At an Ocean View Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 14, Town Manager Conway Gregory announced the conclusions reached by the state’s Public Integrity Commission (PIC) in an e-mail response regarding possible conflicts of interest for Mayor Gordon Wood, Councilman Richard Nippes and Councilman Bill Wichmann.
The opinion from the PIC indicated that Wood has no conflict of interest as both mayor and a member of the Millville Volunteer Fire Company, so long as he does not discuss matters related to the fire department or assist the department or represent them on matters that would go before the town council.
“For example: if, during the budget process, there is a discussion regarding that organization, he should recuse himself from the outset,” the PIC stated. “When an entire budget bill comes before council, he may vote on the overall package, but should not discuss matters related to the fire department. If a matter separate and apart from the budget, dealing with the Millville Volunteer Fire Department comes before council, again, he should recuse.”
Nippes, who is a member of the Ocean View Historical Society, “is restricted from participating in discussions about line items for the budget [regarding the OVHS], but may vote on the budget when the whole package is considered, and, just as with the mayor, should recuse in both his council job and his non-profit organization on any matters related to the historical society,” stated the PIC.
Most notably, the PIC concluded there is no reason for the town to preclude Citizens’ Auxiliary Patrol members from serving on the council or to require council members to resign from CAP. The council voted on June 10 to require council members who are CAP members to resign from CAP if they wish to continue serving on the council. That move immediately affected Wichmann, who was a CAP member.
The council subsequently voted in July to rescind that order while their inquiry to the PIC was made. And the PIC has now concluded that Wichmann’s resignation from CAP was not required. Instead, he just has to recuse himself “from participating in matters related to the CAP in his official capacity. Similarly, when private citizens who comprise CAP are seeking decisions not only from council but from the executive branch, he cannot represent or otherwise assist them in those matters,” the commission concluded.
Wichmann said he is looking forward to moving on and helping in his CAP duties.
“I don’t appreciate being blasted in the paper,” he said of criticism leveled at him for his involvement with the police department. “I had a letter written accusing me of everything from buying a generator – I never bought a generator. I’m sure I’ll get a letter of apology tomorrow,” he said, to laughter. “I do it for one reason – and that is because I want to, and because I want to give back.”
Wood: Town is not bankrupt
Councilman Roy Thomas reported to the council Tuesday on the need for an emergency reserve fund and a capital reserve fund in the town. He stated that from the 2005 fiscal year to the 2009 fiscal year, transfer taxes have declined from $2.351 million to a projected $480,000 – an 80 percent reduction.
“At the end of Fiscal Year 2013, Ocean View finds itself with a $1.3 million cash shortage. For the foreseeable future, Ocean View will be spending $1.30 for every $1 it takes in. And, in the next five years, Ocean View will spend $3.5 million more than it takes in,” he said.
Thomas recognized the town’s Long Range Financial Planning Committee as having done an excellent job of dealing with the issue of declining transfer taxes, noting that each budget has been “better than the previous,” but he emphasized that the issue still needs the attention of everyone involved.
“I am asking that the town manager prepare a position paper on his perspective of the financial status of Ocean View, and this position paper will contain an addendum from each department head with their perspective and suggestions on how each department can contribute the resolution of the financial problems facing Ocean View,” he said.
Wood noted that even though he had heard the word “bankrupt” used to describe the town out of context, the town is not, in fact, bankrupt.
“The town is not bankrupt,” said Wood. “Not today, not this year, not next year. But it could be several years out. Now is the time to take action.”
As for the emergency reserve fund, Thomas said, “You never need it until you need it.”
Park restrooms to get timed locks
Ocean View town council members voted 3-2 on Tuesday to purchase electronic timed locks for the outside restrooms located behind town hall, adjacent to John West Park, at a cost of not more than $2,600. The locks are intended to remedy the existing nighttime security measures for the public restrooms, in which police officers and/or public safety officials have to open and close the bathrooms each morning and night.
Police Chief Ken McLaughlin explained Tuesday that getting an officer over to the restrooms to lock and unlock them on a schedule is not as easy as it would seem.
