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Politically bloody Sunday in Pines

7/13/17 | By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(July 13, 2017) Months of bad blood between several Ocean Pines Association Directors boiled over Sunday at a meeting that initially appeared to have just two, relatively benign agenda topics: a motion to hire a food and beverage consultant and a discussion on human resources.

A vote on the former motion was defeated and not resolved during the meeting. Discussion of the latter topic included personal attacks and accusations that two directors were engaged in a conspiracy against interim General Manager and Director Brett Hill.

Director Slobodan Trendic said the board talked about “certain issues related to personnel matters and the working environment within the association” during board meetings on June 19 and June 23.

He said what came out of those meetings was the decision to hire an onsite, local human resources consultant. Instead, Trendic said, Hill took the unilateral action of contracting law firm Lerch Early & Brewer to fill that position.

The firm was hired to represent Ocean Pines last September. Employment and Litigation Attorney Michael J. Neary was apparently filling the human resources role in Ocean Pines as of last week.

Trendic called for a vote on “exactly what the board agreed to do several weeks ago,” hiring a local, onsite human resources consultant. He said the consultant could serve as a temporary bridge until a permanent general manager was hired.

Board Vice President Dave Stevens said Lerch Early & Brewer were hired, in part, because of their human resources expertise.

“Until another GM comes in, they are a very strong solution for us,” Hill said, adding that Ocean Pines bylaws gave him the authority to hire the firm. “The GM is the chief administrative officer that is responsible for employment. The board creates job descriptions, but the GM has the authority to hire and fire and is the ultimate point of command.”

Board President Tom Herrick agreed and said he did not understand Trendic’s motion.

“The board is to create the position, outline what the position does, and it’s up to the general manager – a responsibility of the GM – to make that hire,” he said.

Director Cheryl Jacobs said an article in a local monthly newspaper was related to the discussion. In the article, former director and current candidate Marty Clarke accuses Jacobs and Trendic of approaching Ocean Pines employees to undermine Hill.

“Let’s be honest and talk about why we are in this position right now,” Jacobs said. “I’m not going to be quiet about this anymore because there is a write-up, full of lies, in the Progress that was delivered to my driveway today and I’m not going to put up with this any longer.”

Jacobs said the reason the board agreed on the need for onsite human resources help was because employees had approached her with concerns about their working environment.

She said the board was informed by email that Neary would act as a consultant after Hill, Herrick and Stevens met in private.

“Yes, in the past, these matters have been handled by the GM,” Jacobs said. “You all, in past boards, never saw fit to take that responsibility and divide it out. But we are in a different situation now with our interim GM, who has created all kinds of chaos as it relates to employment and I am no longer doing to be silent about this and have my name defamed.”

Jacobs continued, her voice trembling as she spoke.

“At no time have I ever gone to any employee directly – employees keep coming to me,” she said. “And why does that happen? Because they understand that I will keep their confidences.

“I have never breached anyone’s confidence about the matters that have been brought to me,” Jacobs continued. “[Those matters were] passed onto the HR person that we were told was our HR person – not that we ever agreed on that, voted on that, had any RFP about that.”

Herrick said he, too, had something to say on the subject.

“The more serious issue here is repeated efforts by certain directors – one and two directors – that constantly go to employees with HR issues … unilaterally, on your own, without any board knowledge whatsoever,” he said.

“Bullshit,” Jacobs said.

Herrick said two directors conducted an exit interview with a former Ocean Pines employee, presumably finance Director Mary Bosack, without consulting the other board members.

He added a separate and unsigned, undated complaint was supposedly given to Jacobs, who turned it over to an attorney.

“We still don’t know what happened and how she got that complaint – if it is a complaint,” Herrick said. “The board still doesn’t know her involvement in that.”

Herrick went on to say he got a phone call from a senior staffer who claimed Jacobs was “soliciting a complaint against one of the candidates running for [the] board.”

“And she says, contact me on a private phone, because she knows it’s immoral, what she’s doing,” Herrick said. “This is a conspiracy to affect the election, and I have to tell you it’s reprehensible what’s going on … Where do you get off being an HR consultant for Ocean Pines and taking it upon yourself to do this without any board knowledge whatsoever?”

Jacobs fought back.

“The only thing I have ever done is keep the confidence of employees who felt uncomfortable going in any other direction,” she said. “And because I’m an attorney and because they knew they knew that they could come to me in confidence and it would not be breached – that’s what happened.

“That’s because of the situation we have found ourselves in, thanks to Mr. Hill,” she continued. “And I am not going to be defamed by you, by Mr. Stauss, Mr. Hill or anybody else because I have done nothing other than try to be helpful to employees who find themselves in this predicament.

“I have not gone to anybody. I didn’t go to Mary Bosack – Mary Bosack came to us,” Jacobs said. “Mary Bosack came to us because she went to other directors and felt her complaints fell on deaf ears, so much to the point that she felt she had no recourse but to resign, so don’t you dare accuse me of any wrong doing – I have done nothing wrong.”

Herrick countered that he “did five specific actions to help Ms. Bosack.”

