Council Majority Questioned Over Lengthy Phone Talks

OCEAN CITY – Questions were raised and accusations hurled this week at the City Council majority after cell phone records revealed hundreds of minutes of communications between them outside City Hall.

Councilman Doug Cymek, a private investigator by trade, recently underwent an extensive review of the cell phone records of the council majority – Brent Ashley, Jim Hall, Joe Hall and Margaret Pillas. Cymek obtained the records from a resident, who obtained the usage breakdowns from the city under the Freedom of Information Act.

What Cymek discovered was 17 hours of direct communication between the council majority from Nov. 20-Dec. 19, according to city cell phone records. Although Ashley rejected a city cell phone, numerous phone calls were made to and from his home phone.

In this billing cycle, cell phone usage shows Joe Hall used 974 minutes of his plan communicating between himself and Ashley, Jim Hall and Pillas. Pillas used 927 minutes talking among the new majority, while Jim Hall used 709 minutes between Joe Hall, Ashley and Pillas.

Records point to a number of phone conversations on Nov. 29, 2010, the day before a work session when a host of ordinances were introduced calling for major changes to new employee pay and compensations as well as reductions in current employee vacation time as well as an overhaul of the town’s retirement system.

Specifically, on Nov. 29, Joe Hall had a 103-minute phone conversation with Pillas followed by a number of shorter talks, including one that was 51 minutes in duration. Additionally, on the same day, Joe Hall spoke to Ashley on the new councilman’s home phone for 37 minutes and Jim Hall for 23 minutes.

Similar phone conversations took place among the various members of the majority at different times of the month, including a 65-minute talk between Jim Hall and Margaret Pillas on Dec. 4 and a 117-minute talk between the two on Dec. 2. On the same day, Jim Hall and Joe Hall spoke for 33 minutes.

Cymek said these long talks confirm decisions are being hashed out away from City Hall. Cymek has accused the council majority of “ram rodding” the sweeping ordinances through and this week he said the cell phone records explain there are “private meetings being held without the public’s knowledge”.

“I think the public has the right to know what’s behind these decisions. Granted, it’s done in segments between them individually on their cell phones, … but it has the appearance that they are systematically discussing topics and preparing for meetings,” Cymek said. “I’m very upset that they have been harping on transparency and then go do something like this. This explains why they would not answer the public at the meeting two weeks ago when they were being attacked.”

Councilman Jim Hall said he does answer to the public and represents the taxpayers. He said Cymek’s review of phone records reveals nothing.

“We are going to continue to talk and I hope they call me and give me their thoughts as well. We answer to the taxpayers and we have done our homework individually,” Jim Hall said. “We do answer to the public. I don’t have to defend me helping the taxpayers. This is sour grapes and it’s a shame.”

Hall reiterated his stance that there is nothing wrong with discussing city business with his colleagues.

“Yes we’re talking and we’re talking to a lot of taxpayers, too. I’m happy that the council calls me and discusses things with me. I would hope all of them would call me. We discuss a lot of things. We’ve never had a conference call. We’ve never sat down together as a group to discuss things, but they call me and tell me what they’re thinking and ask me what I’m thinking,” he said. “It’s general conversation to council meetings and it’s what I’ve always done. I’m sure they [the minority] are talking as well, but it’s really none of my business.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight said yesterday she is “very suspicious” of these long talks and disagreed that these sorts of discussions are commonplace among the council.

“The public should know how long they are spending on the phone. This is not about sour grapes. These decisions are going to be huge. It’s going to affect a lot of people and families. We are hurting people, there’s no question about it. We need to talk more about it in public,” she said. “I’m always suspicious when people start using words like ‘sour grapes.’ That’s a personal attack and we need to deal with the facts. Before, it was never this divisive.”

Cymek and Knight are not alone in their opinions. At last week’s meeting, Glen McIntyre, president of the resort lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, asked the council to explain its stance on the changes to the city’s pay and benefit structure.

“We’re here because it’s not like the council reaches out to us and says we’re in dire straits and we need to make some changes, and we need to talk to you guys,” McIntyre said. “You guys go behind that door, you talk amongst yourselves, and you get that 4-3 vote, and then push comes to shove you come up here and ram rod it down our throats.”

At that meeting, Cymek said he was astounded to see the council majority not address these valid concerns.

