- Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 20:19
- Published on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 20:19
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More than 80 people tuned in last Thursday April 9th to view the Colonial Beach Town Council meeting on The Journal's U-stream, the meeting room was packed, and parking left late residents walking a few blocks to get to the meeting room in Colonial Beach.
As reported earlier in the week Mayor Rummage had been asked by three council members to vacate his physical office in Town Hall. Many residents were determined to get to the bottom of the matter but what they got was a sugar-coated version of the truth which left residents to read between the lines and speculate as to the exact cause of the Council members’ recent actions.
It was clear at the beginning of the meeting that the Mayor's ousting was valid reporting by The Journal since one of the items added to the agenda at the onset of the meeting was Resolution 27-09 which stated: Val Foulds has been employed as the Town manager, the Council seeks to promote an efficient workplace, the presence of the Mayor at Town Hall on a daily basis is interfering with and obstructing the efficient operations of the Town.
The resolution sought 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.
This move is in stark contrast to the previous Mayor's reign in office. Pete Bone, who sat in the Mayor's seat for several terms, renovated the upstairs area of Town Hall on the Corner of Irving Ave and Hawthorne as well as the Pete Bone Meeting room on Washington Ave. The physical office which he created was used intermittently by Former Mayor Bone for his duties as a mayor and many short periods when he acted as Town manager, one lasting 22 months.
It was not until the end of the Town meeting last Thursday that the resolution was addressed and Councilman David Coombes gave an eloquent speech to try to explain the actions of council concerning Resolution #27-09 without giving much detail.
The Mayor, however, shed more light on the issue than did members of Council. In his address to the Council and public he touched on three key events which he attributed to what he calls his “relations with Council going south."
Rummage began 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.”
The first event concerns the Riverwood Apartment development which he said came to the Council in regular session on December 11, 2008. “We had quite a debate and discussion on that issue. I felt it was necessary to continue to a subsequent date which turned out to be December 17. During that continuation meeting I was unable to get anyone to open a motion to open debate. I called a 10 minute recess hoping someone would reconsider opening the debate,” explained Mayor Rummage.
The Mayor subsequently sent a letter to the Westmoreland News to explain what happened in response to numerous complaints which he said he received from mostly elderly residents of Riverwood. The Mayor stated that after that letter he believes his relationship with the council “had gone south,” which he coined as regrettable. He said that it was never his intention for things to turn out in that fashion. “I still hope that we will reconsider and let bygones be bygones and get on with the future for the benefit and welfare of the people the Town.”
The second event concerned the audit from February 3, 2009. There was an audit delivered to the office which the Mayor said he didn’t learn about until a week later. Rummage said that he was “very insistent” that he wanted to make copies and disseminate them to all members of Council. He stated that the same day he was charged verbally with mistreating people in the office. [Town Hall]
Rummage offered an apology saying, “If I ever mistreated anybody in this office at any time, I am sincerely sorry and my sincerest apologies.” Mayor Rummage said he was told that there would be copies of the audit report at the Retreat, but then was told that if he had a retreat, he would be attending it alone. (By members of Council)
Although he didn’t point fingers at any one person, Rummage made claims that terms used to describe him among many others were ‘very domineering’ and ‘very critical’ and he was warned that if he didn’t change they (the council) would close the Mayor’s office.
Mayor Rummage said that subsequently he started to spend less time at his office and turned over all of the projects he was working on to Town Manager, Val Foulds who had just taken office full time.
The third event Mayor Rummage spoke of occurred after he was informed by the County that they had received some money from the state for road repair on March 30, 2009.
Mayor Rummage clarified at the Council meeting on April 9 that the money had to be spent during this fiscal year. The project would require $50,000 from the town’s budget that the county would match at $50,000. The combined money would then be matched by the State to total $200,000. This would start phase two of the Riverside Meadows pavement project. “The money would be derived from the reserve funds,” stated Rummage.
Rummage ended his speech for which he received audience applause by saying, “I’m sorry I had to make this type of report, happy Easter to everyone,” but added, “I shall not stop as long as I’m here making disclosures that should be made to the public. Transparency is my commitment, it was when I ran for this office and honesty I was always taught is the best policy. Thank you very much.”
When the Resolution came before the Council for vote, Councilman Coombes gave a guarded summation of the events leading to the decision to pass Resolution 27-09.
Coombes began by saying, “For me personally, and this council can speak for themselves, “I am saddened to have to make this recommendation.” “The mayor and I have worked together for quite a while and in thirty years of professional experience as a CEO I have never had to be involved in this kind of thing. I think it is best for a number of reasons as stated in the resolution that at least for the foreseeable future, not always, probably not always under his term, the council feels and I feel that it is in the best interest of us, and the mayor and the town that the town close the Mayor's office. Only the physical facility.
“We have had significant problems.” Coombes continued, “I commend the Mayor for publicly apologizing this evening particularly to the staff. But I still think we need to move forward.”
Coombes spoke of former Mayor Pete Bone and his intermittent need to act as Town Manager. “The lines of responsibility in people’s minds tend to get blurred,” Coombes continued. "State law and the town Code sets out the responsibilities of each of the entities involved in your government…Only this council, sitting as it is right now in open session with all of us here, that’s where the power and the authority lies. It does not lie in any one individual sitting here, each of us have the same authority and the same power when we sit here.”
Coombes said he would not discuss specifics in open session but offered an invitation to speak one on one with any individuals that wished for clarification. He closed by saying we are going to entrust the Town Manager with the day to day operations of the town.
Kennedy added, “I have a lot of respect for this man and what we are about to do should be no reflection on his ability to chair this Council. It should have no reflection on his desire to move this town forward. This is an operational issue. Nobody should read anything into this other than this is the way our charter is set and this is the way this towns structure should be.”
All members present voted yes, Chairman/Mayor Rummage voted present and having no need for a closed session, he adjourned the meeting.
After the close of the meeting a small group led by Jean Leitch spoke out. Jean spoke up because she felt she was never given an opportunity to voice her opinion. “I would like to object.”
The mayor explained to the woman that the meeting stood adjourned and asked to speak to her.
Leitch replied, “I would like to speak to them,” she said gesturing towards the Council members. “I did not agree with what they did and I want them to know it.”
Another gentleman with her spoke up and said, “I see control, I do not like control. When I woke up this morning I saw my flag still flying. I was surprised; I thought I was in Russia. When these people can have a meeting and walk into the Mayor's office and tell him to get out of his office where Pete Bone sat and slept for about 12 years up there.” The man continued raising his voice over the Mayor's gavel. “That man has an office, you have a job to do, you (referring to other members of the Council) did not elect that man, we did. We elected you, Mr. Kennedy, and I think you should get out of this place and never come back.”
The Mayor spoke up and told the man that the meeting was adjourned. The group continued to talk but quickly dispersed with the added police presence that built up in the room.
In an interview later with Jean Leitch said, “It appears that they, (referring to Council) only want to oppose everything the Mayor wants to do! This place is stagnating, it needs something new.”
She spoke of the Mayor's removal from Town Hall as an assault that was deplorable and said it insults the intelligence of the citizens and tax-payers of this town. “I thought that we had Council members up there that were of a higher level of intellect and they have let us down.” Ms. Leitch lives in Bluff Point near Riverside Meadows and she says that her street is paved but she feels the unpaved roads are an embarrassment.”
After briefly wishing a few people Happy Easter, the Mayor turned to the crowd in the room and waved goodbye as he walked out alone with his head held high.