Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Carolann Wicks has resigned her position as cabinet secretary effective March 18.
State officials announced last week that Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Carolann Wicks will resign her position effective March 18.
Wicks’ decision to step down comes after months of sustained criticism of her agency, which has taken flack for its mismanagement of the Indian River Inlet bridge project, and sweetheart land deals made with politically connected landowners and developers in Sussex County.
“This has been a difficult decision, but one that has been made with a clear conscience and the best interest of the department at heart,” Wicks said in a press release Feb. 18. “The opportunities I have experienced in my years at DelDOT will always be looked upon with sincere gratitude. But, as with many other retirees, I will now move on to the next chapter in my life, including spending more time with my family.”
Wicks is the eighth secretary of the Department of Transportation. She assumed the post in 2006 under former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and was reappointed by Gov. Jack Markell in 2009. She began her career at DelDOT more than 28 years ago as a civil engineer and served in several leadership roles including chief engineer.
In January, two high-ranking DelDOT officials were drummed out of their posts after a scathing report issued by Markell’s chief of staff picked apart a package of land deals that paid developers a total of $60,000 per month to reserve their land for a future Route 113 bypass around Millsboro.
When the report came out, Markell said he had confidence in Wicks’ leadership and ability to make the necessary changes in her agency.
In a statement released minutes after the announcement of her resignation, Markell offered praise and well wishes.
“Carolann has been a dedicated public servant for many years and has been a strong and effective advocate for better and safer roads for our state,” Markell said. “For that, I thank her and very much wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.”
In naming a replacement, the governor said he will look beyond DelDOT and solicit candidates from outside of Delaware.
DelDOT employs more than 2,600 state workers and has a yearly budget of nearly $1 billion.
Reaction to Wicks’ resignation among lawmakers was mixed.
House Minority Leader Rep. Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, has been a staunch critic of DelDOT and said he hopes Wicks’ departure signals change within the agency, particularly in terms of public accountability.
“I think it’s time for a change. There’s a cultural arrogance that appears to exist at DelDOT that has to change,” he said.
Lavelle said he agrees with the governor’s plan to seek a new transportation secretary from outside of the agency.
“It’s a fresh set of eyes. You have to get somebody who’s really going to [implement] changes,” he said. “I like Carolann as a person, but she was the ultimate insider, she came up through the department; that’s fine, but apparently changing some of these attitudes, it did not work.”
House Majority Leader Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, reacted more sympathetically to Wicks’ departure.
“I think personally for Carolann, for her family and for her especially, it probably was a good thing. You can only take so much until it really breaks you down and gets to you,” he said.
Schwartzkopf also said Wicks bore the brunt of criticism for decisions that were made or set in motion under DelDOT’s previous secretary, Nathan Hayward, including failed plans for the new Indian River Inlet bridge approach ramps.
The transportation department is now suing the firm who designed those ramps in an effort to recover nearly $20 million in costs.
“I’m upset to see her go. She got saddled with the blame for a lot of things that she really had no control over. She got labeled with that bridge; that bridge was started under Nathan Hayward,” he said.
In Schwartzkopf’s eyes, Wicks was a good manager who did what she could to further Gov. Markell’s goals of greater transparency and efficiency in government, but she couldn’t break some of DelDOT’s institutional bad habits.
“The top of the organization was under Markell’s philosophy of how to do things, the problem is the middle of the organization was still operating under the old way,” he said. “I hope this was a wake up call in the administration.
“It’s a shame that she goes out like this, she has a lot to be proud of,” he said.