“The public has been so outspoken about all of this, and they made some excellent arguments. It was like, “thank you, bam, 4-3 vote,’ and that was it,” Cymek said. “It was very clear their minds were made up and it was obvious to any reasonable person that without any discussion at the meeting that discussion had taken place somewhere else. There’s nothing that can change my mind on that. It’s rehearsed and discussed.”

For example, Cymek cites the Nov. 30 work session where Pillas, Joe Hall and Ashley were reportedly reading from a memo when making motions.

“Absolutely, I saw it. They were all reading from the exact same printout,” Cymek said. “The part that hurts me the most is the two years I was part of the majority we never did this … You can go back and randomly pull the minutes. The majority were unanimous or 6-1, all with a lot of conversation. That’s all gone. Their minds are made up when we talk about tourism, hiring, wages or benefits. They dig their heels in and that’s it. I believe there is an individual influencing one council member who is then influencing the majority, and I think you can see that.”

Ashley and Pillas said that was not the case at all. Ashley did not recall any kind of memo, and Pillas said the only document she remembers having in front of her at that moment was a summary of the ordinances prepared by City Clerk Kathy Mathias. Cymek said that’s not true.

“They each had a typed memo. Each one of the options was typed out and they went down the line. The public should watch the video of the Nov. 30 meeting and the public is going to clearly see them reading the script. This is the part that’s truly pitiful. We can see from the tape they were reading from the memo and myself and other council members saw that.”


Knight confirmed Cymek’s accusations, saying, “There’s no question it was done. I saw it, too.”

For his part, Cymek acknowledged talking occasionally to his colleagues on the council, and a review of his cell phone minutes confirm that.

“Most of my conversations are with Councilman Lloyd Martin. He and I end up fielding a lot of police-related issues or complaints that are construction related,” Cymek said. “That’s what the substance of our talks are, and they are always five, six, seven, eight-minute calls. Maybe a couple times a month, I call the mayor to meet him at a social event, but that’s why I’m open and provided you my bill. I have nothing to hide. I can look you in the eyes and tell you me, the mayor, Lloyd and Mary have never done what they are doing.”

Ashley said he’s open to talking to anyone about city matters. He said he had a four-hour lunch with Councilman Lloyd Martin shortly after being elected.

“To me, it’s a non-issue. From my perspective, there’s really no discussion of any importance,” Ashley said. “Cymek is making allegations because he can’t get his own way. He’s starting the fire and he did it on his Facebook page last weekend with the ‘burn baby burn’ thing, trying to make something where there’s nothing. I don’t see anything wrong with people talking. I do call and try to get background from the other three on issues. I’m the new guy, they have more background on things like the wind turbine issue this week. How do you learn if you don’t ask?”

Ashley adamantly denied any sort of votes being hashed out privately.

“I can’t speak to what the others talk about, but this is not being done with me,” Ashley said. “We are not discussing votes. There’s no collusion. I’m wide open … It’s pitiful that we have public officials playing games and trying to minimize the issues through personal attacks. We shouldn’t be playing these games, it’s about the taxpayers.”

Pillas was equally frustrated by Cymek’s accusations.

“I am transparent. I walk the talk. We didn’t go somewhere to not be on public record. By using our phones, we were being transparent and on public record,” Pillas said. “I have nothing to hide. I don’t get the confusion. Everything I’m doing is in the public’s eye. This is so frustrating … I’m just conservative and I’m trying to change things. It’s what the people want. That’s very clear. That’s why I was elected. I’m on record. That’s transparency to me. … This is incredible. It’s public record. … We are not talking about anything that we have not said in public. Everything’s been disclosed.”

Knight took exception with Pillas’ claims.

“They are not being transparent. I’m incensed by it. The real issues are not being focused on,” she said.

Joe Hall acknowledged conversing with his colleagues often and does not believe it’s “improper.”

“Sure, we network. I think that’s normal. I do communicate with them. I have a better relationship with them than I do the others. I don’t think it’s improper. I’ve never purposely not talked to Doug, Lloyd or Mary. I’ve never suggested to any of them not to call me,” Joe Hall said. “I don’t think there’s any collusion. We share views and have discussions about topics individually. I don’t believe we have jointly ever communicated through a conference call or anything like that. We have never used our talks to come to any pre-determination of a topic, I can assure you.”

44 comments on “Council Majority Questioned Over Lengthy Phone Talks

  1. This coucil is getting better than “Boardwalk Empire” with multiple thems going at the same time. The council should cut a deal with HBO and pull down some more money by airing the meeting on subscription TV.

