OCEAN CITY – Unsatisfied with simply being appointed to the county’s local development council on slots, which will ultimately oversee many aspects of the impacts of the gaming machines at Ocean Downs, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan this week re-asserted his belief the resort’s top elected official should remain an appointer and not an appointee.
Three weeks ago, Delegates Norm Conway, James Mathias and Page Elmore introduced a bill that would make local alterations to the slots bill approved by voters across Maryland in November in a statewide referendum. Among other things, the bill, if approved, would alter the local revenue sharing formula to include a 10-percent share for Ocean Pines, mandate local hiring practices, change the language from “may” to “shall” regarding Route 589, and repeal the authority of the mayor of Ocean City to participate in the appointment of the local development council, which will be charged with developing a plan to manage the area’s local impact grants derived from slots at Ocean Downs.
Local officials last week went to Annapolis to testify on the bill, and while they agreed on most aspects of the legislation, a sticking point was the latter provision regarding the Ocean City mayor’s role in the appointment process. The County Commissioners who testified said they supported removing the mayor from the appointment process, while Meehan opposed that aspect of the bill.
Following the hearing, Commission President Louise Gulyas, who represents the resort, promised to make Meehan the resort’s representative on local development council. However, Meehan said this week while he appreciated the appointment, he still opposes the change in the legislation for a variety of reasons, not the least of which it makes no guarantee of future representation on the council for the resort.
“I understand they want me to represent Ocean City on the council and that’s all well and good,” he said “But what that could do in reality is remove any representation for Ocean City in the future.”
The bill as written calls for the local development councils to include 15 members including one state senator from the district, two delegates, one representative of the licensee, in this case Ocean Downs, seven private citizens and four representatives from the business community in close proximity to the slots venue. The bill also states the County Commissioners and the mayor of Ocean City shall jointly appoint the 15-member council.
However, the bill filed by the local delegation three weeks ago removes the mayor from the appointment process and leaves it up entirely to the commissioners. Meehan opposes the changes because he feels Ocean City should have weighted representation because of the resort’s proximity to Ocean Downs, but more importantly, because of the potential impact on the resort’s tourism industry.
“I had a great concern if she [Gulyas] makes me her appointee, Ocean City could end up with just one member on the committee,” he said. “I feel strongly there needs to be more than one representative for Ocean City. I just didn’t think that was sufficient. I really believe we need to part of the process.”
Meehan said he appreciates the county’s position, but remains adamant about ensuring the proper amount of representation for Ocean City on the panel.
“I even said to them I understand Worcester County has jurisdictional problems with sharing the appointment process with the mayor of Ocean City,” he said. “But Ocean City may be dramatically affected by this. I made the suggestion to allow the mayor to appoint two to the committee, one citizen and one from the business community.”
Meehan said the bill as written, and the one approved by the voters of the state in the November referendum, included language specific to protecting Ocean City’s interests. However, the latest legislation appears to fly in the face of those protections. Meehan also suggested the very delegates introduced the latest bill could alter it to reflect the protections for Ocean City although he holds out little hope that will happen.
“During the special session when the decision was made to move the slots issue to referendum, a number of delegates were putting in provisions to protect Ocean City,” he said. “I don’t know what has changed since 2007. I got the feeling they weren’t going to make those changes without Delegates Mathias and Conway stepping up to protect Ocean City.”
Meanwhile, the bill passed out of the House Ways and Means committee on Wednesday with the repeal of the mayor’s appointment authority intact. Also intact is the provision granting Ocean Pines a 10-percent share of local impact grants. One sticking point for the committee was the provision guaranteeing hiring preferences within a 10-mile radius of the facility because the Delegates raised concern about the provision on other slots venues around the state, but Mathias said yesterday Ocean Downs owner William Rickman, Jr. has made a local hiring policy commitment.