Proposed Law Changes Aimed At OC Vehicle Events; Public Nuisance Issues Targeted

OCEAN CITY – For the last couple of years, city officials have promised action to ease concerns over vehicular events in Ocean City, and a first step is the Police Commission proposing recommended changes to city laws.

The most recent event to worry residents was Cruisin, which hit Ocean City in May with 3,400 classic cars officially registered for the event and thousands more unaffiliated with it. While the officially registered participants appeared to be well behaved for the most part and attended the event’s official activities at the Inlet and Roland E. Powell Convention Center, the uninvited groups raced up and down Coastal Highway and other streets, dumped trash in parking lots and left a considerable amount of rubber on the roads.

Cruisin has become one of the biggest weekends of the year in Ocean City, according to promoter and organizer Bob Rothermel and many business owners. While local residents bristled at the steady roar of the hot rod engines and the consequences of the large convergence, special events drive the economy in Ocean City, especially in the shoulder seasons. Balancing them with the quality of life has always been a challenge.

Immediately following last year and this year’s events complaints were heard loud from residents demanding changes. The same was reported after last fall’s VW/Audi event, which will return the first weekend of October.

The Police Commission on Monday morning reviewed proposed ordinance changes that would add additional “tools to the toolbox” when it comes to spectators and the damage they cause.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres looked to Myrtle Beach, S.C. and provided copies of laws that relate to the issues Ocean City has been experiencing.

The first proposed change would be to a chapter of Ocean City’s code titled “Offenses and Miscellaneous Provisions.”

“It will be a violation for any business license holder to permit, enable or allow the consumption of or possession in an open container of alcoholic beverage in the parking areas, and the commission or omission of the license holder that allows the unlawful activity constitutes the act of maintaining or contributing to a public nuisance, and the license shall be subject to business license revocation,” the proposed ordinance states. “The employment of security personnel with the posting of signage, or proof of providing written or oral warning of the prohibition to the guests prior to summoning law enforcement, shall create a presumption of compliance with the law by the business license holder.”

Regarding municipal sponsored events, the council can allow possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages at municipal sponsored events and municipal permitted special events on public property and municipal parking lots subject to restrictions and conditions the Mayor and City Council impose.

The commission was in consensus to add here, “…and with approval of a permit of the Board of License Commissioners.”

If in violation, the ordinance calls for a penalty of a municipal infraction. However, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Capt. Kevin Kirstein recommended a municipal misdemeanor. He explained an infraction calls for the issuance of a ticket while a misdemeanor allows for a citation and hearing and/or arrest.

“I support it. This is to address a problem that has been a growing concern, and has been causing issues with our police department as far as enforcement regarding overflow into the streets and right-of-ways during specific events,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “The intent of this is also to notify those who have private parking lots that is required parking that those lots are for that specific purpose and not for the consumption of alcohol or for a party to be set up.”

The next change would be made to an article of same chapter in regards to destruction of required landscaping and parking.

Destructive use is defined as “the congregation, loitering or lingering of persons, or the placement of tents, trailers, structures, cooking devices, chairs, tables, coolers or other objects on or in a required landscaped area in disturbance or damage of the plants or area.”

Public nuisance use of a parking area is defined as “the creation or maintenance of impromptu, unmanaged outdoor events or parties, to set up, place or use tents, trailers, structures, cooking devices, chairs, tables, coolers or other objects from which to sell, dispense, cook, prepare, serve, distribute or consume any food or beverage, object or product; or to broadcast amplified music from vehicles or other devices; or the use of tents, trailers, structures, cooking devices, chairs, tables, coolers or other objects for congregational purposes that prevent the use of the parking area for its intended purpose.”

The ordinance states security resources must be hired to prevent destruction to landscaped areas, as well as prevent the public nuisance of required parking areas. They would be in violation if they are found encouraging or allowing destructive use of required landscaping, as well as if any person engages in the destructive use of required landscaping.

“However, that such events that are specifically permitted through legislative or administrative action, or sponsored by the business license holder, or other entity or person owning or maintaining a required landscape area or parking area in compliance with regulations governing such outdoor events are not included,” the ordinance includes.

Kirstein recommended a waiver be granted to the business license holder, person or entity, as well as those found in violation be penalized with a municipal misdemeanor.

“It sounds like they can waive themselves. If they want a waiver, they should have to come to the Mayor and City Council, and not just decide to use their landscaped area because it is their event,” he said.

The destruction of landscaping has been an issue for some time, the mayor said.

“It is a nuisance that there are situations where landscaping is being destroyed, and the property owner is certainly not guilty when it is somebody that just decided to sit there,” he said. “Code requires landscaping, and property owners are responsible for maintaining that landscaping. In order to receive an occupancy permit, you have to have that landscaping and keep it maintained, and we see a lot of cases where it has been damaged or destroyed. It needs to be addressed as it has caused problems for our department and with the general public.”

The final ordinance change in regards to vehicular events would change the chapter titled, “Traffic and Vehicles.”

The amendment would define a trailer as, “A vehicle that has no motive power, is designed to carry people or property and be towed by a motor vehicle, and is constructed so that no part of its weight rests on the towing vehicle.”

The ordinance would prohibit any oversized vehicle or trailer to be parked on any municipal parking lot, public street, alley or any public way within the corporate limits of Ocean City from May 1 through Oct. 31., except for trailers used for transporting construction materials and equipment for an active site.

“The purpose of this is because our streets during certain events become overcrowded with trailers causing traffic hazards, especially along Baltimore Ave. Originally when these events started there were a lot less trailers but now they are all over the streets including residential areas and it has caused concern,” Meehan said.

The commission was in consensus to move the proposed ordinance changes forward to the full council for approval with the recommended changes.

Traditional Playground Eyed Off Boards

OCEAN CITY – A solution may have been found in adding a new playground to the beach off the Boardwalk.

On Tuesday afternoon Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito proposed to the Recreation and Parks Commission using this year’s Community Parks and Playgrounds Grant funds to purchase a playground to go on the beach downtown.

