Should OC Beach Patrol Headquarters Be Named After Captain Craig? No Plan At This Time To Do So, City Says

The new OCBP headquarters is located at Talbot Street and Baltimore Ave. Photo by Shawn Soper

OCEAN CITY — Despite some desires within the community to do so, it appears the town of Ocean City is not inclined to name the new Ocean City Beach Patrol headquarters after long-time Captain Robert S. Craig.

When the ribbon was cut for the new state-of-the-art Beach Patrol headquarters on Talbot Street and Baltimore Ave. in July, many on hand apparently expected the facility to be named for Craig, who captained the department for 41 years, or nearly half of its 85-year-existence. The town did pay homage to the long-time captain, who shepherded the Beach Patrol through its nascent days of a handful of members to the 150-member department it has become today, by naming the facility’s top floor, or administrative floor, after Craig.

In addition, the new headquarters’ first floor, which is set up for the Beach Patrol’s day-to-day operations, is dedicated to 40-year OCBP veteran Lieutenant Warren Williams, while the second floor, set up for training, is dedicated to former Captain George Schoepf, who led the Beach Patrol for nearly a decade.

Since 1946, when Craig took the reins of the Beach Patrol, there have been only three captains. Craig ran the organization for 41 years from 1946 until his retirement in 1987, representing four decades of remarkable change in the OCBP. After Schoepf ran the department as captain for about 10 years, current Captain Butch Arbin has been in charge for the 18 years since.

When the new headquarters on Talbot Street was dedicated in July, many, including family members and third-generation Beach Patrol officers, presumed the building would be named in honor of Craig. However, despite the dedication of a specific floor, the long-time captain and Beach Patrol icon’s name is not on the front of the building and it appears it likely won’t be.

Arbin said this week he only learned of the effort to name the new facility after Craig through a letter to the Mayor and Council and that it was his understanding the town was moving away from naming facilities and structures after individuals.

Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters confirmed on Thursday afternoon that town was not inclined to consider naming the facility for Craig, or anyone else.

“At this point, there is no plan to name the building after anyone,” she said. “We have had many amazing figures in Ocean City who have helped make the town what it is today, Captain Craig being one of them. However, historically we haven’t named any of our public safety facilities after any one person.”

While the town does not have a history of naming public safety facilities after individuals, there is certainly a precedent for naming other facilities and structures in Ocean City after prominent citizens. For example, the resort’s convention center is named the Roland E. Powell Convention Center after the popular former mayor and the Inlet parking lot is named the Hugh T. Cropper Inlet Parking Lot after another former mayor, but it now appears Craig’s name will not likely grace the new Beach Patrol headquarters.

While there has been some sentiment in the community to name the facility after Craig, who served as captain for nearly half of the organization’s 85 years, a considerable amount of push for the measure has come from the long-time captain’s family. In a letter to The Dispatch that was widely distributed this week to other outlets as well as city officials and citizens, Craig’s family respectfully urged the town to consider naming the new Beach Patrol headquarters in honor of their patriarch.

“We believe the time is ripe to encourage this step, although you can imagine it is too easy for others to dismiss any such suggestion from us as a case merely of filial pride and family promotion,” the letter from Craig’s son, Robert M. Craig, and grandson, Christopher K. Craig, both former OCBP members, reads. “It is, or course, far more than that. The naming of the building the Robert S. Craig Beach Patrol Headquarters is simply the right and proper thing to do. It is highly appropriate to recognize the role of Robert S. Craig in the town’s history by the naming of the Beach Patrol headquarters.”

It remains to be seen if the concept will gain any traction, but it certainly would appear justified. Craig joined the Beach Patrol in 1935 when it was comprised of just a handful of members patrolling a small section of beach in the south end of the resort frequented by ocean swimmers and bathers. By 1946, when Craig, already a 10-year veteran, became captain, the Beach Patrol’s ranks had grown to a dozen or so members. Through the next four decades, as Ocean City expanded northward and the resort’s popularity as a summer beach resort escalated dramatically, Craig led the Beach Patrol that eventually had a lifeguard on a stand at every street. By the time Craig retired in 1987, the Beach Patrol had swelled to over 150 members and had gained an enviable record of water safety.

Through his tenure, other beach patrols around the region and even as far away as Brazil came to Ocean City to observe first-hand how the OCBP operated. Most of what they observed was designed by Craig, including improved techniques for ocean surveillance, methods of shifting and covering a lifeguard’s beach while he or she was involved in a rescue situation, the use of semaphore flags to communicate with other OCBP officers, even in an era of improved technology, and methods and guidelines for dealing with the public with respect.

