Earlier this week, Ocean View Councilman Geoff Christ asked council to consider forming a committee of council members to address Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin’s employment contract renewal.
Mayor Gordon Wood initially objected to the agenda item, giving two points of order: stating that it is required in the council’s rules that there is a synopsis given for an agenda item and, if there is a resolution to be passed, the council must receive a copy of the resolution by noon on the Friday prior to the meeting.
Christ requested Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader respond to whether or not Wood’s points of order were correct.
“The question to be decided by the council is whether or not the items set forth in 9.C. is sufficiently descriptive to inform the public and council as to what the intent of the discussion would be,” he said. “Under the rules of procedure the council does have a right to waive the rules if it chooses to do so.”
“I’d like to waive the rules,” said Councilwoman Michele Steffans.
Schrader said that it would require a unanimous vote of council in order to waive the rules.
Christ said he believed his agenda item gave enough of a synopsis to not be an issue and added that he did not have a prepared motion.
“I do not want us to get on a slippery slope of not following our own rules,” said Wood.
“You seemed to have jumped on that slippery slope with your edict about the police chief and not telling anyone beforehand,” responded Christ.
“To throw it at the council at that last minute, I think, was extremely unfair. It caught us totally flatfooted,” added Sheeran. “You indicated we all went along with it in your articles in the paper and, in reality, you caught us so flatfooted.”
“It was not appreciated,” said Steffans.
Schrader suggested that perhaps it would be a matter of substance over form to allow the agenda item to stand and go forward with the agenda item.
Council voted to leave the items on the agenda.
“After the last town workshop, where Mr. Mayor delegated that the police chief report to the town manager but still the mayor would retain oversight … the mayor had mentioned in his releases to the press that he thinks it would be a good idea to look into extending the chief’s contract, to having the chief solely report to the town manager,” explained Christ.
“I believe that is a step in the right direction. It is my opinion that, with the chief reporting to both the town manager and the mayor for some things policing, some things town, that it would be fair to all parties involved — especially to the chief and the town manager — to start the process to renegotiate the contract.”
Christ said he believed that council needed to specify in the future contract that the chief report solely to the town manager but also specifically delineate in that contract what are matters of police and what are matters of administration.
“I believe, in the interest of clarity, and to proceed further, we need to select a committee of two council members to sit with Mr. Schrader and the chief and his counsel to begin negotiations of a contract extension.”
Wood said he believed that it would be appropriate to do that, however, at the present time, McLaughlin and Town Manager Dianne Vogel were discussing just such delineations.
“It seems to me that, if the chief and town manager are discussing exactly that, we ought to let those discussions reach their climax and then let them report to the council.”
“What would the fruit of those negotiations bear if neither of them are here, and we’re back to square one?” asked Christ, noting that Vogel could win the Powerball lottery tomorrow and decide to retire. “Whereas if we had a specific document that addressed each of these issues — what’s a police issue, what is a town issue — that that document would carry over to whomever would step into those roles. I think we need to do that now, rather than later.”
Sheeran said that he agreed with Christ’s idea to work on differentiating what would be administrative and police issues.
“I felt your directive to the chief was extremely vague. It leaves him with two bosses who could have conflicting information,” he said. “Even though you, by your spoken word, have no intent to getting involved again, doesn’t mean the next mayor won’t. If you leave it open, it stays open. I would be more than happy to work with Mr. Christ, and the chief and the town manager, to spell it out a little better.”
Councilman Bob Lawless said he believed Wood’s delegation was within his rights as mayor and that he is confident that McLaughlin and Vogel should be allowed to work on the delineation together, without council.
“You exercised that ability to delegate at the workshop for reasons as you discussed. It is not a council voting activity. That you didn’t inform council in significant time in advance of that workshop is essentially irrelevant,” he said.
“I know that both the chief of police and the town manager are sincerely interested in defining the roles carefully, understanding carefully that there will be a time in the future when neither of these individuals is present. What we’re trying to do is work from principal rather than personalities,” Lawless continued.
“My opinion is that I think town council should step back in this instant and let two individuals have at it with clear eyes and good intent and see if they can come up with a principled structure for this relationship.”
Christ said he agreed with Lawless’s opinion; however, he said, it did not address what were to happen if either or both the town manager and police chief were no longer employees of the town.
“I believe, because of the fact there are two potential supervisors and there’s nothing written down, I think we need to go all the way and make the chief reportable only to the town manager, and we need to start renegotiating his contract so that his contract fits with what the council wants.”
Sheeran said he didn’t understand why the council wouldn’t want to get the process started as soon as possible. He also said he felt it was unfair to give the two administrators extra work on top of their fulltime jobs, when the council could help.
Wood suggested that the council allow Vogel and McLaughlin 90 days to work on the issue and report back to the council. The council agreed to do so.
“I’m willing to give 90 days,” said Sheeran.