For the past couple of years, the Recreation and Parks Department has been exploring different avenues in replacing the beach toys that were removed due to becoming outdated.

Last summer the first beach playground replacement of dinosaur bones was put on the beach. Other options have been considered that are similar to the dinosaur structure that was placed on the beach last summer, but the high price tags led to the matter being tabled at that time.

This week Petito returned to the commission presenting the town’s annual application for State of Maryland’s Community Parks and Playgrounds Grant as a solution.

Usually the town uses the grant to replace playground equipment and Petito recommended using the grant funds to construct a traditional playground structure on the beach with multi-play pieces, such as slides, swings and climbers.

The only location identified to do so is on North Division Street that angles into the beach between the current concrete pad bump out and the wooden walkway.

As proposed the playground would be a permanent fixture to avoid having to be moved in the time of storms. Therefore, the concrete pad bump out would be extended to affix the playground to the ground. The proper matting would be placed, and the facility would be ADA accessible. As well as, being located next to the tram lane a fence would be installed surrounding the playground.

“It would require maintenance,” Petito said. “The matting proposed will help sand blow through but we believe no matter what we put there it is going to get sand blasted but it won’t limit our ability in what that playground can be with the challenges that the beach structures have in being a certain size and weight.”

The grant would cover the project 100 percent except for maintenance costs but the deadline is Aug. 19. With no time to waste, the commission approved the grant application and will report the action item to the full Mayor and Council during Monday evening’s meeting.

The town will receive a response from the state on the grant in June of next year.

City Manager Search Process To Cost Resort $22K

OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City has entered into a contract with a national management consulting firm to assist in recruiting city manager candidates with the promise of having the task complete by the New Year.

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s Mayor and City Council work session, the council adjourned into closed session to discuss contractual matters. Upon returning to open session, Council President Lloyd Martin announced a national management consulting firm had been selected to conduct a search for Ocean City’s new city manager.

“There was a motion by Councilman [Doug] Cymek and a second by Councilman [Dennis] Dare to approve Slavin Management Consultants of Norcross, Ga. to be used as our city manager search firm. The vote was unanimous,” Martin said.

According to Council Secretary Mary Knight, Slavin Management Consultants (SMC) has a history working with the Town of Ocean City, as the firm assisted in selecting an engineer in the ‘70’s. This time around the cost to the city to have SMC conduct the search for a city manager is not to exceed $22,373, and it will take a minimum of 60 days to complete the process, according to the firm.

SMC follows a five-step process starting with defining the job qualifications and requirements for the position known as the “Recruitment Profile.” Next comes identifying and recruiting qualified candidates, followed by the evaluation of the prospective candidates, making recommendations, helping in the selection, employment negotiations and facilitating employment. The selection will then be followed up with an evaluation after 30 days. The entire process takes 60 to 90 days to complete.

The agreement with SMC is the first step in replacing former City Manager David Recor after he resigned last month in what the city has officially termed a “mutual decision,” although it’s been confirmed the council forced the issue as a result of mounting disapproval of his job performance. Recor will receive six months of severance pay.

In October 2011, after long-time City Manager Dennis Dare was forced into retirement after the council majority at that time voiced the need “for a change in direction,” the council also voted to conduct a national search to hire a city manager. Springsted Inc. was hired to conduct the national search leading to Recor being hired in May 2012 and filling the position in June 2012.

From start to end, the process to replace Dare took nine months with Mayor Rick Meehan serving as city manager during that time period.

Mayor Believes New Street Performers’ Regs Working

OCEAN CITY – Mayor Rick Meehan addressed the Boardwalk performers’ protest last week during a code amendment discussion on performers and municipal infractions.

On Monday evening, an ordinance adding the recently implemented street performing regulations to the City Code’s section for municipal infractions, while also revising the list of personnel authorized to issue citations, came before the Mayor and City Council on first reading for approval.

The code currently states, “Any person, partnership, corporation, unincorporated association, or other business entity who shall be deemed to have committed a ‘municipal infraction’ shall be issued a citation for such violation and/or noncompliance … the following listed officials are authorized by the Mayor and City Council to issue citations to violators: police officers, Cadets, Animal Control Officers, the Fire Marshal, members of the fire prevention commissions, fire investigators and fire inspectors, members of the beach patrol, building officials, planning and zoning administrators, licensing investigators and licensing inspectors, city engineers and assistants.”

The amendment removes cadets and replaces it with qualified police officers and employees authorized by the chief of police; removes members of the fire prevention commissions and replaces it with fire chiefs; adds deputy fire marshals to fire investigators and fire inspectors; adds Recreation and Parks personnel; and adds the solid waste manager.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres explained the amendment is a matter of updating the code due to the way positions have changed over time.

The amendment also adds the language “Lien on Property authority” where “any municipal infraction resulting in a judgement against the violator shall be a lien on the violator’s property, and the property shall be subject to being sold at tax and lien sales” on top of what the code currently states, “…for each and every such violation and/or noncompliance respectively, be deemed to have committed a ‘municipal infraction,’ punishable by a fine of not less than $25 nor more than $1,000.”

The City Council voted unanimously to approve the amendments.

Meehan took the opportunity to share his experience over the weekend in observing the performers on the boardwalk.

“It was amazing. They were all crowded with big crowds around them and they were all very successfully entertaining the public,” the mayor said. “It showed after we designated certain areas of the Boardwalk the traffic flowed better without the crowds blocking the path of pedestrians and that was the goal. The goal all along was to make it work better for the town, the street performers and the pedestrians on the Boardwalk. If you go up there and look, it’s working, and they [performers] are thriving. Their crowds are big and everyone is smiling and everyone is happy.”

The Town of Ocean City has been struggling with the proliferation of performers on the Boardwalk for several years. A Boardwalk Task Force was created to specifically look into the growing concerns. After two public hearings over the winter, the task force’s recommendations were submitted to the Mayor and City Council and presented in an ordinance form. The task force was assisted in the process by a law firm specializing in First Amendment issues.

