While Ocean View council members found compromise Tuesday on the heated issue of whether the town’s police chief should report to the town’s mayor or town manager, two other police-related issues swelled enmity in the town to new heights at the Nov. 18 council meeting.
Despite vocal opposition from residents, and in a move that led some residents to simply walk out, muttering that council members were everything from gangsters to communists, the Ocean View Town Council voted to approve bids for the renovation of the public safety building to redirect space intended for future growth to town administration instead. And they voted to revise the operation manual for the Citizens Auxiliary Patrol (CAP), prompting the police volunteers to resign en masse.
CAP members had resolved prior to the meeting to resign en masse if revisions to their operational manual were approved.
The changes include requiring that CAP members be residents of Ocean View for at least eight months of the year – prohibiting part-time residents and residents of neighboring areas from serving. They also institute requirements for CAP members not to speak to members of the media or release information without direction from the town manager or chief of police.
CAP members are required to take a leave of absence from CAP if they wish to run for town office or work on the campaign of anyone doing so, or to participate in “any political activity.” The changes also cap CAP membership at 25 members (originally drafted at 20 members). It currently has 23 members.
CAP members are now officially serving at the pleasure of the mayor and council. Many references to the authority of the chief of police formerly in the document are replaced with references to the mayor and council, while the town manager is given the same authority over CAP members as the chief of police. CAP members are required to adhere to a “Value Statement” while on and off duty, or they can be dismissed.
Many of the current CAP members have expressed dismay at the changes, and during the Citizens’ Privilege part of the Nov. 18 meeting, CAP officer Tom Sheeran left the meeting saying he had understood the council to have already made their decision regarding the revised manual.
“It said it was adopted Nov. 18, 2008, which is tonight, which means you already decided, so I have nothing else to say,” he said before exiting the building, visibly distraught.
Mayor Gordon Wood said that, with the misunderstanding on the adoption date by Sheeran, he would like to postpone any decisions on the changes to the CAP manual for another month.
“I think we can hold off a month because it was labeled incorrectly,” said Wood of the agenda item.
But Councilman Roy Thomas offered another point of view on Sheeran’s departure, saying, “You have to want to be part of the process.”
Thomas and Councilmen Richard Nippes and Perry Mitchell voted to go ahead with the changes, with Councilman Bill Wichmann, who serves on CAP, abstaining from the vote because of his conflict of interest. Wood voted against the changes, making for their adoption on a 3-1 vote.
After the vote, Wood urged CAP members not to quit.
“It’s regrettable,” he said. “I urge them as strongly as I know how not to quit.”
Earlier in the week, Sheeran told the Coastal Point he had found the revisions demeaning and confusing.
“I firmly believe it is detrimental to the CAP unit and the Town of Ocean View,” said Sheeran. “Three of the many reasons I believe this are: only residents of Ocean View may be CAP members, with the total membership is limited to 20; the requirement to schedule all events 30 days in advance and only those CAP members whose name appears on the schedule should be in the Public Safety Building, with walk-ins to serve an event being discouraged; and activities outside of municipal Ocean View, such as Disaster Preparedness Programs at Millville Fire Hall, giving presentations to other towns on how to begin a similar VIPS [Volunteers in Police Service] unit, as well as meetings, and training events, wherever they are held, do not count toward the volunteer’s agreed upon 84 hours of service per year.”
CAP member Dennis Hayden stood at the second citizens’ privilege at the end of Tuesday’s meeting and offered a sentiment that was heard over and over that evening: that of the council majority having no regard for its citizens.
“Why are you putting up more roadblocks?” he asked. He also questioned whether CAP members’ first amendment rights were being violated and if the town was willing to defend itself regarding what he believes to be age discrimination, since the majority of CAP members are retirees.
“We resolved to resign if this passed, and you have done a terrible disservice to the town,” said Hayden.
“This council is a cancer to the town. We are the laughingstock from Bethany Beach to Wilmington,” he continued. “The 3-2 vote wins all the time, and everybody knows it. My wife and I don’t even admit that we live in Ocean View. We say we live near Bethany Beach. You ignore the citizens. You have no regard to the impact on the budget. You wrecked CAP and insulted us as volunteers.”
Former mayor Gary Meredith asked about the new residency restrictions for CAP members.
“Why do they have to live in Ocean View? Will town employees have to? One doesn’t even live in Sussex County, or the state of Delaware,” he pointed out of Town Manager Conway Gregory, who lives in Denton, Md. “Does the Millville Fire Company limit where their EMTs can live?”
Police Chief Kenneth McLaughlin reported Tuesday that CAP volunteers have logged enough hours to date to equal roughly $71,234.80 in what might have been town expenses. They logged 260 volunteer hours for the month of October alone.
