OCEAN CITY – The forceful presence of local citizens and employees did not faze the majority of the City Council this week, as they passed all ordinances to reduce town employee pay and benefits.
Throughout the meeting, which resulted in 11 ordinances being passed in 4-3 votes, speakers expressed their views on the new direction the town is headed.
Retired town employee and resort resident John Adkins was a frequent speaker.
“I would rather chew nails then what you’re doing to these city employees,” Adkins said.
Working side by side with town employees since 1987, Adkins said, “This is the safest, the cleanest, and the best run town in the state of Maryland.”
Adkins referred to a tornado that ran through ten blocks of Ocean City some years back as an example of the town employee’s dedication.
“I worked 26 hours straight,” he said. “Delmarva Power came down and looked at it and they said it would be two weeks before we would be back up and running, and it was three days. It was because of the city employees helping us.”
Adkins asserted that if the council is looking to cut costs it should start with the advertising budget, not the town employees’ pay and benefits.
“That’s [advertisement budget] benefiting the business people not the average homeowner,” Adkins said.
Adkins also argued that there are other ways in decreasing employee payrolls so that it impacts all town employees equally, instead of the 8.8-percent decrease proposed across all pay levels.
“You all are making big mistakes,” Adkins said. “When one of these water line breaks…at 3 o’clock in the morning, and with cold, frozen water, you’re not going to be able to find anyone to work no matter how much overtime you’re paying because you’re destroying their morale and you don’t even know it.”
Kevin Kirstein of Ocean City’s Police Department (OCPD) read a letter from his neighbor George England, a citizen of Ocean City and a retired corporate officer with Baltimore Gas and Electric Company.
“I believe the council is heading down a dangerous and perhaps irreversible path,” England wrote. “While the desire to cope with changing times and economic issues is commendable and certainly needed, to do so on the back of current and future employees hopefully… isn’t the only answer.”
England stated that the only reason town employees should have to take cuts in their pay and benefits are if all other alternatives had been fully analyzed and there is no viable alternative.
England agreed with the mayor’s expression of “ram rodding”. He wrote that the mayor is correct in that if all the ordinances pass it is going to have a cumulative effect on employees, new and existing.
“If they can do this to new hires, when will they take this easy route and do this to the existing employee,” England wrote.
Ocean City citizen and Public Works Department employee James Moxley addressed the ever-noticeable split in the council.
“One side says the town’s fiscally in good shape, while the other side says they want to make sure it stays that way and wants it to be sustainable in the future,” Moxley said. “If sustainable means hiring freezes, no cost of living increases, no annual raises, no merit raises, cutting back holiday days, reducing the ICMA matching contributions, not allowing unused sick days to go towards a pension…I think the city might be in trouble, you are definitely on the wrong track.”
Moxley said that in business it is the easiest thing to do to “attack” employee payroll and benefits first.
“America’s famous family resort willing to take the easy road…can you sleep at night traveling that road?,” Moxley asked the council.
Councilman Joe Hall, who favors all ordinances to cut town employee pay and benefits, addressed the concerns.
“I appreciate everybody that has spoke tonight and I do take to heart everything that you have said. Some of you I agree with and some of you I don’t agree with,” he said. “What these efforts are to do is alter the way we do it, and to pay the bill as we go. I value each and everyone of the employees of this town, I understand that you all are the most valuable asset on the ground of the town of Ocean City, and we will create a system that will support and compensate the future employees that they will have long and prosperous employment with the town of Ocean City.”
Moxley returned to the podium to respond to Joe Hall.
“I’m not scared, I’m not being manipulated, there’s no fear here,” Moxley said. “I am actually looking at the facts of what’s being taken from me and what’s being proposed and it seems very insincere for someone to sit here and say they have the interest of employees at their hearts.”
Police Corporal Glen McIntyre, a president of the Fraternal Order of Police, also addressed the “fear” in the room.
“We’re here because it’s not like the council reaches out to us and says we’re in dire straits and we need to make some changes, and we need to talk to you guys,” McIntyre said. “You guys go behind that door, you talk amongst yourselves, and you get that 4-3 vote, and then push comes to shove you come up here and ram rod it down our throats.”