It’s a shame to see Administrator Jeff Fleetwood leave Berlin. He made it clear this week he is retiring by his own volition. He is ready to move on and grateful for the almost 13 years he spent in Berlin.
Fleetwood had the respect of the citizens and most elected officials as well as his work colleagues. Fleetwood had the respect of most citizens who were disturbed this week by the suddenness of his departure. There are numerous stories to illustrate his dedication. When a utility cover was dislodged on my street on a Sunday a few years ago, causing a hazard, I texted him with a picture. He replied, “on it.” Within 20 minutes, it was replaced by a town staff member on call. I saw him for years each morning around 6 walking the streets of Berlin. Just this past week, he asked for a favor with help putting together a public recognition advertisement for Marvin Smith, who is retiring from the town after 30 years next week. He did not sound like a guy ready to walk out the door, but he says he has been planning to retire for about a year.
Fleetwood dismissed the idea his obviously tense relationship with Mayor Zack Tyndall led to his departure one year before the end of his contract. While acknowledging he and Tyndall have contrasting leadership styles, Fleetwood said he would be retiring this year even if Gee Williams was still mayor. Fleetwood clearly did not want to go out with a huge controversy over his retirement. He maintained the highroad saying, “I am retiring. I am tired,” multiple times this week. For his part, Tyndall refused to comment on a personnel matter, but other council members bid a fond farewell to Fleetwood when asked for comment by a reporter.
While I can appreciate the ease of the high road, as a newspaper editor, it’s incumbent to look a bit deeper. Fleetwood and Tyndall were rarely on the same page, especially on finances. Budget time was always a difficult process and this year has been the most challenging yet under Tyndall’s term. Differing leadership styles aside, there were fundamental differences on most matters pertaining to Berlin as well as communication issues. Fleetwood expressed his desire Monday night after a budget meeting to retire in early June, but the mayor wanted him gone by week’s end and said the town would pay him until June. This outcome, which the council did not support, confirms the state of the working relationship.
Though the original stop work date of June 3 is still not enough time to find a replacement, Fleetwood’s sudden departure leaves town hall short staffed and losing a leader valued by his colleagues. There is no transition plan and no obvious internal candidate to promote like Fleetwood was when his predecessor was fired in 2019. It will take months to conduct a search and find a replacement, especially when word gets around in government circles about the friction between the former administrator and the current mayor. There is veteran leadership at town hall with Deputy Town Administrator Mary Bohlen assuming Fleetwood’s duties, but it’s going to take some time and money to replace Fleetwood.
It’s best for Ocean City Councilman Mark Paddack to simply step away. His attempt at an apology through a letter to the editor only exacerbated the situation. Rather than be contrite and sincere in his attempt to “clear the air,” the first-term councilman’s words only hurt the public’s perception of him. He explained the most recent situation that occurred between him and his son, while railing against the manipulations of social media, saying, “Do we let those individuals who have unfounded accusations usurp the power of social media when the truth is not what they seek?”
The apology letter missed the mark, but especially the part about his son when he said after the accident in the restaurant parking lot, “My teenage son and I then proceeded to dine in a restaurant, where I had a public verbal disagreement with him. There was an exchange of words between my son and me. Have you ever disagreed with your children, especially your teenagers? However, as a public official, this should have been discussed privately, and not in a public venue where I interrupted the dining environment of the patrons. My apologies to all diners who were at the restaurant to enjoy their meal and the people with whom they were dining. … To the people of Ocean City, whom I serve, my personal public disagreement with my son, which should have been done in our home and not at a diner, was unacceptable, and I offer my sincere apologies once again. I simply ask the citizens of Ocean City, whom I serve, do we believe everything on social media? Do we let those individuals who have unfounded accusations usurp the power of social media when the truth is not what they seek?”
There has been some speculation of late over whether a county petition to referendum could block the bond for the sports complex from moving ahead. At this week’s County Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Chip Bertino asked, “is there anything within the county code for a countywide referendum?” Commission President Joe Mitrecic replied, “We are home rule, so no.” It’s interesting how things have changed if that’s true, as there have been county referenda in the past – including several to dissolve the liquor board monopoly with the most recent being in 1998.