Repeal of WIchmann censure spurs continued discussion
A repeal of the censure against former Ocean View councilman Bill Wichmann was passed unanimously last week by the current town council, but rather than ending the long-running controversy, the vote seems to have ensured that the censure and the issues surrounding it would continue to be discussed this week.
“In 2006, the Ocean View Town Council voted to censure its own,” said Councilman Tom Sheeran said in casting his vote to revoke the censure. “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.”
The original censure was passed with a vote of 3-2, with then-Mayor Gary Meredith and then-Councilmen Roy Thomas and Eric Magill voting in favor of the censure, and then-Councilmen Norman Amendt and Wichmann himself voting against. Meredith had expressed mixed feelings about his vote then and has since spearheaded the effort to have the censure revoked.
Back in 2006, Thomas had made the motion for Wichmann’s censure, following the installation of the Generac Generator for the town’s temporary police station. Wichmann was found to have violated town code by personally authorizing Butch Archer of Mr. Electric to install the generator and subsequently failing to secure proper bids before awarding the contract to Archer.
Wichmann said that, on Dec. 26, 2005, he had received a call from the delivery man, who wanted to deliver the generator right then. Following the delivery, it was noticed that the generator was powered by natural gas and not liquid propane, as had been expected.
Wichmann said he had attempted to correct the mistake by speaking with Generac about making a conversion of the generator in the field, and they sent Archer to conduct the conversion and installation.
“The one single mistake that was made was me authorizing or asking Butch Archer, essentially, not thinking about a separate purchase order, to do the installation,” he recalled.
“Doing it without a purchase order was an oversight. It certainly wasn’t intentional. He did go back and get a purchase order after the fact,” said Meredith this week. “Everything he did, he had good intentions — certainly not for any personal gain whatsoever and obviously not for any fame.”
The original censure motion also suggested that Wichmann had made verbal threats against former town manager Kathy Roth.
Although Roth declined to comment this week regarding the censure, Wichmann said that he and Roth had had a playful relationship and would often joke, due to the town’s tumultuous climate at the time, that they would have to wear flack jackets to meetings.
Wichmann added that, when he learned of his mistake in protocol, he and Meredith had gone to Roth to discuss the situation.
“She got trapped in the middle of a situation, but when Gary and I went and told her what had happened… it wasn’t like the end of the world by any stretch,” he recalled.
Magill said this week that he was displeased with the current council’s suggestion that the original censure was not justified.
“If they just want to lift it, alright. Don’t try to make it sound like it wasn’t justified in the first place.”
He added that, if he had been on the council at the Dec. 13, 2011, meeting to vote on repeal of Wichmann’s censure, he would’ve voted for it to be upheld.
“I would not have voted to lift it,” said Magill. “I think it sets a bad precedent. I think it tells the townspeople of Ocean View that council members are above the law. And I’m sure a lot of citizens feel they were wrongly charged of something, like an ordinance violation, and would like to be pardoned, as well.”
Thomas agreed with Magill, saying that the council’s reasoning for lifting the censure was not reason enough.
“If they had simply voted to do it because maybe it’s time to… five years has passed and it’s a forgiving town – I don’t have a problem with that,” he said. “But I have a problem when people say, and the council’s decision for doing it, was because he didn’t do anything wrong. I have a disagreement with that. They weren’t there. They don’t know. And they never investigated.”
Thomas had stated back in 2006 that he felt the issue had been resolved with the censure.
“I accept the fact that Mr. Wichmann has the best interests of the Town of Ocean View at heart,” he told the Coastal Point at the time. “He is a dedicated and hardworking councilman. He made a mistake. He was held accountable. End of story.”
But with strong public support for Wichmann at the 2006 meeting during which the censure vote was taken and a shift in the council’s makeup, the issue has lingered in the mind of some townsfolk, including the man who made the deciding vote in favor of it. Meredith came to champion the revocation of the censure. He said this week that the censure repeal was “great” and that he was pleased the council had lifted it.
“It should’ve never happened,” he said. “I agree with the council and the current mayor that the punishment was far too harsh for the actions. The actions taken by Bill certainly weren’t for his own personal gain. He was trying to help the town and just slipped up on a procedure.”
“Bill has remained pretty quiet about the whole thing, which I think is pretty big on his part, because his name has been dragged through it,” Meredith added. In fact, the incidents surrounding the censure were rehashed in letters-to-the-editor from Magill and Thomas last week, both saying that the revocation of the censure was a mistake.
While he no longer serves on the town council, Wichmann himself has not stopped devoting time to the town and other civic organizations. He currently serves as a member of the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission, volunteers more than 100 hours a month for the Ocean View Police Department and also volunteers with the Millville Volunteers, as well as helping with the Special Olympics of Delaware, which holds a camp each summer at Camp Barnes.
“There are a few of us that go out there, and we do a lot of maintenance things to help out at the camp. The chief then gets a few of us to go out when Special Olympics are there, because we pull the midnight shift. We do a patrol from 10 at night to 7 the next morning for a few nights to let the counselors get some rest,” he said. “You know what, that’s my life, that’s what I want to do. I’m fortunate. Betty and I have five kids. We’ve got 13 grandkids.”
Wichmann said he was thankful for the censure’s repeal and that he will continue to serve the town in whatever capacity needed.
“I’m thankful to the current council members for reviewing the case and taking appropriate action and removing the censure,” he said.