(Dec. 28, 2017) While there was no shortage of political lightning rods in Washington during 2017, Ocean Pines saw its own share of intrigue as Brett Hill, a fresh face during the election the previous August, swiftly assumed a pivotal role as both board member and interim general manager.
Hill was plagued by controversy throughout the year and his legacy, as it stands, is one of historic financial losses, allegations of wrongdoing and the departure of some high-level employees.
News broke just before the New Year that yacht club manager Jerry Lewis was fired. Not long before, the yacht club itself was rebranded “Mumford’s Landing,” the restaurant inside redesigned “The Cove at Mumford’s Landing,” and a new 20-foot bar just inside the main entrance was to be called “Tuffy’s Tavern.”
Hill was given room by the board to make adjustments at the yacht club and other Ocean Pines amenities, including the beach club and country club, but often, what initially seemed like sound ideas, including interior renovations at both facilities, had seemingly opposite effects.
New Year’s Eve did not go over well at the yacht club, when the computer systems crashed and the only dishwasher on duty sliced his hand open early during the evening. As a result, the executive chef also left to drive the injured worker to the hospital.
Other problems rippled throughout the amenity and most of the staff was subsequently let go.
“I think we hit kind of a breaking point where everything just kind of burst at the same time,” Hill later said. “All I can say is thank goodness it’s January. If this was June, the cost to the association would be unimaginable.”
Many of those issues persisted and the club posted disastrous numbers throughout the summer, including net operating losses of more than $160,000 in July and $230,000 in August.
Meanwhile, a mass exodus of personnel occurred during Hill’s watch, including Chief Financial Officer Mary Bosack, Controller Art Carmine, Beach Club Manager Lynda Huettner, Golf Course Superintendent Rusty McLendon, Facilities Manager Jerry Aveta, Recreation and Parks Director Sonya Bounds, Marketing and Public Relations Director Teresa Travatello, Office Coordinator Linda Martin and information technology specialist Paul Fazzalaro.
Ocean Pines also parted ways with several individuals and firms with which it had worked with for a decade or more, including long-time bulkhead repair and replacement contractor Dean Fisher and Fisher Marine, attorney Joe Moore, and auditing firm Trice, Geary and Myers LLC.
While some high-level departures, like Carmine, were believed to be cases of retirement, many others were reportedly because of Hill’s management style.
Among the accusations were that video and audio surveillance took place inside offices at the administration building and at other facilities in Ocean Pines, as instituted and monitored by Hill.
Sources said employees sought help from the board leadership, but got no response.
“The environment has become very toxic and the working conditions are very unhealthy and stressful,” one official said on condition of anonymity.
Those environments and months of bad blood between Hill and several board members boiled over during a meeting in July.
Director Cheryl Jacobs said an article in a local monthly newspaper accused her and Director Slobodan Trendic of approaching Ocean Pines employees to undermine Hill.
Jacobs said that was incorrect and that several employees had approached her, asking for help. Normally in Ocean Pines the general manager would handle human resources issues, but because Hill was serving as interim general manager and was the subject of the complaints, that was not possible.
“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 said.
“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 … 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.”
Trendic was also critical of Hill, saying there was “chaos going on at the operational level that some of us have tried to put a stop to.”
Director Dave Stevens, however, said Trendic was the one responsible for the chaos.
“Your disagreements with the general manager have been open, and they have been carried to the employees,” he said.
Stevens said the directors, during a closed meeting in June, agreed to not approach employees – or the press – about the matter until a new general manager was hired.
“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.
“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 became 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 s… in this meeting today is absolute bull….,” 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.”
Following the meeting, Hill proposed a motion to remove Trendic from office stating, “Director Trendic has conducted himself with behavior that has violated not only attorney-client privilege, but also breached his fiduciary responsibilities as an officer of the corporation by disclosing confidential information to the press, in public meetings and in direct conversations with employees.
“The board needs to discuss the ramifications of Director Trendic’s actions and determine the best course to move forward in the best interest of the entire Association.”
Several special meetings to vote on the motion were called, announced publicly, postponed, and were never held.
In August, an appointed director, Doug Parks, and a newcomer, Colette Horn, were elected to three-year terms on the board.
Later that month, Ocean Pines announced John Bailey would be the new general manager. He officially started on Sept. 11 and was introduced that evening at the yacht club.
Bailey, in October, stated the facility would again be referred to as the yacht club and that it and all food and beverage operations were under his review.
Hill resigned from the board of directors on Sept. 15 and apparently resigned as head of his former company, FTS Fiber, shortly thereafter. Ted Moroney replaced him in Ocean Pines on Sept. 21.
Two lawsuits were filed against Hill in September and October alleging he did not repay the balance of loans intended for his company.
One of two lawsuits was decided in Worcester County Circuit Court in Snow Hill.
Circuit Court Judge Richard R. Bloxom signed a judgment of confession against Hill on Oct. 31 for $108,120.90. The suit was originally filed on Oct. 6.
Kenneth Lawhorn filed an earlier suit against Hill in the circuit court Sept. 15, alleging Hill did not pay back the balance of an $80,000 loan. That suit appears to still be open.
Lawhorn was a senior advisor to Hill at FTS Fiber.