Ocean View considering review of its management structure

On June 21, the Ocean View town council held a special workshop to discuss a review of the management structure of the town.

“Everyone knows the Town of Ocean View is going to be putting in place a program to bring on a new town manager,” explained Mayor Gordon Wood.

Back in November, Town Manager Conway Gregory announced that he would not be renewing his contract with the town. His current contract will expire March 2, 2012. Recently, the council had given Wood the OK to contact the Institute for Public Administration (IPA) at the University of Delaware about advising the town on how to move forward with its management. Wood and Councilman Bob Lawless met with representatives from the university.

“We’ve had long productive conversations with what I thought were very capable people. We asked them to send us a proposal of what they think they can do for us,” said Wood.

The IPA project proposal states that it will “conduct a review of the town’s organizational structure and review and update job descriptions for the town manager and finance director position.”

Wood also requested that the IPA provide salary comparison data, as well. The review would cost of $5,500, which, if approved by the council, would come out of the professional development area of the town’s budget.

“We’re in a situation now where we’re aware that Dr. Gregory is going to be leaving us, at the latest, in March of 2012, and that will leave us in a situation where we will have a need for another town manager,” said Lawless.

“Much of the thought process is skewed by the personalities involved,” he acknowledged. “There are devoted fans of Dr. Gregory and those who are less fans… That should not affect the process of seeking someone who will replace him. Getting an outside unbiased opinion from people who have done this sort of thing before makes a whole lot of sense.”

He asked council to consider what they thought the town structure should look like, what the town would need in a town manager and in a finance director, if one is needed at all.

“What is it that will help us move Ocean View forward for the next 15 or 20 years? Where should the reporting relationships be?” he asked.

Councilwoman Michele Steffens asked whether or not the services of the finance director could be contracted out, as opposed to bringing someone else onto the staff, hypothetically, if current finance director Lee Brubaker retired.

“I think the services there would be cost-effective. The bookkeeping, as well as payroll and such,” offered Councilman Geoff Christ. He added that even changing to paying town employees through direct deposit would be helpful.

Council members were in agreement that looking at the town’s structure is an important step to take, given Gregory’s impending departure.

“The idea of doing this is right in my opinion. It’s, do we have the right people to do it,” asked Councilman Tom Sheeran.

“I think these are the right people,” responded Wood. “I was impressed by them.”

“It’s the home team. They understand the local issues,” added Lawless.

Sheeran volunteered to contact other parties who have used the services of IPA to get references and to bring his findings back to council.

“We have to take a good look at what we want our town government to look like in three years. We’re not planning for a two-year government structure — we’re planning for the future,” said Wood.

Wood asked Public Works Director Charlie McMullen if he had any thoughts on the whole process.

“I think that you folks need to decide, since you are the town council, elected by the people, which way you think this town should go,” said McMullen. “Conway lets us do our job, Lee and I. You can’t ask more of a supervisor than that. He knows what I’m capable of doing and gives me the reins to the job. He doesn’t stand over my shoulders and watch me do it.”

Resident Richard Birkmyer said he’s in favor of having the study done but urged the town to look at comparative salaries.

“I think you have to look at the compensation factor because, with the economy that we’re in, I think Ocean View has the highest salary structure of any other town in Delaware, and I think you have to consider that.”

Resident Steve Cobb said the council, when hiring a new town manager, should be cognizant of how they present that new employee to the public.

“Several council members put Dr. Gregory in a bad position from a public perception viewpoint. This town council has to prohibit that from happening again. This council has an opportunity to change mistakes made in the past, and I’m sure it will.”

Elaine Birkmyer stated that she felt Gregory should not have been in attendance at the workshop, as it may have kept council on edge.

“I don’t think the council feels free to speak their mind,” she said. “I do feel the structure of the town we have now is good. We need somebody. I think they definitely have to be from Delaware, live in Delaware, pay Delaware taxes,” she added, referencing Gregory’s status as a resident of Denton, Md., where he currently serves as that town’s mayor.

Lawless said that he and Wood will try to set up a meeting with IPA as soon as possible to have an update, hopefully, by the next council workshop, on July 28 at 5 p.m., and he urged residents to be involved in the process.

“We want to be as open and as communicative with the public as we can be,” he said.