Jeff Rhodes, who retired June 1 after nearly 10 years as city administrator for Cumberland, has been named as interim town manager for St. Michaels.
Town commissioners selected Rhodes by unanimous vote after candidates were interviewed, according to a July 9 town press release. (The St. Michaels Commissioners met in closed sessions on July 7 and July 9.)
Rhodes is set to begin work on Monday, July 26, according to the town.
Commission President Michael Bibb said Wednesday night that Rhodes is expected to serve as interim manager for 3-4 months. He will help write a new job description for the position and assist with a nationwide search for a new town manager.
The town commissioners had voted 4-1 in a June 24 closed session to dismiss longtime Town Manager Jean Weisman.
In a June 30 statement, Weisman’s attorney said she was told that the “(c)ommissioners had decided to go in a different direction and her 37 years of employment with the town, the last 10 as (t)own (m)anager, was at an end.”
Residents questioned how much Rhodes would be paid and asked for clarification on the new direction for St. Michaels.
“How much this is going to cost the town?” Paulette Florio asked. “(Commissioner) Tad (DuPont) since I know you’re very, very concerned about our budget, can you give us an idea of what this is costing the town to hire this gentleman?”
DuPont, elected by his fellow commissioners as treasurer, said, “I don’t think we’ve really determined that. I mean he’s given us an hourly figure. I’ll let you know as soon as I can give you an honest answer.”
“So he’s accepted a position, but he doesn’t know what he’s going to be paid yet?” Kristen Greenaway, president of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, asked.
Bibb explained that a contract had not been signed yet.
“He has given us a hourly rate, and some of his other things that he wanted with it,” he said. “So, we can officially … give you that information once a contract is signed, which will be hopefully sometime this week.”
Greenaway also asked if the public would be allowed to have some input on the job description for town manager. Commissioner David Breimhurst, participating remotely, said that was “not a bad idea.”
“Well, in that case it would be very useful if we knew the new direction because we would obviously need a new town manager that would fully comprehend the new direction,” Greenaway said.
Earlier during the July 14 meeting, DuPont expressed his thoughts on change, noting the COVID-10 pandemic, the effects of tourism, and financial concerns.
“There has to be a balance between the businesses and what they view as their expectations and the rights of the residents,” DuPont said. “I know a lot of people have asked me, … that is part of what I think direction and change is going to have to be about.”
Greenaway and others said the commissioners needed to be more specific.
“I would like to address the commissioners and when they may be able to share a more definitive direction than what they have given just now, that they do intend following,” she said. “I ask as CBMM is currently in the middle of its … master plan, actively planning for a new strategic plan starting 2023 and a vision 2028 initiative.
“We have plans, we have plans, involving a great deal of capital and personnel investment. We’re currently 79 full time staff,” Greenaway said. “And we really need to know if the commissioners’ direction will impact positively or negatively … on our direction and I suspect that many St. Michaels businesses and residents would also like to pose the same question.”
Kim Hannon, president of the St. Michaels Business Association, said numerous business owners had voiced concerns to her.
“St. Michaels has been a tourist town, and has been that for as far as I know for at least 40 to 50 years…. Most of the residents know when they buy a house in St. Michaels, especially in town, that it is a tourist town. They shouldn’t be surprised about that….
“The businesses want to know what’s … going on and what the plans are,” Hannon said. “So if we can have more clear thoughts of that and descriptions of what is going to be taking place…. We have to think of the future … so we’d really appreciate that.”
Near the end of the meeting, Florio thanked Weisman, who was on the Zoom meeting, for her service through difficult times.
“I mostly want to say that the communication I’ve had with more than over 200 people of our community are sorry and offended that you were let go so abruptly without any explanation. We may never know,” she said. “I charged the commissioners with having an explanation because anybody who’s fired from a job that they’ve dedicated themselves to for 37 years really deserves an explanation. We as your community, who supports you, would love to know — ourselves — because we feel a great loss.
“We think you’ve done a fabulous job through this pandemic. You survived the illness of your husband keeping a caregiving operation going at home while you survived your own cancer,” Florio said. “You kept the town going (through) this incredible pandemic, and we’ve floated through just beautifully and I thank you for that on behalf of the entire town. And I do hope that at some point, our voted-in commissioners, who … really promised us transparency, will share with us their particular reason for letting you go. So thank you from the hearts of all of us.”