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Music Festival Promoter Seeks To Clear Air About Event

Photo by Mid Atlantic Rock Reviews

BERLIN — The organizers of this month’s music festival near Berlin defended the event this week after an article last week and an ongoing dispute over the treatment of one band.

Taking place from Thursday, Sept. 11 through Saturday, Sept. 13, the Soundwave Music Festival, produced by Airlift Entertainment, was hosted at Airlift Acres, a 50-acre field north of Berlin and featured a lineup of tribute and original rock bands from across the country. The Law Enforcement Officers Safeguarding America Foundation was a major sponsor of the festival.

A week after the event, Ocean City Today ran a scathing article titled “Music Fest Hits Sour Note With Fans, Musicians.” Citing one fan interviewed in person, an anonymous online comment and performing guitarist Tim Barbour of the New York band Blameshift, the article criticized every aspect of the event from attendance to food to organization.

Tim Keane, owner and promoter of Airlift Entertainment, responded this week to the article, which he claims was a blatant smear job by a biased reporter.

“[Ocean City Today Staff Writer] Nancy Powell misrepresented our event citing untrue events and information. Examples before getting into the content of the article she wrote: the large picture she placed in the paper falsely misrepresented this year’s event,” Keane wrote in an email. “The picture she posted is actually last year’s picture before the festival opened and was taken during a sound check. This was solely intentional on her part to lead people to believe the picture was taken during this year’s event while it was open.”

In response to an email seeking comment on Wednesday, Powell responded, “I took the photo this year. It was not during a sound check.” Powell, who invited this newspaper’s editor to her house to show proof the photos were from this year’s event, added, “I have no reason whatsoever to lie to you or anyone else.”

While disagreeing with that claim, attendance wasn’t as high as initially hoped, Keane admitted, but was higher than the measly pickings portrayed in the article. Roughly 3,000 tickets were sold or given away through promotions, according to Keane.

A physical count of attendees was made each day by Airlift with Thursday at 125, Friday at 161 and Saturday at 362. It is fair to note that those numbers don’t necessarily represent “unique” attendance as many festival goers likely visited on two or even all three days.

The numbers do not include tailgating spectators or guests of the bands. If accurate, the physical count means that at least 362 individuals attended Soundwave, though the number is most likely higher than that.

This is only Soundwave’s second year and the weather was hit-or-miss during that weekend, said Heber Pampillon, which could explain the lag in attendance. Pampillon is a member of the Atlanta, Ga.-based band Kickin Valentina and he enjoyed the festival.

“For us, the experience was great. Everybody was very friendly. Whatever they told us and whatever we had under contract with them, they followed through on it,” he said. “We enjoyed ourselves and we could definitely come back if they decided to do it again.”

The sentiment was not shared by Barbour. There remains some dispute between Airlift and Barbour’s band Blameshift over what exactly happened during the event. Blameshift maintains that the band was not paid its full, contracted price for playing. It did receive an advance of half its fee, but, according to Barbour, the band was not given the remainder after the set.

By Barbour’s account, after his band had finished, members attempted to settle up their fee at which point they were mistakenly given an envelope with a different band’s payment which was more than they were supposed to receive.

“Not being scumbags or whatever you want to call it, I decided to give the envelope back to them,” Barbour said.

But after doing so, Barbour said that Airlift was unable to find the band’s proper envelope and concluded that Blameshift must have already been paid.

“At that point, I said that we’re not going to leave until we get paid, in a nice way, by no means were we disrespectful,” Barbour said.

When Blameshift pushed, Barbour said that the band was escorted off the property by police along with others who had supported them.

Airlift’s account of the incident was similar in structure though much different in detail. Keane acknowledged that there was some mix-up with Blameshift’s final payment though couldn’t say whether Airlift or the band was at fault.

“The envelope that contained their final half was somehow lost behind the stage and was found behind the stage the next morning when the band had already departed the area,” Keane wrote.

Keane didn’t dispute that members of Blameshift and a few others were escorted off Airlift Acres but claimed that the band was removed due to multiple reports of illegal drug use not because of any fight over pay. The band was not searched and no arrests were made, however.

“I wish they did [search us] because our band doesn’t participate in any drugs,” said Barbour. “I mean we drink alcohol but we don’t do cocaine, we don’t smoke pot.”