“For you to say that I did absolutely nothing, that is a complete falsehood,” Herrick said. “This thing that you think that you can just do HR complaints on your own and not even tell the board? That’s wrong. I’m sorry. You have no right to do that.”

Jacobs said she did not draft a complaint on behalf on an Ocean Pines employee.

Trendic said it was clear the board was in crisis.

“And the crisis was created by one single person’s actions, and I think everybody knows who that person is,” he said. “Now we are witnessing this today, which reflects negatively on every one of us sitting at this table. And I think the association has a right to question what is going on and who did they elect?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they ask us all to march out of the room, because the professionalism … is very, very disappointing. Emotions have taken over. The personal attacks doesn’t help anybody,” he added.

Trendic said his motion was all about responding to employees’ needs for onsite support.

“If I was working for this association, do you think I would want to pick up a phone and talk to a lawyer in Bethesda about an issue I had with the acting GM? No, I would not,” he said. “My motion … was designed to basically provide a fundamental assistance to a staff that has concerns as a result of Brett Hill’s management style.”

He said it was absurd that Lerch Early & Brewer would take over human resources, in part because the firm wrote the new Ocean Pines employee handbook, which ignored that alleged employee surveillance had been taking place.

Trendic went on to say the person who made allegations about Jacobs recently got a $20,000 raise and was promoted “to a position that I’m being told he’s totally unqualified for.”

“We have chaos going on at the operational level that some of us have tried to put a stop to because it was in the best interest of the association,” Trendic said. “We took a public beating … nevertheless, we plowed through it and even today the reason I’m here is because people are asking me to be here and to stand by my beliefs.”

Stevens agreed that chaos was going on, but said Hill did not cause it.  

“Anyone who believes there aren’t personal attacks, there were at least two in your speech against the general manager,” Stevens said. “Your disagreements with the general manager have been open, and they have been carried to the employees.”

What the board really decided on June 19, Stevens said, was the board would not approach employees – or the press.

“And yet you, Slobodan, are the first one to violate the agreement,” Stevens said. “Let’s settle down until we bring in a new general manager. And we want to bring in a new general manager where we all have happy faces. As I think Director Jacobs said, ‘you mean we have to pretend?’ And I said, yeah we do. As a matter of fact, it’s a good thing to do.

“You asked the question, we all know that there is one person who has created this chaos. Well, I think I’d almost agree with that, except I don’t think we agree on who it is, Slobodan. Many of us agree that it’s you,” Stevens continued. “You have consistently hammered at the general manager since I don’t know when, with things that have no foundation.”

When Trendic appeared to laugh, Hill appeared indignant.

“None of this is funny,” Hill said. “This affects the lives of 8,000 homeowners and 300 employees. And you’re right, there is one person responsible, because it’s been six months that you have been after me.

“I’ve held the high road on all this. I’ve come in everyday, unpaid, and done the job at the expense of my family and my career, for the betterment of Ocean Pines. And you have constantly been on an attack for me,” Hill continued. “I don’t know how in the hell any general manager is going to come in here and succeed if you’re involved in anything related to Ocean Pines.

“This is not a funny matter – sitting in here with that smirk on your face and laughing about half the shit in this meeting today is absolute bullshit,” Hill said. “This is ridiculous. I haven’t been the one going to the paper every week. I’ve been sitting here, doing the best I can for this association while two people constantly undermine everything that this association is about. It is absolutely disgusting.

“The reason that we need to keep the HR at our law firm is to handle the board itself on top of the employees. And we do have very serious problems right now – and they’re instigated by board members,” Hill added.

Hill said a board member called an employee and offered to write a complaint to try and “unseat me and get me out of power, to try and turn the election.”

“This isn’t about politics. This is about a business and this is about the money of 8,452 people here that pay dues every year,” Hill said. “I cannot fathom how you think this is a laughing matter.

“I don’t want to be here,” he continued. “I accepted to do this for 30-60 days and this has dragged on way too long. And the fact that a board can’t support me – I don’t know how the hell we’re going to get somebody to do a job here.”

Trendic said he had a solution, invoking an allegedly scandalous videotaped conversation between Hill and Bosack.

“Let’s put this to rest. It’s very simple. Why don’t you consent, along with Mary Bosack, to show the video of the two of you and what you said in that video. And that’s going to put everything to rest, once and for all, so people will know exactly what transpired and why we’re being faced with what we’re being faced with,” he said.

“All of these statements – this beautiful, passionate, desperate commitment. That all sounds great. I can make the same speech, but the facts are the facts,” Trendic said.

Stevens said the board considered releasing the video, but there were “very good, solid legal reasons not to do it.” He said he refused to watch the video because he believes it was obtained and distributed illegally.

“You go back to that video and the only thing that you’re trying to do is trying to say, ‘well, Brett did bad things.’ But that has nothing to do with running the damn association,” Stevens said. “It has nothing to do with this motion on the table.”

Trendic’s motion was defeated 4-3, with Hill, Herrick, Stevens and Director Pat Supik voting against it.

Hill said Lerch Early & Brewer would continue in its human resources role and would be available as needed. He said staff was given the firm’s phone number.

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