OCEAN CITY – The City Council’s decision to repeal a recently enacted parking law became final this week, but not before a challenge from a petitioner to allow the public the chance to weigh in on the matter at the ballot box.
On June 3, the City Council voted 5-2 to approve Ordinance 2013-10 that enacted new areas of paid parking to bring in additional revenue and help close a budget gap. Council members Dennis Dare, Doug Cymek, Lloyd Martin, Mary Knight and Joe Mitrecic voted in favor of the parking ordinance and Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas were opposed.
After several studies, the selected locations included a chunk of the east side of the Public Safety Parking Lot between 65th and 66th streets, City Hall parking lot, the west side of Philadelphia Avenue between North Division St. and South First St., 49th Street ocean block, 131st Street from Coastal Hwy. to Sinepuxent Ave. and 146th Street ocean block.
For months, the ordinance met opposition from Ocean Place Condominium owners on 146th Street as well as from Nolen Graves, the owner of the Crab Bag on 131st Street. Those in opposition came together with the recently organized group of Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ), along with former Councilman Vince Gisriel, and began petition efforts to place a referendum on a ballot seeking to stop the new metered areas.
Last week, Board of Elections Chair Mary Adeline Bradford presented the results of the petition for referendum. The City Clerk’s Office received a 1,770 signatures and the Board of Elections verified 1,648 valid signatures of Ocean City taxpayers. The petition was successful, receiving more than the required amount of 1,226 signatures.
The council voted 5-2 with Ashley and Pillas in opposition to repeal Ordinance 2013-10. Following the vote, Mayor Rick Meehan pledged as long as he is mayor he will veto any future action to install paid parking on city streets.
This week the Mayor and City Council were presented with an ordinance to rescind Ordinance 2013-10 in first reading.
Staff submitted the fiscal impact is a revenue reduction estimated at almost $153,000. The town purchased additional Cale machines that were installed in the added areas of paid parking during the summer. Those machines have been bagged and will be removed at a later date. The town will retain the machines for future use whether in municipal lots or as replacements.
“There has been question of why the council has decided to do this. We saw the [Democratic] process went to the end … there wasn’t a huge conspiracy … the voters decided they didn’t want paid parking, so I made the motion to repeal, and I stand by my motion, and I stand by this ordinance,” Councilman Joe Mitrecic said.
Gisriel came before the council stating the decision to repeal the parking ordinance is denying the voters right to a referendum.
“If you repeal the ordinance, the citizens cannot weigh in on the issue,” he said.
According to Gisriel, petition organizers followed city code that states “upon turning in a successful petition it goes to the voters for their approval or disapproval.”
Gisriel acknowledged the mayor’s pledge to veto additional paid parking on city streets but his words are not binding and the result of a referendum is.
Gisriel concluded petition organizers have two other options — petition the ordinance to repeal the parking ordinance or challenge the council’s repeal in court. According to Gisriel, the petition organizers don’t have an interest in either action.
”What is the intent of the repeal?,” Gisriel asked. “Is it so you can come back and put parking meters in municipal lots? If that’s the case state that to the public so we know why the repeal … if you were candid and told the public why, it would satisfy some.”
Pillas was in favor of the referendum because she felt the question should be placed on the ballot to receive the public’s opinion, and felt many voters signed the petition for the same reason to gain the public’s consensus regardless of their own personal opinion. For that reason, she is not in favor of the repeal.
Council Secretary Mary Knight said she is in favor of the repeal so that the city could be open to charging for parking in municipal parking lots in the future.
The council voted 5-2 to repeal the ordinance with Ashley and Pillas in opposition.
Councilman Doug Cymek made a motion to put the issue to rest by making it an emergency ordinance that would eliminate the need for the ordinance to return on second reading. The council voted in the same fashion to pass an emergency ordinance and Mayor Rick Meehan approved.
Meehan supports the council’s decision to repeal the parking ordinance. The intention from the beginning was to lessen the burden on the taxpayers by coming up with alternative revenue sources but the taxpayers spoke, and the council is now aware additional paid parking is not the favored direction.
“It was a clear indication that the community didn’t want this and by repealing it the council is listening … let’s move on,” he said.
Prior to the release of the petition results, Ocean Place Condominium owners challenged the Mayor and City Council and Board of Elections over the length of time that had passed for the Board to review the petition results.
On Tuesday, July 30, the Clerk’s Office received the petition for referendum. The Board of Elections convened Wednesday, Aug. 21, and Thursday, Aug. 22, to review the petition signatures.
Last week Bradford explained the submission of a petition is not a scheduled event therefore the board, which is made up volunteers, have to find an appropriate time to meet to review and certify the petition.
“The question of any member of the Board of Elections would either slow down or speed up a petition for personal gain or political gain is absolutely unconscionable,” Bradford said. “I assure the citizens of Ocean City that we do our very best to give you the results of a petition in a timely fashion but also in an accurate fashion …”
Gisriel returned to the podium at the conclusion of the legislative session to give his own suggestions in speeding up the petition verification process.
“It was a lengthy process and that concerned a number of people,” he said.
Gisriel suggested in the future that once a petition and its fixed turn-in date is announced the Board of Elections plan to meet within a week after the petition is submitted.
“Meanwhile all summer long people are paying the meters. The perception is this is extended somewhat as a revenue source,” he said.