By Thomas Hutchinson
I have often said that if you want good, free entertainment then attend a local government council meeting. Some days you just never know what you might get. Last week, I attended the Feb. 5 Dorchester County Council meeting and I got my money’s worth of entertainment…unfortunately it’s at the expense of the taxpayers of Dorchester County. I am appealing to all citizens of Dorchester County to pay attention, get involved, and attend your County Council meetings.
With an agenda that was short and appeared to be benign, I decided to attend to see how the County Council was operating since the public firing of the County Manager, the firing of the County economic development director, the resignation of our emergency management director, and the retirement of our planning and zoning director. Wow…was I wrong to assume it would be a short meeting as the public comment period consumed nearly 60 minutes of the scheduled one-hour meeting!
Observing the meeting made me realize that some members of our council are out of control and not representing the good of the county which was exposed during the public comment period, the final comments by the council members, and the recent actions taken by the council:
- Regarding the firing of County Manager Jeremy Goldman, this situation was an injustice to him, a detriment to the county, and will cost the taxpayers in many ways. I have heard many people comment that he should have been fired because he violated his contract by not becoming a resident of Dorchester County which is a requirement of the County Charter (Section 406). I have read Mr. Goldman’s contract which is in the public domain. Mr. Goldman did nothing wrong to be terminated. His contract, which is consistent with many employment agreements in both the public and private sector, states that while he works at the pleasure of the council, if he is terminated WITHOUT cause, he would be paid a severance equal to 6 months of his annual salary. Through simple deduction, you can infer that there was no cause for termination as he was paid his full severance. Mr. Goldman did a fantastic job during his tenure and did not deserve to be fired. What most of our county residents are not aware is that Mr. Goldman, who owns property in Delaware, did become a resident of Dorchester County, paid income taxes to Dorchester County, and served on the jury pool in Dorchester County when he was County Manager. The State of Maryland recognized him as a resident of Dorchester County. He was in full compliance with his contract. Again, if he was not, he would not have been paid his severance.
- The process of how Mr. Goldman was terminated makes me question the morality of some of the council members. I completely agree that personnel matters are not to be discussed publicly. Regarding this matter the council continues to state this policy to make the residents believe there was a legitimate reason for Mr. Goldman’s termination that cannot be discussed. What I do not agree with is that no one should ever be publicly fired. During the Dec. 18, 2018 Council meeting, a motion was made by Councilwoman Nagel and seconded by Councilmen Newcomb and Nichols to return to a closed session after the regular session had begun to discuss the employment of the county manager. At the conclusion of the unscheduled closed session, the council returned to the meeting room and in regular session announced the termination of Mr. Goldman by a 3-2 vote who was present and participating in the meeting…one week before Christmas! Consistent with his character, Mr. Goldman accepted the termination and graciously thanked the Council for the opportunity to serve Dorchester County.
- Fortunately, when the Council decided to terminate Jeff Trice, Director of Economic Development, they had restraint to not publicly announce the decision during the regular session of the Jan. 15 meeting when the decision was made. He was terminated in private the next morning. Regarding his termination, I do not know if there was any justification as he did not have a contract and did not receive any severance. However, I know Mr. Trice personally. He was a breath of fresh air to the county economic development, extremely competent, and extraordinarily professional. I am aware of many projects he spearheaded to bring new employment opportunities to Dorchester County, and I am aware of many other projects that are in the pipeline which I am hopeful will not be derailed by the new council. Through the collaborative efforts of Mr. Trice and Mr. Goldman, the county and the City of Cambridge were working extremely well together and in cooperation to expand economic development. Let’s hope that does not go off track as well.
- While I am deeply saddened by her decision, I am not surprised Anna Sierra, director of Emergency Management Services saw the writing on the wall and took matters into her own hands by resigning and being hired by Caroline County. I also know Ms. Sierra and I can attest that she is top notch and will be a loss to our county. What concerns me most now is how many other great employees of Dorchester County Government are walking on egg shells, are fearful that they may be arbitrarily terminated, and most likely looking for other employment due to the actions of three council members?
- It is apparent that certain members of the council have a vendetta against Councilman Ricky Travers. Many of you may have read in the Dorchester Banner that recently members of the council challenged an invoice from Simmons Center Market which is owned by the Travers Family.
Despite a simple and reasonable comparison of prices between Simmons and Amazon conducted by Councilman Lenny Pfeffer, it was clear that Council President William Nichols did not agree with the comparison nor the reporting of this issue by the Dorchester Banner. This led into the most deplorable display of leadership that I have ever witnessed when Mr. Nichols vehemently attacked the editor of the Dorchester Banner for printing incomplete information during the public comment session! His diatribe lasted at least 15 minutes. Mr. Nichols kept waving a document that no one in the audience could understand to which he was referencing. Mr. Nichols would not stop nor control himself. I sat in the audience with my jaw dropped thinking is this the leader of our county government? He was clearly proud of his inappropriate behavior as he commented that this is how he has acted over the last 24 years as a member of council and if others don’t like it then they should run for a council position! During his final comments, he noted that he has discovered during his tenure on council that it is not the residents who voice an opinion at meetings that matter…it is the silent majority who are home safely putting their heads on a pillow knowing that their government is working properly. I hope the silent majority wakes up and holds our council accountable for their actions.
While I commend anyone that runs for political office, I have no patience for personal agendas, vendettas, or public displays of anger. During Mr. Nichols remarks, he uttered the words “this new regime” when referring to the new County Council. That caught my attention as a regime is an authoritarian form of government and not a democracy. It appears to me that three members of the council are making ill-conceived decisions that will negatively affect us all. Because of them, we could see this county go backwards after years of positive momentum. I highly recommend that more residents attend council meetings and express your views, opinions, satisfactions, and dissatisfactions to your council members. It was very apparent some of them want to silence the reporting of the Banner. To date, in my opinion, three members of the new council are jeopardizing our progress, our economic development, and the safety of our county.
Editor’s note: Mr. Hutchinson is a concerned resident of Dorchester County. Tom can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.