OCEAN CITY – Last week’s Mayor and City Council organizational meeting revealed the council’s division, even after many officials did their best publicly after the election to mask their diversity in opinion.
Once former Councilman Joe Mitrecic gave his good-bye speech and the oaths of the new City Council had been taken, the agenda seemed to take a turn down a rocky road when Councilman Joe Hall brought forward some unexpected business.
“During the election cycle of the last two years, we have asked the citizens, voters, and business people to support a smaller, more efficient government,” Hall said. “I believe now we have a real opportunity to move in a more conservative direction. One which the full council conducts the business of Ocean City … I make the motion to dissolve all council committees in appointment directing Council President Jim Hall to schedule all important business of the city to City Council work sessions and council meetings as he sees important for the smooth running of our world-class family beach resort and home town.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, who was endorsed by Hall in her recent campaign, supported his motion.
“I think the full council sitting on theses meetings is more important then having three council members meet and bring summaries,” she said. “I have made this point many times … I haven’t gotten enough information to vote. I think it is very important to take the bureaucracy out. I know that we can come here and sit down and listen to what the department heads need and want and have the full council be aware … and really have the majority of the council involved in the discussion.”
Councilman Lloyd Martin, who had partnered with Mitrecic and Mayor Rick Meehan during his recent campaign, disagreed with the motion.
“I have been here eight years and I think the government is working pretty well the way it is,” he said. “I think that we communicate really well, and a lot of things get done that way … when you’re working with department heads things get worked out before it gets to the council … those meetings are very productive and it seems like when you want to change that its like throwing a big ball into one pot. I don’t see it happening and I don’t see it working very well.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight supported Martin.
“I agree with Lloyd, there is a lot of work,” she said. “I know sitting on the tourism committee that I go to so many other meetings involved with the tourism commission. I feel being on that commission keeps me very dedicated to that path.”
Knight also admitted to expecting the motion and had prepared for it.
“Looking at the charter, I believe the police commission and the tourism commission are both chartered because the mayor sits on both of them,” she said. “I was not aware we could dissolve those.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres stated that in order to dissolve the commissions that are listed on the charter, the charter would have to be amended.
Meehan paused the discussion to take the time to discuss the meaning behind that night’s meeting.
“I think for transparency purposes I really think this should be an agenda item and it is not on our agenda tonight,” he said. “I think that it is only fair that everybody has all the information in front of them, especially what is on the charter and what we would have to do to make those changes. … Tonight is the night we acknowledge the elections and that we select our officers and we move forward.”
The mayor also pointed out that if the police commission was to be dissolved then that would also diminish his powers and in order to do so a referendum would be required.
“Accorded to our charter, the duties of the mayor to be diminished by referendum are somewhat questionable under state law,” Ayres said. “Because a charter amendment is covered by state law, not by municipal code, the state law dictates how to amend a charter. It is probably going to end up taking a court decision to do that.”
Joe Hall edited his motion to dissolve all subcommittees that were not included in the charter. He then stated that he was comfortable with making a vote that very night, and felt it wasn’t necessary to wait until a work session. At that point, Meehan reminded everyone again that this business was not on the agenda for the meeting.
A portion of the council eventually came to agree that the motion would be postponed until the new council’s second work session. Those in favor were Council President Jim Hall, Joe Hall, Pillas and Brent Ashley.
“I think that some of the voters and taxpayers think there’s a lot of other things going on that they’re not partial, too,” Jim Hall said. “I know it’s not true because I sit on many of these boards myself … I agree that if the department heads will come to the council chambers early on Tuesday [day of work session] so that all seven council members and mayor would have a chance to vote on it equally and everybody would get all the info in real time and for that reason I am going to support the motion.”