About a week after learning of Ocean View Town Councilman Roy Thomas’ intentions to censure fellow Councilman Bill Wichmann, Town Manager Kathy Roth sent a memo to Mayor Gary Meredith and Council, stating she that feels threatened by comments Wichmann allegedly made in a phone conversation.
Thomas planned to move that the council censure Wichmann at Tuesday’s council meeting, for several charges related to the installation of a generator at the temporary police station, according to a letter Thomas sent to town officials on July 5.
Roth had allegedly called to notify Wichmann of the charges when she had what she described in the memo as a threatening conversation.
“During this phone call, Mr. Wichmann recommended that I ‘wear body armor’ to the next meeting,” Roth’s memo states. “I want to let you know that I do feel threatened by his comments. I am fearful that his behavior may escalate to an uncontrollable or violent state. Based on the Town Council’s history of inaction to incidents of hostility and aggression, I feel compelled to go on record concerning this threat.”
Wichmann was out of town and did not return messages left on his cell phone seeking comment. Roth did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
At the July 18 meeting — the one to which the memo refers — the council is scheduled to vote on whether to censure Wichmann for charges such as violating town code by personally authorizing the $16,000 installation of the backup generator and organizing an alleged cover-up thereafter.
The 11 charges in the motion sent by Thomas to the Coastal Point earlier this week are mostly related to the generator’s installation. But, according to one councilman, a charge regarding the threats made to Roth might be added before Tuesday’s meeting.
Censuring Wichmann would not strip the elected official of any powers but would punish him in public for the alleged wrongdoings. Meredith said a possible censure is a “slap on the wrist” for Wichmann and would be a “public humiliation.”
“It doesn’t take any powers away,” Meredith said. “It just basically, in public, says he did something inappropriate. It’s on our (July 18) agenda to discuss and vote on at the next meeting. I have to hear all the facts before I make a statement,” the Mayor added.
Tuesday’s vote is likely to create further dissention on a council which in the past year has argued heatedly about the budget, the new police station and now the generator. Councilman Eric Magill said that the vote will be about Wichmann’s actions but also about what the council is willing to allow.
“This is going to be a test of the other councilmen, whether we condone this type of behavior, whether we consider ourselves above the law, whether we represent the interest of the town or just our friends (and whether) we conduct public business as legally established or how we see fit,” Magill said. “It’s not just about Bill, it’s about us too.”
Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Norman Amendt — who has consistently voted the way of Wichmann in the past – said he doesn’t think that “anyone feels they’re above the law. Magill and Thomas feel that Wichmann acted above the law,” Amendt said. “I don’t. He made a mistake. Bill did wrong. He said he did it,” Amendt added. “Let’s move on. I don’t know why they can’t let it go.”
By his own admission, Wichmann violated town code earlier this year by personally authorizing the generator’s $16,000 installation without receiving other estimates or consulting the town. Thomas brought the issue to the attention of council in May but no action was taken until Thomas introduced the motion in the July 5 letter.
The first three charges on Thomas’ motion focus on Wichmann’s authorization of the temporary — and flawed (see sidebar) — installation and his failure to receive bids from other companies.
Other charges in the motion accuse Wichmann of using his position to “influence a Town employee to take action that would have resulted in the cover up of Councilman Wichmann’s violations of the Town Charter and Town Ordinances.”
Further accusations allege that Wichmann made false statements to council; ignored mayoral requests and put the town in a financial bind — DEMA funds might not be available because of the temporary installation, according to Thomas’ motion, and the flawed installation process could have led to an expensive lawsuit.