OCEAN CITY – A spokesperson for a local citizens group came under fire this week amid charges the non-profit organization is showing favoritism toward certain candidates in this year’s elections.
At the conclusion of this week’s Mayor and City Council, Councilman Joe Hall called Joe Groves, spokesperson for Citizens For Ocean City, to the front of the room to “answer some questions.”
Citizens For Ocean City was formed after several actions by the new council majority, consisting of Brent Ashley, Jim Hall, Joe Hall and Margaret Pillas. The group’s membership soared when the four council members voted to remove City Manager Dennis Dare from office last September.
According to Citizens For Ocean City’s Facebook page, the group’s mission is to educate the citizens to make good choices. The group’s page is designed to educate voters to make good decisions though encouraging a positive forum to share honest ideas about the issues faced in changing economic times and to support the council to make wise decisions and promote neighborly communication and discourse.
At Monday’s meeting, Joe Hall questioned Groves on the organization’s right to collect donations. Groves responded that the organization is a 501c4, which is a non-profit that is allowed the right to become political if it chooses.
“For the people that have filed to run for office, at this time it is a total of seven, and at this time as far as I know you have only hosted donuts and coffee and encouragement for one candidate, and I want to know why the previous candidates that have filed for the council race weren’t given the same courtesy,” Joe Hall said.
Joe Hall was referring to Monday morning when the Citizens For Ocean City set up outside of City Hall and provided coffee and donuts to celebrate OC Citizens Appreciation Day.
The celebration occurred on the morning that former City Manager Dennis Dare filed for office and held a press conference at the entrance of City Hall to announce his candidacy.
Once Groves explained the “coincidence”, Joe Hall went on to accuse Groves of not providing equal time to all candidates.
Council members Joe Hall and Jim Hall are up for re-election but have not filed, and Doug Cymek and Mary Knight have already. Other candidates include Robert Baker, Sean Rox, Frank Adkins and Joe Mitrecic.
“I am not required, sir, to give equal time, remember that,” Groves said. “Under no law am I required to give you equal time or anyone else, nor shall I, so I will be upfront right now.”
Councilman Brent Ashley pointed out that the Citizens For Ocean City website states it “promotes neighborly communications and discourse” but a cartoon caricature of Joe Hall in a Mad Hatter outfit has been posted on the site and accused Groves of posting it.
“I am not going to censor people Brent, just like I don’t censor you when plenty of times I wish I could but I don’t,” Groves said.
Ashley continued to accuse Groves of allowing posts that are in “bad taste” on the site, in which Groves responded he is not the administrator of the site and that he has someone else handle that duty.
“Let’s assumes that is true,” Ashley said. “Now just in good taste if you are promoting neighborly communications why would you allow something like that on your website, or on your Facebook page? To me that is bad taste. Being an elected official, you don’t think that is disrespectful?”
An audience member interjected Joe Hall’s advertisements and Facebook posts for a new mayor was equally disrespectful to a sitting elected official. Several back-and-forth comments continued until Council President Jim Hall insisted the conversation end.