OCEAN CITY — Councilman
Joe Hall thinks Ocean City has a drinking problem, and although he’s not really
quite sure what the solution is, he is sure that he believes it is time for the
local government to address it.
Hall brought up what
could be called a philosophical or even sociological debate at Tuesday’s
meeting, but he said he was more interested in trying to determine the town’s
costs of dealing with drunk people in hopes of perhaps helping the town’s
struggling bottom line.
“Public safety is a huge
part of our budget, and every year, we spend millions basically policing people
from themselves and from others because they went out and chose to overindulge
in this town and then lose control,” said Hall. “I see it everyday and every
night, people drink so much that there are zombies walking up and down Coastal
Highway or I find them face down and passed out in the landscaping at my
restaurant, and I think that the people who overindulge effect the budget, but
the safety of the community and the quality of life here.”
The council was not as
quick to jump on board with Hall’s concerns, instead moving him to the business
community and further away from City Hall.
“Joe, I don’t disagree
with you that some people overindulge, but I believe that this should be a
conversation that you should take up with the Chamber of Commerce, the HMRA, or
other liquor license holders like yourself first and then come back with a
recommendation or a solution,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.
Hall contests that his
comments are not “anti-tourism” as he fears some may suggest, especially during
the summer season. Instead, Hall thinks
he’s actually trying to do more for the tourists, but does concede that this is
a subject that no one wants to talk about.
“We made such a big deal
about the guy with the iguana on the Boardwalk and changed our law because
someone called and said that she was scared of the thing,” said Hall. “Well, I
think that this issue is just as important as any iguana, because I talk to
people all the time who are scared and sick and tired of having to deal with
the five out of 100 people who decide to abuse themselves and put every one
else at risk when they visit Ocean City. It just gets to me, and no one wants
to talk about it.”
Even if Hall’s
colleagues were willing to broach the subject, City Manager Dennis Dare isn’t
so sure it would be easy to pinpoint a true number to attribute to excessive
drinking’s impact to the town’s bottom line.
“It is almost impossible
to quantify other than counting up the amount of DWI arrests,” said Dare. “If
the public works department sees a broken bench, how can they tell the
difference between if a drunk guy broke it or a guy with anger management
problems did it. How can an EMS worker determine if someone broke their arm
because they were drunk or because they slipped? If we did a report, it would be purely speculation.”
Despite the mayor’s
recommendation to go to the business community, Hall elected to go to Dare and
petition him to get his department heads to try to put together some sort of
report on the impact of excessive drinking in Ocean City so that he could take
that report to the business community.
“I just think that just
like there’s 5% of people who are overindulging, I think there could be more
than that who are over-pouring,” said Hall. “There is no reason in the world
that people should be over-serving someone in an establishment here, especially
in the summer when some places have a huge line out the door waiting to get
Still, some council
members were concerned about the timing of the conversation.
“I just fear that Ocean
City is going to start being perceived like it’s the Wild Wild West,” said
Councilwoman Mary Knight. “If you were to go to any resort or even any city,
you would find that there are people who overindulge on the weekends. I still
think Ocean City is as safe of a place as you can find.”