OV continue to discuss management study ahead of hearing
On Oct. 25, the Ocean View held a town council workshop to discuss a report from the University of Delaware’s Institute of Public Administration (IPA), reviewing the town’s organizational structure.
In September, the council had solicited the IPA to perform a study to determine what would be the best governmental structure for town operations, following the announcement that current Town Manager Conway Gregory 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.
“It was a good start, but that’s all it is,” said Councilman Tom Sheeran on Oct. 25. “It did not give as much as I thought it was supposed to give. I did not agree with some of its findings. Overall, I thought it was a good start on what we need to do. It’s a good kickoff point.”
Sheeran went on to say that he had hoped there would have been more discussion within the study of management structure options.
“There was no discussion; except for the fact of ‘this is what should be done’… But as we’ve been told that the two major cities in Delaware do it the way we do it, I don’t think it’s telling us what we need to do in the next five, 10, 15 years.”
The study also found that the salaries for both the town manager and the finance director were “in line” with six “benchmark” municipalities the town was compared with, including Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island.
Councilwoman Michele Steffens said that she found the study interesting but would have preferred it to be more in-depth regarding the six benchmark towns to which Ocean View was compared.
Councilman Geoff Christ agreed, saying he felt the study didn’t go as far as he had hoped.
“For something that came from academia, it was a compilation of data that came from various towns. There should’ve been more options, more decisions made. I think, in its essence, the report was too raw,” he said. “I would’ve liked to see some alternatives. I think that was the point of the study – what structure we should go with – but we were given one overall choice.”
Councilman Bob Lawless said that he looked at the study as a future plan for the town.
“I looked at the study as an outside, objective, nonpolitical look at where we are and where we should be going. I don’t think there are two towns in the state of Delaware that have identical parameters as ours.”
Mayor Gordon Wood stated that the study did exactly what he had expected but said he had hoped it would have presented alternatives and discussed the benefits of each structure.
“But they came up with a recommendation that was clear in the face, that basically we’d have all operating parts report to the town manager. It was very clear,” he said. “I think they did exactly what we asked them to do.”
Wood went on to state that he stands behind his decision to extend Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin’s contract, which calls for having him report to the mayor, but thinks its in the best interest of the town to alter that.
“My personal view is that a lot of what I have done, what I have been charged with doing, could be and should be delegated to a town manager,” he said, adding that a town manager should not be involved in the day-to-day function of the police department.
“I think the aspirational structure, as recommended by the University of Delaware, makes sense,” agreed Lawless.
Christ said that in a “perfect world,” it would make sense, however, he said, the council needs to remember that law enforcement is a specialized area of expertise.
“The police chief should be the CEO of the police department and should be the last word in any police matters,” he said. “If we aspire to a town manager that every department reports to, we need to make it crystal clear that the police chief has the final say in policing. Also, when the budget is determined, as long as the departments are within their budgets, there should be minimal oversight there, as well.”
Sheeran agreed, and suggested that council narrow down their definition of “reporting.”
“I think, if it was spelled out more clearly what reporting is, that would probably feed the bulldog.”
Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader suggested that the town council look more at what they wanted from the study, rather than focusing on McLaughlin’s contact.
“I thought the IPA was challenged to give us the job description of what a town manager should or shouldn’t do,” he said.
He said the council needs to look at whether or not they want the new town manager to be both the town manager and administrator of finances, and to define what they’re looking for in the position.
Resident Elaine Birkmyer stated that it appears to her that too many people are focused on who McLaughlin should report to.
“Is this really why we commissioned a detailed study and spent $5,500 of taxpayers’ money? I think not! Far more important to me is for the council to concentrate on the study’s recommendations on the qualities needed, to identify and select the idea town manager for Ocean View,” she said. “This is the greatest challenge facing our town today, and I urge the council not to lose sight of this.”
Resident George Pickrell told council that he thought the study was “well informed” and hopes they will seriously consider its recommendations.
“The IPA looked at six towns in our area, and you seem to be unhappy with the information you gave them. What you put in is what you get out,” he said. “Some of the things I read in there were very to the point. I hope you reconsider in looking for a good town manager… I don’t think we need someone with fewer qualifications.”
He added that he believes the council still needs to take a good look at the chief’s contract.
Resident Joe Fredick said that he, too, agreed with the IPA’s findings.
“I agree with the IPA study 100 percent. The town manager is responsible. He doesn’t have to direct Kenny on a daily basis, but he has to be responsible… He’s trying to do his job, and you are making it really hard.”
The town council will hold two more public meetings to solicit public opinion regarding the town’s future management structure and the IPA study findings. The meetings will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 6:30 p.m. and Tuesday, Nov. 8, at 10:30 a.m.