In delivering the annual General Manager’s Report on Saturday, John Viola was quick to credit staff and volunteers with helping to turn Ocean Pines around after back-to-back negative financial years in 2017 and 2018.
Viola said the first thing he did on the job was to assess the situation. He was named temporary general manager in March and in June signed a six-month contract.
Before serving as general manager, Viola for several years was chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee. He also served – and continues to serve – as the Association treasurer, essentially Ocean Pines’ chief financial officer.
“The biggest thing I saw … and what I really believed that we needed to do as an Association, was to empower our team [and] empower individuals,” he said. “We have a lot on our plate and that’s fine … [but] the only way to get it done is by utilizing the team. It’s not a one-man show and we have a very good team.”
Viola has utilized workgroups of staff, elected officials and Association members to tackle topics including a new compensation study, dredging and drainage, software implementation, contracts for food and beverage operations and new building construction, and reviewing the employee handbook.
“I’m very lucky to have many experts in different fields [including construction, finance, compensation and HR] that I’ve reached out to and [the experts] have come in and assisted on workgroups,” Viola said.
“I’m also lucky to have past Board members – whether it’s Tom Terry, Marty Clarke [or] Jeff Knepper,” he continued. “Utilizing those teams, that expertise, is definitely helping us.”
Viola also singled out local builders Marvin Steen and Frank Brown.
“[They’re] all working, volunteering time to help out,” he said.
Viola said the Association is rebuilding relationships with state and county officials and improving upon customer service.
“This team, now, is results oriented,” he said. “Look at what they’re doing – all the initiatives. It’s a total team effort.”
Viola said among his first major decisions was hiring Josh Davis as the new marketing and public relations director.
“He’s definitely my best hire,” he said. “He’s right on point. He understands the vision. He understands what I’m looking at and how I want to approach Ocean Pines.”
Viola added the Association was shifting from focusing more on marketing, to focusing more on public relations.
“We want to be transparent. We want to be timely,” he said. “Nobody’s hiding anything.”
Viola also highlighted the implementation of the operations director position that Colby Phillips has filled. She was previously the Aquatics director and later also took on supervision of the Recreation and Parks and Racquet Sports departments.
Prior to Phillips being elevated, Viola said there was often a backup of unanswered calls from homeowners.
“Colby and her team – as well as every other department – I believe is addressing it, and I believe the [unanswered] calls are getting less and less,” he said.
Addressing the forensic audit, received in May, Viola said nothing in the report surprised him.
“It was pretty much what I expected [when it was first commissioned] two years ago,” he said. “To some respect that is a good thing, but there is work to be done and we are working on it.
“What I need to do and what we are doing … is a mindset change when it comes to [financial] controls,” Viola continued. “Right now, I can tell you [it’s] a total team effort. We are working on it and I definitely see the changes that I would like to see.”
Viola said the Association has also implemented forensic audit recommendations related to workplace relationships.
“That is being addressed,” he said, adding he sought advice from legal experts and met with department heads to discuss the issue.
“I did have the team … do a full review of the organizational structure … to make sure we were in compliance with our [employee] handbook, and we are” Viola said.
According to Viola, the employee handbook states that an employee cannot report directly to a supervisor who is a relative.
“Based upon the review, we do not have that,” he said, adding, “I’ve also explained to [staff] that there cannot be a perception that there’s any problems or any type of favoritism.
“That has to be monitored and, if anybody feels that that situation is happening … there is an HR team that they can go to, as well as myself,” he said.
Viola said the Association has taken on several major initiatives and is on track with construction of a new Golf clubhouse and cart barn.
He credited IT Manager Steve Grabowski and Finance Director Steve Phillips for their work on implementing the new Northstar software systems that will eventually be used across nearly all Association departments.
Police station revelations and the new Craft Club building are also on track, Viola said.
He also vowed to improve transparency when it comes to drafting the next fiscal-year budget.
“January won’t be the first time the Board or anybody sees anything about a budget,” he said. “You’ll see pieces in September or October … already, we’re putting together the work pieces so that the main items can be addressed, and we can start looking at it.”
Viola said the Association is also in the process of conducting a new employee compensation study, which Executive Secretary Michelle Bennett has taken a lead role on. He added a contract with an outside firm for the study came in at about the half the cost ($48,000) of the Board-approved motion.
To view the full report, visit https://youtu.be/bG33ugso4eo?t=3522.
Ocean Pines’ Annual Meeting of membership was scheduled on Saturday, Aug. 10. However, because no quorum was established, no official business was conducted.