NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: City Manager Search Process Tainted By Phone Call?

JHall

OCEAN CITY — An elected official’s 13-minute phone conversation with a leading candidate to fill the city manager vacancy has called into question the integrity of the search process in its final days.

The Ocean City Mayor and Council are expected within the next couple weeks to decide between two candidates unanimously supported by the council for a final interview that took place earlier this month. It was expected once the requisite background checks were completed on the two finalists this week that the council would vote soon after on the next city manager, and sources contend that vote could come early next month.

However, on Wednesday, April 11, two days prior to when council members were to speak in person with the two finalists, Councilman Joe Hall called who he believed to be the “front runner” and had a 13-minute conversation with that individual, who will remain anonymous for this article as the person is presently employed with another government body.

Joe Hall’s call and conversation directly violated specific guidance from the city’s hired consulting firm, Springsted, which has engineered the search process to find a replacement for long-time City Manager Dennis Dare, who was removed from his post seven months ago. The consultant reportedly specifically advised all council members to refrain from any personal contact with any of the candidates to keep the process clean.

“I called one of the candidates who was at the top of my list personally and had a conversation. I felt that I needed to have a one-on-one conversation with the candidate, and the scope of that conversation involved, did [the candidate] understand the manager-council format that we have by charter,” Joe Hall said. “I also talked briefly about the area, fishing and some of the common likes we had. I felt I needed to have that one-on-one talk for me to make the best decision for the taxpayers of the city. I was comfortable with that and did it for the voters of the town.”

Prior to making that phone call, which sparked at least two members of the council calling for the process to begin anew with another advertising period and a new round of interviews, Joe Hall emailed Human Resources Director Wayne Evans on April 4 a “position paper” that he drafted before the October 2010 election where he encouraged voters to bring a new direction to the city and offered his suggestions that Councilwoman Margaret Pillas be re-elected and that then-newcomer Brent Ashley be voted into office. That happened and Pillas and Ashley joined Joe Hall and Jim Hall to form the new council majority, which sought Dare’s removal.

The “position paper” was not permitted to be forwarded to the candidates.

In a closed session meeting last week, Joe Hall admitted to calling one of the city manager candidates after the issue was broached by Councilwoman Mary Knight, who reportedly had concerns that a colleague had reached out at some point to a candidate.

“[In the last interview] the way the candidate responded and directed answers made me suspicious,” she said. “It almost seemed like inside information. I knew the candidate had watched our meetings and did Internet research, but there were bits and pieces that could not be known unless a conversation with a council member was held. Insider information was known and that made me suspicious.”

Knight then asked her fellow council members in closed session if anyone had contacted this certain candidate. Joe Hall admitted he made the call, which he does not believe should be blamed for skewing the process.

“I do in hindsight find it to be a mistake because it has brought questions to the process,” he said. “Unfortunately for some of my colleagues, this phone call has altered their opinion on moving forward. I don’t agree with that. I don’t think what I did diminishes this candidate’s ability to bring forward positive management to the town. My gut tells me it’s politics, and I don’t think it’s responsible. Until my phone call was brought to light, they were speaking very positive about this individual. All of a sudden now my 13-minute conversation should disqualify the candidate. That’s not right and unfortunate. The effort to abandon the current process is a political move, not the right move.”

Councilman Doug Cymek adamantly disagreed that the looming October election, which will see the seats occupied by himself, Joe Hall, Knight and Jim Hall up for grabs, is the motivation for his position that the process must begin again because of Joe Hall’s phone call.

“Obviously, Joe Hall and I have a different perspective on the integrity of the process,” Cymek said. “This was strictly poor judgment on his part. The human resources director and the consultant both warned the council not to make direct contact, which is exactly what he did. It’s a shame it has derailed the process. I’m in favor of redoing the process and trying to find additional candidates. We have no choice but to simply start the process again because we are going to get a whole new group of candidates.”

Councilman Brent Ashley, who was troubled by closed session personnel matters being discussed in the first place with the media, agreed the basis of the complaints over the phone call are rooted in town politics.

“I think they want to stretch it out till October. These people we are interviewing are very qualified people. Where’s the foul?,” Ashley said. “We’ve got good candidates. I think it’s a total shame. We have qualified individuals here. The three people involved here [Doug Cymek, Joe Hall and Mary Knight] are up for re-election and it’s clearly political.”

On the topic of the consultant advising the council not to reach out to candidates, Ashley said, “Whose position is it to tell an elected official he can and cannot do something? Joe works for the taxpayers, not the search company. I can’t fault somebody for doing something they think is best, and Joe thought it was for the good of the town.”

Where all this fallout leaves the city’s immediate future is the big question heading into next week. As of today, Knight and Cymek are adamant that the process must begin anew because it has been compromised, but it’s unlikely the votes are there for restarting the search process, understanding the vote would likely fall on majority-minority lines.

