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Ridgely, Kennedy, Coombes, tell their side of the story

“The three of us met that morning because it was a crisis!”
Editor Note: At the April 9 Town Council meeting Council passed Resolution 27-09 to disallow the Mayor the use of an office in Town Hall and to restrict the Mayor or any member of the Town Council from undertaking actions related to the day to day operations and/or management of the Town, unless specifically authorized by the Town Council or specifically requested by the Town Manager.
   In his defense, Mayor Rummage opened his speech at the most recent council meeting by saying, “I have always felt that both sides of the story have to be told and when that is not done we are short changing the public!”
   In that effort, last week's Journal told Mayor Rummage’s side of the story. This week some Council members tell their side of the story.
   Councilman Ronald “Sparky” Ridgely, with the approval of Councilmen David Coombes and Stephen R. Kennedy, talked with The Journal in more depth about the actions of the Mayor which led to his removal from Town Hall. “The three of us met that morning because it was a crisis!” said Councilman Sparkey Ridgely.
   Ridgley was referring to the morning of April 7 when Councilmen Ridgely, Coombes, and Kennedy approached Mayor Rummage and requested that he pack his belongings and remove himself from the physical office in Town Hall. “Illegal meeting or not, there comes a point in time when you have to say we don’t have an option. Would I do it again? Hopefully, I’ll never have to,” said Ridgely “
   “About four to six weeks before that, Council had talked to him [Mayor Rummage] about the work environment [at Town Hall] and it didn’t get any better.”
   At that earlier meeting the members who attended were Vice Mayor Trish King and Councilmen Coombes and Ridgely.
   When asked if at either meeting with Mayor Rummage discussing the work environment at Town Hall; was any other Council business discussed?
   Ridgely said, “No, they were both rather short meetings!”
   Ridgely emphatically stated that they [Councilmen Coombes, Ridgely and Kennedy] had the approval of all members of the council, excluding the Mayor of course.
   Ridgely summed up the problems  saying, “Employees where starting to use the term ‘hostile work environment’, employees where asked sometimes to do unethical and perhaps even illegal tasks and were then threatened with discharge if they did not comply.” 
   When asked to explain, Ridgley sited a few examples: Rummage reportedly asked a town clerk to call select residents to attend a meeting that would be in their best interest.
   “You can’t use town employees for that.” Ridgely said.
   “He [Mayor Rummage] instructed the Chief Financial Officer to cut a check for $50,000 immediately for the roads in Riverside Meadows before the Town Council had voted to pass the resolution to spend the money."
   “The CFO [Joan Grant] refused and made Council members aware of the instructions given to her by the mayor.
   “There comes a point where you have to do something,” Ridgely said. “I know one woman threw up one afternoon from nerves. One employee reportedly told her boss, ‘If you're not coming in tomorrow, I’m not coming in because I don’t want to be here if you're not.’
   “The employees are the Town’s assets. When you have employees that have been there for years and they’re uncomfortable being there, it’s the Town Council's duty to act on it.”
He said employees would approach him and convey that they had refused to act on orders given to them by Mayor Rummage that they knew were unethical, looking for his approval for their actions. “You could feel the tension when you came into Town Hall!”
   The mayor reportedly used phrases such as “Paybacks are hell!” and “I’m going to get even, this is war.” while shaking his finger at people he disagreed with.  It was a work environment that wasn’t conducive to productivity or what the people where used to,” Ridgely said. “Nobody enjoyed doing it! But it had to be done!” 
   Ridgley admitted the Council had disagreements about issues brought before them and how issues were being handled by the Mayor, “But in no way did any of those issues have any bearing on why the Council opted to close the physical office in Town Hall and restrict the Mayor from conducting business in Town Hall.”
   Ridgely’s message conveyed that Resolution 27-09 was put in place solely to keep Town Hall employees free of a hostile work environment and to promote the mental well being of the employees.
   In a phone interview, Councilman Kennedy responded to comments made by citizens after the April 9th Town Council meeting, accusing Kennedy of “spearheading the Mayors removal from his physical office because he wanted to be mayor.” He said, “I refused to participate in the original meeting. It was only after the problems became worse that I got involved. Because I sit on Council I have a responsibility to the residents of this town. My desire in the past to become Mayor had nothing to do with my actions concerning the Mayor's removal from Town Hall.”