Police building changes get go-ahead, public works delayed
The CAP issue was not the only one over which the three-man council bloc was raked over the coals by citizens on Tuesday. Considering the winning construction bid for the renovations proposed for the Public Works Building to convert its upper floor for administrative use by town staff was also on the agenda for the evening.
The winning bid came from Kent Construction Company, which bid $56,245 for the work. The contract, as bid, does not include running wires for a security system, computers or telecommunications. That, in itself, will run about $40,000 more, according to Kercher Engineering Inc., the town engineering firm.
Approval of the bid, giving the go-ahead for the work, came on an expected 3-2 vote, with adamant opposition presented by Wichmann and another opposing vote from Wood.
“It would be disastrous to approve this how it is,” said Wood.
Wichmann offered many questions that he said should be addressed before bidding and “absolutely before” any contract signing. After reviewing the original architect’s notes, he said he had questions regarding the cost of new sprinklers, HVAC for the updated configuration and cost, if there is fire marshal compliance, parking, planning and zoning compliance, noise abatement, security system and cost, furniture and computer equipment and wiring cost, ADA compliance and cost, etc.
“We can’t spend capital funds when people can’t even pay for water,” Wichmann said. “We are one office short [at the current location of town hall]. Doing this is irresponsible. We don’t have the money. We don’t need to do it. Switch the two finance employees with the town manager’s offices, and the cost is zero.”
While Wichmann’s urging for fiscal conservatism did not carry that vote, the council did decide unanimously Tuesday to refer the issue of construction a new public works building to the town’s Long Range Financial Committee.
Wood had proposed a one-year delay on any expenditures for the public works building and on further actions regarding the location of the building. He offered that the town doesn’t need to spend the money now and said he would pursue thoughts on other locations.
“It’s pregnant with the idea to look at other locations,” said the mayor.
Thomas offered a substitute motion that would delay the work for at least six months in referring it to the Long Range Financial Planning Committee.
Thomas’ amendment called for engineering work to be stopped at a place where it could be documented. He asked that it be referred to the Long Range Financial Planning Committee to see if and when finances would allow for it, and asked that the mayor be put on the Public Works Building Committee to investigate other land options.
“It would be at least six months,” said Thomas of any decisions regarding if, where and when to build.
The council unanimously voted to refer the issue to the committee.
Despite that move, the council also shot down a resolution imposing a moratorium on all capital expenditures, which was proposed by Wichmann. The 3-1 vote against such a moratorium passed, with Wood abstaining.
Votes stir anger, calls for councilmen’s resignations
Tuesday’s nights votes were, overall, something that did not sit well with some citizens.
Resident Elaine Birkmeyer suggested a moratorium on building, as well as a hiring freeze.
“In these times, it is fiscally irresponsible, inconceivable,” she said of plans for that building, as well as to build the new public works building and hire more part-time staff. “It’s time to back off. You have no respect. I feel like I am talking to a bunch of juvenile delinquents – the gang of three and the town manager.”
Tim Raab, a property owner who had previously spoken out against the new public works building, added his 2 cents after the 3-1 CAP vote and the 3-2 vote to proceed with the changes to the public service building.
“You three trashed it all,” he said. “This is criminal, and I am going to formally ask for your resignation. What I observed tonight was communism.”
Debbie Cobb, a resident also adamantly against the proposed public works building, offered a petition with 180 signatures objecting to the current proposed location and offered her opinion regarding some of the night’s decisions.
“Awards were given tonight,” she said, referring to the Lifesaving Award given to OVPD Cpl. Kristen Miller. “A man’s life was saved. And this is how it ends, with people leaving angry. I don’t think anybody’s going to go home and say, ‘That council meeting went well.’ It’s sad.”
Rick White, another resident, also stood and questioned the revised CAP manual and the way things were handled.
“I am not a member of CAP or anything, but there wasn’t anything in there about how they operate or their emergency management plan.”
“You say it was a typographical error but it seems it was predetermined and planned,” said White. “The three that vote together have never voted separately on any issue. [Sheeran] was right. There was no point in staying.”
Also on Nov. 17:
• The council considered a collection policy set forth by the financial director which would clearly state that Ocean View’s policy regarding collecting of taxes or fees would be to send four letters to correspondence before involving the town solicitor. A “draft” policy was recorded and a final policy will be proposed again for the December meeting.
• Nippes introduced an ordinance to establish the Ocean View Historic District. He said they just need to take the first step of creating the district so it then opens up doors for grant funding for projects, such as for a museum at the Shore house at 39 Central Avenue. The next step is to refer it to Planning and Zoning, and then there will be public hearings on it after that.
• The council approved holiday bonuses of $200 for all town employees.