Bishop resigns top city recreation post
By Gordon Dritschilo
Recreation Superintendent EJay Bishop resigned Monday, effective Aug. 5.
Bishop, who has worked in the recreation department for 18 years and spent more than a decade at its helm, did not give a reason for the resignation in the letter he submitted to Mayor Christopher Louras.
However, the resignation follows an admission that he exceeded his authority by spending roughly $50,000 on architectural services without consulting with the Board of Aldermen.
That activity was unearthed earlier this month and brought to the board’s attention by City Treasurer Wendy Wilton. It was discussed briefly by some aldermen at a July 18 committee meeting and was expected to come up again at the next regular board meeting, Aug. 5. Board President David Allaire said Monday that the resignation had not rendered the matter closed.
“Like many taxpayers and fellow board members, I had a lot of concerns about the whole situation,” Allaire said. “I still don’t know a lot of the details and I think it would be incumbent on the Board of Aldermen to find out what’s going on. I think the taxpayers deserve a full accounting.”
Allaire said he expected to discuss the issue at the upcoming board meeting.
Louras said he accepted the resignation “after a number of meetings” with Bishop.
“He absolutely left the department much better than when he took over,” Louras said. “I wish him all the best.”
Louras would not say much else, except that he would use the next week before Bishop’s resignation takes effect to choose an interim superintendent to serve until he appoints a permanent successor. He said part of that process will include consulting with the city attorney regarding the superintendent’s responsibilities under the charter and city ordinances.
Bishop did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday evening, but did email the Herald a brief statement.
“After 18 years of service to this community, I have decided it is time to commence a new chapter in my life,” he wrote. “I am very proud of the accomplishments of the recreation department during that time. I am most appreciative of my staff and the tireless effort they give to the community each and every day.”
Bishop said earlier this month that he had contracted Bear Mountain Design, a Barnard architectural company specializing in hockey rinks, to design maintenance and efficiency upgrades at the Giorgetti rink. The work was parcelled out, and Bishop made weekly payments, usually of $2,900. This put the payments below the $3,000 threshold at which purchases must be sent out to bid.
Wilton and some on the board questioned those payments, and Wilton also asked why the money was being paid out of the recreation activities fund rather than the line for professional services. Each part of the project had its own contract, none of which had been approved by the board as required by the charter.
Bishop said he was trying to tackle work needed to maintain the building and that he believed he had the flexibility to do it through the recreation activities fund, which receives money through departmental fundraising and is designated for “continued improvements at the Giorgetti facility.”
However, Bishop said he should have brought the issue to the board. He also said he had no prior connection to Bear Mountain owner Harold Mayhew.
Bishop, who earned $71,239 in fiscal year 2011-12 according to the city report, took over the recreation department in 2001. He was at the center of the campaign to build a regional recreation center and the leading advocate for the expansion of the facilities at Giorgetti Park.
He was also, at least in recent years, one of the most narrowly confirmed of Mayor Louras’s appointments whenever his term in office came up for renewal. Allaire would not speculate as to why, or say whether he voted for or against Bishop on those occasions.
“I think he’s done a lot of good work at the recreation department,” he said when asked if he was sorry to see Bishop go.
Alderwoman Sharon Davis said she suspected those close votes were largely the product of lingering resentment over Bishop living in Chittenden rather than the city. She said many board members have felt department heads, who draw the largest salaries, would have a closer relationship with the budget and resulting tax rate as city residents.
“I kind of have mixed feelings, but I think EJay has done a tremendous job for the city,” she said. “I think he has a good vision for the city and he truly, truly has a passion for the city. ... I will miss his vision and his drive and his passion.”