Even after the envelope containing Blameshift’s payment was found, Barbour said that the band has yet to be paid.

“It turned into them losing our money, to us getting kicked off of the premises, to them getting hurt about the fact that social media stuff became involved and they got some bad reviews and then now they’re just not paying us,” he said.

The reason Airlift gave for not paying the final half was a breach of contract due to the alleged drug use as well as Blameshift not playing their full hour-long set. But Barbour said that the band played for almost exactly 52-minutes, which he claimed to have cleared with management ahead of time.

Barbour acknowledged that the scenario boils down to a “he-said-she-said” and isn’t sure how to proceed but doesn’t want to let it just drop due to the principle.

As for some of the other criticisms leveled at Soundwave by the recent article, such as low satisfaction and an underwhelming VIP package, Keane said that the story included information that was at times misleading and at other times completely false.

Tina Koch, the owner of OC Imports, attended the festival with her family and said she didn’t see any of the issues the article claimed were taking place. Like Pampillon, Koch did notice that attendance was lighter than expected but said crowds were still reasonable, especially during the evening.

“I’m not sure why the attendance was low but the festival, I thought and everybody that I talked to, was very professional,” she said. “The stage was incredible. All of the bands had lightshows and smoke machines and this, that and the other.”

The attendance actually worked out in her family’s favor, Koch continued, as it wasn’t too difficult to get close to the stage or interact with the bands. Her son was able to get several drum sticks autographed by some of the rockers and Koch, who attended Soundwave last year, said that she would return for a third festival next year if it is held.

“It was totally professional and I’m sorry that there weren’t more people there to see it,” she said. “Everybody there was having a great time. It worked out for us because we kind of got front row seats.”

Koch, whose husband had paid extra for VIP privileges, also said that the family was satisfied on that account. General admission was $45 per day with a package of all three days for $110 while VIP tickets were $75 per day or $180 for the entire festival.

Last week’s article criticized Soundwave for alleged broken promises regarding VIP packages including cheap food, recycled T-shirts in gift bags and unfulfilling meet and greets with the bands. There weren’t any issues with food and drinks, said Koch. Keane stated that there was actually a buffet offered.

“We served lasagna, macaroni and cheese, meatball subs, chicken breast sandwiches, hamburgers, cheeseburgers and hot dogs. I can guarantee you that it was not a bag of salad and a hamburger [as reported],” he wrote. “Everyone ate and drank as much as they wanted and enjoyed the buffet line inside the VIP tent throughout the entire three days.”

VIP gift bags did include a T-shirt from last year’s Soundwave festival, but Keane said that was only a “commemorative gift” and that 2014 festival shirts were also included.

Kelley Jamieson, a festival goer who journeyed down to Soundwave Friday and Saturday from New York, said that she did not receive the 2014 shirt in her gift bag but was able to obtain one as soon as she mentioned the issue to Airlift.

“It was a little different than expected but overall I had a good time,” she said of the festival, adding that there are a still a few kinks for the event to work out but that staff was friendly.

By all accounts, Soundwave did not meet its own attendance expectations, but Keane considers the fledgling festival on the right path for future growth and believes that this month’s event left most fans and musicians satisfied. Accounts may vary but Keane has said that a number of bands, including Slaughter, KIX, Kickin Valentina and LA Guns, have signaled that they would all be willing to return next year.

 

Worcester County Lands $1M Special Ed Grant; Personnel Surprised With Announcement This Week

Pictured, from left, at this week’s presentation of the 2014 Bridges for Systems Change grant were Marcella Franczkowski, Assistant State Superintendent of the Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services; Jennifer Dale, Coordinator of Instruction for Special Education; Rae Record, Supervisor of Special Education; and Paul Dunford, Chief of the Division of Programmatic Support and Technical Assistance. Submitted Photo

SNOW HILL — Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) got a big and pleasant surprise this week when it was announced that the county will be the sole recipient of a $1 million-plus competitive grant for special education.

The 2014 Bridges for Systems Change grant will be used to buoy education for students with disabilities.

“The grant seeks to improve outcomes for children ages birth through 21 through the use of evidence-based and innovative practices to enhance student learning,” said Rae Record, supervisor of special education. “The goal is to eliminate the existing gap between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.”