  2. What does this have to with ‘tea in China’?I don’t think Cymek checked with rules and regs on if council members can talk to eachother. It’s all legal. Look it up. Or better yet, ask our city solicitor, Guy Ayers. Then who will look like ‘fools’?

  3. Sounds like off-season drama. Our town council is a collective group of greedy bas… all with their own petty agendas. Unfortunately the pizza guy is starting to sound creditable. I’m sure other jurisdictions are getting a good laugh at our town’s expense. Our citizens deserve better!!!

  4. Keep up the good work Margaret,Jim, Joe and Brent. You are for our town. I want to know more of these city employees that got raises in 3 yrs. Can we publish them in the paper?

  5. Joe Hall speaks of financial responsibility during council meetings, however by Councilman Hall pulling his disappearing act in the middle of the night he cost the city a SIGNIFICANT amount of money. The hours looking for Mr. Hall not only put the citizens of Ocean City at risk by diverting city resources including police manpower, but also required overtime to be paid to aid in the search. How can we expect someone to be responsible for the Town of Ocean City when they can not even be responsible for themselves…..Well maybe Mr. Hall can pass an ordinance in the future and make up the cost of the search and recovery mission on the employee’s backs or better yet maybe he can pay the city back with his winnings.

    Mary In the Night: “Why the focus on someones personal life? Dont we all have a personal life? Who cares where Joe Hall was at anytime.”

    When someone on the town council’s irresponsible personal life starts costing the taxpayers of Ocean City money then it is all of our concern!!

    THE POST SUBMITTED 1241PM IS NOT MY POST BUT HAS MY NAME ATTACHED SO I’LL REPOST WHAT I WROTE.

  6. Joe Hall speaks of financial responsibility during council meetings, however by Councilman Hall pulling his disappearing act in the middle of the night he cost the city a SIGNIFICANT amount of money. The hours looking for Mr. Hall not only put the citizens of Ocean City at risk by diverting city resources including police manpower, but also required overtime to be paid to aid in the search. How can we expect someone to be responsible for the Town of Ocean City when they can not even be responsible for themselves…..Well maybe Mr. Hall can pass an ordinance in the future and make up the cost of the search and recovery mission on the employee’s backs.

    Mary In the Night: “Why the focus on someones personal life? Dont we all have a personal life? Who cares where Joe Hall was at anytime.”

    When someone on the town council’s irresponsible personal life starts costing the taxpayers of Ocean City money then it is all of our concern!!

  7. To BK LOUIS, I am a tax paying, not allowed to vote, property owner and tax payer in OC. In fact it was the taxes used to pay a city manager 170k a year that drove me to move my primary residence out of Maryland to Delaware.

  8. Brent Ashley- “…he did it last week on his facebook page…”
    Someone is getting “de-friended”!

  9. Mr. Cymek, tell us Joe Hall’s phone records for January 4th-5th when he was the subject of an OCPD missing person investigation.

  10. the ‘minority’ is petty..should we ask ourselves why doug cymek has so much time on his hands to spy on people he is threatened by? maybe we should remind these people how imperfect everyone is..why oh why dont you all worry about your own lives and focus the real matter… the town and fixing the government..we didnt elect you to worry about flaws ..we elected you to help our town.

  11. Why would it matter that council members call eachother?
    Is it any different than the “minority’ meeting at BJ’s every week? Or going out after council meetings? Now that the shoe is on the other foot, things are not fair!. HA HA. The only unfairness is we elected ‘babies’ who can’t get their way! GROW UP!

  12. THE MINORITY OF THIS CITY COUNCIL IS A JOKE. AND ‘JOE METRECIC’ IS OUT. WHAT IS HIS BITTERNESS ABOUT? DOESNT HE HAVE A REAL JOB? WHY IS HE ACTING LIKE WE STILL CARE? HOW OLD IS HE?

  13. Why the focus on someones personal life? Dont we all have a personal life? Who cares where Joe Hall was at anytime. That’s his business. I voted him in council to do town business and thats what he is doing.

  14. Watching the videos its clear that the majority doesn’t want to hear from the taxpayers or the public. It is A taxpayer that is using the majority as his puppet.

    How much money was waisted to locate “Financially” responsible Joe Hall last week?

  15. Why is this ‘front page news’? Do we really have nothing else to write about? What about the town employees that got astronomical raises within 3 yrs? Can someone look into that?

  16. Finally, a OC City Council which is not an automatic rubber stamp. I believe it is healthy for the Council to heated debate, to have a little friction, to change the way things run in OC. That is why I voted for all new faces, even though one new face was voted in. Now, let’s work on those high salaries in the police force.