Craig is also credited with designing the iconic orange “torpedo” rescue buoys utilized by the Beach Patrol for decades. Craig had the first torpedo buoys fabricated at a local sheet metal yard.

Suspect Arrested For Cabbie Assault, Causing Accident

OCEAN CITY — A Ft. Meade, Md. man faces a slew of charges this week after first failing to pay his cab fare before assaulting the taxi driver and causing the vehicle to roll over the sidewalk and crash into a fence.

Around 12:30 a.m. last Friday, an OCPD officer was dispatched to the area of Coastal Highway and 37th Street for a reported assault. The responding officer met with another OCPD officer, who reported seeing a taxi driving erratically before coming to a sudden stop at 37th Street. The officer then observed the taxi roll forward over the sidewalk on the south side of the highway before striking a fence.

The officer interviewed the cab driver, who told police he picked up a fare later identified as Timothy Emmart, 31, of Fort Meade, in the area of 60th Street with a request to be dropped off at a hotel on 21st Street. When the driver got to the hotel on 21st Street, Emmart allegedly refused to pay the $14 fare. The cab driver told Emmart he was going to pay the fare or he was going to drive the suspect to the police station, to which Emmart allegedly responded “Fine, go ahead.”

With that said, the cab driver headed north toward the Public Safety Building with Emmart still in the vehicle. When the cab reached the area of 36th Street, Emmart allegedly began striking the cab drive with a closed fist in the head, neck and face, according to police reports.

The cab driver told police he pulled over at 37th Street to attempt to defend himself from the attack. The cabbie told police in his efforts to defend himself, he neglected to put the vehicle in park, causing it to roll forward over the sidewalk and crash into a fence before coming to rest. The officer observed injuries on the cab driver corroborating his account of the incident, including swelling, redness and laceration on the right side of his face. The officer also observed the cab driver’s prescription eyeglasses were broken.

When asked about his version of the events, Emmart told police he attempted to pay the fare, but only had $3. He told police the cab driver refused to let him out of the taxi. After repeated questions, Emmart acknowledged the cab driver took him to his destination, but he did not pay the fare because he only had $14. He continued to assert the cab driver would not let him out of the taxi.

Based on the evidence and testimony, Emmatr was arrested and charged with theft, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and malicious destruction of property. He was taken by police transport van to the Public Safety Building for processing, when the transporting officer reported Emmart suddenly through himself on the floor of the transport van. Emmart told the transporting officers he suffered a head injury and requested an ambulance.

Despite showing no signs of injury, Emmart was transported to AGH by ambulance as a precaution. According to police reports, Emmart was uncooperative with hospital staff and refused treatment. Hospital staff did not detect any signs of injury and Emmart was discharged. As a result, an additional charge of making a false alarm for an ambulance was added to the other charges Emmart faces for the alleged assault on the cab driver.

Resort Hotel Fire Classified As Accidental

OCEAN CITY — An early morning fire at the historic Atlantic Hotel on the Boardwalk at Wicomico Street on Monday was accidental and started in a ground-floor laundry room.

Shortly after 4 a.m. on Monday, the Ocean City fire and police departments responded to the Atlantic Hotel on the Boardwalk for a report of smoke coming from the building. Upon arrival, Ocean City Fire Department crews observed a significant amount of smoke coming from the historic hotel’s ground floor. First responders and hotel employees immediately began evacuating guests from the building while firefighters worked to control the fire.

Approximately 80 units were evacuated during the incident. However, no injuries were reported and the damage to the hotel was minimal. While the fire department quickly extinguished the fire, crews remained on scene until about 7:15 a.m. Hotel guests were allowed to re-enter their units once fire crews left the scene. Baltimore Avenue was closed in the area of the hotel for about an hour, although the traffic impact was minimal because of the time of day.

The on-scene investigation revealed the fire originated in the hotel’s ground floor laundry room. The fire has been classified as accidental, caused by the self-heating of cotton linens. The original Atlantic Hotel was built in 1875 and was one of the first in a series of grand Boardwalk hotels that jumpstarted Ocean City’s hospitality industry.

The original hotel stretched from Baltimore Ave. to the Boardwalk and extended a full block from north to south. Monday’s early morning fire was minor compared to the major blaze that completely destroyed the Atlantic Hotel and much of the downtown area in 1925.

