Public Comment Changes Begin In Ocean City

OCEAN CITY — After the first Ocean City Mayor and Council meeting with the new public comment and consent agenda policies in place, the “jury is still out” on the new format.

The Ocean City Mayor and Council met on Tuesday night in the first meeting since the new public comment period and consent agenda format were approved by the elected officials. Earlier this month, the council approved a couple of measures adjusting the format for the bi-weekly regular meetings, including moving the public comment period to the front of the agenda and adopting a “consent agenda” policy for routine agenda items.

For years, the council has allowed a public comment period at the end of the regular sessions with a five-minute limit on speakers from the public. Responding to problems with the time-tested format, the council earlier this month approved a new format putting the public comment period near the beginning of the meeting and Tuesday was the first real test.

Not surprisingly, the line-up included many of the usual citizens to make public comments during the council meetings and they didn’t waste any time weighing in on the new format. For example, Citizens for Ocean City spokesman Joe Groves was first up and said he was uncertain if he approved of the change.

“I think the jury is still out on this,” he said. “I was not sure I agreed, but looking at this today, it makes sense to me. Our voice can be heard before you start your agenda.”

Groves said he was confident the elected officials would alter the formula if it proved to be ineffective.

“I think we have a council now that will agree to change it if it doesn’t work out,” he said.

However, the next speaker was John Adkins, another frequent public commenter at council meetings. While he didn’t dismiss the new format, Adkins said it was difficult to comment at the beginning before the elected officials and staff started their agenda.

“The one thing about the public comments being at the beginning of the meeting that concerns me is I’ve sat in on your meetings for several years and I always take notes during the meeting,” he said. “The only bad thing about this is we don’t know what you’re going to talk about yet.”

Adkins said he was uncertain if the new format would work and continued to push for the opportunity for public comments at the council’s bi-weekly work sessions. For years, the council has allowed public comments at their regular sessions, but not at the less formal work sessions.

“I have some doubts this will work out well,” he said. “What I would really like to see is a public comment period during work sessions.”

Council President Lloyd Martin said the final public comment format for all meetings was in flux and promised to revisit the work session issue.

“We’re going to take a look at that,” he said. “We’ve heard from you on that issue and we’re going to work that out.”

Another new procedural change introduced on Tuesday was the “consent agenda,” which enables the council to group routine agenda items and resolutions under one umbrella for blanket approval. For example, on Tuesday, nine special event approval requests and a bid for ATVs for the beach patrol were lumped together under the consent agenda and streamlined the process.

Typically, town staffers present each special event request on its own and the council considers each and approves or denies each on its own. On Tuesday, however, the special events were placed together under the consent agenda and were approved together, with the special exception of a beach soccer tournament scheduled for June that had a potential conflict with the Dew Tour. The soccer tournament was approved on its own after the council was reassured the possible conflict had been resolved.

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