NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: City’s Hurricane Irene Transaction With Councilman Questioned

OCEAN CITY — A city councilman denied this week any abuse of power when he served more than $3,300 in meals to emergency responders during Hurricane Irene a year ago.

Earlier this month, this publication received a letter alleging Hall’s Restaurant conducted business during Hurricane Irene when all other operators did not have the benefit of making money. The letter contains allegations that at least are partially true.

To determine the validity of the charges, specifically whether Hall’s Restaurant completed a business transaction with the city during Hurricane Irene, this newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request and obtained city receipts and credit card transactions confirming the charge.

An M&T Bank credit card statement shows a $3,300 transaction on Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore’s “P-Card,” the term used for a city-issued credit card.

A hand-written guest check from Hall’s Restaurant, provided by the city as a result of the FOIA request, shows 110 lunches at a cost of $10 apiece were provided as well as 110 dinners charged at $20 each. The food was picked up by members of the fire company at Hall’s during the storm. Additionally, a credit card receipt from Hall’s Restaurant dated Tuesday, Aug. 30 was provided in city documents.

The order to close Ocean City to visitors and non-essential personnel was issued on Thursday, Aug. 25 and Hurricane Irene began truly influencing the weather in the resort late Friday, Aug. 26 and through Saturday, Aug. 27. Ocean City re-opened on Sunday, Aug. 28 after the storm quickly headed north.

The transaction in question occurred on Saturday of that weekend when nearly every other Ocean City business was shuttered based on the city ordering a mandatory evacuation that essentially required all businesses to close.

Joe Hall said the council never voted to have all businesses close in Ocean City, as alleged in the letter that was read to him by this reporter, and specifically mentioned fellow Councilman Lloyd Martin’s 7-Eleven store being open after the city issued an evacuation order. Martin did confirm last year he allowed motorists to fill up their gasoline tanks prior to the storm.

Joe Hall, who was weathering the storm at the restaurant with employees and family members, said he could not specifically recall when the meals were provided but he said the weather was getting “nasty out” at the point when personnel picked up the food at the backdoor of his restaurant.

The fire department, according to Hall, had underestimated the number of meals needed during the storm due to extra personnel reporting to town fire stations in preparation of a response.

Larmore confirmed that in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. The fire chief, currently in his fifth season at the helm, said it’s important to know how this desperate transaction transpired and that the city had made several other purchases in advance of the storm from at least four local businesses, including the Plim Plaza on the Boardwalk, Crab Alley in West Ocean City and Harpoon Hanna’s in Fenwick Island, specifically. Food was also donated by at least one business.

On the Saturday morning of Hurricane Irene weekend, Larmore said he was startled to learn from command staff members the food situation was not as adequate as expected at several fire stations that did not have any commercial-type kitchen facilities. Larmore said that was at least partially a result of a major influx of emergency personnel that exceeded initial expectations.

“I literally had a meltdown and said to them, ‘wait a minute, I have asked this question for three days, been told we were fine and verified it last night. What’s the problem?’”, Larmore said. “By Saturday morning, I was getting calls saying we are really jammed up for food. So right away we contacted some of the larger restaurants with freezer and generator capability to see if we can have access to their freezers and keep an inventory for reimbursement purposes.”

The problem, according to Larmore, was many restaurants staff contacted had their supplies retrieved by Sysco and returned inland out of fear of losing their products in a power outage. While at the Public Safety Building for a storm briefing, Larmore said he was standing in a hallway near the elevator when he learned about the dire food situation and noticed Joe Hall nearby along with other elected officials.

“I said to Joe Hall, ‘hey you own a restaurant, do you have any food in your freezer?’ and I explained what was going on,” Larmore said. “He told me, ‘give me the go-ahead and we will cook and prepare the meals.’ I thought that was great … He was not picked out … I don’t regret that decision. No, it was not ‘hey Joe Hall opened his restaurant to make money and it happened to be a city department.’ I appreciate the fact that he did it. If [Council members] Jimmy Hall or Mary Knight owned a restaurant, I would have asked them the exact same thing. I would be the first to admit a mistake on the record, but in this case I feel I can look to the public and justify this decision. Yes, in the 11th hour with the total number of people we had and at least one-third of them volunteer in nature, the one thing we have to provide for them is the ability to eat and drink. We had to take care of our people.”

