An Ocean View special town council meeting on Tuesday turned into a “fiasco,” according to town mayor Gary Meredith, after new Councilman Roy Thomas brought a violation of the town’s code to the attention of the council.
Town Councilman Bill Wichmann admitted that he authorized the $16,000 installation of a backup generator without receiving other estimates or consulting the town.
But after he admitted wrongdoing, the conversation digressed into personal attacks, renewing a feud between Thomas and Wichmann that dates back to the budgetary process on the financial committee and to arguments about the new police station’s design.
In a letter addressed to Town Manager Kathy Roth and other town officials on April 17, Thomas, a councilman for less than a month, addressed the unlawful installation purchase, asking council to look into the matter at Tuesday’s special meeting.
“This is not the position I wanted to find myself in,” Thomas said on Tuesday. “But all public business must be transparent. It is not pleasant but is necessary.”
With a grant, town officials purchased a generator for about $22,000, to be used for backup power in the temporary triple-wide police station on Maintenance Road, which arrived in late December.
After its arrival, Wichmann said he asked officials from Mr. Electric to install the generator. Although original installation estimates came in at less than $7,000, Wichmann said complications with installing the generator in a triple-wide trailer drove the cost to about $16,000.
According to town attorney Dennis Schrader, the town must receive three estimates before awarding a contract that costs more than $7,500, and it must receive council approval for that purchase — which was not done. Also according to town code, the town manager is the only town official who is allowed to grant purchase orders.
The generator itself was perhaps purchased illegally, as well, because it was not approved by town council, according to Councilman Eric Magill and Wichmann. But that didn’t receive much play at Tuesday’s meeting. Roth did not comment on the second issue during Tuesday’s meeting and was not available for comment on Wednesday before press time.
“This is not the first time I’ve seem someone wander away from the intended process,” said Schrader, who has been a municipal attorney since 1972. “We still need to document what we’ve done… (And) bring everyone back on board.”
Schrader suggested that the town procure three estimates for the installation to document and justify its cost, which he said would not be unethical. Council voted later to attain three estimates and pay half of the Mr. Electric bill upon receipt of a detailed invoice. Wichmann, however, took apparent offense to the proceedings.
“My mission was to have some kind of backup power,” Wichmann said. “Nobody cares that the generator is up and running. All they want to do is create a big fight.”
Thomas condemned those words, saying that the Wichmann’s behavior was unacceptable and should have been brought to the attention to council because of the code violations.
“This can not be condoned, and your attitude can not be condoned. I believe your actions set a bad example,” Thomas said.
“If on Sunday we’re short a pastor, we should ask Mr. Thomas to preach to us,” Wichmann added, to which Thomas appealed to the mayor to stop the personal attacks. “You blasted me 16 times,” Wichmann added.
During the budgetary process for the 2007 fiscal year, Wichmann and Thomas — both members of the town’s Long Range Financial Planning Committee — argued, exchanging heated remarks about hiring employees, and handing out bonuses rather than raises.
The pair also feuded about the design of the 15,000-square-foot police station.
Before joining it himself, Thomas told council — including Wichmann, who chaired the committee that designed the station — that the design was flawed because it didn’t include a needs assessment, and he lobbied for a redesign. The original design was ultimately approved. The police station’s groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 201 Central Avenue at 10 a.m. today.