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Snow Hill Mayor Mathews on serving again after controversy

Snow Hill Mayor Stephen Mathews, in an interview this week, discusses stepping in for Charlie Dorman, the ongoing controversy with Toy Town, and the upcoming town election.

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(Feb. 14, 2019) Snow Hill Mayor Stephen Mathews, who replaced Charlie Dorman after his resignation in October, has had an interesting time on the job.

No stranger to the role, Mathews replaced another former Snow Hill Mayor in 1998, when Craig Johnson was removed from office by a council vote and charged with two counts of malfeasance.

A former sheriff’s deputy, Johnson allegedly allowed photographers from the internet site “The Wetlands” to use county police equipment, including a police car, in a nude photo shoot.

Dorman’s resignation wasn’t quite as controversial, but he left with plenty of hard feelings, as evidenced by his own exit interview and a written response by the Town Council.

Since that time, a major controversy emerged between town government and the owners of the Toy Town business, as the owners said town officials unfairly required additional work and escalated deadlines for a building they occupy.

Toy Town was lured to Snow Hill from Berlin in 2016, when the town offered to deed to that company a historic building in disrepair on the corner of Market and Washington streets, if certain renovations were done over a five-year period.

Several business owners in December stormed a Town Council meeting and nearly all in attendance sided with Toy Town.

More recently, the town’s police chief resigned, and a citizen group called “Snow Hill Now” formed to recruit new candidates to run in the May election, which will include two seats on the council and the mayor’s seat.

Despite all of that, Mathews said for the for most part, “everything’s running smoothly.”

“I think people are gearing up for the election, [but] right now nobody’s filed,” he said.

Mathews said he doesn’t know if the two incumbent councilwomen, Jenny Hall (Central District) and LaToya Purnell (Western District), have filed to run.

Trish Goodsell, assistant to the town manager, confirmed on Monday that no one had filed for any of the offices. She said the deadline to do so is Friday, March 29, by 4:30 p.m.

“As far as I know, they’ve [Hall and Purnell] filed – and if they haven’t, they’re going to. That I do know,” Mathews said.

He added, “Nobody’s filed for mayor yet and I can tell you right now I am not going to file.”

Mathews said as much doing an interview in October. Previously, after succeeding Johnson, he served for 14 years.

“I’ve done my time,” he said. “I was flattered that they wanted me to step back up when Charlie left and I felt that was sort of my civic duty to step in and do that, but there’s a lot of good people in Snow Hill that could run for mayor. I just hope that somebody steps up to the plate.

“I think it needs new ideas maybe, young blood, somebody that is willing to – like I did – stay there a long time to sort of see things through,” Mathews added.

That could be a businessperson or someone with municipal experience, he said.

“You need somebody with common sense,” Mathews said. “I think having a government background helps – I think having a business background helps. I don’t think there’s a cookie-cutter answer to what would make a good mayor.

“I think if you look at the mayors through the State of Maryland and on the Eastern Shore, you can see that we all sort of come from different walks of life and different experiences,” he added.

On Toy Town, Mathews said, “I’m not sure why it’s become such a hot issue.”

“It’s in the hands of attorneys now and, the last time I checked, everything is sort of moving along smoothly. They’re doing what they need to do and I hope that continues.

“I think that they are an asset to the town and it’s very unfortunate that it sort of got all blown up out of proportion,” he added.

Town Manager Kelly Pruitt was characterized by some local businesspeople as being difficult to work with, but Mathews said he’s not had the same experience.

“It’s probably one of the hardest jobs to do,” he said in Pruitt’s defense, because you’re in charge of everything and making sure everything is followed, and sometimes people don’t like being told what to do.”

“I’ve worked with Kelly Pruitt for years. I’ve always found her to be open. I’m sure you’ll find people out there saying the same thing about me,” he continued. “You just can’t make everybody happy, but, in my opinion, she’s been an extremely capable town manager and I think people just don’t appreciate how much she does and what her workday is like.”

On the subject of the resent resignation of Police Chief Tom Davis, Mathews said the chief had simply “done his time.”

“He’s a retired [state] trooper, so he’s retired,” Mathews said. “A small-town chief’s job, quite frankly, is very stressful. It’s not a nine-to-five job. We’re down right now two police officers, so it’s hard to have the coverage and, being chief, you’re sort of responsible and you’ve got to fill in for your missing guys. And it makes it tough.”

Davis, in an interview last month in this paper, said he’d hoped to see the department covered by the Law Enforcement Officers’ Pension System, or LEOPS, program through the State of Maryland.

Mathews said that was unlikely to occur.

“I don’t think that LEOPS is going to happen any time soon. It is, quite frankly, cost-prohibitive,” he said. “You’re talking a lot of money.

“I’m going to try to look at that, but once LEOPS started years ago, back when I was [previously] mayor, I’ve always been looking at it and it’s always been cost-prohibitive. For small towns, it’s tough.”

Mathews added it was his understanding the interim police chief, Lt. Edward Schreier of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, was “strictly interim.”

“I talked to him the other day and, unless he changes his mind, he has no aspirations of being a small-town chief,” Mathews said.

On the budget overall, he said work was proceeding and the deadline for adoption is in June.

“We’re in the process now of working on it,” he said.

Mathews will serve until the new mayor takes office, which he said would likely occur during the first scheduled meeting in May.

“At least I hope [that’s when it is]!” he said with a laugh.

“It’s not my job to accomplish anything as the interim mayor, I think,” Mathews continued. “Hopefully, Toy Town – that has calmed down. I think that we’re looking at de-annexing the Summerfield property, and I think the owners of all that property are asking to be de-annexed, and hopefully we can get that done in the next couple of months, because it’s sort of become a financial burden on the people that own [those] properties out there.”

Asked if he had any other thoughts about serving again, Mathews replied, “God bless America.”