OCEAN CITY — A familiar face in local political circles wants back the seat at City Hall he lost two years ago.
Former two-term Councilman Joe Mitrecic, first elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, was blunt this week on why he feels it’s imperative he get back into elected office and secure one of the four open City Council posts, which are currently held by Council members Doug Cymek, Jim Hall, Joe Hall and Mary Knight. He filed at City Hall on Monday to have his name on the ballot Nov. 6.
“I’m an intelligent person who knows Ocean City and cares deeply about Ocean City and I know the budget very, very well,” he said. “The main reason I am running is I’m not happy with the way the town is moving right now. The town has taken such a horrible turn since that 2010 election and I am bothered by that. I do not agree with the way the financial issues are being handled. I do not agree with the way employee issues are being handled. We are spending money in areas that may or may not benefit the town of Ocean City. There’s many reasons, not the least of which is I think I can do a good job, and there’s nobody out there running that I think can do a better job.”
Addressing fiscal issues, Mitrecic, who served as council president from 2006 to 2010, said he specifically disagrees with the council 4-3 vote in the spring on majority-minority lines to lower the property tax rate by a penny, saying he believes the council majority “stole $860,000 from the fund balance.”
“For eight years, we sat there and we looked at costs and we made important decisions to cut those costs and give money back to the taxpayer. Now, to just take money from the fund balance is not a savings. That’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, and I think that’s a problem with government from the bottom to the top. We need to stand up and make the hard decisions.”
In October of 2010, an election that saw one of the lowest voter turnouts in Ocean City history, Mitrecic lost his seat by virtue of a fourth place finish behind Council members Lloyd Martin, Margaret Pillas and Brent Ashley, who narrowly edge out Mitrecic by 21 votes.
Acknowledging the loss was a stinger, particularly for his family, Mitrecic said he learned a lot from that defeat.
“If anything, I think I regret not being more approachable. People who don’t know me, I think, find me difficult to approach,” said Mitrecic, who owns a local construction company. “I took my job as a councilman serious. I took my job as council president beyond serious. I was there to run the meetings and to make sure the proper decorum was followed. Maybe I should have smiled a little bit more or told a joke now and again, but somebody had to be the mayor’s straight man and I was it. I do plan to open up more to the public so they will know me as a person and not just a councilman.”
While in office for his two terms, Mitrecic worked closely with former City Manager Dennis Dare, whose removal for alleged insubordination one year ago aggravated him.
“Dennis put the team together that runs the town of Ocean City today. He put together a tremendous team,” Dare said. “Dennis would dig his feet in at times, but we all do. We butted heads, but I was in his office at least once a week talking about things. I would be upset if he didn’t try to get his point of view across. As far as being insubordinate, which is being alleged, absolutely not, it’s a complete fabrication. Never can I remember any of that.”
Mitrecic said it was common for him, Dare and Mayor Rick Meehan to meet prior to meetings at City Hall to discuss upcoming meetings, but he said anyone could have joined in those open-door meetings. He said that’s unlike the current dynamic with the drastic majority-minority disagreements.
“Yes we met and we talked a lot. The council president sets the agenda and decides the course of the meetings. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be,” Mitrecic said. “Why is the current city council president not meeting with the mayor and city manager? How does he know what’s going on in town?”
Mitrecic said he is upset general city employees felt they had to start a union petition. He was elected the same year the Fraternal Order of Police scored collective bargaining with binding interested arbitration rights and was on the council when collective bargaining was given to the firefighter/paramedics.
“I would not have voted to offer it to the general employees, like we did with the EMTs. It’s a lot larger hole,” he said. “To be honest with you, if I was there, they would not be asking for it. To a person, all of the employees in Ocean City would tell you I always treated them with respect and listened to them and followed up with them.”
Mitrecic said he signed the petition but will not support the referendum when he votes on Nov. 6.
“… win or lose, if I’m elected, I will do everything in my power to make sure they do have that seat at the table once again,” he said. “With this current situation, you are talking about a group of employees who are not at the top of the pay scale and they are willing to give up a part of their check to be a part of a group they think can help them. That says how scared they are.”