OCEAN CITY – It was standing room only at City Hall this week as the public waited to speak in regard to the forced resignation of City Manager Dennis Dare.
Citizens For Ocean City spokesman and Delmarva Condominium Managers Association (DCMA) President Joe Groves led the comments made during the Mayor and City Council meeting on Monday night.
“On behalf of all organizations, I want to take the time to thank a man that gave 21 years of service to this city and thank publically Dennis Dare for his time,” Groves said as the audience erupted in cheers. “He deserves that thank you.”
Groves explained the public understands the council has the right to ask Dare to resign from his position since the city manager serves at the pleasure of the council but the problem lies on how it was done.
On Sept. 8, the Mayor and City Council met in an unexpected closed session that Dare and City Solicitor Guy Ayres were not asked to attend. The council voted 4-3, with Council members Brent Ashley, Joe Hall, Margaret Pillas and Jim Hall in favor and Doug Cymek, Mary Knight and Lloyd Martin opposed, to ask for Dare’s resignation by the end of business Friday.
During another closed session the following day, the council voted in the same 4-3 fashion to terminate Dare’s employment if he did not resign by the end of business today. Dare eventually did resign.
“The one issue and the big issue that I think we have right now in this town … this council needs to learn how to work as a team,” Groves said. “But for right now this council has for some reason or somehow figured out how to mirror our national government, you are either on this side or on that side.”
Groves said there has been one consistent fact among the majority of the council in the last couple of weeks in their reasoning in removing Dare and that is the city is moving in a “new direction”.
“This was a tough decision, one made by the majority of the council, to change the management direction of the town,” Jim Hall said on Sept. 9. “Dennis has done a wonderful, wonderful job for us, but we wanted to take the town in a different direction.”
Groves asserted the “new direction” has yet to be made clear to the public or city staff.
“Your city employees don’t know what it is … they are scared to death about their future and in these economic times we don’t blame them for being scared about their futures,” he said.
Groves challenged Council President Jim Hall to lead Ocean City in a “positive, honest, open, and transparent way”.
“We deserve better, and there is with no doubt about it a split that we don’t deserve,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan agreed that a 4-3 vote is no way for a city government to pass decisions.
“I always believed that the one consensus you got with regard to any decision the better the decision was,” the mayor said. “Just because you have 4 to 3 isn’t always the right way to go and the goal was try to get as many people to buy in as possible.”
Boardwalk Development Association President Vicki Barrett got straight to point in her turn at the podium and simply asked the council, why?
“I lost my confidence in Dennis,” Council President Jim Hall said. “There was not a straw that broke the camel’s back … it’s been a combination over my years of dealing with Dennis.”
Jim Hall explained that Ocean City’s government is a council-manager form of government. Dare’s duties included keeping the entire council informed at all times.
“I didn’t feel that I was given all the information in a timely manner,” he said. "My direction for a new government … that was elected by the people, for the people, and I want to make sure that we follow their wishes and their thoughts by us all getting information at the same time.”
Council Secretary Lloyd Martin disagreed and said that Dare’s door was always open.
“If you didn’t get information, it is because you didn’t ask for it,” he said. “I just feel like it was a total injustice and most of everybody does.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas agreed with Jim Hall. She said she had repeatedly asked Dare for information in order to have a better understanding on issues the council was facing. She added that there were many times that her decision was placed on the back burner because she felt misinformed resulting in her having to abstain.
“I really felt that it was my city manager’s responsibility towards me to make sure that I did understand and I did get the information that I needed so I lost my confidence in Dennis,” Pillas said.
Councilman Brent Ashley, who joined the council last October, did not feel comfortable commenting because he considered it a personnel matter.
“I think my colleagues have pretty much covered it,” he said. “I have had my own experiences in the past 11 months.”
Councilman Joe Hall said his campaign focused on cutting the city’s expenses in the number of employees and their compensation in order to save taxpayers money.
“I had this conversation with Dennis … and shared with him how I think Ocean City’s municipal government should run and the answer I got from Dennis was clearly ‘I just don’t agree with you’,” Joe Hall said. “At that time, my understanding of Dennis was that he wasn’t able to continue to implement the policies of the majority vote therefore I voted for the change in city manager.”
Jim Hall said the public’s criticism is “well deserved” but in the last election there was a clear mandate from the residents of Ocean City in regard to spending money, saving money, taxes, and change in pay and benefits.
“The platform of most of the candidates was that we are going to conserve, we are going to cut back, we are going to lower the taxes, we’re going to watch our money … and those people were elected,” he said. “I truly believe that is the way the council will go and hopefully the new city manager will sign onto that.”
At this point, Meehan asserted that prior to the last election, through the combined effort of the city manager and department heads, the city was able to cut its budget by $7 million. He added that after the election the majority of the council passed 10 ordinances involving city employees pay and benefits that would have cost the taxpayers an additional $1.5 million if he hadn’t vetoed them.
“We really need to look at where we were, where we’re going, and where this mandate actually came from,” the mayor said. “I am not going to try to dispel what your other reasons are. You believe those and that’s certainly within your right but don’t say it was because of that … we have a lot of work to do and we can do it if we work together but not by saying ‘hey let’s just go to a meeting and we’re going to tell you that we are going to fire the city manager’ because that’s what happened, and that’s what shouldn’t happen, and that’s what everybody out here is saying.”
Clarion Hotel owner Dr. Lenny Berger expressed his concern over the city’s reputation and gaining quality employees.
“I am concerned about our employees, our long-time employees, our executives, and the people that we will be able to draw into our employment,” he said. “It is going to be hard to find someone with the experience and the knowledge that our past city manager had but … it is going to take a national search.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight said in closed session held before Monday night’s meeting she had made a motion to advertise the position of city manager internally as well as nationally in finding a replacement. The motion was voted down in a 3-4 vote, with Joe Hall, Ashley, Jim Hall and Pillas in opposition.
“At that point, there was additional discussion with a candidate that the majority had already come up with,” Knight said. “I felt it was really not worth my effort because I knew in my heart of hearts that we should post this, that we should do the due diligence. So I respectfully left and Councilman Cymek also left.”
Groves approached the council once again to reveal it is no secret on who is in the running to fill the city manager’s position.
“I had already known that you guys had picked Hal Adkins [Public Works Director] to talk to him about that job,” he said. “I know that’s who you talked to and half of this town knows it. He might be the best guy, but these people deserve the right to make sure that he is and the only way you can do that is go out and do a search.”
On Wednesday, Adkins confirmed that he has not been offered the job as city manager. He expected the opportunity to present itself within the next five years due to Dare’s planned on retirement. Adkins added that he would consider applying for the position.
“But, let me be crystal clear that as part of the evolution of the interviewing process and the local reaction that will naturally surface at that time, I would want assurance that the citizens, business community, and fulltime staff of the Town of Ocean City that I have served for the last 27-plus years were in support of me holding the position,” Adkins wrote. “If they were not, I will gladly continue my role as public works director and provide the levels of surface that our community has grown to expect. One must never forget I am a public servant. In the simplest of terms, I work for the people of this Town.”