Knight said she will not participate in the process if the council refuses to abandon the current course in favor of a vote. She also encouraged Joe Hall to abstain from voting on the matter if it were to get that far. Knight also refused to participate in an earlier interview involving Public Works Director Hal Adkins, who was being weighed as a possible replacement to Dare. Adkins later withdrew his name from consideration. To Knight, the phone call’s impact is meaningful.

“If that’s their candidate, I am out of the process. I will not be a part of it,” Knight said. “It’s sad because we were very close to a decision. We are here again without a city manager because of somebody’s stupidity. I don’t know where we stand now, but I know I’m not going to be involved. Unfortunately, this is so unfair to the candidate.”

Cymek said he too would not participate and made it clear he would not “abstain,” however.

“[City Solicitor] Guy [Ayres] made it clear if you abstain you cannot comment further on the issue. I’m just not going to be a part of it. A line has been drawn through the middle of the process, and I’m not going to be a part of it,” Cymek said. “If there are enough votes for this candidate in question, it would be a mistake in judgment. I feel the process has been tainted and this particular candidate has been given an unfair advantage.”

Although not willing to go so far as to back a redo of the process effort, Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan, who does not have a vote on the city manager, finds the phone call inconsistent with the stated transparency goals of the council majority.

“The one thing I have a problem with is it’s continuously stated by the so-called empowered majority that they want everything done in the open and everybody there at the same time and all information given to everyone at the same time. This action seems to contradict that entirely,” Meehan said. “That I think is what has really upset some members of the council.”

14 comments on “NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: City Manager Search Process Tainted By Phone Call?

  1. This is very disturbing that these 4 can sit there and demand their itinerary be adhered to and then when a course of action that they wanted to be transparent is violated, have Ashley sit there and say its political and who said that someone can’t tell an elected official what a correct course of action should be is totally stupid. If Doug, Mary or Lloyd did this, they would have a rope in the tree already. If the process has been fouled, then let Joe Hall pay for the redo, the town should not have to pay for his moronic stupidity. This man is an embarrassment to the town and should be dismissed.

  2. Good old boy network at it again. Sure glad I moved from Ocean City when I did. Was there for 10 yrs and the same old people still run the show. Wake up residents its time for some new blood and to break up the GOOD OLD BOYS.

  3. Joe Hall did indeed taint the process. If he or anyone else doesn’t understand the process, then recuse yourself from the process. Springsted set the process and it should have been followed to the T.

  4. Ashley does indeed think he is above the law and because he is a councilman. To him public servant means he can do anything he wants and no one can say anything about it. Hall is just a dumba$$ clown. Mr. Ashley has been terminated as a member of the board of directors from the condo association for just such behavior. Maybe the city should follow suit.

  5. I agree completely with what Bill has stated on this situation.Once again Joe Hall has made a disgrace out of our Towns council. There should be a call for his dissmisal.

  6. It is sooo disturbing. Lead by example. If the council can’t follow the rules then why should we? It is very simple. If you can’t, why are you a public official?

  7. Think Dennis Dare is getting a kick out of this? He may have lost his job but all this bull@#$# has to make it worth it!

  8. Willingly violating published policy and procedure should be grounds for removal, under malfeasance.
    Hall continues to be an embarrasment to the town and City Council; it’s time for a recall vote

  9. Simple basis Human Resources Policy should tell us something is wrong here. It certainly appears that one canditate has been given special tgreatment. Does this give the other canditate a legal stance? Does the other candiate now say, the cards were set against him/her by unfair interviewing? Please remember that October is coming!

  10. Hall and Ashley seem to think they are above the law. Makes you wonder what else they have gotten away with regarding ethical public service? The taxpayers money pays for search company. Under rules of contract (admissable in court of law) there is to be no contact. Hall violated the taxpayers and he should pay for a new process. Hall and Ashley should be removed from the hiring process to make it (as they put it) less political. Both should be embarrassed and should apologize for their unethical actions and comments. Their supporting townspeople/voters should also be embarrassed. Hall and Ashley need to be reminded that it is public service not self service.

  11. City “HALL” strikes OUT again. Shameful shenanigans that continue to ooze out of City “HALL”. The Council… the TINY TIME Council majority remains a laughing stock to those that live in OC and those who OWN in OC, but do not have a voice. Wonder why this type of stupidity continues – because a small amount of OWNERS can vote. Those that remain in the 20th Century think-tank, continue to stumble and bumble their way through city politics. This type of behavior no longer has a place in Ocean City and rules governing our City should not be made by council members who ALSO own businesses in OC!! That ship has sailed. Eliminate the perception – eliminates the problem (HALL) that eventually pops its ugly head out. Very displeased looking out at Assawoman Bay! ~BUSHMAN!

  12. Joe Hall and his gang have no concerns for the citizens, but only care about filling their own pockets. I own in OC but would never move here until this good ole boy network is disbanded.

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