Former City Manager Dennis Dare, who was the city’s chief executive at the time of Irene last August, said he was not aware of the transaction beforehand, but he said whether the city manager gave permission under those emergency circumstances was “irrelevant.”

“The decision on whether he wanted to do it as a council person was up to him. I would not have denied it because if the volunteer fire company needed food, then they needed food, and in an emergency like that, you make decisions and you move on,” Dare said. “Whether Councilman Hall took advantage of the situation or not, that’s for somebody else to decide, not for the city manager to decide.”

Joe Hall said it gave him great pride to be able to help the city’s emergency responders during what was expected to be a major storm, which ended up resulting in only minor damage for the Ocean City.

“Serving 220 meals to emergency personnel protecting our town during a hurricane, all while being separated from their families, ranks as the all-time top meal served by Hall’s Restaurant. This would have never gotten a second look except that I’m an elected person …,” Joe Hall said. “I’m surprised they [political opponents] didn’t hold off and try to pop this out in October.”

When asked about a variety of high-end seafood being prepared and sold by Hall’s compared to chicken fingers and salads from other restaurants that sold goods to the city, Joe Hall said he stands behind the decision.

“They got a great meal and anything extra because the coolers were full and we were anticipating a great weekend. I don’t think you could find anyone who would tell you the meal was not worth what we charged,” Joe Hall said. “What we provided came down to we had a cooler full of food. Chief Larmore would have been happy with turkey sandwiches. The fact we had crab salads, crab legs and shrimp and other items already prepared and we didn’t know when we would be able to open or even if that storm was going to put us out of business for some time. What better way to utilize the food that was in our coolers than to make sure we gave the very best to the personnel protecting the town,” Joe Hall said. “The order was for 110 lunches and 110 dinners. … Being an elected official doesn’t exempt you from being a business person. I can’t see anybody questioning the amount charged. It would be one thing if we charged $25 for lunches and $50 for the dinners, then you could say Joe Hall took advantage of the situation.”

17 comments on “NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: City’s Hurricane Irene Transaction With Councilman Questioned

  1. Seems to be an attempt to discredit Hall, when in fact he stepped to the plate. Sign of whats coming this fall. I think the Chief acted exactly as expected and took care of the emergency, and then stood behind it. Next?

  2. I never respond here, but I felt it necessary on a couple fronts to address some claims here. The concerned citizen — a registered voter and property owner in Ocean City — wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution. I have spoken with the citizen, who was giving the media a tip and it was that individual’s belief that it was improper for an elected official to conduct business in the middle of a hurricane when others could not. The letter contained allegations that were vetted and found to be true, at least in part. Mr. Hall’s side and Mr. Larmore’s side was reported. I believed if you asked Mr. Hall he would tell you the newspaper has always been fair to him in reporting the news. He may not agree with the content of the article itself, but his side has always been represented fairly. There is no personal attempts to “get” anyone on my part and it’s my belief I am in fact doing my job by reporting on this situation. It’s your right to agree or disagree and those are valued opinions.

  3. It would be great to “get back to the way things used to be.” The best way to accomplish this is by replacing both Halls on Nov. 6, and restoring sanity to city government. Joe, you should have donated the food, that would have been the no brainer, and Mel, are you sure your name isn’t Brent.

  4. Mr. Hall should have donated the food!!!! Other businesses did not have the opportunity to sell their food that would spoil. I bet a lot of folks in town would have loved to donate vs selling. Maybe part of the evacuation plan should include food sources. It is odd to me that Mel Mc Sweeney uses Councilman’s Ashley’s favorite phrase “no-brainer”.

  5. Mr. Green, Did the Chief really support Joe’s side of the story or did you put words in his mouth? I am also surprised this didn’t wait another month and find the timing interesting. I sure hope we can get back to work after November, no matter who’s there.

  6. Trying to discredit Joe Hall in this way is a classic “investigator” Cymek move. Wake up people.

  7. Give it a rest – you can’t get a burger and fries from Five Guys for $10. Emergency personnel NEED to be fed. Question: Which is worse; Joe Hall losing hundreds of dollars in food OR selling it, AT A LOSS, to help emergency personnel? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

  8. Wow,whoever gave this news tip surely does not have enough to do. Quit with the nonsense already and do your job, its BS like this that disgust hard working people. That was a fair price for the meals and emergency personnel have to eat. Whoever this source is would be the first to moan about garbage not being picked up in 100 mile per hour winds.