In December 1925, the great Ocean City fire destroyed three entire blocks of old downtown along with the pier. The fire began at a utility company building and was fanned by a northwest wind, spreading the flames that consumed the Atlantic Hotel, the pier, two blocks of the Boardwalk, Dolle’s Candyland, the old Casino Theater and other structures.

After the fire, the Atlantic Hotel was rebuilt in 1926 and has been owned and operated by the Purnell family ever since. It retains that early Ocean City architectural charm while including many modern amenities.

Low-Flying Chopper Surveying To Continue In Ocean City

This helicopter will be used to survey power lines in Ocean City for several weeks. File Photo

OCEAN CITY — A low-flying private sector helicopter buzzing over the north end of Ocean City that created a stir on Thursday is being deployed by Delmarva Power over the next few weeks around the resort area to perform aerial inspections of transmission lines.

Beginning last week, Delmarva Power started to perform aerial inspections of various transmission lines across the shore at locations in Kent and Sussex counties in Delaware and Worcester County in Maryland including Ocean City. On Thursday, the helicopter was seen flying at a low level in the north end of Ocean City, causing both concern and curiosity for residents and visitors.

Similar aerial inspections by the utility company were also performed in the spring in and around the resort area. The helicopter on Thursday was doing reliability and preventative maintenance inspections in Ocean City and will continue to do so. Over the next several weeks, the helicopter will likely be seen flying at lower than normal levels to analyze the poles, wires and associated equipment.

By Thursday afternoon, for example, the helicopter crew was covering a circuit in the area of 138th Street in Ocean City. Haverfield Aviation is handling the work for Delmarva Power and is flying a Hughes MD500 helicopter with the tail number N8353f.

Young Hero Honored For Saving Aunt’s Life In OC

Mason Farr gets comfortable in the chair of Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore on Monday morning. Photos by Shawn Soper

OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Fire Department had a new chief for the day on Monday in 7-year-old Mason Farr, a pint-sized hero who saved his aunt from drowning at a resort water park earlier this summer.

Farr was feted at the Ocean City Fire Department headquarters on 15th Street on Monday morning for his amazing rescue of his aunt, Jenny Mama, at the Jolly Roger water park back on May 25. Mama broke her neck while going down a Splash Mountain water slide and ended up face down in the pool at the bottom, unable to move her arms and legs and taking in copious amounts of water when Farr jumped in and pulled her head out of the water and held her until help arrived.

On Monday, Farr and his family, including Aunt Jenny, along with a bevy of his young friends, were given a tour of the Ocean City Fire Department headquarters on 15th Street. Farr received a Certificate of Appreciation, a fire hat and a badge and was named honorary fire chief for the day. The young hero also met the firemen and paramedics who responded to save his aunt.

On a warm, early summer day in late May, Farr and his family were enjoying the water park at Jolly Roger when he was able to coax his aunt, Jenny Mama, into joining him for a ride. Farr went down first and waited for his mother, Karen, and Aunt Jenny to come down behind him. A somewhat reluctant Mama got on the tube and headed down the water slide behind Farr who was now waiting at the bottom. Mama said she bounced down the slide, hitting her head on different occasions, before a potential disaster struck near the end of the ride.

“I get on the tube and it doesn’t have any handles and I’m flailing and banging my head,” she said. “I get about three quarters of the way down and reach the last whip when I hear this ripping or tearing sound. I thought ‘oh my God, I think I broke my neck.’”

Mama said she was motionless in the pool at the bottom of the water slide. She couldn’t move and was unable to lift her head from the water. She remained conscious and recalled feeling her life slipping away.

“I couldn’t feel anything,” she said. “I couldn’t move my head or my arms or legs, but I was aware. I thought I was going to die. My arms and legs wouldn’t work and I couldn’t get my head out of the water.”

Just when all seemed hopeless, Mama got an intervention from an unlikely source.

“Even before all of this, he was my special little man. I’ll never be able to repay him,” Jenny Mama said of her nephew, Mason Farr.

“Even before all of this, he was my special little man. I’ll never be able to repay him,” Jenny Mama said of her nephew, Mason Farr.

“I remember taking five gulps of water,” she said. “I remember thinking about how many gulps it would take me to drown, when all of the sudden, somebody picked me up and was holding me up. It was Mason. He said ‘I got you Aunt Jen.’ I couldn’t believe this little guy, who is only 7 years old, jumped back in the pool and picked me up. He saved my life.”

