Former commissioners Philip Besler and Kenneth Kaleel are sworn in May 1 after their appoint-ments to fill the vacancies. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
Two leave positions; in yet another reversal, manager hired full time
By Joe Capozzi and Larry Barszewski
In less than 30 days, a stunning upheaval of town leadership in Ocean Ridge has brought in a new manager, three new commissioners and a power shift on the Town Commission.
The first changes came April 3 when, in a span of less than two hours, the commission voted 3-2 to hire Lynne Ladner as the full-time town manager and Commissioners Martin Wiescholek and Kristine de Haseth resigned.
Wiescholek, who minutes earlier had been sworn in to a second three-year term, resigned in the middle of the meeting to protest the hiring of Ladner. De Haseth resigned at the end of the meeting, citing a need to spend more time with her family. After the meeting, she told The Coastal Star her resignation had been planned since December and had nothing to do with Ladner’s hiring.
At its May 1 meeting, the three-person commission of Mayor Geoff Pugh, Steve Coz and recently elected Carolyn Cassidy voted to appoint two former commissioners — Kenneth Kaleel and Philip Besler — to replace Wiescholek and de Haseth. They were chosen from nine applicants and will serve until the March 2024 election.
The three commissioners also decided to replace three members of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission who were seeking reappointment and one of two incumbents who had applied for a new term on the Board of Adjustment.
What a difference a month — and an election — made in town politics.
Wiescholek and de Haseth were on the losing end of the 3-2 vote to hire Ladner, a move that reversed the commission’s 3-2 vote Feb. 27 to not give her a contract for the full-time job.
Ladner’s hire is a direct result of a change in Town Hall power dynamics that arose from the March 14 municipal election when newcomer Cassidy and Wiescholek won a three-way race for two commission seats. Incumbent Mayor Susan Hurlburt finished third, losing her commission seat and breaking up the commission’s previous power bloc.
Hurlburt, Wiescholek and de Haseth often voted in concert, as they did Feb. 27 when they voted against Ladner’s hiring because of concerns that she’d aligned herself with Pugh and Coz and their community supporters.
Cassidy was endorsed during her campaign by Pugh and Coz, and on her first night as a commissioner she voted with them to hire Ladner full-time.
“I think Lynne has been doing an outstanding job in reaching out to the community,’’ Cassidy said April 3. “We’ve had a very unstable work environment that has suffered a bit from a lack of leadership. I think the time for healing has to start now.’’
Wiescholek reminded the commission why it voted in February not to hire Ladner, who he said had been influenced by two commissioners to fire Police Chief Richard Jones (who has since left to take the police chief job in Gulf Stream).
At a commission meeting Feb. 27, Jones corroborated Wiescholek’s concerns when he described how Ladner came into his office two days after he’d announced his resignation and told him “that the commission wished for me to leave early. At this point I go, ‘The commission?’ It was clarified, ‘at least two commissioners,’’’ Jones said Feb. 27.
Pugh and Coz denied pressuring Ladner to fire Jones.
On April 3, Wiescholek said: “There’s this whole thing about who-said, what-said, but somebody walked into Chief Jones’ office and said the commission wants you fired. Either Lynne did that on her own and lied about it or she was instructed by two commissioners to walk into Chief Jones’ office and say the words ‘the commission wants you fired’ without talking to the other three commissioners. It’s inappropriate or it’s a flat-out lie. That in itself disqualifies anybody from holding a position in this town.’’
The commission had been scheduled to select town manager finalists on May 1 and interview them May 9. Colin Baenziger and Associates, the firm the town hired for $29,500 to find candidates, considered the latest pool of 18 applicants “superior” to the previous candidates, said de Haseth, who said she’d been in contact with Baenziger.
“We started the (search) process. We have a procedure to follow and we need to continue the procedure and move forward from there,’’ de Haseth said. “You can’t do an about-face in the middle of the stream.’’
“That’s exactly what the commission did” Feb. 27, Coz retorted, pointing out how the commission in January had selected Ladner on a 5-0 vote while officials drafted a contract that was supposed to be approved Feb. 27.
“I think the town is in a period of healthy rebirth. I think Lynne is part of that,’’ Coz said before the commission voted to hire Ladner, who will make $142,500 a year. (Her predecessor, Tracey Stevens, was making $132,500 when she left Sept. 11 to become town manager in Haverhill.)
A few minutes later, as the commission was considering a new agenda item, Wiescholek interrupted and said, “Based on the decision that was just handed down, with the renewal of the contract for Lynne Ladner, I feel that the town is doing itself a grave disservice. I feel that the town is putting itself at great risk. The implications that pass off that are staggering at best. I will not have my name associated to that. Hereby, I resign.’’