  17. Have we really put our town into this ‘he said she said’ garbage?
    Please people, I moved here for the quiet resort town feel. And now I feel like I am watching ‘Harper Valley PTA’. MARY KNIGHT< DOUG CYMEK <LOYDE MARTIN, were’nt you the majority for the last so many years? I think the turning power is getting to you. You have been the ones voting on everything and now you dont like the change. I recorded all tv meetings. People wake up and see what’s happening here. I am retired and love the meetings, but seeing this ‘Doug Cymek’ peering into peoples lives, is just plain WEIRD. He did it to a friend of mine who ran last time. Does anyone else see this is unethical?

  18. Is Coug Cymek retired? Where does he get this time to ‘watch and investigate ‘ people? Does the town of OC pay him for this? Are our tax dollars covering these investigations? If he works for free, i’ll hire him, my wife was out till 3am last month.

  19. Joe Hall speaks of financial responsibility during council meetings, however by Councilman Hall pulling his disappearing act in the middle of the night he cost the city a SIGNIFICANT amount of money. The hours looking for Mr. Hall not only put the citizens of Ocean City at risk by diverting city resources including police manpower, but also required overtime to be paid to aid in the search. How can we expect someone to be responsible for the Town of Ocean City when they can not even be responsible for themselves…..Well maybe Mr. Hall can pass an ordinance in the future and make up the cost of the search and recovery mission on the employee’s backs or better yet maybe he can pay the city back with his winnings.

    Mary In the Night said: “Why the focus on someones personal life? Dont we all have a personal life? Who cares where Joe Hall was at anytime.”

    When someone on the town council’s irresponsible personal life starts costing the taxpayers of Ocean City money then it is all of our concern!!

  20. As A lawyer, the electorate is missing the point. The amount of time that the 4 Councilmembers are spending as a group is in direct violation of the MD Open Meetings Act. They essentially are a quorum and deciding City business behind closed doors with out any regards to the public which is clearly a violation against this Act.

  21. I lived in OC for 15 years before moving to Florida. I watched the City Counsel meeting and I can not believe they are making decisions without solid figures. This is a crying shame that the Police Department will be down 20 Officers and Fire Department down several paramedics by the end of 2012. Get your figures before making a decision and people will be behind what you are doing but doing it blind SCARES people!

  22. To “Working in OC”. You obviously do not know what Mary Knight looks like because I have never met Councilmembers at BJ’s or any other venue. That’s what I don’t like about being anonymous, you can make up things and people believe it to be true.

  23. TO ‘AS A LAWYER’, YOU CLEARLY DIDNT READ THE ARTICLE. THERE WAS NO ‘GROUP’ MEETINGS, SIMPLY A FEW PHONE CONVERSATIONS, WHICH AS A CITIZEN OF OC, DOESNT BOTHER MOST PEOPLE. ITS THE LIVE MEETINGS WITH THE MINORITY AT BJ’S ON THE WATER EACH WEEK THAT CONCERNS MOST PEOPLE. I WORK AT BJ’S, AND HAVE OVER HEARD CONVERSATIONS, LIKE ‘WE GOT ‘EM’, THAT CONCERNS ME MORE THAN PHONE CONVERSATIONS. WHICH ARE NOT HIDDEN, CAUSE THEY ARE ON RECORD OF PHONE BILLS. IF THIS GROUP WAS SNEAKY WHY WOULD THEY CALL ON CITY PHONES? LOOK AT REASONS WHY THE CYMEK MARTIN MEEHAN KNIGHT GROUP DOESNT CALL EACHOTHER ON PHONES. THEY ACTUALLY MEET ON A WEEKLY BASIS. WHO IS IN VIOLATION?????

  24. Why was’nt this majority thing a big deal when knight, cymek and martin where making all the decisions? And citizens of oc were upset that the other 3 were’nt able to win dicusions. I think it sounds like angry people that are not getting there way. Boo Hoo, we all can’t get our way . like the other guy said “GROW UP”. stop wasting time and get our town good, which is what Jim, Brent , Marg and Joe want and are Doing. great job folks!

  25. In all my years reading dispatch, I never saw comments like this. It seems to me that Doug Cymek has open a can of worms on his sneaky own self. It does not seem that the email Cymek wrote about -burn baby burn- and Mary Knight lighting a fire with gas on the other council members, backfired and by reading these comments-who got burned?

