Fish Powell was one of a kind.
I don’t have a lot of personal stories to share about Fish. His last year as mayor of Ocean City was my last year in college. Additionally, his long career in elected office took place while I was growing up. Therefore, my direct interactions with him were limited. However, he was a household name, and my stepfather, founding Publisher Dick Lohmeyer, spoke highly of him. Considering he rarely heaped praise on anyone, his support and kind words for Fish spoke volumes.
Something occurred to me one morning as I observed him work the cash register years ago at Jimmy’s Kitchen, which is owned by his daughter and son-in-law, Kim and Jimmy Mourlas. Fish never met a stranger. It was just his way. Everyone knew who he was and he acted as if he knew who everyone was as well in return. It was endearing that he feigned knowing these folks, but then again maybe he did know them all. It didn’t seem possible to me, but you never know.
I think Fish was an introvert in an extrovert’s position, referring to his various elected positions he held, including Ocean City councilman and mayor with a time as Worcester County Commissioner sandwiched in between. That’s what I think many officials were talking about this week when they referred to him as being a good listener who didn’t talk a lot. Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins put it well I thought.
“Fish had a tendency to be a man of few words, but one should never assume that was because of a lack of interest on his part, or a lack of desire to be involved or a lack of passion for a logical solution. Oh no, he was just a great listener. When he spoke, you damn well better be listening. What few words he may offer were well thought out, to the point and very constructive towards a solution,” said Adkins.
It was interesting to read his obituary to learn of his most proud professional accomplishment. The obituary read, “As Ocean City’s mayor, he worked very well with all levels of government leading to his most important accomplishment, which was the beach replenishment program.”
It’s appropriate that a program of that magnitude, which has saved millions of dollars’ worth of property over the last two decades, would be what he considered his greatest achievement in public office.
Bad publicity is the last thing any non-profit organization wants, but that’s exactly what one of the largest on the shore got this week.
United Way of the Lower Eastern has been serving local citizens since 1944 and is known as the largest non-government source of funding for charities across the shore. More than $1.4 million was raised last year and distributed to local nonprofits.
While the good service the organization provides is indisputable, it’s also inarguable that it’s in the middle of a public relations nightmare over the removal of Kathleen Momme as its executive director after 24 years. It had been unclear how the separation occurred in recent weeks, but it appeared to be one of many recent personnel changes the organization had planned for some time.
Momme broke her silence Wednesday in a big way, disclosing she was terminated from her post and that donor funds were reportedly sought to be used to keep her silent.
“The Board offered me a considerable amount of donor funds in exchange for my silence and to waive any legal claims I might have,” said wrote in a statement to the media. “A lengthy and non-negotiable written agreement titled ‘General Release and Covenant Not to Sue’ was presented to me in this regard. Although (due to financial concerns) I initially considered receiving a severance payment in connection with my termination, after further thought, I decided that I will not sign the proposed agreement (despite the serious financial strain this sudden firing creates for me and my family), and will not accept a payoff, especially one using donor funds.”
In her statement, Momme addressed her perceived reasons for her dismissal.
“I did not resign from United Way. I was abruptly terminated by the United Way’s legal counsel on behalf of the Board of Directors with no real opportunity to advocate for myself or to speak with any Board members. It has been a painfully heartbreaking end to my successful career with United Way,” she wrote. “Following 24 years of dedication to the organization, I was terminated based on concerns that members of the staff expressed, not to me, but to certain members of the Board, mainly in regard to my management approach and style. I have always brought a certain (appropriate) intensity to my work and my desire to grow and expand the United Way, its donor base, and its impact in the community. This intensity has always made me demanding mostly of myself, but also of my staff, as we have strived over the years to fulfill challenging goals and meet ever increasing and critical community needs. While I fully recognize this about myself, I do not apologize for it.”
The United Way board has not issued a public comment in response.