Is Ocean City government better today than it was three years ago?
That’s the question to consider when judging former City Manager David Recor’s short tenure. It’s a loaded question with no easy answer, but we would say Recor is generally leaving the city better off than he found it.
One thing is for sure it was not a smooth three years for Recor here and that’s disappointing. In hindsight, considering how he came to Ocean City and the ups and downs associated with his time in Florida, controversy should have been expected, but it was hoped the fresh start in Ocean City would result in a time of professional growth and calmer proverbial seas. That just didn’t happen.
Along with some personal challenges that led to missed time and distractions noticed by all in 2013, there was also the forced resignation last year of former Planning and Community Development Director Matt Margotta, who Recor lobbied to replace the retired Jesse Houston because of his personal experience in a similar post in Fort Pierce, Fla. It was third time that Margotta was to work under Recor. Margotta, who was hired after a national search, resigned for “personal reasons,” but it’s no secret he was forced out rather than being terminated after a stormy 18 months at City Hall.
Recor’s judgment looked bad after his long-time colleague’s departure and City Hall sources maintain the city manager did not properly address ongoing shortcomings within the department. Recor later became the defacto planning head, a position that has remained vacant for a year. In fact, he was interviewing candidates for that position as recent as two weeks ago and was expected to have a recommendation for the city in the near future, if it hasn’t already been made.
Throughout his tenure in Ocean City, Recor had his ups and downs. As part of his employment contract, Recor was to “be available 24/7” and he lost favor with many department heads and some City Council members for being uncommunicative on the weekends and evenings during busy times. He frequently was “off grid,” as it was communicated to us by several city employees, and that was a major change from former City Manager Dennis Dare, who was typically accessible, particularly in the busy summer months.
After his departure from Fort Pierce, Fla., an editorial from TC Palm in May 2012 read, “It is not that Recor is not a capable city manager. He has the training and the skills to be exceptional. It’s the manner in which he uses his talents that has caused growing dissatisfaction.”
As was the case in Fort Pierce, Fla., where he was city manager over four years, the Mayor and Council gave Recor the opportunity to resign rather than be terminated officially. That’s essentially what happened here.
The reality is the City Council gradually lost faith in him and whatever trust remained earlier this month was completely dissolved when it was discovered his account of what happened with the July 10 accident in a city vehicle did not jive entirely with what the police said. Additionally, the refusal to immediately take an alcohol screening when asked did not sit well and the reasons for stalling were found unacceptable. He was found to be deceptive in his account of what transpired.
Even with all this, and there were other hiccups, we think Recor’s stint was marginally beneficial to the city, but it was incomplete and the body of work was limited. Recor took over a city in need of stability, professionalism and organization after a rogue council majority dismissed Dare, the long-time city manager, in search of a new direction that never materialized.
The city is better today for one reason. Under Recor’s leadership and his handpicked consultant, the community, staff and elected officials created a strategic plan that can serve as a roadmap for government operations with clear priorities outlined and action items listed for years to come. That was a valuable process Recor brought with him, and it’s the biggest positive of his tenure, which will likely be remembered more for controversy than anything else.
While a national search commences, it will be months — it took nine months to replace Dare — before any sort of decision is made. In the meantime, Mayor Rick Meehan has proven to be a more than capable interim city manager and has the “player’s coach” mentality needed currently within the city to keep things running smoothly at the height of the season. The city is in capable hands, but we hope the next city manager is here for much longer than three years.