With their regular meeting rescheduled from Tuesday January 9 to Thursday, January 11th, the Town of Oxford made several personnel announcements.
The first had already been reported in the Easton Gazette. Town Planner Maria Brophy has taken a job in private industry. Brophy was the daughter of Town Manager Cheryl Lewis and her hiring had been a source of controversy in the town.
The second change was in the town's police department. Eric Kellner, who had been named Chief less than a year ago has voluntarily stepped down to an officer's position in the department and Lt. Chris Phillips has been named interim Chief. Phillips has been on the Oxford police force since 2021.
No reason for Kellner's decision was given other than personal and professional considerations. Kellner's hiring without adequate posting had prompted question about the hiring process. He was hired after the sudden retirement of Chief Patrick Maxwell who had served for over thirty years.
The Commissioners also discussed Tuesday's flooding and thanked the town's maintenance department, police department, and fire company for their tireless efforts to notify people of flooding and keep traffic off flooded roads.
It was mentioned that some of the residents suffered serious damage to their homes. The town will work to help people fill out flood claims. The maintenance department will be around picking up debris and flood damaged items throughout the end of the week.
Another weather system is predicted for the weekend and could cause tides of approximately four feet above normal levels. Residents were warned to take precautions.
Citizen Jane McCarthy brought up the fact that the flooding caused water to be trapped on the Strand road because of the berm on the Strand. The berm is part of the recently started Strand Shoreline Restoration Project. The project is intended to prevent flooding. The architects of that project, Underwood and Associates were said to be working with the town to solve that problem. Lewis said that the only way to prevent flood water from staying on the Strand would be to use "cobble paving" on the roadway. Cobble paving allows the water to drain through to the ground underneath the road. Lewis also said that there are now grants to fund hardened solutions for flooding.
This picture showing flood waters trapped on the Oxford Strand was taken this week,
Currently, the only project being undertaken to prevent flooding in the town is the Strand project, despite serious flooding threats elsewhere in Oxford.
During the Commissioner's comments Commissioner Greer mentioned that the town needs to address the problem of lack of internal financial controls cited in seven years of auditor's reports for the town. She suggested the Commission discuss the possibility of re-imagining the recently vacated planner's position to be planner/ CPA with banking or bookkeeping background to solve that problem. Greer suggested they re-write and re-advertise the current Town Planner's position.
Lewis said that she always wanted to hire additional staff for the office, but the citizens of the town didn't want to spend the money. When it was suggested that the town remove the current posting and rewrite it to include possible financial duties, Lewis commented that the town still needed to issue permits.
She cited other towns such as St. Michaels that have more staff in their town administration but who also have larger populations and more businesses. The Commissioners decided to discuss the possibility at the next meeting and get citizen input.
SIDE NOTES: It should be noted that Lewis said the town could not afford another position. However, some have commented that perhaps salary adjustments may make the hiring of new staff possible. The current posting for the town planner cites the potential salary as $50-$70 thousand, considerably less than the eighty-five thousand Brophy was making.
Additionally, discussion was conducted on a contract for a traffic study on Tilghman Street and the Strand for approximately $3100. The town recently installed stop signs on Tilghman Street to slow down speeders.
Another project mentioned in the meeting was the Talbot Thrives project that is working to create a biking/running/walking path starting at Pope's Restaurant, going through the Dugout Memorial Park and into the Conservation Park outside of town. A grant agreement was signed to local resident Cameron Mactavish. Lewis said they hoped someday the path would go all the way to Easton.