  26. There is no transparency with this majority. The hours of phone calls among themselves, the breakfast meetings at Laytons, and the dinner meetings at the Captains Table. The deals are done and scripted before they enter the council chamber. The unplanned consequences of their actions will even take a heavy toll on their puppetmaster.

  27. Well, all I have to say is GOOD LUCK! Good luck with all the rift raft that the casino will be bringing into OC this summer and they cut the police force. GOOD LUCK! You people who decided to live in a RESORT – need to realize that we need police and other service people to PROTECT AND SERVE.

  28. AND – will JOE HALL reimburse the town for overtime and pay that went into his “missing person” event. Or is that too much to ask because he may have blew all his money on gambling?

  29. This is supposed to be a happy town, but all of you ADULTS sound like children. “We love all this juicy gossip. Keep it up. It makes our town fun” – GROW UP! I guess you all have nothing better to do since the season has not started yet. Also what really goes on in the middle of the night..I do not think the cops had too much on their hands so you are making it sound like a huge deal, not to mention im sure the oc cops did not mind looking for someone who is important to this town.

  30. Whoever is following Joe Hall around and knowing the cars in his driveway and how how many homes he has, I hope you know that is called a stalker.

  31. Folks ask to look at those phone bills it is your right to do so. If Cymek was so open I do not believe he has anything to hide. He was just exposing the four horsemen and their agendas. You might want to look at Jim Hall’s phone bill and see who he talks to more than anyone else. The same one that he meets with every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stop by Laytons in the morning and see him and his other council member friends that drop in for discussions. It is time for the good olde boy network to stop. Hey when you all see these groups in public take a picture which is worth a thousand words. Oh the McDonalds at 33rd is another good location to catch Ashley, Hall and the mystery business man. They just want their way and do not want to talk about it. The mayor has now announced his vetos and they have no choice but to get off the pot and talk. Lets see what they try next. Stop the BS you four and get to work or we will replace you next time. Thought it was interesting that Jim Hall does not want the Bike Week in his friends parking lot ask him about that. If you all want to continue to hide behind these postings remember you get what you dish out. Thanks Doug Cymek for opening our eyes to what has been going on.

  32. To the insider, You caught me, I do eat lunch at McDonalds with my significant other. I have never had lunch or breakfast with Jim Hall at McDonalds or Laytons. But if he asked, I would proud to do so as I consider him, Joe and Margaret dedicated public servants who are trying to make O.C. more fiscally responsible for the future. As for the mystery business man you mentioned, his name is Chip. He and I have been taking daily walks on the boardwalk for many years. Please, if you see us there, stop by, I’ll be more than happy to introduce you. Maybe you could join us for a walk.

  33. Folks the next thing we will have to look into is where Joe Hall really lives. Not on 6th street like he would like you to believe. How about St. Martins Neck, Sandy Hook or in West OC and now I hear he has bought a home in NC and is considering leaving the area after the family sells all their properties. The for sale signs are poping up all over. The restaurant which is for sale too.

  34. You sure have revealed something, ” The Revealer”..which is that this town is gullible enough to believe ridiculous “facts” that have no proof

  35. “WORKIN IN OC” is slightly mistaken. There have never been weekly meetings at that location. Two of the “minority” have dined there together maybe four times in three years. The third person has probably never met either of the other two there.

    That’s a nice place, by the way. The people who actually do work there are too responsible to make such inaccurate statements. Bet the farm that “WORKIN IN OC” does not work there. When there are differences of opinion, telling outright lies about people only makes yourself look bad.

  36. “Revealer”, “Insider”, “Old Timer”
    Since you like to get personal, would you tell me where you buy your tinfoil hats?

  37. Hmm, I don’t like the looks of all this drama. Just judging on this piece of writing, and the quotes provided, this resembles the tension and misunderstandings I witnessed amongst peers in high school.

    This comments section isn’t much better..

    Anyhoo, I think its a valid enough concern. Not exactly front-page worthy, but whatever. Looks like this bunch needs some serious group therapy.

    ‘Workin in OC’ – Anything typed in caps lock is immediately dismissed. No other internet lingo is more annoying than caps lock..ugh

    I’m 20-years-old, an OC local, and lookin’ forward to my generation overthrowing yours. This town has so much potential and yet around every turn there’s another step backwards. I go to council meetings and you’re all so stale and vacant looking. Ignoring so many alternative routes for improvement, in all manner of things! As soon as I get my schooling out of the way, I’m comin for your positions. ;D

    -Sam Glass

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