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Wildwood Council holds special meeting to debate co-interim city administrator position

On the afternoon of Jan. 3, the Wildwood City Council held a special meeting to discuss an ordinance that would approve the appointment of co-interim city administrators and establish compensation rates for both. Former city administrator Ryan Thomas resigned effective Dec. 1.

City Treasurer Stephen Cross and Planning & Parks Director Joe Vujnich were proposed by the ordinance to serve as co-interim city administrators. According to the city’s charter, the city administrator is hired and compensated by the city council with mayoral consent. Cross and Vujnich were nominated to serve in the interim while the city continues to search for a permanent, full-time city administrator. Their names were brought forward by a committee of councilmembers, one from each ward, that suggested different names to Mayor Jim Bowlin.

Cross said at the Jan. 3 special meeting that, upon receiving a phone call from Councilmember Tim Woerther [Ward 7] about the possible co-interim position, he was “quite honored for the opportunity to serve in the role.”

During the ordinance discussion period, which spanned two hours, multiple amendments were posed by different councilmembers regarding the language of Cross’s appointment. The debate surrounded the technicalities of Cross serving dual positions, and because councilmembers said the treasurer cannot serve as a city employee.

“In the description, it says the Steve Cross is a part-time employee, but the treasurer cannot be an employee,” Councilmember Tammy Shea [Ward 3] said. “He’s technically a part-time employee as the treasurer, but he’s not a contract employee … He can’t serve both, because he’d be an employee as a co-interim.”

According to Shea, the technicality is only applicable to the treasurer position, and was not applicable to Vujnich’ s employment or appointment.

The bill ultimately passed on a 12-2 vote with an amendment posed by Woerther to include wording the section of the bill that Cross would temporarily resign as the city treasurer to assume the co-interim city administrator position, and that the treasurer position would remain vacant while Cross served as co-interim city administrator. Cross would return as the city treasurer as soon as a full-time city administrator was chosen and began active employment. Woerther stated that he preferred the amendment be included in the body of the bill, not as a recital or a ‘Whereas’ clause.

“I would prefer it be part of the sections of the actual ordinance because, that way, it will carry weight,” Woerther said at the Jan. 3 meeting.

Clayton accounting firm RubinBrown will perform periodic reviews during the duration of Cross’s absence from the treasury position.

However, the Wildwood City Charter states that “the majority of the members of the City Council with the advice and consent of the Mayor shall appoint a City Administrator for an indefinite term and shall fix the conditions of his or her employment.” And while the council voted in the majority for the ordinance’s approval, as of press time, the advice and consent of Bowlin had not been granted.

Prior to the final vote, Bowlin told the council his intent was that he would sign the amended version of the ordinance if the amendments were passed as a recital within the ordinance, and not within the main body of the bill. The amendments to the passed ordinance were made in the section of the bill.

Concern about the language of the proposed amendment was expressed by City Attorney John Young, who stated that the language and the placement of the language in the section part of the bill as opposed to within a ‘Whereas’ clause, or as a recital, in the ordinance, was inconsistent with the appointment process prescribed in the city charter.

“When our city attorney tells us repeatedly that it’s a city charter violation or inconsistency, I’m just not a fan,” Bowlin said.

Councilmember Steve Taylor [Ward 4] did make a motion that mirrored Woerther’s except that it kept the language as a recital to the ordinance. That measure failed to win inclusion in the final council-passed ordinance.

Bowlin, however, vocalized favor toward the wording of Taylor’s amendment prior to the council’s final vote. “I guess I’m surprised that we don’t just go with what the city attorney recommended, and what Steve Taylor recommended in his motion, which was to basically include the same language that was passed by the council in the recitals as opposed to in the actual body of the ordinance,” Bowlin said.

Prior to the council’s vote, Councilmember John Gragnani [Ward 1] called for an amendment indicating a position start time of 8 a.m. on Jan. 4 for the co-interim positions. That amendment was included in the final, council-approved ordinance. However, those positions did not start on that date because the ordinance failed to receive approval by Bowlin.

According to Shea, the special meeting to fill the city administrator position was called for three main reasons.

“The first was to provide a continuity of service to our residents,” Shea said. “The administrator fields a lot of those daily things, whether it’s trash service, or any other service for residents. Also, to restore communications out of the office for both residents and staff. Third, to mitigate any negative impacts on staff that would remain without having that position filled. We’re trying to expedite this and cut to the chase so we can get back to city business, as normal as possible.”

Cross said he was willing to temporarily resign to assist Vujnich in the co-interim position. He has served as the city’s treasurer for 15 years, originally taking on the position in 2004.

According to committee leader Councilmember Katie Dodwell [Ward 4], the goal is to bring the issue back to the Jan. 14 meeting for further review and consideration.

“It will either go back to the committee or the council,” Bowlin said in an interview on Jan. 4. “I will not be signing an ordinance that is not consistent with our city charter. Period.”

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