   “Being Mayor is the furthest thing from my mind right now,” Kennedy said. He stated that even if the Mayor should leave his political office for any reason, that Vice Mayor Trish King takes over by default. “I know my place in the pecking order,” Kennedy added. “I am committed to serving the citizens of this town as a Council Member.”
   Kennedy feels that the Mayor is committed to fulfilling a campaign promise he made to the citizens to pave the roads in Riverside Meadows. He said, “At what cost? I don’t know.”
Kennedy stated that actions taken in the Riverside Meadows paving project or any other projects before Council had no bearing on the decision to disallow the Mayor an office in Town Hall. “It was simply correcting a bad situation.” said Kennedy. 
   Councilman Ridgely took the opportunity to speak out on the issue of the Riverside Meadows Road projects. "The Council has already approved $50,000 towards partial pavement of roads in Riverside Meadows earlier this year. The County Supervisors discovered recently that they had a surplus in their budget and made an offer to the Town to match funds. The combined funds would then be matched by the State to start a 2nd phase of paving in Riverside Meadows. The figure being bandied about for Phase 2 is also $50,000.
   "This gets confusing since both phases have the same bottom line required from the Town. When people hear that the town turned down the chance to quadruple their investment of $50,000 to pave Roads in Riverside Meadows, they think that the Council is reneging. To add insult to injury Mayor Rummage made Campaign promises that led Riverside Meadow residents to believe that he would see to it the roads would be paved in their neighborhood; a promise that cannot be carried out by one member of Council alone, even if that member is the Mayor."
   Ridgely explained that when this year’s budget was created and voted on, roughly $100,000 dollars of revenue was anticipated to come from either a boat tax or decal. That money was slated to go into a contingency fund. When neither the boat tax nor boat decals were implemented, this left a gap in the budget. Money in the contingency fund is a line item in the physical operating budget, according to CFO Joan Grant. If during the year there is an economic or meteorological emergency, the money can be spent from this fund.
   Another form of revenue that was anticipated was money from building and other permits. The economy took a turn for the worse and anticipated permits where not issued, leaving another $101,421.34 gap in the budget as of March 31st.
   Lastly, money that has been counted for this year’s budget will come in from property taxes that are due in by June 5th and the budget cycle ends June 31, meaning it is too soon to tell if that projected revenue will fall short.
   The town has already put in $50,000 matching funds for the pavement of roads in Riverside Meadows for phase 1. The $50,000 that was recently asked for by Rummage for a 2nd phase of road construction in Riverside Meadows would have to come out of this year’s budget which is already short.
   Both Ridgely and Kennedy confirmed that Mayor Rummage called the members of council individually, strong arming them. Rummage reportedly stated to Ridgely that he already had the backing of a majority of the Council when he first spoke to Ridgely about approving the money for phase 2. After speaking individually on the phone with other members of Council, Ridgely discovered that the other members had either not agreed to vote for it or had not even spoken to Rummage about it. After comparing notes it was reportedly discovered that Rummage quoted different figures to each member. Ridgely said, “He started with a figure of $80,000 and said he would negotiate with Town Manager Val Foulds on the money,” Ridley said. “You can’t negotiate money you don’t have!”
   Rummage stated at the last meeting that the money should come from the Reserve Fund. “That money is for emergencies: unforeseen catastrophic events such as Hurricane Isabel.” said Ridgely.
   "So here we have two funds, Contingency and Reserve. Contingency money is “contingent” on making revenue from some tax that has not yet been decided or some other form of revenue, for example a Boat Show that may bring in money but the amount is undetermined.
Reserve is money that has been made from the sale of land. What they both seem to have in common is that they are both used for unforeseen expenses that may come up and are not already budgeted for. These are “Rainy Day” funds, according to Ridgely.
   Kennedy and Ridgely both said in separate interviews that they did not feel comfortable committing money they are not sure they have. With the recent Town Audit results completed by the Miller/Foley group determining over $650,000 in overspending by the School Board in the past, and projected revenue that never came from the Boat tax and permits, the Council would be fool hardy to commit to the $50,000 dollars for phase 2 of the Riverside Meadows project, they said.          

Linda Farneth

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