Mama said Farr, who attends Ocean City Elementary School, grew up around the water and was comfortable in the situation despite his young age.

“He’s a great swimmer,” she said. “He knows enough about swimming to get somebody’s head out of the water when they are in trouble.”

Mama said the Ocean City Fire Department and paramedics responded and she was quickly on a back board and on her way to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.

“In what seemed like a couple of seconds later, the paramedics were there and I was on a board,” she said. “All heck was breaking loose. The Ocean City firemen and paramedics were there and the next thing I knew, I was on a helicopter heading for Shock Trauma.”

Mama spent five weeks in the hospital and had operations to repair her broken neck including the placement of a plate and fusion of vertebrae. She is walking and going about her life, but continues to have numbness in her hands and goes to rehabilitation and physical therapy. She had high praise for her young hero on Monday.

“Even before all of this, he was my special little man,” she said. “I’ll never be able to repay him.”

Mama also had high praise for the paramedics and firefighters who responded quickly and stabilized her before loading her onto a helicopter for Shock Trauma.

“They did all the right things,” she said. “If they didn’t do everything just right, I would have been a paraplegic. I could have been in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, but God had another plan.”

Ocean City Firefighters Union President Ryan Whittington led Farr and his young friends on a tour of the firehouse on Monday. Farr and his friends also got a tour of an Ocean City ambulance and a primer on lifesaving techniques. Whittington praised Farr for his quick thinking that saved his aunt’s life.

“Such a young child was able to determine that someone needed help, sprang into action and prevented his aunt from drowning,” he said. “Mason is an example that heroes come in all sizes.”

Students Lead Demonstration In Ocean City For D.C. Statehood

Flags supporting the effort to make the District of Columbia its own state were seen Wednesday on the Boardwalk and downtown beach in Ocean City. Photo by Shawn Soper

OCEAN CITY — The beach and Boardwalk became unlikely locations for a peaceful demonstration for statehood for the District of Columbia on Wednesday afternoon.

A couple dozen members of DisruptDC, a new student advocacy organization calling for statehood and everything that implies for Washington, D.C. The organization set up camp on the beach at 1st Street and handed out fliers and literature explaining the cause to anyone who would listen. Some members of the group also took to the crowded Boardwalk under the banner of a D.C. flag decorated with its “Taxation without Representation” message.

District of Columbia voters have already approved a referendum calling for the creation of a new state called New Columbia, although federal lawmakers have not approved it.

The DisruptDC organization is taking the message to anyone who will listen, including residents and visitors to Ocean City on Wednesday afternoon. Spokesman Dan Lewis said the group did not intend to disrupt the daily activity on the beach and Boardwalk, but merely wanted to teach and raise awareness about the inequities for D.C. residents.

“This is not a protest by any means,” he said. “It’s more like a demonstration. We’re canvassing this area because of the access to so many people and such a diverse population. We think we can reach people from all over Maryland here and from all over the country really.”

Lewis said the message was clear. The residents of D.C. have a municipal government, but do not have any representatives in the U.S. Senate or Congress. Literature distributed by the group on Wednesday points out the city is home to over 600,000 people, which is more than the states of Vermont and Wyoming. Washington, D.C. also has a higher GDP than 16 other states and pays the highest tax rate.

“We have over 600,000 people in D.C. without any representation in Congress,” said Lewis. “We send our kids to war and pay more in taxes than any other part of the country, but we don’t have a say in our federal government.”

The catalyst for the demonstration in Ocean City on Wednesday and the recent spike in popularity for the movement was fueled by a recent video produced by John Oliver for his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” calling for statehood for D.C.

“That John Oliver piece got 2.6 million views,” said Lewis. “We knew there would be an influx of energy on this issue from that. We wanted to get something going before that energy dissipated again.”

Lewis pointed out Ocean City was chosen for several reasons, not the least of which is it is the summer playground in U.S. Congressman Andy Harris’ backyard. Maryland’s 1st District Congressman has been criticized in the past for intervening in D.C.’s affairs. Most notably, last summer just before the Fourth of July, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray called on his constituents to boycott Ocean City because Harris was able to get an amendment attached to a House budget bill, which, if approved would have reversed D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization law.

Lewis said on Wednesday Ocean City was chosen for the demonstration in part because it was simply a beautiful beach destination, but also because of the perceived slights by Harris in the past.