  9. THIS IS A RIDICULOUS WASTE OF INK, STEVE GREEN SEEMS LIKE HE IS WRITING ANYTHING TO JUST GET JOE HALL.
    IF THERE IS A CONCERNED CITIZEN, WHY CANT YOU GIVE YOUR NAME? AND FUNNY HOW THINGS LIKE THIS DONT GET PRINTED IF STEVE GREEN DOESNT AGREE! GROW UP PEOPLE! WHY DONT WE STOP BEING SO MEAN AND VISIOUS AND GET BACK TO THE WAY THINGS USED TO BE, HELPING EACH OTHER AND MAKING THIS TOWN PRODUCTIVE! DONT YOU ALL SEE HOW IMMATURE THIS ALL IS??????

  10. “Being an elected official doesn’t exempt you from being a business person.” THEREIN LIES THE CONTINUING CHALLENGE JOE. If you weren’t a businessman (and this being an election year) – this article would not exist!!!

    As we distance ourselves more from that miss of Irene, it is a shame that we’re finding out more people actually STAYED in OC rather than heed to that mandatory evac. Hall “weathered the storm with employees and family members..” Good gosh – all are lucky that Irene didn’t pack a punch!

    What else “interesting” are we gonna hear/read about before November??? SHEESH!

    ~BUSHMAN!~

  11. Nice posts Cheryl and Porter- I completely agree, the food should have been donated, and as a retiree myself, ‘OCRETIRED’, yes, the Chief backs up what he did, and acted accordingly, but of course he wasn’t going to say he shouldn’t be charged. He was in no place to demand free food, still, that doesn’t change the fact the food should have been at least offered for free. I’ve been around long enough to know that in a time of disparity, need, and emergency, the last thing we need to think about is wasting time pulling out the plastic to pay for meals that were on their way to going bad anyway.

  12. …And another thing- Steve Green was well within his rights here to follow up with an anonymous tip and to exclude the name of the person submitting the information. How dare you accuse him of being biased! If I recall, he didn’t exactly endorse any one candidate over another, but rather tries to write on the facts, and interesting topics of discussion pertaining to the local political scene. It’s a shame he had to defend himself on here.

  13. well, I would post my opinion on this piece, but it seems between Luci Lu, Cheryl, Porter, and Renwick, I really don’t need to say much else. I think they all hit the nail on the head! Sherlock- it seems a little hypocritical and silly to point fingers and declare aliases members on the council when you call yourself “Sherlock”, don’t you think? Interesting article, Mr. Green. Thank you for the factual, and respectable article. I’m sorry you did have to defend yourself to some people.

  14. HEY SHERLOCK I MEAN ASHLEY, COUNCILMORAN HALL IS DISCREDITING HIMSELF JUST FINE BY HIMSELF! BY THE WAY HOW DID CYMEK GET IN THIS? HE, MARY KNIGHT AND LLOYD MARTIN ARE THE ONLY ONES ON THE COUNCIL THAT CONSISTANTLY DISPLAY GOOD JUDGEMENT AND MAKE SOUND DECISIONS! WHY DON’T YOU WATCH THEM CLOSER YOU MAY LEARN SOMETHING. I GUESS YOU TRY TO DIVERT ATTENTION FROM YOURSELVES BY MAKING COMMENTS ABOUT OTHERS DOING A GOOD JOB FOR THE CITIZENS. IT WILL NOT WORK FOR LONG MANY INFORMED INDIVIDUALS ARE ON TO YOU AND YOUR BUDDIES AND YOUR ANTICS. WHAT DOES COUNCILMORAN HALL HAVE TO HIDE? SHOULD ALSO BE INTERESTING WHEN THE DETAILS OF THE LAW SUIT WITH YOUR CONDO ASSOCIATION BECOME PUBLIC??? ASSOCIATION COME OUT AND IT WON’T BE LONG! THE CLOCK IS TICKING AND IT WILL BE GETTING LONESOME UP THERE AFTER NOVEMBER 6TH. TIC, TIC, TIC!

  15. I bet Mr. Ashley thinks he is quite the clever cat using “Sherlock” as an alias when us true council followers know HE is the one who brings up Mr. Cymek’s PI license all the time…next time Brent, try being one move ahead of the rooks.

  16. As I recall Steve Green endorsed Joe Hall several times in his re election campaigns. If Mr. Green was biased against Mr. Hall, he would not have written the article.

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