SNOW HILL — An attempt by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Seacrets, an entertainment and restaurant complex in Ocean City, for police security in the form of extra patrols met resistance from several County Commissioners.
A vote on the issue was delayed until absent Commissioner Louise Gulyas, who represents Ocean City, could be given a chance to review the situation and cast a vote.
“Anyway you look at it, you’re getting into the security business,” said Commissioner Madison Bunting.
Bunting admitted to being uncomfortable with the MoU for a number of reasons, chiefly that he didn’t see any reason why every bar or restaurant in Ocean City couldn’t ask for the same extra protection.
But Sheriff’s Office officials argued that the MoU would only benefit the county.
“We’re trying to take out the liability issue,” said Chief Deputy Dale Smack. “We’re not bouncers.”
Smack presented the MoU to the commission and reminded that the Sheriff’s Office has had a similar set-up with Seacrets to provide plain clothes officers as extra security for more than a decade.
“We’ve been doing this for 12 years,” said Commission President Bud Church.
A MoU would make the deal official county business and would provide added defense against legal liability in the case of an officer being involved in an incident.
“It gives a lot more protection,” said County Attorney Sonny Bloxom. “That’s [the MoU] the way to go.”
However, Bunting pointed out that sealing the situation with a memorandum would change the relationship.
“It’s not the same deal,” he said.
Before the MoU, officers were basically “moonlighting” as security at Seacrets, according to Bunting. But a memorandum would make the relationship one between Worcester and Seacrets instead of individual off-duty officers.
If that comes to pass, Bunting restated his confusion as to how the county would not be obliged to provide the same service to anyone that was willing to pay for it.
On the issue of fees, both Bunting and fellow Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw weren’t satisfied with the $66 per hour Seacrets was willing to pay to have extra patrols on-site during busy times.
The rest of the commission seemed less troubled about the arrangements.
“I don’t have any problems with it,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.
“What is the problem?” asked Commissioner Jim Purnell, underlining that Seacrets would be covering all expenses, not tax payers.
As far as turning down other bars or restaurants if the Sheriff’s Office became too overwhelmed, Sheriff Reggie Mason explained that everything runs on his discretion.
“I can stop this any time,” he said.
Officers haven’t had a raise in four years, Mason added, and while he didn’t especially enjoy them having to work extra security jobs, he considered it a reality of the times where many officers needed the additional income just to get by.
“I’m very concerned about my people,” he said.
Smack clarified that the proposed MoU for Seacrets would be similar to the one currently in effect with the Ocean Downs Casino.
Boggs motioned that the matter be tabled until the next commission meeting which would allow Gulyas to have a say in the matter. The commission agreed and voted 5-1 to delay a vote, with Bunting opposed.