OCEAN PINES – Ocean Pines officials opted not to hire a California restaurant consulting firm recommended by the community’s acting general manager.
In a special meeting of the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Board of Directors Sunday afternoon, a motion to accept a proposal from California’s Synergy Restaurant Consultants failed. Just two of the board’s seven directors — Brett Hill and Dave Stevens — voted in favor of the motion, which would have resulted in the firm performing an operational assessment of the association’s food and beverage facilities.
While some directors expressed interest in instead hiring a local firm to assess OPA’s food and beverage needs, others were critical of Hill, who is the acting general manager, and his decision to solicit proposals.
“This is not what the board had agreed to when we discussed this issue,” board member Cheryl Jacobs said. “This is action that was taken unilaterally by the interim general manager.”
As Sunday’s meeting convened, Hill presented the board with the motion to hire Synergy, adding that he’d sent a Request For Proposal (RFP) to seven companies but that only three had responded. Of the three proposals, he recommended the board accept the one from Synergy. According to Hill, his decision to seek proposals came after a member of the board instructed him to hire a particular consultant who lived in Ocean Pines.
“Having that individual as a consultant without any comparison or evaluation of other options is not doing my job as the general manager,” he said. “I responded by putting out a request to organizations that met the qualifications to fulfil the services requested of evaluating our operations, finding deficiencies and seeking areas of improvement and I did what I would do for any other purchase as acting general manager in finding competitive options that provided the best value to the association.”
Director Slobodan Trendic was quick to reply.
“His statement that a director instructed him to hire a local consultant is a fabrication of farfetched truth and certainly there are written emails that can illustrate that such has never taken place,” he said.
Trendic said Hill failed to consider the local consultant and referenced certain OPA policy that he did not produce when requested. He said the board had been fielding complaints regarding the association’s food and beverage operations and that a “quick fix” needed to be found.
“I would like to go back to what we have agreed to do as a board which is to find somebody locally that can step in, find quick fixes to the obvious problems and let’s get the situation under control so we can have a decent summer season with only a few weeks left,” Trendic said.
Tom Herrick, president of the board, defended Hill’s actions. He read minutes from the June 19 board meeting during which the board agreed to bring in an industry consultant as soon as possible.
“He went out and solicited bids,” Herrick said. “You may not be happy with who he picked but you directed him to do so and that’s what he did.”
Herrick said he’d rather have a professional consultant than a local individual for the job.
“If it’s the problem that he brought people in and they’re not local enough, then let’s direct him to bring in some local professionals that can give us the independent advice we need to assist the community in moving forward with food and beverage,” he said.
Jacobs said the board never agreed to the RFP process to select a consultant. She also said hiring a West Coast firm and the associated travel would increase costs for the association.
“We have all received many emails about problems that have arisen with our food and beverage operations at several locations,” she said. “They need to be addressed. We were all in agreement they needed to be addressed. This is not the route we expected. This was new information that was put on us.”
Board members Pat Supik and Doug Parks agreed with the concept of a consultant but expressed interest in hiring a local company.
Trendic asked Hill why the RFP hadn’t been posted on the OPA website.
Hill said it wasn’t online because of the quick timeline for turnaround. Trendic, however, stressed the importance of the “open procurement procedures” referenced in OPA bylaws.
“You told me to hire one individual,” Hill replied. “How open is that Slobodan?”
Trendic said he was willing to provide the media with emails on the subject.
“I’ll give them the rest of your emails where you’re directing President Herrick to tell me to hire an individual,” Hill responded. “If you want to play let’s play.”
Jacobs said that when Hill decided the individual in question wasn’t qualified he should have brought the issue back to the board.
“What should have occurred in my opinion is he came back to the board and the board would have discussed this matter,” she said. “That’s not getting into operational issues, that’s called board oversight.”
Stevens said he thought Hill followed proper procedure but added that if the board wanted a local company it should find one.
“I think this board can instruct the general manager to basically restart the search with a focus on local companies and that’ll pretty much end it,” he said.
Though Parks asked whether successful restauranteurs in the area could provide guidance, his peers stressed the need for an industry consultant. Stevens said OPA had tried taking guidance from local businessmen before.
“The difficulty is you get into great conversations and you get opinions and ideas but it’s not structured,” he said. “So you don’t at the end of the day have a specific idea or any specific ideas of what to do next.”
Hill’s motion to hire Synergy Restaurant Consultants failed with five directors opposed and just two in support.