The Ocean City Mayor and Council may have been on break this week, but that did not stop the dramatic undercurrents at City Hall.
Although anything could change between now and next week’s meeting, the council majority seems intent on voting on a new city manager next week.
The big question is whether the requisite background checks of the two finalists will show any serious skeletons in their closets. There’s no question the “front runner”, according to Councilman Joe Hall, has a few issues that could raise some flags. However, the council is aware of some of the political issues the candidate has faced in recent years, but the votes appear to be there to advance him into the city manager’s office.
In covering this story, I struggled this week with a moral dilemma. By obtaining the Mayor and Council members’ cell phone records, and specifically analyzing Councilman Joe Hall’s call to his “front runner”, I was easily able to identify the person and learned within about 20 minutes a tremendous amount of information.
I know what city the person works for and how long the individual has been there. I also know how many kids the person has, academic background, former jobs held and all of the recent troubles the individual has had with the current town government.
I had a difficult time throughout the week deciding whether to report the person’s name. I made the call early on to not “out” the individual, as it would clearly ruin current employment. That’s why throughout the story (see page 4A) gender references were omitted in quotes.
I decided I was not going to publish the name. More important this week was whether Joe Hall’s call to the candidate corrupted the process and whether it needs to start over again. Not surprisingly, the council is divided on the matter with majority members not finding any issue with the communication, and the minority members taking umbrage and seeking a restarting of the search process.
From what I can tell, based on social media comments and website feedback from the story first posted Wednesday evening, most think the call merits a “redo” of the process. Understandably, the feedback only represents about 20 people and clearly is not an endorsement one way or the other.
Nonetheless, the call was the wrong thing to do, and Joe Hall admitted as much this week because it has raised questions about the integrity of the process. He could have clearly waited two days to have the one-on-one talk he desired when the finalist had breakfast with the council at the Captain’s Table on April 13. He chose to have a 13-minute phone conversation instead, leaving many shaking their heads in bewilderment and wondering when Ocean City will have its next city manager.
In the months following the Tipsy Taxi arrests, the scuttlebutt has been that the operation, spearheaded by the Ocean City Police Department in cooperation with the city and State’s Attorney’s Office, simply targeted the low-hanging fruit (recreational drug users) rather than the heavyweights (the actual drug suppliers). While that may be true in select instances, there have been a handful of severe sentences in recent weeks that prove otherwise. The individual cases have been filtering through the judicial system and several have resulted in significant jail sentences. There are more reportedly to come.
For instance, a Snow Hill man caught in the sting operation was convicted of cocaine distribution and will serve at least 10 years without the possibility of parole. Another man, from Westover, received a similar sentence for cocaine distribution, while an Ocean City man received a six-month prison sentence for pot distribution. In the interest of fairness, one Ocean City woman had the charges against her dismissed.