“We chose Ocean City for a couple of reasons,” he said. “First, it’s beautiful here and it’s a perfect beach day, and secondly, and more importantly, it’s in Andy Harris’ district. Harris has a history of meddling in D.C. issues even though he doesn’t represent the district. No one does, which is kind of the point.”

As the DisruptDC organizers passed out their literature and extoled their plight to anyone who would listen on the beach and Boardwalk, they ran into some support and a lot of indifference, but no real naysayers.

“Most of the people we’ve talked to are supportive,” he said. “Many are ambivalent, and no one has expressed any opposition.”

Ocean City police became aware of the planned demonstration as early as Monday and made efforts to determine the size and nature of the demonstration. OCPD spokesperson Lindsay Richard said on Wednesday the department was cognizant of the group’s First Amendment rights to assemble and petition their government and no additional police response was required for the peaceful demonstration.

“The rally did occur in today in town,” she said on Wednesday. “As always, we encourage citizens to practice their constitutional rights and protest peacefully in Ocean City. Similar to the many special events we host in town, our officers conducted normal checks of the area. At this point, the protest has been conducted in a very peaceful manner and no additional patrols have been assigned to the area.”

No ‘Advisory Opinion’ From Judge On New Performer Law

OCEAN CITY — In the latest salvo in the ongoing battle over Ocean City’s street performers, a federal court judge on Wednesday denied a motion filed by the town to amend or repeal the original ruling on the old busker ordinance replaced last month by a new ordinance.

The motion was reject because no challenges to the town’s new ordinance enacted last month have come forward.

In 2011, Boardwalk spray paint artist Mark Chase filed suit in U.S. District Court against Ocean City, challenging its recently adopted ordinance regarding street performers. Essentially, Chase asserted the town’s ordinance violated First Amendment rights to freedom of expression among other things. U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Hollander ultimately agreed with Chase and issued a preliminary injunction and later Consent Decree clearly outlining how the town must handle the street performer issue on the Boardwalk.

Over three years later, the town adopted a new ordinance addressing street performer issues. It went into effect last month. The new ordinance was crafted after careful study by a task force, ironically on which Chase served. After considerable debate and public hearings, the town adopted the new street performer ordinance that creates a new registration and rotation plan for the performers on the Boardwalk.

In an effort to get out in front of any possible legal challenges to the new ordinance, the town prior to its enactment filed a motion in U.S. District Court seeking the judge’s opinion on the validity of the new ordinance and seeking to amend the terms of the original Consent Decree. The town’s motion was filed in advance of the enactment of the new ordinance as a pre-emptive measure to ensure the new ordinance was constitutional and abided to the spirit of the Consent Decree.

“Modification of this court’s Consent Decree is now appropriate and ripe for the court’s review,” the city’s motion reads. “Enactment of the new ordinance as a result of extensive experience with enforcing the old ordinance presents significant, new factual and legal circumstances that compel modification of this court’s earlier injunction set forth in the Consent Decree.”

However, Hollander on Wednesday issued an opinion on the town’s motion to alter the original Consent Decree, essentially ruling that absent any challenges to the new ordinance, the issue was moot at this time. According to the judge’s opinion, the new ordinance does not alter the terms of the old ordinance, which was subject to the Consent Decree, and those orders remain valid and binding.

“To the extent that the town has enacted a new law, no case or controversy is now pending before the court as to the legality of such new provision,” the opinion reads. “No challenge has been lodged to the new ordinance. In my view, through its motion, the town seeks an advisory opinion from this court as to the legality and constitutionality of the town’s new ordinance. I decline to issue one.”

Hollander ruled quickly on her denial of the town’s motion to amend or alter the original Consent Decree, which was filed in mid-July. Chase, as the plaintiff in the original case and a member of a city-appointed task force that helped craft the new regulations, had until Aug. 5 to respond to the town’s motion, but did not.

“No hearing is necessary to resolve the motion,” the opinion reads. “For the reasons that follow, I shall deny the motion.”

Basically, the town was seeking the judge’s blessing to move forward with the new ordinance and an opinion that it would hold up constitutionally.

“In this case, the court has the authority to declare the case moot and vacate the Consent Decree on grounds that there is no reasonable expectation that enforcement of the new ordinance will violate the First Amendment in the manner that the old ordinance was found to violate the First Amendment,” the motion reads. “That is, this court can rule that there is no reasonable expectation that the harm caused by the old ordinance will be repeated as a result of the enactment of the new ordinance.”

