Ocean View council votes to oust Gregory
At its Nov. 8 council meeting, the Ocean View Town Council voted unanimously to terminate Town Manager Conway Gregory’s employment contract with the town, without cause.
“The town council deems it in the best interest of the town to terminate the employment agreement without further delay,” stated Councilman Geoff Christ.
“It’s in the best interest of the town, and I think it’s in the best interest of the town manager also,” added Mayor Gordon Wood.
In December of 2010, it was announced that Gregory would not be renewing his employment contract with the town. The contract, which was scheduled to expire March 2, 2012, states that, if it were to be terminated without cause, Gregory would still receive his salary and benefits for the remaining term of the agreement.
“It is totally consistent. He will get paid through March 2,” said Wood, following the announcement. “He will have his health insurance through March 2. There’s a provision in his contract that defines what happens if he is terminated without cause. It is our intent to follow that contract right to the letter.”
“My understanding, as suggested by our solicitor, is that we are in absolute compliance with the terms and conditions of the contract. We intend to completely fulfill the contract as written. And I have enjoyed my time working with Dr. Gregory,” added Councilman Bob Lawless.
The contract also states that Gregory “shall receive 10 days’ notice of such termination.”
Following the vote to terminate Gregory’s contract, Wood motioned to have Lawless review with Gregory over the next 10 days “ongoing and incipient town manager issues, in order to ensure a smooth transition.”
Council agreed, with a 5-0 vote.
In September, the council had solicited the University of Delaware’s Institute of Public Administration (IPA) to perform a study to determine what would be the best governmental structure for town operations, following Gregory’s announcement that he would not be renewing his contract.
The study recommended the town maintain a “council-manager form” of government and found the need in the town for both a town manager and finance director. The IPA cited that the council-manager form is the most prevalent form of government in the state, one wherein the council is the policymaking authority and legislative body, and the town manager conducts executive and administrative functions.
The council has since been discussing whether, and how, to implement those recommendations, including how to address the elements of Police Chief Ken McLaughlin’s contract that dictate that he reports not to the town manager but to the mayor – a structure that the IPA report did not endorse, but one linked to reported friction between Gregory and McLaughlin.
Wood on Tuesday went on to motion to appoint himself and Lawless to a committee whose mission will be “setting forth the committee’s recommendations, generally consistent with the University of Delaware’s IPA study, for the future management structure of the town, job descriptions of the town manager and finance director and salaries itemized for each.”
“It’s time to get the ball moving on getting a new town manager in here.”
Councilman Tom Sheeran volunteered to join the committee, as well, and was appointed its chairman. The council voted unanimously to form the committee.
“If we do this, we then can tell candidates what the heck the job is. Until we get to that point, we won’t be able to define the job,” explained Wood.
In the interim, the council appointed Finance Director Lee Brubaker to serve as town manager until a new manager is appointed or hired.
“Lee is acting town manager. Lee is also our budget expert,” said Wood, aiming to address any concerns the public may have about the town entering its budget season without a town manager. “So I have zero concern about our being able to handle and do the budget in a timely and complete fashion, and it will be easier than it was last year because we spent so much time on it last year.”
Following the meeting, Brubaker said he was unaware that such an appointment would be given to him.
During the meeting, Wood also noted that residents have voiced concerns regarding McLaughlin’s contract which is set to expire April 30, 2014, and stipulates that he “shall be under the direction and control of the mayor.”
“Let me say that it is the mayor’s intention to delegate, at the appropriate time, many of the responsibilities set forth for the mayor to a new town manager,” stated Wood. “But those delegations will not be made unless and until we have appointed a new town manager.”
Wood added that he has spoken to Dennis Schrader, the town’s solicitor, about the possibility of drafting a memorandum to delegate his duties to the future town manager.
“I am confident that we will be able to define that delegation. I am totally confident that we can do that and that Kenny would embrace it,” he said.
“Ken has told me that he does not object, over the long run, to reporting to the town manager,” Wood emphasized, “but he wants it understood that he is the chief of police and, when it comes to what is talked about traditional police matters, they are beyond the town manager’s authority. They are the chief’s authority.”
Wood said that he did not believe the council’s decision to end Gregory’s contract would cause backlash from residents.
“I don’t expect a backlash. There were people in our town who were urging us to terminate – for cause – immediately, months and months and months ago… How do you terminate a person with cause, if you just got done giving him a decent review?” he asked rhetorically.
Wood went on to say that he also believes that the council’s actions will not scare off persons in the position and that he is not worried that now Ocean View joins other local towns, including Fenwick Island and Ocean City, Md., in searching for a new town manager.
“I expect a bumper crop of applicants and probably in December, if we approve all of these motions, we’ll set up a search committee.”
Wood stated that the council’s decision to terminate Gregory’s contract early was not easy, but that he believes it is in the best interest of the town and that he hopes they will be able to move on with the IPA study recommendations.
“I’ve had experience with people who were leaving. It’s uncomfortable for them. It’s uncomfortable for staff. Who’s the real boss? If you’re going to do something like this, the council felt that it had reasons to do it,” he said. “We will try to have motions to bring to the council to define what the organizational structure looks like, to define the job descriptions of the finance director and the town manager. I will have my delegations ready,” he said of the December timeframe.
He added that Gregory’s work as the town manager of Ocean View was appreciated and helped the town realize its budgetary issues.
“Conway has worked hard to be a good manager. He has helped us recognize, when he came in, that we had a severe budget problem because of the dependence on transfer taxes. That’s very much to his credit,” said Wood. “This is not a fun process, but I think we did the right thing for the town.”
Gregory declined to comment on the council’s action.