Op-Ed: Why Mayor Willis Should Be Recalled, By Gren Whitman

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Because of his ever-more questionable performance as Rock Hall’s mayor, Bobby Willis has been asked several times in public meetings to resign. His refusal has resulted in a petition for a recall election now being circulated for signatures from town voters.

Voters are seeking to recall Mr. Willis for a number of reasons:

Last April, for no apparent cause, Willis attempted to remove Ron Fithian as Rock Hall’s Town Manager. However, Councilmen Jones, Price, and Nesspor—responding to irate citizens at a packed public meeting on April 29—stood behind Fithian and the mayor had to back off. However, at every town meeting, he’s still badgering, questioning, and baiting Fithian, as well as other town employees and the town’s attorney.

Willis tried to force Clerk-Treasurer Stephanie Loller to reveal her confidential access number to town accounts; Loller refused on instructions from the town attorney. Willis has also bullied and frightened office staff; complaints have been made about a hostile work environment and, on the recommendation of Police Chief Steve Moore, locks have been installed on the clerks’ office.

Willis has told a number of falsehoods. For example, he—publicly and loudly—claimed he never signed town checks for advances on his own salary; Councilman Jones proved this was incorrect by displaying copies of the checks that were, indeed, signed by the mayor. Willis also—again publicly and loudly—claimed that in retaliation against him, town employees turned off his brother-in-law’s water; again, not true; Fithian reports the water was never turned off. Willis even claims that a town employee forged his signature on an official document related to the federal grant for a new water-plant clarifier; town employees vigorously dispute this allegation, and the state police are investigating.

Willis appropriated and directed $1,250 in taxpayers’ funds to the Radcliffe School’s “Dancing with the Stars” 2012 fundraiser to pay for a table for 10, and then whooped it up himself along with his wife, Councilwoman Susan Francis, her husband, and several other friends. (Note: the Council has since placed restrictions on charitable donations from taxpayers’ funds.)

Willis has repeatedly declined to recuse himself during Council discussions regarding financial matters that pertain to his family’s business, the Sailing Emporium. In its November 28th edition, the Kent County News editorialized: “We think the most appropriate course of action for the mayor to take in future discussions on the repayments or any other matters relating to his family’s business would be for Willis to recuse himself and step away from the council table.” Willis continues to ignore all such requests, apparently thinking that “recusal” only means not casting a vote, and continues to lead discussions and tries to influence the outcome toward his advantage.

A closed Council meeting conducted by Willis on April 30, 2013, was ruled to be in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act by the Attorney General’s office.

Willis refused last December to meet with Rock Hall residents concerned about the then-pending Dollar General and Family Dollar stores. Constituents were worried that Bayside Foods—the town’s only full-service grocery—might be forced to close, but Willis said his only concern was that the town not be sued. Willis has also refused to recognize and enforce Rock Hall’s Comprehensive Plan, saying it’s “only a guide” and has no force of law, which is not true. (Indeed, with Dollar General opening three weeks ago, Bayside Foods has already laid off some employees.)

Willis’s irresponsible behavior has resulted in running up attorney’s bills way over budget, i.e., town attorney having to deal with April 30 Open Meetings Act violation; need to have attorney at legalistic town meetings; legal queries from Council members; research and drafting town’s new recall ordinance and petition form; and lengthy planning and zoning commission meetings required because Willis refuses to enforce town’s Comprehensive Plan.

To explain why he is not carrying out all of his mayoral responsibilities, Willis says, “there’s not enough hours in the day” and “I’m just a volunteer.”

Myriad reasons have prompted the recall petitions in Rock Hall. By his actions, his failures to act, and his falsehoods, Mr. Willis has forfeited his credibility and ethics. To avoid further political and legal convulsions and embarrassment to the Town of Rock Hall, Mr. Willis should resign and save us all a lot of trouble and expense.

Grenville B. Whitman
Rock Hall MD
December 9, 2013

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