The two-year grant will improve and expand a number of special education programs and will bring momentum to the county’s planned systems changes for disabled students. The new program framework will begin to be put in place this week and will be aided by the Maryland State Department of Education’s (MSDE) Division of Programmatic Support and Technical Assistance.

“The grant is extraordinary, said Division Chief Paul Dunford. “It was collaboratively constructed and is all about kids.”

WCPS and MSDE will be working hand-in-hand on applying the grant. The goal is to raise the county up as a model for the rest of the state in terms of cooperation and a special education program that aggressively targets the achievement gap between disabled and non-disabled students.

“The model for system change that will be created here is a true collaboration using the three E’s: Efficiency, Excellence and Equity,” said Marcella Franczkowski, assistant state superintendent of the Division of Special Education and Early Intervention Services.

The potential for the grant is high and WCPS is excited about how special education programs can grow with a $1 million shot to the arm. Adding to the excitement is the fact that the grant is coming out of left field.

“It’s quite big. It feels very surreal right now,” said Record.

The surprise announcement was made Tuesday morning while Franczkowski and other MSDE representatives were visiting Pocomoke High School. They were on site to provide professional development for county special education personnel when Franczkowski revealed that WCPS would receive the full $1 million.

While the announcement was a bombshell, the county did pay its due diligence when applying for the grant. Record recognized the work of the grant writing team led by Jennifer Dale, coordinator of instruction for special education. That team spent a large part of the summer working to make Worcester an appealing landing zone for Bridges for Systems Change.

“The effort to secure this grant is a great testament to the internal leadership of Special Education and their work around strategic planning and the alignment to our vision for the academic success of all students,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson. “This effort also reflects the drive of our school system to be leaders in innovation with excellence. We are immensely proud that a committee of educators sought this grant. Their commitment and hard-work will greatly benefit the children of Worcester County.”

Dale spread the credit around to the large number of stakeholders who participated in writing the grant. This group included parents, special and general education teachers and administrators. It was a lengthy process of research and data gathering, projecting a budget and a coming up with a plan moving forward that would appeal strongly enough to MSDE to attract a massive sum of money.

This is the largest two-year grant that the county has ever received.

 

Midshipman Dies From Injuries Sustained On Assateague

Hans Loewen

ASSATEAGUE — A Naval Academy midshipman severely injured in a skateboarding accident at Assateague State Park back on March 22 passed away while in a coma at the University of Maryland Medical Center Shock Trauma on Saturday.

Midshipman Third Class Hans Loewen, 20, of Hampstead, N.C., passed away on Saturday at Shock Trauma six days after he sustained injuries in a skateboarding accident while on liberty away from the academy on March 22. Loewen was camping at Assateague State Park with other midshipmen when he sustained the injuries while skateboarding. After initial treatment on the scene by local emergency personnel, Loewen was transported to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.

A York, Pa. man who was camping at the Assateague Island National Seashore that weekend said he observed three young men taking turns being pulled on a skateboard behind a jeep that Saturday evening. He said he didn’t think much of it at the time because it just appeared to be three young men horsing around and not harming themselves or others.

He did say a small crowd had gathered to watch the display, but he left around dusk, or about 8 p.m., and didn’t learn of the tragic accident until the next day. When he and his wife drove out of the national park, the road where the young men had been horsing around was blocked off as crews cleared the roadway. He said he thought at the time one of the famed horses or perhaps one of the hundreds of sika deer he had seen in the same area the day before had been hit by a vehicle, but learned the real story later that day.

“My wife Barbara and I join the Brigade, staff and faculty in mourning the loss of Midshipman Hans Loewen,” said Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Michael Miller in a statement. “Hans was a vibrant midshipman who loved his life to the fullest and that spirit will forever be imprinted in his classmates and the Naval Academy. As we celebrate Hans’ courage and commitment, we also come together in support for his family and friends, and all who were touched by his presence. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the Loewens and our extended USNA family during this very difficult time.”

Loewen, a sophomore, was an oceanography major in the 7th Company at the Academy and his extracurricular activities included the Adventure Racing Team, the American Nuclear Society and the Rock Climbing Club. According to his family’s Caring Bridge memorial page, Loewen was a calculated risk taker, attacking his many passions with intensity and preparation including kite surfing, rock climbing, downhill longboarding, surfing, paddle boarding, mountain climbing, mountain biking and several others.