The council followed course with many of the recommendations, and in mid-June passed an ordinance implementing 32 designated spaces on the street ends of the Boardwalk from the Inlet to 9th Street.

Once the new regulations went into effect on July 27, a group of Boardwalk performers gathered outside of City Hall last Monday in protest wearing T-shirts reading “Free Speech Prisoner” and holding up signs stating “Expression not Suppression.”

“As far as their right and their ability of expression, or to perform, or to entertain, it hasn’t been inhibited at all,” the mayor furthered on Monday, pointing out of the 32 designated spaces five remained open last week. “The street performers are fun to watch, and some of them are excellent. What we have done to solidify that and providing designated areas I think was a good move, and hopefully that will continue to work while they continue to prosper, and we can continue to prosper together.”

Ocean City Names New Planning, Zoning Director

William Neville

OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City announced Tuesday the position of Planning and Zoning Director has been filled one year after it became vacant.

After conducting a national search, which resulted in several qualified candidates, the Town of Ocean City issued a press release announcing William (Bill) Neville had been hired to the position of Planning and Zoning Director.

“Neville brings over 30 years of community planning experience, including recent experience as Planning Director for the nearby coastal town of Chincoteague, Va.,” the release read. “As Planning and Zoning Director, Neville will oversee the planning and zoning department.  The planning division, along with the Planning and Zoning Commission, is responsible for preparing and maintaining the town’s Comprehensive Plan, to which Neville brings local expertise and the ability to integrate design and regulatory solutions with comprehensive plan policies. In addition, Neville brings decades of experience in land use planning and design, implementation of land development codes and ordinances, as well as community participation in the planning process.”

“I am very pleased to welcome Bill to the Planning and Zoning Director position,” said Mayor Rick Meehan, who is also currently serving as interim city manager. “A person of Bill’s caliber, including his knowledge, experience and leadership, will be a great asset to our community and the future of Ocean City.”

Neville’s professional experience includes work in the public and private sectors. Before joining the Town of Chincoteague in 2010, Neville was the Director of Land Planning Services for Daft McCune Walker/DMW and Senior Land Entitlement Manager for Centex Homes. With bachelor’s degrees in Environmental Studies and Landscape Architecture from Syracuse University, Neville’s career began in 1984 in land planning, land development and a balanced background of residential and mixed use community planning in rapidly growing jurisdictions and small towns.

“My family and I have enjoyed living in and around Ocean City for the last 10 years and we are pleased to feel like a part of the community,” Neville said. “I look forward to working closely with the Mayor and City Council, the staff, the various boards and commissions, and of course the residents and property owners, to coordinate Ocean City’s Strategic and Comprehensive Plan for a bright future in our first class resort town.”

The Planning and Zoning Director position opened about a year ago when former Planning and Zoning Director Matt Margotta resigned for “personal reasons” after filling the position for only a year and half.

Margotta was hired for the position after Planning and Community Development Director Jesse Houston retired in September 2012 after 30 years of service with the town.

Houston joined Ocean City in 1982 and had played a significant role in the Department of Planning in Zoning. While Houston’s formal responsibilities included leading the daily planning and zoning efforts of the town, he was also instrumental in the preparation of several comprehensive plans, comprising of the development of Eagles Landing Golf Course, the formation of the Ocean City Development Corporation and the development of Ocean City’s Critical Area Program.

Houston had represented the town in many capacities, such as on the Maryland Coastal Bays Board of Directors and Implementation Committee, the Maryland Climate Change Commission and as a charter member of the American Planning Association.

Margotta joined the town in January 2013 also after a national search was conducted resulting in dozens of qualified candidates. He came to Ocean City from Fort Pierce, Fla., where he held the position of Director of Planning since 2006 working under former City Manager David Recor, who resigned last month after just three years with Ocean City. Margotta was previously Senior Planner for the Town of Bluffton and Hilton Head, S.C.

Just last week the Mayor and City Council held a public discussion over the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recent recommendation to establish an R-1A Single-Family Residential District to ease neighborhood concerns over unruly short-term rentals. As proposed a neighborhood would be able to apply to be re-zoned as R-1A district that limits rentals to 12 months.

During the discussion, Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith pointed out the update of the comprehensive plan is due, which would be the new Planning and Zoning Director’s first task once hired. The consideration for an R-1A district will be included in the process to update the Comprehensive Plan that city officials have agreed to complete as soon as possible.

Council Looks For Short-Term Solution, But Aims To Wrap Rental Concerns Into New Comp Plan

Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – The discussion over implementing a R1A Single-Family Residential District has reached the Mayor and City Council, and it seems the immediate track will be finding a short-term solution until the update of the Comprehensive Plan is complete.

At the end of last summer, Ocean City experienced a growing number of rental concerns and complaints, with the majority of those complaints deriving from Mallard Island. At that time, the Planning and Zoning Commission held public hearings to consider a potential amendment to the City Code regarding the R-1 Single Family Residential District and MH Mobile Home Residential District in regulating short-term and long-term rentals.

Although there was no official action made to city laws, the Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe-housing (PRESS) Committee was reunited to regularly discuss issues and enhance enforcement. Despite the reformation of PRESS, close to 80 percent of Mallard Island residents signed and submitted a petition in May requesting the implementation of an R-1A zoning district.

Subsequently, the Planning and Zoning Commission held another public hearing last month and voted 5-2 to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council to consider the formation of an R-1A zoning district, which currently does not exist in Ocean City’s code.

As proposed, the amendment to the code states, “The purpose of this district is to provide for established year round residents to maintain the integrity of family values, youth values, and the blessings of quiet seclusion and to make the area a sanctuary for people living in the neighborhood and to avoid the adverse effects of transient short term rentals. This district is for single-family residential development, together with accessory uses as may be necessary or are normally compatible with residential surroundings.”

The permitted use in an R-1A district would be a residence used for a year-round, or 12-month minimum, rental. Short-term rentals, for example the common weekly or mini-week vacation rentals, would be prohibited. If an R-1A district is added to the code, a neighborhood can apply to rezone and a public hearing would be held before the Planning and Zoning Commission to consider the request. The commission would then forward a favorable or non-favorable recommendation to the council for the final decision.