However, Hollander did not comply.

“As indicated, there is no challenge in this case to my earlier rulings concerning the old ordinance, nor has anyone challenged the new ordinance,” the opinion reads. “Rather, the town has asked the court to construe the new ordinance and to declare it constitutional, notwithstanding the absence of a challenge to it. In my view, the issue presented by Ocean City is plainly not justiciable.”

Absent any formal challenge from Chase or any of the other street performers on the Boardwalk, the judge upheld the spirit of the original Consent Decree and declined to support the town’s motion to alter or amend it.

“There is no case or controversy here,” the opinion reads. “Rather, the town seeks an advisory opinion as to the legality of its new ordinance, even though no challenge has been lodged. It is not appropriate for the court to ascend the pulpit and issue a judicial blessing with regard to the new ordinance.”

The town was hoping a favorable opinion of the motion by Hollander would stave off any potential challenges to the new ordinance. However, the judge on Wednesday denied the motion.

“As noted, the town has repealed the old ordinance and it was the old ordinance that was the subject of the court’s earlier rulings,” the opinion reads. “In its place, the town has enacted a new ordinance, carefully screened and vetted by the town’s legislative body, citizens and the town’s attorney. No challenge has been lodged by Mr. Chase or anyone else as to the legality of the new ordinance with respect to the First Amendment or on any other basis.”

Students Lead Demonstration In Ocean City For D.C. Statehood

Flags supporting the effort to make the District of Columbia its own state were seen Wednesday on the Boardwalk and downtown beach in Ocean City. Photo by Shawn Soper

OCEAN CITY — The beach and Boardwalk became unlikely locations for a peaceful demonstration for statehood for the District of Columbia on Wednesday afternoon.

A couple dozen members of DisruptDC, a new student advocacy organization calling for statehood and everything that implies for Washington, D.C. The organization set up camp on the beach at 1st Street and handed out fliers and literature explaining the cause to anyone who would listen. Some members of the group also took to the crowded Boardwalk under the banner of a D.C. flag decorated with its “Taxation without Representation” message.

District of Columbia voters have already approved a referendum calling for the creation of a new state called New Columbia, although federal lawmakers have not approved it.

The DisruptDC organization is taking the message to anyone who will listen, including residents and visitors to Ocean City on Wednesday afternoon. Spokesman Dan Lewis said the group did not intend to disrupt the daily activity on the beach and Boardwalk, but merely wanted to teach and raise awareness about the inequities for D.C. residents.

“This is not a protest by any means,” he said. “It’s more like a demonstration. We’re canvassing this area because of the access to so many people and such a diverse population. We think we can reach people from all over Maryland here and from all over the country really.”

Lewis said the message was clear. The residents of D.C. have a municipal government, but do not have any representatives in the U.S. Senate or Congress. Literature distributed by the group on Wednesday points out the city is home to over 600,000 people, which is more than the states of Vermont and Wyoming. Washington, D.C. also has a higher GDP than 16 other states and pays the highest tax rate.

“We have over 600,000 people in D.C. without any representation in Congress,” said Lewis. “We send our kids to war and pay more in taxes than any other part of the country, but we don’t have a say in our federal government.”

The catalyst for the demonstration in Ocean City on Wednesday and the recent spike in popularity for the movement was fueled by a recent video produced by John Oliver for his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” calling for statehood for D.C.

“That John Oliver piece got 2.6 million views,” said Lewis. “We knew there would be an influx of energy on this issue from that. We wanted to get something going before that energy dissipated again.”

Lewis pointed out Ocean City was chosen for several reasons, not the least of which is it is the summer playground in U.S. Congressman Andy Harris’ backyard. Maryland’s 1st District Congressman has been criticized in the past for intervening in D.C.’s affairs. Most notably, last summer just before the Fourth of July, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray called on his constituents to boycott Ocean City because Harris was able to get an amendment attached to a House budget bill, which, if approved would have reversed D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization law.

Lewis said on Wednesday Ocean City was chosen for the demonstration in part because it was simply a beautiful beach destination, but also because of the perceived slights by Harris in the past.

“We chose Ocean City for a couple of reasons,” he said. “First, it’s beautiful here and it’s a perfect beach day, and secondly, and more importantly, it’s in Andy Harris’ district. Harris has a history of meddling in D.C. issues even though he doesn’t represent the district. No one does, which is kind of the point.”