“He researches each of his passions and when he engages in it, he does it with calculated intensity,” the memorial page reads. “On Saturday, March 22, Hans miscalculated a bit as he was engaging in one of his many extreme sports and suffered a devastating brain injury, despite wearing a helmet, after skateboarding beside a slowly moving vehicle and falling beneath its rear wheel.”

Grief counseling services and support are available to midshipmen, faculty and staff through chains of command, chaplains and the Midshipmen Development Center.

Loewen was the second USNA midshipman to pass away in the span of less than a week. Midshipman Will McKamey, 19, of Knoxville, Tenn., died while in a coma at Shock Trauma on March 26 three days after collapsing during a Navy spring football practice.

 

 

New OC Businesses Granted Restricted Liquor Licenses; Resident Concerns Sway Board

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OCEAN CITY — Concerns from residents caused the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) Wednesday to grant only limited approval for alcoholic beverage licenses for a pair of new Ocean City restaurants.

The first case heard was for Yellow Submarine, proposed to be located at 5801 Coastal Highway. Applicant Keven Myers, who is the general manager of Fager’s Island, first appeared before the BLC for a license in December but withdrew his application after learning that he did not meet the board’s criteria for a Class D license. Myers returned this week after changing his property to meet the requirements, but was met with pushback from representatives of Oasis Condominium, which will neighbor his restaurant.

Oasis was wary of Yellow Submarine’s largely open air design, especially on busy summer nights.

“The noise will be unbearable,” predicted Oasis resident Tom Edwards. “We won’t be able to open the windows at all.”

“As a noise emitter, you could not have it emit more noise,” agreed Oasis resident Michael Helfrich.

The shadow of another open air restaurant hung over the proceedings. Several references were made to Galaxy 66’a Skye Bar, also in Ocean City, an establishment that had many noise violations during the summer of 2012 and consequently most of its entertainment privileges were yanked until the business made a major overhaul.

“One would hope that you’re not going to put us through the same experience as with Galaxy 66,” Helfrich told the board.

But Myers and his attorney Joe Moore argued that they are planning on taking major steps to prevent noise runoff, including consolation with a professional sound contentment engineer and the installation of special, volume controlled speakers. The restaurant would also provide Oasis with a direct line to management to lodge any noise complaints immediately.

Helfrich suggested that Yellow Submarine might need to enclose the open-air top floor. But Myers felt that having that open space was crucial to serving customers in that area who are looking for a specific kind of beach experience.

“There’s a lot of energy, there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of activity there all through the summer time, day time and night time,” he said.

A number of other complaints were lodged by Oasis residents, either through Helfrich’s representation or by submitted letter. These include concerns that the 39 parking spaces, 17 of which will be leased, will not be adequate to cover the 121-seat restaurant. The neighbors were also worried about intoxicated crowds leaving Yellow Submarine en mass when it closed.

Moore told the board that Myers can’t control what his patrons do once they have left the property and to expect him to be able to do so is unfair.

“That is an impossible burden to apply to anyone who comes before this board,” said Moore.

But the BLC members admitted they had concerns about the open-air design.

“Your opposition has made a good case for noise,” BLC Chair William Esham told Moore.

The board ruled that, “in the spirit of cooperation,” it would approve a beer, wine and liquor license for the property but with the stipulation that the open-air second story of Yellow Submarine cease both drink and food service at 10 p.m. and not allow patrons in the area, a condition that would also apply to the open-air deck on the first floor. The enclosed first floor could operate as usual past 10 p.m.

Knowing that Yellow Submarine might have some heartburn over the limitations, Esham noted that the board would consider relaxing the stipulations if the top floor was enclosed in some way and that Myers was free to return for another hearing.

Directly following the decision on Yellow Submarine, the BLC heard a similar case from the Ocean City Brewing Company, which will be located at 5509 Coastal Highway. The brewing company requested a beer, wine and liquor license with additional permission for the off-site sale of alcohol.

While retail off-sale privileges can be tough to talk the board into, especially in the already heavily served Ocean City area, the brewing company’s angle was that all of the beer, wine and liquor they would sell retail would be under their own brand and impossible to get anywhere else. This would include 22 varieties of beer, six wines and three liquors.

Like Yellow Submarine, the brewing company also faced opposition from a nearby condominium, in this case the Marisol.