During the Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing, the voices of residents, rental property owners and real estate companies, who mostly united under Coastal Association of REALTORS® (CAR), were heard.

“We have heard the points of view from both sides, the pros and cons,” Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith said before the Mayor and Council on Tuesday.  “We are going to update the Comprehensive Plan in the near future … if we create a district, it should be part of that update because you have to apply it in a manner that is consistent with the plan itself. There are other parts to the plan where you have to consider the economic liability, desirability, and the enforcement … we are going to have to do an evaluation as part of the update of the plan of the district regulations and district mapping.”

It would make the most sense to establish an R-1A district comprehensively, City Solicitor Guy Ayres said. However, it doesn’t have to wait until the update of the Comprehensive Plan is complete.

“You can do a comprehensive rezoning as long as it complies with the current comprehensive plan,” Ayres said.

There is a great deal of support for and against an R-1A district in Ocean City, Mayor Rick Meehan, who is currently serving as acting city manager after former City Manager David Recor’s resignation last week.

“It would be something we could consider as part of the comprehensive zoning update that has to be completed by 2019, but it will before that because the goal is to move forward as quickly as possible,” Meehan said. “We are at a point in this community that a lot of changes have gone on or are about to go on, and it is certainly relevant to that conversation. I don’t want anyone to think this is going to be postponed. It should be a priority and the update of the plan is a goal of the [planning] department and the Planning Commission to move forward with this as soon as possible.”

According to Smith, the town is about six months out from starting the update of the Comprehensive Plan. The Town of Ocean City has been going through the process of hiring a new director for the Planning and Community Development Department. Once the director is hired, a bid package will be developed to contract with a Comprehensive Plan consultant, who will work with the planning department and the Town of Ocean City to update the Comprehensive Plan.

“We refer to our strategic plan quite a bit, and it had two visions that we started with from the beginning. One has to do with tourism but the other … is safe and clean quality neighborhoods for residents, is accessible and easy travel, and is a place for enjoyable experiences for all. If you don’t have a base of residents in Ocean City … then what kind of community do we have?” Councilman Dennis Dare said. “An issue has been brought forward for all of the residential areas in town. A solution of the R-1A is probably one of the many possible solutions, and I agree it needs to be looked at comprehensively.”

Dare pointed out there have been other short-term solutions aired that could play a role until the update of the Comprehensive Plan is complete, such as a separate rental license for the R1 districts and just eliminating “mini-week vacations” in those areas.

“It would help if the Mayor and City Council met with the planning commission and we got into these different issues where we can make some changes now not ruling out looking at the entire thing comprehensively,” Dare said.

A new Planning and Community Development director will soon be hired, and the Mayor and City Council will meet with the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss action, Meehan said.

“We have some direction, and some tasks at hand,” he said. “We all need to work together on it. What I hate to see is residents and members of our community attacking each other, whether you a year-round resident living in a single-family neighborhood or whether you’re a property owner who doesn’t live in Ocean City, but still has rights. We represent everybody. It is important that we all remember that and work together for that purpose.”

 

‘Freedoms Being Stepped On’ Leads To Street Performer Protest; Task Force Member Opposes New Regs

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OCEAN CITY – Street performers have banded together in protest as the town’s newly implemented regulations governing them went into effect.

On Monday morning, performers lined up at City Hall signing up for designated spaces to perform on the Boardwalk Monday, Aug. 3, through Thursday, Aug. 6. However, a group of street performers have become disgruntled over the Town of Ocean City’s newly implemented street performer regulations and later that afternoon gathered in front of City Hall to protest.

The Town of Ocean City has been struggling with the proliferation of street performers on the Boardwalk for several years. A Boardwalk Task Force was created to specifically look into the growing concerns. After two public hearings over the winter, the task force’s recommendations were submitted to the Mayor and City Council and presented in an ordinance form.

“Everything is going smoothly for it being the beginning of a new policy. There are some that are disappointed this is the route it has taken but I tell them the Task Force is going to meet again in the fall and to note their suggestions and concerns. We will take a step back and look at what worked or what didn’t work,” City Clerk Diana Chavis said on Monday afternoon.

As of that time, there were still five designated spaces left for next week.

“They are choosing their own spots, and it seems like everybody is looking for the right size they need at this point. They are concerned about being next to another similar act, but that is coordinated among them. I can’t dictate where they can be,” Chavis said.

In mid-June, the Mayor and City Council passed an ordinance implementing 32 designated spaces on the street ends of the Boardwalk from the Inlet to 9th Street.

The ordinance states, “The Town Clerk shall designate spaces on the Boardwalk between and including South 1st Street and 9th Street … will be available on a first-come, first-serve allocation and selection system for two periods of use; the first period shall be Monday through Thursday and the second period shall be Friday through Sunday…the Designated Spaces will be available for selection twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays one week in advance …”

In most cases, there are two designates spaces per street end from the Inlet to 9th Street ranging from 10 feet by 10 feet, five feet by 10 feet and 5 feet by five feet. At all street ends, from the Inlet to 27th Street, there must be a three-foot clear area around each fire hydrant as well as a safe separation from the Boardwalk tram lane.

Other regulations governing the entire Boardwalk include no performer or vendor can place or allow any item exceeding five feet above ground, or affix props or equipment to the Boardwalk; leave items unattended for a period of 15 consecutive minutes; occupy more than one designated space at any given time or solicit persons to obtain or occupy an additional space on his or her behalf; purchase, sell, barter or exchange any designated space; attempt to reserve a designated space in any fashion other than the selection system; fuel or refuel generators on the Boardwalk or possess fuel on the Boardwalk not contained in the generator; advertise, or employ an individual to advertise, his or her performance or vending outside of the occupied designated space or street end area; connect to any municipal electric outlet for use in any display or performance; use nudity, pornographic materials, or obscenity in any display or performance; use animals except for legitimate purposes pursuant to ADA; use fire or similarly hazardous materials, including, but not limited to, knives, swords or other sharply bladed instruments; or touch other persons as in hair-braiding, nail painting or apply substances to other persons, including, but not limited to, paints, dyes and inks.