Many of the 50 or so people in the audience — mostly supporters of Coz, Pugh and Cassidy — cheered as Wiescholek stood up and walked off the dais, happy to see him go.
In an interview outside Town Hall a few minutes later, Wiescholek said he had no plans to change his mind.
“What they have there right now is a town manager that they can tell what to do. ‘You need to hire this person and that person.’ They can manage and massage anything into their own world. I am not going to be a part of it,’’ he told The Coastal Star.
At the end of the meeting, de Haseth broke into tears as she announced her resignation in a prepared statement:
“I’d like to thank Ocean Ridge residents and staff. Being elected and appointed as your commissioner, your mayor and your vice mayor has been a multiyear vote of confidence. I appreciate your support and I have worked hard over the past five years for the residents in our town.
“Unfortunately, family obligations now need more of my time and energy. So effective tonight I am resigning my seat on the commission. I have been proud to serve this town and represent this town. I wish nothing but the best to our staff and to all of those at the dais. Ocean Ridge truly is a wonderful, wonderful town and it’s worth fighting for. I wish everybody the best of luck.”
The audience responded with polite applause. After the meeting, de Haseth said she had been considering stepping down since December, but decided to wait until after the election.
“I was sorry to see her go,’’ Coz, who was selected as vice mayor, said after the meeting. “She was a great asset to the commission.’’
Changes to advisory boards
Pugh, whom the commission selected as mayor on April 3, said at a special meeting April 18 that he thought the commission might need a month to find new commissioners to replace Wiescholek and de Haseth.
But Coz persuaded him and Cassidy to immediately advertise the openings and try to fill the two commission vacancies on May 1.
“The town has been in — what do we want to call it? — a quagmire for a bit here. It’s time to move forward,’’ Coz said.
“I don’t know about a quagmire,’’ Pugh said. “Today is like a bright new day.’’
At the May 1 meeting, Pugh, Coz and Cassidy voted by paper ballot without any debate to fill the two commission vacancies (from nine applicants) and make four Planning and Zoning Commission appointments (from 15 applicants) and three Board of Adjustment appointments (from eight applicants). All three picked the same people in each round of balloting.
Pugh praised the high level of interest in the open positions.
“In all the years I’ve been on this commission, I’ve never seen an outpouring of people (like this) coming up to put their names in, and their basic lives to be interrupted by these meetings and being involved in the town,” the mayor said. “This is a sea change for the town and it’s really impressive.”
Returning to the Town Commission are Kaleel, who previously served 16 years on the commission from 1996 to 2012, including as mayor in 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2004-12, and Besler, who was elected to a three-year term on the commission in 2018, but did not seek reelection.
The other Town Commission applicants were Arthur Ziev, Mike Drifmeyer, Victor Martel, Craig Herkert, Robert Sloat, Nicholas Arsali and David Hutchins.
For the P&Z Commission, the three town commissioners went with P. Shields Ferber, Ferenc Stephen Varga and Sydney Ray for the open three-year terms and Marc de Baptiste for a two-year alternate’s position. At the meeting, a couple of P&Z members had encouraged the commission to reappoint incumbents Mark Marsh, Neil Hennigan and Penny Kosinski.
“I hope you’ll be thoughtful,” P&Z Commissioner Hutchins said. “There’s plenty of people that want in and they could be very well-qualified, but, like I said, you’ll be losing some real talent if there’s a wholesale turnover.”
On the Board of Adjustment, the three commissioners reappointed Betty Bingham to a three-year term, but replaced Mary Ann Cody with Martel. Ziev was appointed to an open one-year term.
In other business:
• The commission approved Ladner’s contract April 18. Aside from her base salary of $142,500, she will receive 60 hours of vacation leave and a fuel and vehicle allowance of $300 per month. The town also paid for her relocation expenses of $5,977.
• The commission May 1 supported moving forward with a proposed ordinance regulating beach signs, including “No Trespassing” signs. It plans to hold a first reading on the sign regulation revisions at its June 5 meeting.
• Commissioners directed Ladner to look into the possibility that the town take seaweed piling up on shore and have it pushed into the dunes to help build up the dunes. Coz suggested the action, but concerns were raised about needing consent from private property owners.
• Residents put off by the bulletproof glass that’s between them and staff when they’re at Town Hall will get some relief. Although Coz wanted the glass completely removed, staff will take the step of opening window portions of the security glass when talking to residents, but the glass can be kept closed when staff doesn’t know the visitor.