“The condominium has concerns about retail sales at this location,” said representative John Seipp.

While the brewing company would include a full-service restaurant as well as Ocean City’s only brewery, Seipp explained that Marisol was mainly concerned with how alcoholic off-sale would increase traffic in the area, a worry shared by Marisol General Manager Monica Whitehead. Seipp also felt that, while the brewing company has received support from the town of Ocean City for the brewery and restaurant portions, that they did not fairly represent their intentions for retail.

“It seems like it has kind of morphed into something else at this point,” said Seipp.

But the brewing company made no secret of its intentions for a retail component whether that retail be merchandising or something more, according to attorney Mark Cropper. Cropper was also critical of Marisol for getting into the discussion at the 11th hour, pointing out representatives did not attend most of the brewing company’s early public meetings to make their concerns known.

Furthermore, he questioned the validity of their concerns regarding a traffic increase to the neighborhood, due to alcohol off-sale since the area is commercially zoned.

“I want to re-establish that much of the testimony given by representatives of Marisol really is a complaint about commercial use on a commercially-zoned piece of property that’s been used for commercial purpose for as long as I’ve been alive,” he said.

When asked if having those off-sale privileges were important to his business, owner Josh Shores asserted that it “wouldn’t succeed without them.” Cropper clarified that his client would need to make a massive overhaul to the business plan if the privilege of off-sale was not granted.

Still, the board was uncomfortable with the retail aspect, especially since the area around the brewery already has a large amount of to-go beer and wine available, even if that off-sale was not of the unique brewing company brand beer, wine or liquor.

“It’s clear with the amount of beer, wine and liquor to go in the city, notwithstanding that there’s a difference, that no one is going to die of thirst from not being able to get a bottle of liquor or a bottle of wine,” Esham said.

The BLC denied off-sale alcohol, with the exception of growlers, which are allowable by state law, at the location as well as a game room that Shores requested in his application. The board did, however, grant a full Class B beer, wine and liquor license to the restaurant to be located on site. Esham took a moment to stress that the board’s decision would not impact the brewery aspect of the operation, as that was something regulated by the state, not the county.

 

Mathias To Introduce Berlin Liquor Bill; County Commissioners Vote To Support Change After Opposing It

1 liquor bottles

SNOW HILL — In an unexpected move, the Worcester County Commission reversed a closed session decision to oppose a change to Berlin’s liquor regulations and will instead unanimously support such an amendment, which would allow a “Class D” liquor license in town limits. With local support secured, state representatives have confirmed that a bill will be introduced in Annapolis.

Cheers! owner Chris Denny has been attempting to gather support for a proposed amendment to state liquor regulations to allow for a Class D beverage licenses in Berlin. After gaining the endorsement of the Town Council in January, Denny’s efforts stumbled when the County Commission voted in closed session earlier this month to oppose any such change.

The decision was criticized by Denny’s attorney, Joe Moore, who was frustrated that the commissioners would vote on the matter behind closed doors. But this week the commission decided to grant Denny a public meeting to discuss the pros and cons of bringing Class D licenses into town.

Moore reminded the commission that Berlin is unique as a community as it is the only one in Worcester that does not have retail liquor off-sale within municipal limits.

“I’m hoping you will consider the circumstance and give the folks in Berlin an opportunity to have the same privileges and rights the other communities in north Worcester County have,” Moore said.

In a letter to Moore and state officials, the County Commissioners opined this month they feel their Department of Liquor Control (DLC) flagship store Shore Spirits, which is located on Route 50 two miles from downtown Berlin, more than covers Berlin’s need for liquor retail. However, Commission President Bud Church admitted Tuesday that he agrees with Moore and the Town Council that Berlin deserves to have off-sale liquor service within town limits.

“Whether it makes a lot of money or not a lot of money, Berlin, in my opinion, should have their own facility,” Church said, “whether it’s a Cheers! or some other place. I would hope that my fellow commissioners would see it that way also.”

But the commission had other concerns beyond Berlin’s level of coverage. If the county decided to support Denny’s attempt to change liquor laws at the state level, Commissioner Louise Gulyas wondered if it would be “opening a can of worms.” She pointed out that Cheers! would probably not be the only business hoping to get a Class D license, which would allow the lucrative private off-sale of liquor.