On Monday, the first day the ordinance went into effect, performers gathered outside City Hall wearing T-shirts reading “Free Speech Prisoner” and holding up signs stating “Expression not Suppression.”

Performer George Gilbert, who puts on comedy magic shows across the country, voiced his concern over the limitation in space.

“There are two, 10-foot by 10-foot square spaces on each street end, and if you get a crowd right next to another performer … it is like we are in a cage,” Gilbert said. “The squares are right at the edge of the Boardwalk but they tell you, you can’t block the Boardwalk with a crowd, so basically they don’t want actual shows, actual entertainment. We can’t work that way, and I believe they are making these regulations so it will encourage us to leave.”

Gilbert recognized his act could be taken above 9th Street but his crowds still have to be out of the way of the tram lane.

“The tram runs down the middle of the Boardwalk and when you’re putting on a show you don’t want to put people in the way of the tram. It will come back to me if somebody gets hit by a tram,” he said.

The sign-up process is not working for performers who do not live in Ocean City, Gilbert stated.

“Now they are making us register every Monday and Friday morning but that is impossible for me because I don’t even live here. I live in Tampa, Fla. What about all the traveling performers? They are taking away the spontaneity of street performing,” he said.

When asked if he was aware of the process throughout the past year in working with the performers to come up with the regulations, Gilbert reiterated most of the performers do no live in Ocean City during the off-season to provide input.

“There is nobody here and no way to make a living, and again they know that and are being strategic in making performers leave,” he said.

Young singer Connor McAllister’s father, Doug McAllister, who served in the U.S. Army and is a retired police officer, agreed with Gilbert in the sign-up process being inconvenient for those who live out of state.

“I fought for freedom. I have done everything I could for freedom of expression,” he said. “We came all the way from Gettysburg to find out that everything has changed since last year. We weren’t aware of anything going on. We thought we could come back and set up on the Boardwalk. As long as you’re not bothering anybody you should be able to perform.”

Spray paint artist Mark Chase, who served on the Boardwalk Task Force, participated in the protest.

“I was against most of it [regulations],” Chase said, as he pointed out he was the only performer who served on the Task Force. “The system they implemented is not working whatsoever … It has segregated us to the point of first-come, first-serve. People are showing up at midnight and sleeping in front of City Hall just to be allowed to express themselves. That is excessive and over burdensome. It describes everything that free speech is not.”

Chase also pointed out that most Boardwalk performers protesting live in other areas of the country and could not participate in the public hearings.

“Even though we reached out, a lot of performers don’t have the funding to come here for one day and leave, especially when they know the council is going to ignore him,” he said. “If you look at the council videos of these guys [performers] talking to them, the council has pretty much fallen asleep, ignored them and retaliated sarcastically. You can see how they view us, and how they treat us.”

In 2011, Chase sued the Town of Ocean City over violating street performer’s first amendment rights by restricting them from selling their wares on the Boardwalk, and the federal court ruled street performers and artists are allowed to sell or collect money for certain expressive materials.

When The Dispatch asked if Chase was considering a subsequent law suit over the newly implemented regulations, Chase responded he has not made a decision at this time.

“There has been talk of it off and on but we are hoping it will be resolved first,” Chase said. “We want the city to notice we are a decent group. We are Americans and when we see our freedoms being stepped on we band together. That is what America is all about.”

Ocean City, Recor Come To ‘Mutual Decision’ To Part Ways; Mayor Appointed To Interim Position While Nationwide Search Takes Place

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OCEAN CITY – City Manager David Recor’s accident in a city vehicle this month may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back as it was announced on Monday the Mayor and City Council accepted Recor’s resignation.

“Prior to this open session, the Mayor and City Council had a closed session to discuss personnel matters. Actions taken were the Mayor and City Council mutually agreed and accepted City Manager David Recor’s resignation,” Council President Lloyd Martin said.

On July 10, Recor, 48, was driving west on Route 50 in his city vehicle — a 2014 Chevy Tahoe — when he struck a road sign pole near Golf Course Road around 7:30 a.m. Recor, who said he was on his way to Wawa for his morning coffee, did not immediately stop at the scene of the collision and instead turned around at the intersection of Routes 50 and 611 before returning to remove the downed sign from the highway. He dismissed eyewitness accounts that he fled the scene, but admitted he did not stop initially at the site of the collision.

The accident was witnessed by an off-duty Ocean City police officer. Significant damage to the front of the vehicle, including a broken headlight and a cracked windshield, occurred.

In an email last week, Recor took exception to what was reported by The Dispatch online about the incident on Wednesday, July 15.

“Contrary to what has been ‘reported’ and now published, I did not flee the scene. After hitting the road sign, in order to return to the location safely, I made a U-turn at the very next intersection at Route 50 and Route 611. I immediately returned directly to the location and removed the broken sign from the roadway. I received a phone call from the Town’s Communications Center asking if my vehicle had been involved in an accident. I responded that I had inadvertently hit a road sign.  Communications then indicated that a Maryland State Trooper was in route to the location and I subsequently met with Maryland State Trooper Dick to explain what had occurred,” Recor wrote.

The State of Maryland Motor Vehicle Crash Report, obtained for a fee from the Maryland State Police Berlin Barracks today, concludes Recor did in fact return to the scene to pick up the sign but then left the scene and only returned after being called by Ocean City Communications. The report indicates the trooper was talking with a witness — an off-duty Ocean City Police officer — at the scene when Recor returned.

“Upon arrival at the scene, the suspect vehicle was not on location. While talking with the witness, I observed the suspect vehicle return to the scene, remove the sign from the roadway and then leave. … I then contacted Ocean City Communications who was able to make contact with Recor and advised him to come back to the scene … 19 minutes after being dispatched I made contact with Recor at the Wine Rack adjacent to the collision scene,” the report’s narrative read.

