OCEAN CITY — With a looming vote on the next city manager expected this afternoon, an ethics complaint against the city councilman who called a leading candidate was dropped yesterday afternoon.
Details of the Ethics Committee meeting yesterday at City Hall are unclear as all parties have been instructed to not discuss the private personnel matters. However, what is known is the complaint was withdrawn.
Last Friday morning, Citizens For Ocean City spokesman Joe Groves headed to City Hall to request a hearing before the Ethics Committee on Councilman Joe Hall’s 13-minute phone call on April 11 to who he believed was the “front runner” to be the town’s next city manager.
Ethics Committee Chairman Charlie Barrett then contacted his committee members and a meeting was set for 2 p.m. yesterday.
Despite an opinion from City Solicitor Guy Ayres that stated otherwise, Groves alleged Councilman Joe Hall violated the ethical code of conduct for elected officials when he personally reached out to the candidate two days prior to final interviews with that individual and another finalist.
The identity of this leading candidate has been known ever since The Dispatch culled the city elected officials’ cell phone records earlier this month. It’s Fort Pierce, Fla. City Manager David Recor, although no public official has confirmed that since it’s ongoing personnel matter.
Last Friday afternoon, TCPalm in Florida reported on its website that Recor may be a finalist for the post in Ocean City, despite one month prior stating to his city leaders he was withdrawing his name from consideration for another government position in Florida and that his future is Fort Pierce, Fla.
"Every day, my job as city manager here in Fort Pierce presents me with a new and exciting challenge, and that’s what keeps me coming to work," Recor said in a March 5 interview with the newspaper. "Until my job gets boring (or) until there’s not another challenge for me, I’m going to want to be the city manager in Fort Pierce."
The process for Ocean City’s next city manager began last fall after long-time City Manager Dennis Dare was removed in a 4-3 vote on majority-minority lines. A nationwide search commenced and interviews have been taking place over the winter. When Recor made that statement in the newspaper, it’s unclear whether he had been interviewed in Ocean City or by phone, but it’s known he was involved in the process.
The identity of the other finalist is unknown because that individual was not contacted by Joe Hall or any other elected official.
Last week, Council President Jim Hall said the phone call will not derail the process to vote on the next city manager. That vote is expected today, as the background checks have been received from the city.
“We have a worker bee and a politician to choose from and I want the [individual] who is going to get in there and work for our city,” Jim Hall said. “The bottom line is the majority of us like one over the other. We have a work session scheduled for Tuesday [today], and unless something crazy comes back with the background checks, that day we will talk about it and take a vote. Joe obviously called the person, but so what? It’s not that [candidate’s] fault that Joe called. It would be a shame to knock the candidate out because of that. I’m hoping Tuesday the process moves on … it’s going to be a 4-something vote.”
At the hearing yesterday, Groves was represented by attorney J. Harrison Phillips and Joe Hall was represented by attorney Joe Moore.
Both Groves and Joe Hall said they could not comment on the particulars of the meeting, but confirmed the Ethics Committee will not be issuing an opinion since the complaint was withdrawn by Groves.
“As of yesterday, I have dropped the ethics charge … As of right now, I have to leave it at that,” Groves said this morning.
Reached this morning as well, Joe Hall said, “I’m very happy that Mr. Groves saw fit to withdraw his complaint. I maintain it was not a violation. We’re ready to move forward with our closed session meeting today.”
Last week, Joe Hall admitted to calling the leading candidate, who he would not identify.
“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 last week. “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.”
The Ocean City Mayor and Council are expected to vote on Recor in a closed session prior to the work session today.
Initially, the closed session was to start at noon but it was changed yesterday afternoon to 11:30 a.m. The council is expected to meet in council chambers to hear a motion to convene in executive session immediately. The vote is expected to be among the business discussed.
The Citizens For Ocean City group is planning to attend the meeting and it’s unclear whether residents will be able to address the council.
Ocean City Councilman Doug Cymek is hoping the council will hold the discussion of the next city manager in public. Cymek said he is troubled by Recor’s background, which includes a number of political controversies as well as a criminal incident in Alaska that is giving him pause.
“I’m going to ask that this conversation take place publicly,” he said. “All of this has played out in the public’s eye over the last week … I think we should discuss it publicly. All of them knowing what they know, I am troubled that a vote is going to take place on this candidate.”
The Dispatch will be following this story. Look for updates at www.mdcoastdispatch.com this afternoon and full coverage of the week’s events in Friday’s hardcopy edition.