Decency Rules Deserve Council Consideration

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Whether Ocean City should follow Wildwood, N.J.’s decision to institute a decency ban will be discussed next month, and there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

We think Ocean City should create an ordinance outlining exactly what is permitted on the Boardwalk only and pass it immediately, but only after legal counsel decides what will pass Constitutional muster.

Two years ago, the former council was not interested in addressing the issue and a public discussion never took place. The new council has at least shown a willingness to consider it, as the topic has been scheduled for a work session meeting.

Creating a “decency” ordinance to outlaw such offensive clothing as baggy pants that can be enforced equitably could go a long way in demonstrating officials will do whatever it takes to protect Ocean City’s family reputation. That’s a message that needs to be disseminated, particularly in light of recent weeks when young, entitled punks intent on intimidating and wreaking havoc have been roaring through town.

Additionally, setting a standard of acceptable wares will help protect Ocean City’s investment in its infrastructure.

Ocean City’s jewels in its crown are the beach, bays, ocean and Boardwalk. There are others, but these are the main draws. Protecting and enhancing all of them are priorities. Millions of public dollars are spent to do that. The town just made an $8 million investment over two years with the reconstruction of the Boardwalk. That means the property owners did as well because it was their money that essentially funded it. In our view, retaining a certain class and family atmosphere of the Boardwalk should be the town’s top priority.

If the council agrees a decency ordinance is a necessary direction, the question is how to execute this desire within the Constitution. Wildwood probably gets by with its baggy pants ban with other specific references, such as requiring foot protection and mandating shirts be worn to cover breasts on the Boardwalk.

We think creating a legal set of rules for attire is necessary. It’s the least we can do to safeguard the reputation of the Boardwalk, which has been viewed as an unsafe place in recent weeks. Setting a standard that raises the bar a notch is okay. It’s not like jean shorts, backward hats or sleeveless shirts would be banned. A public place could most likely not evade legal challenge and is not afforded the same protection as private establishments, like Seacrets where a specific dress code exists.

In our view, this ordinance would be largely symbolic in nature, but exactly what Ocean City needs.

It’s no secret it has been a rough start to the busy season and the weekend of June 7-9 is one that will be discussed at length in future weeks and months. Over the course of that weekend and at other times, gang activity was present in Ocean City, and there were a number of associated criminal incidents linked to that fact. This will not be discussed often publicly, but various law enforcement representatives have confirmed that. For instance, a stabbing victim, who was dumped in a hotel lobby after a Boardwalk altercation, is reportedly not cooperating with police and instead is looking to address the issue when he recovers and returns home.

With that incident and others in the spotlight and topping citizen concerns, Ocean City is primed to send a message and perhaps passing an ordinance creating a level of decency of acceptable attire standards will show town officials are going to be strict on what it will tolerate.

With recent weeks being comprised of largely negative headlines that have concerned visitors as well as residents, this might be the kind of reactionary exposure that demonstrates a significant commitment.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.