OCEAN CITY – The City Council strengthened the procedure for suspending and revoking business licenses this week after a continued discussion over merchants selling counterfeit items.
Last week the council discussed ways to crack down on counterfeit merchandise as they reviewed the proposed ordinance involving suspension, revocation and appeals process for business licenses. This week, after a first reading the council voted unanimously to pass the ordinance, but not before further changes were made.
After Councilman Jay Hancock voiced concern last week over the suspension of business licenses, the council decided to change the language so that a conviction is no longer required for the city manager to suspend a license.
It will now be based on the city manager’s satisfaction with the preponderance of evidence, so if the city manager decides that a violation has occurred, then he can suspend or revoke the license. A conviction is no longer required for such action.
Concern over the appeals process was also addressed last week and carried over into Monday night’s meeting. Hancock reiterated his strong points from last week, explaining that he wants the license suspension to stand until the appeal before the City Council.
“I think that’s what gives this ordinance it’s real teeth,” said Hancock of the suspension of licenses.
According to Hancock, by the time the entire appeals process is over, the summer in many cases would have passed and the impact of the suspension is lost and “next year the business comes back with a different name and we’re back to square one.”
As it stands, the business has 10 days to file an appeal with the city clerk. Once they file an appeal, the city clerk must set a date for the hearing within 30 days. This means that businesses could continue to operate up to 40 days before seeing any reprimand or punishment, and depending on the time of year they are caught, some businesses could make it though the rest of a summer without facing any punishment. Hancock suggested that the license be revoked for the duration of that time.
“We give the taxi cabs a hearing within 48 hours don’t we,” Council President Joe Mitrecic asked.
Mitrecic suggested that the appeal hearing before the council be held sooner rather than revoke a license until the appeal.
“I don’t disagree with you, I really don’t,” Mitrecic said to Hancock. “However I do have a serious problem with shutting someone down for up to three weeks in the middle of summer.”
Mitrecic went on to present the flip side of the argument — what if on appeal the council decides that the business was not selling counterfeit items.
“Then he’s lost however many days of a prime season of sales and there’s no way to make up for that,” Mitrecic said.
Pointing out there are victims on both sides of the situation, Hancock responded, “There’s also no way for the people who have been victimized by these shoddy businesses to make good on their loss.”
Councilman Jim Hall found a common ground and made a motion to move the appeal hearing date up to within 72 hours. This will ensure that the guilty merchants will not have 30 to 40 days to continue on with their business and with their selling of counterfeit items. It will also solve the problem of having a business that may not have done anything wrong, out of business for over three weeks.
The businesses will still be allowed to wait 10 days to file an appeal with the city clerk as the current ordinance states.
“If they say they want the appeal as soon as possible, then we are required to give them a hearing within 72 hours,” Mitrecic said clarifying the new changes to the ordinance.