At City Hall, City Risk Manager Eric Lagstrom told Recor he would have to take a drug and alcohol test as is consistent with city policy in these situations when city-owned property is involved. Recor did not immediately comply, according to sources and went about his daily business. Martin and Police Commission Chairman Councilman Doug Cymek were immediately informed of the situation.

Recor said he followed city protocol and earlier reports that he refused to take the test when requested. It’s typical city policy for employees to take the test when initially asked to ensure an accurate reading.

Recor explained he waited until the end of business to take the alcohol and drug test because he was busy interviewing candidates for the vacant Planning and Zoning Department director post on Friday. Last Wednesday, the test results came back negative.

Recor was charged by Maryland State Police with negligent driving vehicle in careless and imprudent manner endangering property, life and person. The charge carries a fine of $140.

This is not the first time Recor has damaged his city vehicle. Most recently, in mid-June, approximately $1,500 in repairs was necessary after a gasoline can toppled over inside his vehicle. While in the city shop for those repairs, he asked for his windows to be tinted as well. That work was completed.

It’s been confirmed this incident alone did not lead to this week’s resignation, but it played a significant part. The decision was made to accept Recor’s resignation during Monday’s closed session. However, a closed session was held on Thursday regarding Recor’s accident and possible termination but the council waited to review anticipated police reports prior to making a final decision. That closed session meeting on Thursday reportedly involved high-ranking city officials and the council sought their views on Recor. It’s no secret relations have been strained between Recor and select staff members at times with at least a few employees actually keeping an informal running tab of money Recor cost the city through damage to his vehicles as well as computers and electronic devices.

Following Monday’s meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan stated Recor worked until close of business on Monday and took his leave at that time.

“It was a mutual decision. That is the only detail I can give you because it is a personnel matter,” Meehan said. “The City Charter states that in the absence of the city manager the mayor assumes the role until another city manager is hired to fill the position. As of right now, I am the acting city manager.”

This will be Meehan’s second stint standing in as city manager. In October 2011, the mayor assumed the position for nine months following the forced resignation of former city manager Dennis Dare, who now serves on council.

“We could hire an interim city manager but the desire of the council is to go ahead and have me assume that position, and to immediately work with the human resources director to return to the council with a plan to begin to advertise for the position,” Meehan said.

Last November three new councilmembers — Wayne Hartman, Matthew James and Tony DeLuca — were elected to council, and having not dealt with the previous city manager search Meehan briefed them on how the process will begin.

“We will be coming back recommending a national search, which would include anybody internally who would want to apply. That is the right thing to do for a city of our size and for a position of that importance to find somebody we think fits what we are looking for in a city manager,” the mayor said.

The process will most likely mirror the previous city manager search, according to Meehan.

“We will interview national search firms, choose the appropriate firm, and move forward in hiring them to begin the search for city manager. The national firms have the data base and all the information that helps get through the initial process that would take up more time than our human resources director and the department has,” the mayor said. “Last time it was nine months. Hopefully this time it won’t take that long. It’s a different council in a different time but I know the council is going to want to follow the right path to hire the right person. There is a cost associated with it but it is one of those things that you have to do it and you have to do it right.”

The mayor acknowledged the positive attributes Recor brought to Ocean City in his three years serving as city manager.

“When David interviewed for the position, he stood out as the best candidate, and he was hired. David brought a lot of good things to Ocean City. He helped us get on track with the strategic planning, which was his forte; planning and setting forth agendas for the Mayor and City Council was something that he excelled at. During his tenure here it was something that he started, will be left and will continue onward,” Meehan said. “David is a good man and I wish him all the best.”

Recor, an International City/County Management Association credentialed manager since 2007, was hired by the city in May 2012, by a 4-3 vote of the council, after Dare was terminated by the City Council at that time. Recor came to the city from Fort Pierce, Fla. after a nationwide search.

In September 2011, the previous council majority — comprised of former council members Jim Hall, Joe Hall, Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas — voted in closed session to ask for former city manager Dennis Dare, who had been the chief administrative officer since 1990, to resign, and if Dare did not resign he would be terminated. The reason given was “a change in management direction.” Those in opposition were councilmembers Doug Cymek, Lloyd Martin and Mary Knight. Subsequently, Dare submitted his resignation. A year later, Dare was voted to serve on the council.

In October 2011, the council majority voted to conduct a national search to hire a city manager. The Town of Ocean City hired Springsted Inc. to conduct the national search for city manager leading to Recor being hired in May 2012 and filling the position in June 2012.

Initially the city offered the position to Public Works Director Hal Adkins, who declined. As of Tuesday, Adkins stated he has not been offered the position, either interim or full-time, this time around.

After the city and Recor initially reached an impasse regarding terms of employment, Recor eventually agreed to an annual salary of $147,000 and three weeks paid vacation the first year increasing to five every year after as well as $10,000 to assist with moving expenses.

The signing of the contract came after a culmination of a stormy month for Recor and Ocean City. Recor’s identity was revealed three weeks prior to being hired after The Dispatch obtained former Councilman Joe Hall’s cell phone records, which confirmed that he called his “front runner” in the process on April 11, 2012 and had a 13-minute conversation to discuss the nature of the council-manager form of government.

The cell phone number was tracked to Recor, who was at the time the city manager of Fort Pierce, Fla., a diverse coastal town with a population of 44,000.

Once it was proven Recor was in the mix of the next city manager search process in Ocean City, the Fort Pierce Commission began to ask questions. Recor initially told commission members he withdrew from the Ocean City process in March, but it was later discovered on the day he sent his emailed withdrawal he was convinced by the city’s search firm to stay in the running since he was the favorite.

On April 13, 2012 two days after Joe Hall called him, Recor and another finalist had their last interviews with council members in Ocean City. On May 1, 2012, the council voted 4-3 to authorize Springsted, Inc. to begin contract negotiations with Recor.