As the DisruptDC organizers passed out their literature and extoled their plight to anyone who would listen on the beach and Boardwalk, they ran into some support and a lot of indifference, but no real naysayers.

“Most of the people we’ve talked to are supportive,” he said. “Many are ambivalent, and no one has expressed any opposition.”

Ocean City police became aware of the planned demonstration as early as Monday and made efforts to determine the size and nature of the demonstration. OCPD spokesperson Lindsay Richard said on Wednesday the department was cognizant of the group’s First Amendment rights to assemble and petition their government and no additional police response was required for the peaceful demonstration.

“The rally did occur in today in town,” she said on Wednesday. “As always, we encourage citizens to practice their constitutional rights and protest peacefully in Ocean City. Similar to the many special events we host in town, our officers conducted normal checks of the area. At this point, the protest has been conducted in a very peaceful manner and no additional patrols have been assigned to the area.”

 

Young Hero Honored As Fire Chief For The Day For Saving Aunt’s Life In Resort

Mason Farr, 7, is pictured with his aunt, Jenny, at this morning's event honoring his heroic actions in May. Photo by Shawn Soper

OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Fire Department had a new chief for the day on Monday in 7-year-old Mason Farr, a pint-sized hero who saved his aunt from drowning at a resort water park earlier this summer.

Farr was feted at the Ocean City Fire Department headquarters on 15th Street on Monday morning for his amazing rescue of his aunt, Jenny Mama, at the Jolly Roger water park back on May 25. Mama broke her neck while going down a Splash Mountain water slide and ended up face down in the pool at the bottom, unable to move her arms and legs and taking in copious amounts of water when Farr jumped in and pulled her head out of the water and held her until help arrived.

On Monday, Farr and his family, including Aunt Jenny, along with a bevy of his young friends, were given a tour of the Ocean City Fire Department headquarters on 15th Street. Farr received a Certificate of Appreciation, a fire hat and a badge and was named honorary fire chief for the day. The young hero also met the firemen and paramedics who responded to save his aunt.

On a warm, early summer day in late May, Farr and his family were enjoying the water park at Jolly Roger when he was able to coax his aunt, Jenny Mama, into joining him for a ride. Farr went down first and waited for his mother, Karen, and Aunt Jenny to come down behind him. A somewhat reluctant Mama got on the tube and headed down the water slide behind Farr who was now waiting at the bottom. Mama said she bounced down the slide, hitting her head on different occasions, before a potential disaster struck near the end of the ride.

“I get on the tube and it doesn’t have any handles and I’m flailing and banging my head,” she said. “I get about three quarters of the way down and reach the last whip when I hear this ripping or tearing sound. I thought ‘oh my God, I think I broke my neck.’”

Mama said she was motionless in the pool at the bottom of the water slide. She couldn’t move and was unable to lift her head from the water. She remained conscious and recalled feeling her life slipping away.

“I couldn’t feel anything,” she said. “I couldn’t move my head or my arms or legs, but I was aware. I thought I was going to die. My arms and legs wouldn’t work and I couldn’t get my head out of the water.”

Just when all seemed hopeless, Mama got an intervention from an unlikely source.

“I remember taking five gulps of water,” she said. “I remember thinking about how many gulps it would take me to drown, when all of the sudden, somebody picked me up and was holding me up. It was Mason. He said ‘I got you Aunt Jen.’ I couldn’t believe this little guy, who is only 7 years old, jumped back in the pool and picked me up. He saved my life.”

Mama said Farr, who attends Ocean City Elementary School, grew up around the water and was comfortable in the situation despite his young age.

“He’s a great swimmer,” she said. “He knows enough about swimming to get somebody’s head out of the water when they are in trouble.”

Mama said the Ocean City Fire Department and paramedics responded and she was quickly on a back board and on her way to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.

“In what seemed like a couple of seconds later, the paramedics were there and I was on a board,” she said. “All heck was breaking loose. The Ocean City firemen and paramedics were there and the next thing I knew, I was on a helicopter heading for Shock Trauma.”

Mama spent five weeks in the hospital and had operations to repair her broken neck including the placement of a plate and fusion of vertebrae. She is walking and going about her life, but continues to have numbness in her hands and goes to rehabilitation and physical therapy. She had high praise for her young hero on Monday.

“Even before all of this, he was my special little man,” she said. “I’ll never be able to repay him.”

Mama also had high praise for the paramedics and firefighters who responded quickly and stabilized her before loading her onto a helicopter for Shock Trauma.