“Do you feel that this is going to open up a can of worms?” she asked Moore. “That once this store gets a Class D license that the other community store on Route 113 will also want a Class D license and they are outside of Berlin.”

Moore admitted that other businesses would be free to apply for Class D licenses but explained that any business that wants to upgrade their license will need to go before the Board of License Commissioners (BLC) to state their case. The BLC would have the final say in whether or not a business should upgrade an existing or obtain a new liquor license and would base the decision on a number of factors such as how well served the area already is.

“The obligation is to show that it’s reasonably necessary for the convenience of the public,” said Moore.

Berlin’s population, about 4,500, also will play a factor into whether the area is saturated by liquor stores, as the county fears.

“You have a very limited town population anyway,” said Sonny Bloxom, county attorney, “so, as I said before, I don’t see proliferation of liquor stores.”

The town will be able to self-limit, agreed Moore, on top of all of the protection offered by having each case go before the BLC.

One other point made by Moore is that the addition of private liquor retail in Berlin should pose little harm to the DLC’s margins. The private stores will almost certainly rely on the county for their wholesale purchases even after this year’s Sunset Provision frees up retailers to purchase directly from wholesalers. It’s unlikely that any Class D stores in Berlin will be large enough to buy direct, according to Moore.

“I think that points to the fact that these stores would still need the ability to buy from us,” agreed Commissioner Jim Bunting.

Bunting made a motion that the commissioners join the Mayor and Council of Berlin in supporting Denny’s effort. Bunting alluded to the commission’s closed session vote earlier this month to oppose Denny, framing their public vote this week as a second chance.

“We make decisions, sometimes we don’t make the right ones, and we have an opportunity to correct that,” Bunting said.

The commission voted unanimously to support a change to Berlin’s liquor regulations. With the town and county on board, Denny’s effort will be taken up in Annapolis by State Senator Jim Mathias (D-38B).

“I’d heard of the County Commissioners’ decision to revisit the issue today and was very pleased,” said Mathias Tuesday. “I was moving in that direction. I’m already having the bill drafted as we speak. We’re looking to work to accomplish this. I really appreciate the commissioners, the representatives and the Mayor and Council all working together to get this matter resolved and now it’s up to us to get it to happen.”

Worcester Board Of Ed Votes To Change School Date To Day After Labor Day

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SNOW HILL — For the first time in five years, Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) will be the only school system in Maryland to start classes after Labor Day for the 2014-2015 school year.

WCPS broke ranks with the rest of the state this week when the Board of Education voted to return to a post-Labor Day start of Sept. 2.

“I didn’t mind being the last school district in the state to go before Labor Day,” said Board of Education President Bob Rothermel, “and I don’t mind being the first school district to go after Labor Day. Maybe it will send a message.”

The debate over when the school year should begin has raged in Worcester since it became the last school system to begin classes before Labor Day back in the 2009-2010 school year. Opponents have argued that the early start hurts resort businesses since they lose their student workers before the end of the busy summer season as well as the fact families cut short their vacation seasons. Proponents have countered that the extra time is needed to prepare for exams and that an earlier last day is better for students and parents.

Rothermel’s stance is in opposition to that of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson, who favors WCPS continuing with the rest of the state in beginning classes prior to Labor Day. Wilson defended his stance earlier this month in a meeting with the Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC), noting that parent surveys have shown support for longer holiday breaks and an earlier last day of school, both of which necessitate a pre-Labor Day start.

“I find myself on the opposite side of the debate with our superintendent,” said Rothermel Tuesday, “and I struggle with that because I believe in what he does and what he does for our school system.”

But Rothermel was adamant in his belief that Worcester should break with the rest of the state. He acknowledged that parental surveys don’t display an overwhelming demand for a later starting school year but felt not everyone was voicing their opinion.

“I understand the survey results and I understand that some people aren’t even answering the question,” he said, “because they don’t believe it’s a possibility of ever happening.”

The most recent school calendar survey received 73 parental comments supporting classes beginning post-Labor Day. Those 73 comments represent about 5-percent of the 1,448 survey returns for 2014. Of the calendars proposed for parents to review, none of those created by the school system included a post-Labor Day school start. However, there was space left for comments so parents could write about any topic they wanted.

