OV council lifts censure of Wichmann
The Ocean View Town Council voted unanimously Dec. 13 to repeal the censure of former town councilman Bill Wichmann.
“In 2006, the Ocean View Town Council voted to censure its own,” said Councilman Tom Sheeran. “Now, having reviewed all of the documentation relative to the censure, I feel as other councilmen have in the past – including the former mayor at the time of the censure – that the punishment far exceeds the violation.”
In 2006, Wichmann was censured, on a 3-2 council vote, over 12 charges related to violation of town procurement codes, organizing a cover-up and allegedly threatening a town employee.
Wichmann was found to have violated the town code by personally authorizing nearly $16,000 for the installation of a backup generator at a temporary police station off Central Avenue without receiving other bids, consulting the Town or obtaining a purchase order.
“An unauthorized procurement is when one obligates the government to pay for something without going through the procedures of bidding, or getting other estimates from companies, depending on the amount of money spent,” said resident Kathy Vengazo, who opposed the lifting of the censure.
“Mr. Wichmann admitted that he did this. He admitted that he didn’t intend to do it, but the fact was that he was a public servant… He did obligate us. He lost money for the town with his actions. And I think that’s something that should stand.”
Vengazo also questioned whether or not the town council had the authority to remove the censure, if the State upheld it, as it was rumored to have done.
“The State did not uphold it,” explained Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader. ‘There was a separate public integrity action filed against the other four members of the town council, the town manager and the town solicitor. The six named individuals were not held to have violated any public integrity act. So the censure itself was not appealed, nor was it specifically upheld.”
Resident George Pickrell also voiced opposition to the removal of the censure, noting that none of the current members of council were on the council when the censure was handed down.
“I think it is inappropriate for this council, who had nothing to do, or heard evidence or testimony in the censure, to come back umpteen years later and, I guess, give Bill Wichmann a Christmas present by removing this censure,” he said. “If I recall correctly, Bill Wichmann did not put up a defense, did not disagree with what he did, but basically said that what he did was appropriate, that the ends justified the means.
“When you’re in public service, there’s procedures, and Bill Wichmann violated those procedures. I sat here through the testimony, and I have to agree with the censure. He did something inappropriate, and the censure should stand.”
Ocean View resident Baptiste Damiano said that he supported the removal of Wichmann’s censure.
“I think you people have the right to do what you want to do. You don’t have to rely on any other council. You have that right. That’s why we elected you. Please, do what’s right.”
“What was done I think was wrong,” added resident Richard Birkmyer. “Whatever Mr. Wichmann did, it did not rise to the level of censure. It definitely should be removed.”
Councilman Bob Lawless noted that he had previously brought to the council a similar motion, which did not pass, and that he believed removing the censure was the right thing to do.
“I have examined all of the information available concerning the offense and the activities involved around the censure motion,” he said. “I believe the censure was like using a nuclear weapon to drive a tack. It was utterly inappropriate, and I am delighted that we are in the business of vacating that censure.”
Councilpersons Geoff Christ and Michele Steffens commented that they had both been in attendance for the censure hearings and had found the censure inappropriate.
“What he did, while it was contradictory to town policy, it did not rise to the level of censure,” said Christ.
“I was also here for the hearings, and I also feel that the censure was inappropriate. It was way beyond the means of what needed to be done,” added Steffens.
Mayor Gordon Wood alluded that the censure was a product of a time when Ocean View was full of controversy and negativity, and said it does not fit with the current tone of the town.
“Ocean View present is a lot more attractive than Ocean View past. I believe the sledgehammer was used when a tap on the shoulder was appropriate. I believe the objective of the censure went above and beyond,” said Wood. “Ocean View is a kinder and gentler town. It would take one heck of an offense for me to vote for a censure in the future.”
Following the repeal, resident Elaine Birkmyer thanked council for their unanimous action.
“I wholeheartedly thank council for repealing this unheard of, erroneous act,” she said.