(July 31, 2020) Snow Hill Mayor Gary Weber is stepping down from that position to take another post in Town Hall, at least until next spring. In a conference call meeting Tuesday, the Town Council announced that he will resign as mayor affective Aug. 1 to become the interim town manager.
The council voted to install Tammy Simpson as interim mayor until elections next May.
The decision stirred controversy among Snow Hill residents, with some accusing the mayor and council of acting in bad faith and secrecy.
The town manager position has been vacant since last June, after Kelly Pruitt resigned from the role she had held for nearly 20 years.
Under Snow Hill’s charter, the mayor holds administrative power in hiring the town manager, but the council holds authority to approve the mayor’s selection.
Former Councilwoman Alison Gadoua, who served on the council from June 2014 to June 2020, said the candidate selection process has been a collaborative effort between the mayor and council, but that Weber had sidelined the council from the process.
“I question council’s ability to even know that [applicant qualification] because only one existing council person right now was part of the council this past year, and … council was removed from knowing about applicants and from really talking about applicants in the fall last year,” Gadoua said. Gadoua did not seek reelection in May.
Council meeting minutes from March 10 show that only Councilwoman Melisa Weidner had seen the applications at that point, stating she had done so by going to Town Hall. Members of the current council reviewed the applications in June, the council said in an email to Ocean City Today.
On April 1, Weber and the council debated a salary increase for the position, with Weber pushing for it to increase from $72,400 to $100,000. Research indicated that the median salary for a town manager in Worcester County was $70,000.
Weber argued that the low salary was contributing to the difficulty in attracting an applicant qualified to handle the affairs of a town of about 2,000 residents.
The meeting concluded with a new salary of $88,000, instead.
Four days before this most recent meeting, resident Jennifer Jewell created a petition that called for a special election within three months of the mayoral vacancy and for no personnel decisions in relation to the town manager position be made until a permanent mayor has been elected.
Jewell could not be contacted for comment before publication time.
On Tuesday, Weidner read a written statement.
The council had made its decision during a closed session meeting on July 14, Weidner said, and decided to wait two weeks in order to prepare the statement.
Since Pruitt’s resignation, Weidner said the town had advertised her position on four occasions: May and September 2019 and January and March 2020.
Of several applicants, only two were qualified, but even the raised salary proved unattractive to them.
With economies across the nation devastated by the novel coronavirus, Weidner said the council believed installing a town manager was imperative.
With no viable candidates, Weber applied for the position and recused himself from all further discussions in regards to the position, as well as those in regards to mayoral candidates, the statement said.
The council later stated in an email to Ocean City Today that he applied on June 16.
As for his resignation, “Mr. Weber resigned when the council asked for his resignation to be considered as a candidate for the town manager position,” although when that occurred was not stated.
The council held three closed meetings, two in June and one in July, to discuss the town manager and mayor’s replacement.
The council considered six candidates for interim mayor, four declined and two interviewed.
The council ultimately chose Simpson for the position.
“Mrs. Simpson exemplifies the qualities we look for in a town official,” Weidner said. “She has experience in the town’s interests and the advancement of the town, and has built strong relationships within the community, with our business organizations and our citizens.”
The council said in its email that, “Mrs. Simpson was president of the Chamber of Commerce in Snow Hill, has served over many years on multiple local boards and community and school organizations.”
Additionally, the email said that Simpson was instrumental in aiding Weber last year when key staff members suddenly left.
Weidner said the council verified with its legal counsel, Kevin Karpinski, that the process had been conducted ethically.
Addressing Jewell’s petition, “The council realizes this is an unprecedented situation for our town,” she said. “We have heard your concerns.”
Weidner said Simpson would appoint Weber as interim-town manager until the next formal election takes place next May.
She also said Weber would be paid $75,000 with no benefits, and said a permanent town manager would not be appointed until after a new mayor was elected.
Weber could apply then, but advertisements for the position would go out beginning next March to broaden the pool, Weidner said.
Weber and the council did not address the public, but had Karpinski field legal questions.
“Kevin, I’m curious as to when Gary applied for the position,” Gadoua said. “Because what I understand from state ethics is that the moment he was considering this position and applying, he should’ve resigned from this position [mayor], recusing himself or not that was a violation of ethics.”
Karpinski did not answer when Weber applied, which was June 16, but said that Snow Hill’s code did not bar him from applying for the position.
The inverse was true, however, as a town employee cannot run for office unless he or she takes an unpaid leave of absence upon filing for candidacy.
Gadoua then asked Karpinski about the recall process, which he explained would require at least 20 percent of qualified voters to challenge the council’s appointment.
Another resident questioned the ethical nature of the decision-making process.
“According to the meeting of July 14 of this year, when asked, Mr. Weber did indicate that he was participating in one of the closed meetings,” he said, which audio from the meeting confirmed.
However, “Mr. Weber was in closed session only when presenting his application for town manager. Mr. Weber was not present for any council discussion about town manager applicants or mayoral candidates,” the council said in an email.
The resident also highlighted Weber’s efforts to raise the town manager’s salary.
He said Weber had argued the town manager needed substantial experience, specialized training, special skills, block grant capabilities and that city officials had mentioned that Pruitt did not have a master’s degree.
“…It was specifically stated they were looking for someone with more experience than either Mr. Weber or the previous town manager had, yet all of these resumes have been reviewed and Mr. Weber is now suddenly considered qualified at a pretty high salary consistent with several years of experience,” the resident said.
According to Snow Hill’s 2018-2019 budget report, the mayor’s salary was $2,400, although he donated it back to the town to be used for mailing costs to communicate with citizens, the council told Ocean City Today in an email.
Karpinski did not answer why Weber was considered qualified, as it was not a legal question, but did point to the salary cut Weber would take as interim-town manager, which the mayor had suggested.
After the resident spoke, Weber called for more questions, and with none he asked for the vote to take place. The appointment passed unanimously, and Weber called for a motion to adjourn, which drew clamor from the public.
“So no public input, no questions for the council before you make a motion are you serious?” Gadoua said and a chorus of boos erupted the conference call.
The calls were silenced.
“It’s not fun to field those questions, to field the anger, to field the judgment, that’s not fun at all,” Gadoua told Ocean City Today. “But those are the people that put you in office, and you have people who probably wanted to voice their support and then you had people who had a lot of questions. To only allow your public to ask questions of the attorney and not ask questions of the council and the mayor before you make a motion to appoint a mayor is wrong and is cowardly.”
Following a beat of silence, Weber officially closed the meeting.
“So the meeting is adjourned,” he said. “Thank you all for your participation.”