OCEAN CITY – At this week’s Mayor and City Council meeting, the division among the council showed its face once again, upon a report given by the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA).
During the Mayor and City Council organizational meeting, held a few weeks ago following the election, a nontraditional vote took place. A motion, initiated by Councilman Joe Hall, resulted in the town’s sub-committees, including the tourism commission, being dissolved by a 4-3 vote.
In response, the OCHMRA and the Chamber of Commerce devised a plan to create a Tourism Advisory Board. According to a letter addressed to the Mayor and City Council, the board will continue to create a dialogue between private business leaders and the city’s tourism-related departments. It will promote coordination amongst the various tourism-related departments, and keep the Mayor and Council informed on tourism issues and opportunities that require attention.
John Gehrig, past president of the Chamber of Commerce, detailed the plan for the board to the council.
“We have had the tourism commission a long time and two years ago we formed a committee with the Chamber of Commerce and the OCHMRA,” Gehrig said. “That is a think tank of volunteers, and tourism professionals who got together and brainstormed ideas and brought them to the tourism commission.”
With the tourism commission being dissolved, the members are concerned it will have a negative impact on Ocean City’s tourism that the town so heavily relies on.
“There is a situation now where the tourism commission is gone,” Gehrig said. “We feel as a business community that there is a void there now … We don’t want to see that void, we all depend on tourism. … The communication between us as a business opportunity and you [council] as the people who execute it has proven to work. There is no evidence that can say otherwise.”
The goals of the Tourism Advisory Board are to include representatives from the OCHMRA, the Chamber of Commerce and city departments. The board will also work with MGH, the Mayor and City Council and the business community.
“Everybody has a seat at the table and everybody will come together with ideas and execute them,” he said.
The council’s division came in its response to the proposed board.
“Basically, it sounds like to me you want to keep the tourism commission,” Councilman Lloyd Martin said. “I have been on the tourism commission for two years and it has been working. I don’t want to see it go away either.
Joe Hall admitted to being the voice behind having the tourism commission dissolved.
“I do not want to break the communication, cooperation and networking that has been done between the business community and the elected body,” he said. “What I want to do is make it more inclusive by including the whole Mayor and City Council in the discussion.”
G. Hale Harrison, who serves on the board of directors of the OCHMRA, explained that when there are high-level strategy questions of the board they will be brought forward to the council.
“If there is a meeting and City Council wants to have representation…it is not our place to say they should or shouldn’t be there. I think that’s a decision of the council,” Harrison said.
OCHMRA Executive Director Susan Jones explained the Tourism Advisory Board would meet to discuss ideas and issues, work them out and prepare for a formal presentation before the council.
“One of the things we have been focusing on over the last few years is the power of we,” Jones said. “We want to make sure that everyone who has a role in tourism comes together.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said that he preferred for the tourism commission to remain active because it has been so effective.
“I think that the commitment to the tourism and the contribution to those represented on the tourism commission has been essential in where we have taken Ocean City, and it has played a great role in what we have done today,” Meehan said.
Councilman Doug Cymek agreed with the mayor, in that he wished to see the commission continue.
“I think the advisory board is re-inventing the wheel,” Cymek said. “We’re [council] just going to get bogged down with a lot of detail that we just don’t need to be in the middle of and what you guys [commission] can sort through yourselves.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight, former chair of the tourism commission, agreed with the mayor and Cymek in that she would like to see the tourism commission stay in tact as well.
Council President Jim Hall agreed with Joe Hall’s position.
“The committees work well,” he said. “However, there is a new thought with some of the council members that have come on with us…that is to have the discussion of the city done here in the council chambers. I feel we will all get the information at the same time. It is going to be done out in the open … we can try it this way, we’ve done it this way before.”
Joe Hall motioned to acknowledge the Tourism Advisory Board and its access to the council, and fellow council member Brent Ashley second his motion.
Despite the council’s split opinion, the vote was unanimous.