OCEAN CITY – During a closed session on Tuesday afternoon, the much talked about gas promotion, supposed to hit the streets by the 4th of July, hit a dead end as a majority of the council voted it down.
The promotion was approved by a majority vote of the council a couple weeks ago. Councilman Brent Ashley set the motion to allocate $100,000 of the town’s advertising budget toward a gas promotion. Since then, Ocean City’s advertisement agency, MGH, and the tourism department have been working on a concept to place the gas giveaway in play.
During Tuesday’s closed session, MGH presented the Mayor and City Council with its concept but it was short lived as a new motion was placed by Councilwoman Mary Knight to change the town’s role in the gas giveaway.
“During closed session, there was a discussion on the gas promotion and a presentation made by MGH,” Joe Hall said. “During that presentation, it was very exciting but in the end there was a motion and a vote made to alter what the perceived initial direction was given by the council for the town to actually give free gas away.”
The vote to “alter” the promotion was 4-3, with Councilman Doug Cymek, Jim Hall, Lloyd Martin, and Councilwoman Mary Knight in favor.
Ashley announced to the public that it was Cymek who switched his vote from originally approving the promotion to not. When Ashley’s motion was originally approved, it was through Cymek’s proposal to make a compromise, linking the gas giveaway as well as a golf co-op.
The Golf Co-Op Marketing Plan has been brought to the council on multiple occasions and failed every time. The objective is to intensify the marketing of Ocean City as a desirable golf destination by partnering with Ocean City golf packagers to increase related revenue to the town and increase rounds booked at the town-owned golf course Eagles Landing. The marketing dollars that the eligible packagers match will double the investment made by the town, resulting in extended reach, frequency and increased bookings. The proposal directs $60,000 toward the golf co-op but out of the already allocated golf advertising budget.
Cymek’s compromise passed both the gas giveaway and the golf co-op in a 4-3 vote, with Jim Hall, Lloyd Martin and Mary Knight in opposition.
During this week’s meeting, Council President Jim Hall explained the campaign MGH had created for the gas giveaway was exciting but the council’s discussion revealed hotels and motels in town were already giving gas away, and some council members felt it would be better to promote other businesses in town to do the same.
“Therefore, we voted not to approve the $100,000 but to go forward with the gas promotion and the promotion of Ocean City,” he said. “I hope when we kick that off I think it’s going to be a surprise, it’s going to be a real hot success and the gas cards are going to intermingle into the ad and it is going to be a really nice promotion.”
On Wednesday, Ashley said he is “simply puzzled.”
“I am very embarrassed for the town and for some of the elected officials,” he said. “It’s given Ocean City a total black eye and has killed our credibility.”
Ashley said that the loss of the gas giveaway promotion has the potential to generate millions of dollars in lost revenue for the local businesses this summer. Not only that, but the media coverage on Ocean City and the gas promotion has already gone global and now for Ocean City to take it back creates a negative image.
“The mayor is always saying don’t accentuate a negative,” he said. “This to me is the biggest negative you could accentuate.”
Ashley said that he has asked for the golf co-op to be brought back to the table now that the gas promotion has been reformed.
“That was supposed to be a joint promotion to promote Ocean City,” he said. “Now that’s [gas promotion] not going to happen so I think the support would be there to eliminate that [gold co-op] as well.”
Ashley added that the discussion and the motion set to change the gas promotion should have been acted out in public, not in closed session.
“Cymek is always saying he wants the public to hear, then why didn’t he come out and let the public hear that,” he said. “So, I’m totally confused. Why people wouldn’t want to promote Ocean City is beyond me. This has garnered so much attention so far and out of our entire advertising budget you’re talking about $100,000 and the potential for the upside of business … there was no down side at all. “
Ashley said the only reason he can come up with for the majority of the council to not want to go through with the gas promotion is because it wasn’t their idea.
“I am firmly convinced that some of my fellow council members for some reason don’t want to promote Ocean City,” he said. “They don’t want more people here. They think things are fine the way they are. I’ve told them to come up with their own ideas. Some of you have been here for years and I don’t hear any ideas at all.”
When The Dispatch asked Ashley where the gas promotion is heading now, he said he didn’t know at this point. He revealed there were suggestions made such as switching it over to a contest to give one family a $5,000 vacation to Ocean City or to tie it into the gas giveaways the hoteliers are already conducting.
“I am getting a lot of feedback from the business community … that this isn’t a good thing,” he said. “We’ve given our word on $100,000 and now we’re going back on it. It is a total negative and a total embarrassment.”
Ashley reported also he has told Cymek that he never has to speak to him again.
“When a man looks at me in the eye and says ‘you have my word’ and we shake hands on it and then you change your vote a week later, how else could you take that?” he said. “I was totally floored when this happened yesterday because I thought I had Councilman Cymek’s word.”
On Wednesday, Cymek explained that when he originally voted for the gas promotion his vote was based on the information he had available at the time.
“I felt it was a good trade in order to bring the golf promotion forward,” he said.
Cymek said that since he has placed his vote on the gas promotion he has been approached by 57 constituents and not one was in favor for the gas giveaway.
“Some of it is because of the confusion because there really was no gas promotion set out it was just him [Ashley] saying he wanted to spend $100,000,” he said. “I was not in favor of putting gas into people’s tanks up in Baltimore or any kind of promotion that had to do with gas. I want it to be created with the idea that it would bring people here, to put them in our beds and put them in our restaurants.”
Cymek said that his platform for his campaign was “The Voice of the People” and he is sticking to it.
“When the public was polled on this, I didn’t have one person contact me and say they supported it,” he said. “I went out of my way and that is just my nature, I have always done that too, to get a feeling before we went forward.”
Cymek said that now the gas promotion has been reformed, he doesn’t know in what direction the approved golf co-op will go in next. If Ashley is truly concerned about Ocean City, Cymek said he won’t act to move a promotion that will generate an estimated $450,000 a year from golf bookings in Ocean City.
“If Mr. Ashley is so blinded by his gas promotion, and if he wants to take it upon himself to try to nix the golf promotion, that’s what it is going to cost the tax people … very simple,” he said.
Cymek said that the presentation given by MGH on the concept for the gas promotion was well perceived by the council but is also not sure in which direction the gas promotion was heading now that it has been changed.
“Right now the gas issue is in limbo,” he said.
He added that he believes Ashley “lashed out” as a way to give Cymek a “guilt trip.”
“I am sorry Mr. Ashley is so upset, but that is something he has to deal with and I am not going to argue with him in the media, that is not my intent,” Cymek said.