Ocean View hashes out differences

On Tuesday, July 31, Ocean View Town Council members responded to problems with council infighting that last month resulted in the arrest of a former councilman’s wife. The council made amendments to the rules of procedure of the town, defining order of business and conduct within town meetings, including members of council and persons addressing council.

Over the course of the past year, there is no doubt that Ocean View Town Council members have had irreconcilable differences when it comes to certain issues. Heated discussions at past meetings have caused irritation between members, as well as sparking opinions in letters to the editors of local newspapers.

Many of these issues surfaced again Tuesday evening at the council’s regularly scheduled workshop meeting.

“We can’t continue doing business this way,” said Mayor Gary Meredith. “We were elected to professionally run the town and to guide the workforce in the town. We need to work together and leave our personal differences out of town meetings.”

Touching on opinions and actions from a council meeting on July 10, Councilman Roy Thomas addressed the audience and other council members.

“My voting record speaks for itself,” he said. “I will continue asking questions and demanding accountability of all departments. Name-calling and labeling me will not deter me. I think we should debate the issues and debate them in the open arena of ideas.”

“I’m not at all happy with the way this council operates either,” said Councilman Bill Wichmann. He cited the start of disagreements emerging in May of last year, “no [sooner] than Mr. Thomas came on the council.”

He continued, questioning claims made by Thomas concerning the validity of the Bear Trap community’s homeowners association.

“We had a memo from Mr. Thomas… talking about the homeowners association meeting at Bear Trap on Nov. 11 of 2006. It talks about the fact that 300 homes were represented there, which is a lot of people in November in Bear Trap. The observations bothered me a lot,” Wichmann said, noting also a motion of censure against him regarding the purchase order for the town’s emergency generator.

Wichmann then continued, recalling the recent town election that saw Dr. Richard Nippes fill the vacant seat of outgoing councilman Eric Magill.

“Days before the election, Mr. Thomas came in with a motion to change the voting districts, affecting me,” Wichmann said Tuesday night.

Two alternatives to the voting district were presented in April to the council. One proposed that two of the candidates be disqualified from the race, in lieu of incompliance with the town ordinance and the district map. The vote was rejected, 3-2. A second proposal suggested that the candidates in question run in District 2, as they resided in an area that was neglected in the ordinance passed in 2003 but was represented on the map. Again the vote was rejected 3-2.

“I then moved to restate the guidelines… It was very clear that Betts Avenue was Betts Avenue, Woodland was Woodland, and there was no difference. That motion passed, three to two,” Wichmann continued Tuesday evening.

“That evening, when everybody was out of here, Mr. Thomas got up in your [Mayor Gary Meredith’s] face, sir, and said, ‘You promised me you were going to vote with me on this, and you didn’t. I will get even with you through the police department and the chief,’” Wichmann said.

“What makes me angry, as a retired commissioner of police out of New Jersey, is that these things that are being attacked make no sense… Nothing has changed on this council except Wade Spinutius [former councilman replaced by Thomas] left when his term was up,” he said.

“In the years I served before then, we never had problems. We would disagree, we sat down, and … we walked out of here. Every employee in this town loses, every person in this town loses, and we have created an extremely hostile environment here that is spilling over into the workplace,” Wichmann said. “We have a hostile environment that we are asking employees to participate in every day, and that’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to the citizens of the town, and I think it’s demonstrated by being in your face.”

“I hear a lot of accusations against me, but I always fail to see the proof of the accusations,” Thomas responded. “Disagreement is allowed and it’s part of the American tradition. … I guess if I voted in your favor all the time and agreed with your ideas, then I would be ‘one of the team.’ I think I am ‘one of the team.’ I’m on the team of Ocean View. I’m not on the team of Town Council, and I’m not, maybe, on your team.

“I stand by the things I have written,” Thomas continued. “I stand by the things I have said. If you can prove that your accusations are true, you should bring forth the truth. Because I disagree with you and put forth motions that are opposite of what you like, is not that I’m breaking any rules of order and that I’m doing anything wrong. I’m sorry if you don’t agree with me, and I’m sorry I don’t agree with you.

“However, as I’ve stated earlier, my voting record stands for itself,” Thomas said. “I’ve voted for the police department… search the record. Labeling and name-calling are easy. Evading the issues is difficult. We don’t have to agree on the issues.

“If I have upset the apple cart by being elected, then maybe the apple cart needed upsetting,” he suggested. “I don’t know, but I’ve seen a lot of things that I have questioned. I will continue to ask a lot of questions, and I will continue to demand professional answers. I have conducted myself on this town council on a professional manner since Day 1. I have not been out of order. I have done issues that you do not agree with, but that is my right, just as you have the right.”

Addressing the only conflict between the two men that resulted in council action, Thomas said, “Yes, you were censured. You didn’t think it was [a big deal], but the town council did. I stand on that record also. You had more than one count against you. You only bring up the one about the purchase order. I think if you go back in the records, you will see there were 10 counts against you, Mr. Wichmann. I’m not going to rehash those, but let’s make sure the record’s straight.

“You will always find that I have acted with decorum,” Thomas said. “I have always acted with respect of the rules of order of this town, and I will continue to do that, and that cannot be said for all people on this town council. If I had failed to do that, then the charges should be brought forward, and not accusations.”

Wichmann asked Thomas if he had threatened the mayor, to which Thomas replied, “I did not threaten the mayor.” Wichmann then asked Town Manager Conway Gregory to confirm hearing the alleged statement from Thomas to Meredith regarding retribution over a vote. Gregory replied in the affirmative.

“That’s hearsay,” Thomas responded. “I respect [Gregory] for making that statement, but I do not agree with it. That’s hearsay evidence.”

At the end of the meeting, before adjournment, Gregory confronted the council.

“One thing my uncle always taught me was to hold your tongue, if there was something bothering you, wait 24 hours before saying something to that individual. This evening, I have something to say, and I’m not going to wait 24 hours. It needs to be said now…

“I respect each of you. I have high regard for each of you,” Gregory emphasized. “We had a very good meeting. We had a spirited debate. We put on the table our feelings, our issues, our concerns… and said what needed to be said. I’m glad they were said. … But I do not wish that the issues that divide this council to ever involve this staff.

“We’ve all said things that can be misinterpreted,” he continued. “We’ve all said things in the heat of the moment, and that does not mean we have these [negative feelings] towards a particular individual. Everyone has made comments that I can say to anyone, which I could say to anyone, ‘Yes, he made such comments,’ but in reflection and thinking about those comments, did he really mean that when he said it?

“I can cite examples from every meeting I’ve been to, where I can easily say that something was said that insinuates something that may or may not be true...” Gregory added. “My response should have been that the issue was between two councilmen, and I should not [have spoken]. I owe this council, as my role as town manager, the duty of keeping in confidence what is said by other members… We have to work together. We have not done that.

“It was unfortunate that some comments were made this evening. It’s unfortunate that some apologies were not made from the last meeting. I hope that the paper does not print tomorrow that Conway Gregory said that Roy Thomas was out of control at the mayor,” Gregory said. “I hope the paper will not print tomorrow that this council has a reputation of not working together.

“We have certainly given that impression in the past, but since I have been here in the last five months, while we may not give that impression here — we have our differences — I do believe we have five strong council members. I believe we can work together. I believe we will work together. I believe that every one of you has the very best interest of Ocean View in your heart and in your mind.”