control the budget, insist on efficiency, and we will remember that we are there to serve. Period. (Emphasis mine.)
Further, this episode makes me wonder if he followed through on something he described at a candidate forum in Pittsville, October 12, 2006:
In fact, Pollitt claimed that each year he started the Fruitland city budget from scratch and built it as a whole (rather than the federal style of baseline budgeting.) Pollitt advocated a “climate of thrift and economy” with incentives for department heads to save money. (Again, emphasis mine in reprint.)
I’m not doubting Pollitt’s sincerity on the incentive portion, but if the budget truly were rebuilt each year perhaps the differences in usage of fuel oil and other items purloined from the county may have been more apparent in the numbers and wish lists that were submitted by department heads.
A discussion at last night’s WCRC meeting evolved about a comment that was made by Pollitt at the same Pittsville forum. As I described it:
Pollitt closed by pleading guilty to the charge brought by his opponents of being a bureaucrat and said he did so “with a lot of pride.”
Instead of a bureaucrat, it was agreed that what we need is leadership. Unfortunately, the GOP County Executive candidate in the 2006 general election, Ron Alessi, has his own questionable dealings as well so neither side is smelling like a rose right now. And at a time when the City of Salisbury has its own troubles with financial accountability, much thought should be given to how much trust we have with government dealing with the dollars that they exact from us as the price for living where we do.