“It seems simple, but history tells us otherwise,” said McLaughlin to questions about just having an officer put in charge of locking and unlocking the bathrooms. “If an officer opens the doors up at 7 in the morning and then gets caught up on a call – which they often do – he might not get back at the same time each night. And, often, when Charlie [McMullen] leaves at night in the summer, the park is packed.”
Administrative Official Charles McMullen also said that, the way the locks are now, should an emergency arise and no one with a key be readily available, there would be no way to get in, short of breaking a door down. With these new locks, there could be an access code provided to multiple town employees.
Gregory asked whether the restrooms have a history of being vandalized, after it was suggested that maybe locks weren’t necessary. McMullen said that, while there was no “history” of vandalism per se, there have been incidents.
“We’ve had some incidents where some people put the whole roll of toilet paper down the toilet, and we had to call a plumber. They’ll turn the heat all the way up, take the seats off or take the lids off the soap containers.”
“Who’s to say if the locks come on at 9 or 10 at night that they don’t get vandalized at 8?” asked Thomas.
Councilman Perry Mitchell asked if the locks themselves could be vandalized.
“Anything can be vandalized,” McMullen replied.
McMullen presented two quotes for the job – one at $875 per lock and one at $1,275 per lock. Council then voted 3-2 to spend no more than $2,600 to have the two locks installed, with Mitchell and Thomas dissenting.
Hearings held on wells, voters and planning
Three public hearings started off the evening at the Ocean View town council’s October meeting.
The first hearing was a second reading of an ordinance that will allow the drilling of agricultural wells for Ocean View water customers. The town had previously adopted ordinances requiring connection to the town water system, with permission to retain existing wells for irrigation purposes. The proposed ordinance would allow installation of new private wells for irrigation purposes, for those who do not already have a well on-site.
Under the ordinance, the wells can have no connection to the Ocean View water system. Applicants would also need proper permits from the state and would be subject to inspections by the town upon completion of well drilling.
The second public hearing of the evening was a first reading of an ordinance amending Chapter 54 of the town code – Chapter 54-4, “Removal of name from books of registered voters,” which states that town voters who have not voted in two or more consecutive contested elections must re-register. Currently, voters are sent notice of their removal from voting rolls, with the notice sent via registered mail and return receipts requested. The amendment proposed Tuesday will change that delivery method to regular first-class mail to save the town money.
The new 54-5 also adds that, in addition to registering at town hall or returning registrations via mail, registration forms will be available for download on the town’s Web site. The change also strikes the designation of a particular day when town hall will be open for the purpose of registering voters and adds that “appropriate identification must be presented/indicated on the voter registration form when it is turned in to the town hall whether in person or by mail.”
The third public hearing in the town on Oct. 14 was a first reading on an ordinance amending Article X, Sections 222-60 and 222-61 of the Ocean View zoning code. The amendment states that the Zoning Commission will now be known officially as “Planning and Zoning Commission” and “shall prepare a comprehensive town or review, amend, revise the adopted comprehensive plan as may be required by law,” officially adding updates of the town’s comprehensive plan to its list of duties.
In other news from the Oct. 14 council meeting:
• The council adopted a formal Emergency Operations Plan, which will be used as a guideline for town response in the event of a town-wide or area-wide emergency.
• McLaughlin introduced 21-year veteran police officer Sid Ballentine, who most recently comes from a position at West Point. His hiring brings the Ocean View Police Department to its full complement of eight full-time officers.
• Council adopted a process for reviewing the town manager’s salary and performance. Gregory is currently overdue for a review after the first full year of his employment in the position.
• Gregory reported that the town has unofficially received notice that it will be awarded a planning grant of $35,000 for design and work on sidewalks and pathways along Woodland Avenue. Town officials are to meet again with state transportation officials on the subject of sidewalks on Nov. 21 and expect to know more about the grant that week.
• Gregory also reported that 375 water connection permits have been issued by the town since March of this year, for hookups to the new central water system and that, of those, 325 hookups have been completed and inspected.