(Aug. 2, 2019) Former Pocomoke City Manager Bobby Cowger filed a lawsuit against the mayor and several council members last Friday following his firing in April.
Cowger, a former county commissioner and one-time head of the county’s liquor department, is fighting to be reinstated as city manager and be compensated for “wages due … plus liquidated damages and attorney’s fees.”
He assumed the position of city manager on Aug. 28, 2017, but had one request. “Before accepting the city manager position, Mr. Cowger made clear he would only serve if all council members and the mayor were willing to back him through the difficult derelict properties in the city,” the lawsuit states.
Cowger aimed to revitalize Pocomoke and wanted to demolish dilapidated homes and buildings in town.
“It’s a shame,” Cowger said. “I was really doing a lot of things to get Pocomoke turned around.”
Elected officials voted to oust Cowger during a closed session meeting on April 15, according to the lawsuit.
Cowger challenged his firing on multiple grounds.
“Not only had council not followed the procedure for removing the city manager … it had violated Maryland’s Open Meetings Law by voting for his termination in closed session, during which the illegally seated Council[man R. Scott] Holland voted,” the lawsuit states.
Holland was elected District 1’s newest council member after defeating the incumbent in a municipal election on April 2. His term was set to start on April 16, according to the charter, but Cowger’s suit asserts that Holland was sworn in on April 8 and voted in April 15 closed session to oust Cowger.
In the firing of a city manager, the Pocomoke charter says council members need to “adopt a preliminary resolution stating the reason for his removal.” That did not happen, Cowger alleges. Also ignored, according to the suit, was the requirement to permit the city manager to reply any complaints against him and to request a public hearing. Only after the public hearing and “full consideration, the council, by a majority vote of its members may adopt a final resolution for removal.”
Following the resolution, the city manager is required to be compensated up to two calendar months, according to the city charter. According to Cowger’s lawsuit, “the city stopped paying him on April 15.”
The Pocomoke City Council issued Resolution 519 to remove Cowger and cited “unsatisfactory performance.”
However, Cowger said he was never given a warning prior to his termination.
He then requested a public hearing, which was scheduled for June 18, where Cowger said multiple people showed up to express their opinions on the matter.
A final resolution to remove Cowger was issued on June 20, and passed in a 3-1-1 vote, with Council members Holland, Diane Downing and R. Dale Trotter in favor.
Cowger blasted members of the council nearly four months after his firing.
“They turned their back on the rehabilitation of Pocomoke,” Cowger said.
Roscoe Leslie, an attorney who represents the City of Pocomoke, could not be reached for comment.