On May 7, 2012, Recor told his Fort Pierce commissioners he was staying with the city, but he never officially said he was out of the Ocean City process. At that same meeting, Recor was blasted by Commissioner Tom Perona, who sought a special meeting to discuss his termination.

After Perona let him have it, Recor reportedly knew his days in Fort Pierce as city manager were about to come to a close. That’s reportedly when contract negotiations between Recor and the city heated up, and a few days later Ocean City received a completed employment agreement from Recor.

In an interview in May 2012, one month before he officially started in Ocean City, Recor outlined his vision for Ocean City.

“I think the department heads and employees in Ocean City will find that I’m actually a very collaborative manager. I involve the department heads in the decision-making process. I believe it’s important to have as many eyes on a problem as you can. In the end, I accept responsibility for the decision, but I do believe in ‘group think’ and identifying options and alternatives and presenting the council with those,” Recor said. “I am a math guy. I love working with spreadsheets and doing quantitative analysis. One thing I emphasis to my department heads and elected officials is as a conservative steward of the public’s funds that I keep the financial solvency of the organization at the forefront of every decision that we make.”

When Recor came on board in 2012, he became Ocean City’s fourth city manager, following Tony Barrett, Joe Braun and Dennis Dare.

Council Holds Off On Exact Amount Of Building Permit Fee Hikes

OCEAN CITY – City officials held off approving an increase in permit fees this week until a specific price is reached. In the meantime, the city is looking toward a more user-friendly online permitting process.

During the fiscal year 2016 budget discussion, the Mayor and City Council requested a review of the permit fee structure in the Building Department, resulting in Chief Building Official Kevin Brown coming before the legislative body on Tuesday afternoon requesting an increase in permit fees.

Currently, the stand alone permit fee for electrical and mechanical permits is $30. According to Brown, to support administrative costs, based on staff time needed to process and issue permits, the fee should be increased to a minimum of $45 if not more.

Brown explained a $6 fee was implemented in 2004 for electrical permits. This rate was raised to $6.30 in 2009 and $30 in 2010.

“The Building Department generally charges fees for permits and services, and such fees are intended to defray the cost of operating the department. Ideally the fees charged should equal operating costs … the fees currently charged for the electrical and mechanical permits clearly is not enough to offset the entire staff involved in this process,” Brown said.

From staff review of the application to verification of the contractor, entering the application in the system, Zoning Department reviews, plan review and notes, field inspections, entering inspection results and having the file scanned and stored, staff is spending almost two hours issuing a permit. The average hourly rate of combined staff hours is $25.75 totaling the actual staff cost to $47.12.

“My request is the fee be raised to a minimum of $45. I think $50 per permit would be more realistic,” Brown said.

For comparison, the City of Salisbury charges $40 for a mechanical permit, the town of Easton charges a minimum of $50, and the City of Annapolis charges a minimum of $90.

In regards to electrical permits, the City of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and Virginia Beach charge $80 for 200 amp and up, Wicomico and Worcester counties both charge $25 and the City of Baltimore varies from $25 to $100.

Councilman Matthew James questioned the significant increase being recommended.

“To be honest, I have always thought the expenses were low, and I think the thought behind it was if we kept the cost low then perhaps the quantity of permits would increase,” Brown responded. “There were 84 electrical permits in 2014 and 215 mechanical permits but back in 2004 when we first started charging $6 for a permit we had 34 permits, so permits have almost tripled. Again, I think it is time that we work within our means because we have been working in the negative for some time now.”

In speaking with many contractors, Councilman Wayne Hartman brought a few recommendations to the table. First he pointed out the majority of electrical inspections are completed by a third party hired by the contractor saving city staff that time. Brown rebutted that a third party may inspect electric but not flood requirements, which led to Hartman’s second recommendation.

With the new Flood Insurance Rate Maps being recently approved in Ocean City, contractors recommended the town publish a map of what air conditioning and heating stand heights would be required in certain sections of the town ultimately eliminating a step from the permit process.

Also, the issuance of an electrical permit should be eliminated for the replacement of an air conditioning/heating unit because the wiring is not being replaced, just the equipment. Hartman pointed out Worcester County does not require an electrical permit for replacing a unit.

“We are talking about three different things that you’re lumping all together,” Hartman said. “I recommend the $30 electrical fee stay the same as our inspector doesn’t need to go out on that, waive the $30 for a replacement, and if you want to charge for a new install that takes a new design and inspections, sure $50 to $60 is certainly in mind.”

However, Hartman’s colleagues did not agree. Council President Lloyd Martin was the first to point out when replacing an older unit the equipment and wiring needs to be lifted to meet today’s flood requirements.

“I don’t believe that we can give a book or put it on the Internet and tell them the elevation the stand has to be when we can’t even get them to go online to file a permit,” Councilman Doug Cymek, who owns a construction company, said. “Ultimately, I would hope the software would be set up in such a fashion that a couple of these first steps can be eliminated, such as checking credentials … where is the fairness in making the taxpayers subsidize the cost of the inspections for a small group of people that require them? I just think they should pay their fair share. I am in favor of the increase to compensate our efforts.”

Brown interjected he is planning on meeting with Information Technology Manager Nancy Bloxom in October to review an updated version of the town’s online permitting software that is said to be much more user-friendly.

Hartman made a motion to postpone the discussion until October after the new updated software is implemented and staff has a better idea of how much manual time is being spent issuing permits. James seconded the motion but the majority of the council voted in opposition.

“I recall during budget discussions that the building department expense exceeds their income by quite a bit for the last 4 to 5 years at least, and I believe it should pay for itself. Why should the general public be supporting a service required by a small group of people?,” Councilman Dennis Dare said. “It should make money, not lose money. Historically we have tried to keep the fees so they do balance out but the expenses have gone up and the revenues haven’t. It is a good first step … it is just as easy to address the issue today and when it does happen we can revisit it. If it needs to be reduced, then it’s reduced. We should be doing that constantly with everything anyways.”

The majority of the council was in consensus the electrical and mechanical permit fees are in need of an increase but were not prepared to settle on a number. The council voted to have staff takes a closer look and return to the Mayor and City Council with further recommendation. The discussion will be postponed until the first work session in August on Tuesday, Aug. 11.