“They did all the right things,” she said. “If they didn’t do everything just right, I would have been a paraplegic. I could have been in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, but God had another plan.”

Ocean City Firefighters Union President Ryan Whittington led Farr and his young friends on a tour of the firehouse on Monday. Farr and his friends also got a tour of an Ocean City ambulance and a primer on lifesaving techniques. Whittington praised Farr for his quick thinking that saved his aunt’s life.

“Such a young child was able to determine that someone needed help, sprang into action and prevented his aunt from drowning,” he said. “Mason is an example that heroes come in all sizes.”

 

Ocean City Tax Rate Suit Headed To Fed Court; Resort Appealing Ruling

OCEAN CITY — The battle over the property tax rate petition in Ocean City will be heard in federal court after a judge last week ordered the town’s case against the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ) be removed from Worcester County Circuit Court and consolidated with a concurrent civil case filed by the plaintiffs in U.S.  District Court.

In July, OCTSJ organizer Tony Christ filed a request in U.S. District Court for the emergency removal of the Town of Ocean City’s Circuit Court case in Worcester County to the federal level, asserting the property tax rate issue as it relates to the constant yield should be considered a federal question because the alleged arbitrariness of the tax rate change falls under First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment violations. Essentially, the OCTSJ argues the case should more appropriately be heard in federal court because it doesn’t believe it would get a fair hearing at the local level.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bennett concurred and ordered the town’s petition for declaratory judgment against the OCTSJ to be removed from Worcester County Circuit Court and consolidated with a OCTSJ’s existing case against the town filed in U.S. District Court on July 1. In simpler terms, the town’s action against the OCTSJ filed in Worcester County Circuit Court, and the OCTSJ case against the Mayor and Council filed in U.S. District Court, which were proceeding on parallel paths, will now be consolidated into a single federal case.

“It is hereby ordered that the plaintiffs’ request for emergency removal of Maryland Circuit Court cases to federal District Court shall be construed as a notice of removal,” Bennett’s order reads. “The clerk of court is directed to open a new case based on the plaintiffs’ notice of removal and to consolidate this new case with an above-captioned case.”

By way of background, in May, a group of concerned property owners in the resort affiliated with OCTSJ submitted a petition to lower Ocean City’s tax rate to the 2009 level of 38 cents per $100 of assessed value. On the same day, the Mayor and Council approved the fiscal year 2016 budget that raises the property tax rate two cents to 47.8 cents.

In simplest terms, the OCTSJ is seeking a return to the 2009 property tax rate of 38 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, asserting the increase in the rate over the years has forced many to leave Ocean City to neighboring jurisdictions with lower tax rates and has stifled the growth of small business in the resort forced to pay higher property tax rates.

Meanwhile, the Mayor and Council have contended the increase in the property tax rate in recent years to the fiscal year 2016 rate of 47.8 cents is consistent with the constant yield, or the rate needed to generate the same amount of revenue required to continue to provide the same level of municipal services residents and visitors have come to expect and need.

In June, the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice submitted a petition containing 1,477 signatures validated by the state Board of Elections. The number of valid signatures needed to force the requested return to the 2009 property tax rate needed to be 20 percent of the current 6,141 registered voters in Ocean City, or in this case 1,228, which the petition clearly exceeds. The petition seeks a referendum within 90 days of its filing, or the next scheduled election, which would be November 2016.

Early in July, the Mayor and Council filed a petition for declaratory judgment against the OCTSJ and Christ in the Worcester County Circuit Court seeking a judicial review and attempting to halt the petition for referendum at the local level.

Anticipating the Mayor and Council’s move at the Circuit Court level, the OCTSJ and Christ, along with three other plaintiffs including Herb Pawlukewicz, John Medlin and former Ocean City Councilman Joe Hall, 10 days earlier filed a complaint in U.S. District Court seeking a Habeas Corpus hearing at the federal level. The four plaintiffs were not confident the petition to return the tax rate to the 2009 level will not get a fair shake in Worcester County Circuit Court.

Last week’s ruling by Bennett at the U.S. District Court level has been appealed by the city. Christ said this week he is working on an answer to that appeal and he hopes to have it complete this week.

“The city is trying to crush us and I am doing my best without being an attorney to stay up on the filings and see this through,” said Christ. “The city is spending a lot of money on these filings. The most recent development is a request to make our group hire an attorney, which we cannot afford to do. It’s just a few of us.”