Salisbury mayor Jim Ireton is the most partisan Democrat in Wicomico County. A self-described “free government cheese eating liberal”, Ireton’s politics serve as a secular religion to his lapsed Catholicism. Little wonder that Ireton chose to flip-flop on an important local issue and somehow blame new Wicomico County Executive (and Republican) Bob Culver.
On the record multiple times opposing the continued employment of firefighters hired through a federal SAFER grant. It should be noted that when the council agreed to take the grant, Ireton attacked several members (most notably former councilwoman Debbie Campbell). The council was reluctant because the predicted the precise problem which has now arisen. But now an evil Republican has replaced Ireton’s fellow Democrat and political ally Rick Pollit.
The result? Ireton has reluctantly agreed to rehire the firefighters but has made their long term employment contingent on more money from the county. If I were a Salisbury taxpayer Ireton’s argument might be appealing. If I lived in one of the rural fire districts I would be frightened by Ireton’s lack of concern for his fellow county residents.
Ireton maintains that Salisbury answers the lion’s share of calls. True. The Salisbury Fire District is the most populous, and most dense, fire district. Common sense dictates that they will receive the highest number of calls for service. Ireton believes that Salisbury is being treated unfairly in this matter. As mayor of Salisbury he has a point. As a citizen of Wicomico County he believes that his neighbors should burn rather than cut into his believed fair share of the county’s available money for fire departments.
Go down the road to Powellville. To the best of my knowledge this is the least populous, and least dense, fire district. Yet, to serve their area of the county still requires a fire house and equipment. If you looked at each fire department on a cost per call basis you would see that Powellville’s costs are much higher than Salisbury’s. Should the citizens of Wicomico allow the most rural portions of the county to burn in order to appease Mr. Ireton’s sense of financial fairness?
Should we be surprised that Ireton waited until after the election, and his political ally lost, before attempting to make political hay out of this predicted situation? Of course not. Ireton has used similar tactics from the day he was sworn in as mayor. To date the voters of Salisbury have rewarded him. As long as they do, he will continue to put politics above policy.
Fortunately for the citizens of Wicomico County, Bob Culver hasn’t provided any indication that he will be bullied by people like Ireton. Let’s hope he continues to stand firm.
In Sunday’s Daily Times some of Ireton’s behavior was confirmed. Rick Hoppes, Ireton’s hand-picked fire chief, had promised council members that money would be found in the budget to keep the firefighters on staff when the SAFER grant money ran out. DT reporter Jeremy Cox asked councilman Tim Spies, who was one of the members who voted for the SAFER grant, about Ireton’s “surprise” that council didn’t understand that the positions were temporary.
“I could swear that the (fire) chief said if we wanted to keep those people, he would find it in the budget somewhere,” the councilman said.
For those of us who attended that council meeting it is hard to forget. Ireton was doing everything possible to goad the council into not accepting the grant monies. At the same time he and Hoppes were telling them that the grant was essential to the public safety and that future funds would be found to keep the 11 new firefighters on the payroll after the grant expired.
Now the city election is over. Ireton was re-elected. Debbie Campbell was not. Whose fault is it that the city can’t keep those individuals in the fire department? Bob Culver, of course. If he doesn’t pony up more cash for Salisbury then Ireton will blame his woes on the evil Republican county executive and county council.