Crime Down In June In Ocean City; Year To Do Numbers Find 5% Drop In Total Incidents

Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – Half way through the year, Ocean City has registered decreases across the board in crime compared to this time last year.

On Monday, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro reported the month of June’s crime statistics before the Police Commission. June is typically the busiest month for the police department due to the increase in high school and college-aged visitors.

According to the report, June’s total calls for service, including traffic stops, business checks and assistance to citizens, totaled 14,721, which is a 9.1-percent decrease from June 2014 when there were 16,191 calls for service.
Out of that total, 10,806 were officer initiated, which is a 9.8-percent decrease from June 2014, and 3,915 were citizen initiated, which is 7-percent decrease from June 2014.

The total number of calls for service, excluding traffic stops, business checks and assisting citizens, totaled 9,750, which is a 6.7-percent decrease from June 2014 when there were 10,447 calls for service. Out of the total, 6,077 were officer initiated, which is a 6.2-percent decrease from June 2014, and 3,673 were citizen initiated, which is a 7.4-percent decrease from June 2014.
Out of the top 25 calls for service, the majority of the categories decreased, starting with traffic stops falling to 2,754 call for service in June this year from 3,522 in June of last year; city ordinance violations decreased to 1,072 this year from 1,263 last year; disorderly decreased to 1,043 this year from 1,206 last year; assist to citizens decreased to 854 this year from 856 last year; 911 hang up calls decreased to 602 this year from 676 last year; alcohol violations decreased to 593 this year from 659 last year; suspicious person or activity decreased to 375 this year from 477 last year; check on welfare decreased to 316 this year from 324 last year; collisions decreased to 298 this year compared to 309 last year; assist to OC EMS decreased to 262 this year from 281 last year; CDS violations decreased to 260 this year from 404 last year; theft already occurred decreased 241 this year from 295 this year; assist to motorists decreased to 136 this year from 158 last year; animal complaints decreased to 129 this year from 382 last year; assist to the fire company decreased to 84 this year from 89 last year; and civil disputes decreased to 73 this year from 122 last year.

The categories that increased in the month of June start with parking complaints increasing to 534 calls for service this year from 249 last year; malicious destruction of property increased to 173 this year from 128 last year; noise complaints/violations increased to 133 this year from 123 last year; domestic assault/dispute increased to 105 this year from 95 last year; public safety concern increased to 100 this year from 79 last year; alarm premise increased to 73 this year from 69 last year; and report of a fight increased to 63 this year from 53 last year.

There were 590 arrests made in June and 43 criminal citations issued. There were 78 drug arrests made and 248 drug citations issued. There were 69 DUI arrests made and 43 weapon arrests, according to OCPD data.

At the end of June, a weekly breakdown reflects a 5.6-percent decrease in total crime so far this year compared to this time last year.
Under Part 1 Crimes there have been no homicides as of the end of June in 2014 and 2015; one shooting as of the end of June in 2015 compared to none this time last year; 13 forcible rapes as of the end of June this year compared to 22 as of the end of June last year; eight robberies as of the end of June this year compared to 10 as of the end of June last year; 39 aggravated assaults as of the end of June this year compared to 29 as of the end of June last year; 90 burglaries as of the end of June this year compared to 178 as of the end of June last year; 428 larcenies as of the end of June this year compared to 439 as of the end of June last year; eight auto thefts as of the end of June this year and 13 as of the end of June last year; and one case of arson as of the end of June this year compared to none as of the end of June last year.

There were 377 common assaults by the end of June 2015 compared to 339 by the end of June 2014 and 34 minor sex offenses by the end of June 2015 compared to 28 by the end of June 2014, resulting in an overall total of 999 crimes at the end of June 2015 compared to 1,058 at the end of June 2014.

There were 24 incidents in June where a Controlled Electronic Weapon (CEW), also known as a Taser, was involved compared to 28 incidents in June of last year. However, out of those incidents only four times was a CEW deployed.

On Sunday, June 14, an officer observed a male suspect attempting to break into the Court House on 65th Street. When the officer entered the vestibule where the suspect was located the suspect began acting hostile toward the officer. After the officer displayed his CEW the suspect did not change his demeanor, so the officer conducted a warning arc with his CEW still gaining no compliance. The officer then targeted the suspect with his CEW, and the suspected shouted, “Come and get me.” Based on this statement, as well as the suspect’s hostile demeanor the officer deployed his CEW into the suspect, and gained full compliance from the suspect. There were no injuries to anyone involved.

On Wednesday, June 17, an officer was about to issue a suspect a citation for an open container violation but the suspect fled on foot. A short time later another officer located the suspect who attempted to flee. The officer chased after the suspect and deployed his CEW into the suspect, which allowed a third officer to start applying handcuffs. When the electric charge came to an end the suspect began to resist again, so the officer attempted to administer another charge but inadvertently hit the wrong button on his CEW, which discharged a second set of probes. However, these probes did not strike anyone and there were no injuries to anyone involved.

On Saturday, June 27, an officer was dispatched to a domestic assault in progress involving an intoxicated suspect. Upon arrival, the victim pointed out the suspect, who was her husband, approaching the officer in an aggressive manner. When the suspect refused to obey the officer’s order to sit down, which involved the suspect swatting the officer’s hand away, the officer targeted the suspect with his CEW, which did not gain the suspect’s compliance. The suspect continued to verbally threaten and approach the officer in an aggressive manner, which is when the officer deployed his CEW. Although the CEW took full effect on the suspect, the suspect began to resist arrest as soon as the electrical charging cycle came to an end. The officer then conducted a drive stun with his CEW, which gained the suspect’s full compliance. There were no injuries to anyone involved.

On Sunday, June 28, an officer observed two subjects engaged in a fight. The two subjects did not show any intention to cease fighting despite the officer announcing her presence. The officer deployed her CEW into one of the suspects, which stopped the fight. There were no injuries to anyone involved.