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Council approves co-interim administrators to Wildwood’s top staff position

At its Jan. 14 meeting, the Wildwood City Council further debated an already approved but not enacted ordinance that would assign city treasurer Stephen Cross and Planning & Parks Director Joe Vujnich as co-interim city administrators while an ongoing search continues for a full-time employee to fill the position.

The position has been open since Dec. 10 when former city administrator Ryan Thomas resigned.

The council approved the appointments at a special meeting on Jan. 3. That action followed approval of an amendment, brought forth by Councilmember Tim Woerther [Ward 7], to include language in the main section of the bill stating that Cross would temporarily resign as the city treasurer with the intent to return to the treasurer position as soon as a full-time administrator is hired. The amendment also specified that, in the meantime, accounting firm RubinBrown would perform periodic reviews of the city finances via a separate contract to be approved by the city council following the appointments.

However, while the council approved the ordinance, Mayor Jim Bowlin formally vetoed it. Both Bowlin and City Attorney John Young expressed concern about placing the amendment within the section part of the bill as opposed to within a “Whereas clause” or recital. They said doing so made the ordinance inconsistent with the appointment process prescribed in the city charter.

Because of those concerns, Bowlin did not sign the ordinance on Jan. 3; however, he said he would sign an amended version of the ordinance if the amendment was passed as a recital.

On Jan. 14, the council debated having Vujnich serve alone as interim city administrator thus eliminating the need for an amendment.

But ultimately, Councilmember Steve Taylor [Ward 4] motioned to re-insert Woerther’s original amendment regarding Cross’ appointment back into the bill as a recital.

While some councilmembers criticized the use of a “Whereas clause” as being non-enforceable, specifically regarding Cross’ desire to return to the treasury position following completion of the co-interim position, Taylor expressed confidence in the mayor’s statement that Cross would be re-appointed to the treasury position, barring malfeasance and death.

“If Mr. Cross finishes his duties as [co-interim] city administrator and is not given a shot to return as treasurer, I’m going to replay this session,” Councilmember John Gragnani [Ward 1] said, referencing the city’s livestream.

For his part, Cross said he accepted the amendment and trusted the mayor’s statement.

Councilmember Larry McGowen [Ward 1] said he thought the sharing of Cross’ and Vujnich’s time would serve the city better.

The ordinance, as amended by Taylor, ultimately passed on a 10-6 vote, following its second reading.

Cross will receive $4,000 in compensation for his share of the city administrator’s duties and Vujnich $2,000, for a total of $6,000 in monthly expenses to the city. The position’s responsibilities will be divided accordingly.

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