OCEAN CITY – The mayor faces a lengthy list of decisions as 11 ordinances, concerning town employee pay scales and benefits, passed second reading during Monday night’s meeting, leaving him deliberating over the power of the veto.
“I have to ask the mayor to veto these ordinances … and have them brought back for serious conversations that includes facts and figures,” former Council President Joe Mitrecic said. “Otherwise you might as well throw a dart to the dart board to determine the outcome of the town of Ocean City.”
A Caine Woods resident addressed the mayor as well, saying, “Mayor, I think the people here need you to step up and veto these ordinances that are being passed. We are in trouble … we are behind you 100 percent if you do it…put it up for a referendum and we will back you up all the way.”
During an interview on Wednesday night, Mayor Rick Meehan said it was important that citizens realize the “checks and balances” concerning the mayor’s veto and passing laws.
“It is not something I take lightly, but I want to make sure that when I do it, if I do it, I can thoroughly explain the reasons and hopefully as a result of that…to get the council to re-consider or re-open discussions on these issues so that we can address them with all the information at hand,” he said. “I am very disappointed that my requests to have a couple of the ordinances remanded to work sessions so we can get additional information and verification on exactly how they are going to effect our employees, today and in the future [have been rejected].”
Meehan feels uncomfortable with the “unknowns” of the ordinances that are being passed, particularly the ordinance to change new town employees over to a 401(a) retirement plan.
“We really don’t know what that’s going to cost or how we are going to fund that, and I just don’t think it is responsible to pass that until we have those answers,” he said.
The Mayor and City Council have a meeting with town’s financial advisors on Feb. 1 where an actuary study will be presented and facts and figures will be outlined.
“I just don’t think that we are moving forward responsibly, we need to take the time to get some specific information on what the cost to implement some of these changes are and what effects they are going to have accumulatively on our employees,” he said.
Another ordinance that the mayor is concerned over is an 8.8-percent across-the-board decrease in new town employees’ pay scales.
“I would much prefer the council look at a graduated scale that isn’t the same rate across, a much lesser decrease at the bottom end of the scale,” he said. “It is important that we look at this because especially at the lower end of pay scale when you look at adding all these changes up and how they cumulatively effect some of those lower positions it’s substantial.”
An additional ordinance that the mayor is taking into consideration concerns new town employees’ vacation time. The ordinance states that the employee can accrue up to three weeks of vacation, earning an additional week every five years.
“I don’t think that is a best management practice,” Meehan said. “I don’t think it is good for our employees, their families, their health or their productivity, and it isn’t really something that saves the city money.”
Meehan said he has served on the council for 25 years, whether as mayor or a council member, and he has never seen this many ordinances packaged together that are so important and brought forward all at one time.
“I am disappointed that the council doesn’t slow down a little bit,” he said.
Meehan believes it is important to gain consensus on such important matters regarding Ocean City, instead of a continuous 4-3 vote.
According to the town’s code concerning the mayor’s veto, “If the Mayor disapproves any ordinance, he shall not sign it. The Mayor shall return all ordinances…within 15 days…any disapproved ordinance shall not become law unless subsequently passed by a favorable vote of six members of the whole Council within 60 days…”
On Wednesday, Meehan said, “I will make a decision sometime next week whether to sign all of those ordinances. If I don’t sign a ordinance, that is something that I don’t take very lightly.”
Meehan has only vetoed one ordinance in the past and it dealt with private wind turbines. He said he didn’t think it was practical in the way it was written.
“We were able to come back and address that and then later pass that ordinance,” he said.
During the conclusion of Monday night’s meeting, the mayor addressed the concerned audience.
“There are a lot of important decisions to be made, and they will be made,” he said. “I believe and have great confidence in this council that we will address some of these issues, and we will get the right answers and we will make the right decisions in moving forward. I want to ensure the citizens of Ocean City that there will be another chapter.”