Long-time Board of Education member Sara Thompson felt that most parents, at least in her district, don’t favor a return to an after Labor Day start.

“The parents I’ve talked to want us to stay like we are,” she said. “They said their kids need to get out earlier in June than they would if we started earlier in September.”

But the rest of the Board of Education sided with Rothermel.

“We should also recognize that Worcester County is different than all other counties,” said Board member Doug Dryden, “and because all other counties start before Labor Day doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to also.”

As for the argument that an earlier start to the school year is needed to prepare students for exams, Board of Education member Bob Hulburd asserted that WCPS shouldn’t be beholden to the idea that a start date needs to hinge on testing.

“I’ve always felt a little bit uneasy that the reason we’ve been given sometimes is that testing was driving that start date, and I think testing should not be our motivation necessarily for when we start school or when we end school,” Hulburd said.

Rothermel felt the same and added that he had full faith in educators in Worcester to prepare students for assessments even if the school year starts a few days later than usual.

The Board of Education voted 5 to 1 with Thompson opposed and Donnie Shockley absent to change the WCPS school year start date for next year, 2014-2015, to Sept. 2, the day after Labor Day. The change means that the school year would now most likely end on June 16 instead of June 10, as it would with a pre-Labor Day start.

What will happen regarding the statewide task force will be decided over the summer most likely, as the group will submit a report endorsing legislation for all school systems to start after the Labor Day holiday. A bill likely be introduced in the 2015 session.

At that EDC meeting earlier this month, Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson expressed his concerns with the change, though it was a couple weeks before his board would vote to do exactly what he didn’t want.

“I was one of 24 superintendents across the state that signed a letter saying we do not support the Labor Day change,” Wilson said.

Wilson began the superintendent’s reasoning of opposition by pointing out there is a number of school-related activities that begin prior to Labor Day, such as football practice.

“Those kids practice outdoors, and we have rules developing in our state that require us to have practices beginning prior to Aug. 15 because of heat conditions and the amount of time they are able to practice,” Wilson said.

Wilson continued it is parent tendencies to prefer holiday breaks during the school year, such as a two-week break given during Christmas.

“We have had an academic calendar in Worcester County several years ago that started after Labor Day, and we survey our parents every year, and mostly our parents are more satisfied currently than they were in the past,” he said.

 

County, Berlin Differ Over Liquor Legislative Effort; County Votes To Oppose Private Liquor Store In Town

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BERLIN — A push to allow private liquor retail sales in the town of Berlin is facing an uphill battle now that the Worcester County Commission has officially come out in opposition to the measure. The effort may not be dead in the water, however, as it has been endorsed by the Berlin Mayor and Council and remains on the radar of a state senator.

In January, attorney Joe Moore, representing Cheers! owner Chris Denny, visited the Berlin Town Council seeking support for an amendment to Maryland’s state alcoholic beverage provisions to allow the off-site sale of liquor at a private store in town. The council unanimously endorsed the idea, agreeing with Moore’s argument that Berlin has been underserved ever since the county removed their retail liquor distributor from town back in September.

In a letter to County Commission President Bud Church, Mayor Gee Williams outlined the town’s support after allowing the public time to express any concerns or opposition with having a private liquor store in town limits.

“We have received no opposition to this position. The only input received can be summarized as follows: When are you going to fix this?.” wrote Williams, who added the town is currently “without a convenient outlet to purchase carryout liquor to go within town limits” since the county shuttered its store in the Food Lion Shopping Center and moved it to Route 50.

After getting the thumbs up from the council, the expectation was for Moore to take his case to the County Commission to try for a similar endorsement. However, the commission met in closed session last week to discuss Moore’s request and the letter of support from Berlin privately. The commissioners voted to oppose Moore’s attempt to change the provisions at the state level that would allow Class D licenses in Berlin’s town limits. Such a license would be needed for a traditional, privately owned retail liquor store.

“I regret to inform you that the County Commissioners voted to oppose any such legislation … The Commissioners are concerned that expanding the areas where Class ‘D’ Licenses are permitted will result in a proliferation of liquor stores,” wrote Harold Higgins, Chief Administrative Officer, “not only in Berlin but in other areas of the County in the future.”

In his letter to Williams, Moore and local lawmakers, Higgins noted that the county only closed its retail operation in Berlin last year to concentrate on the new flagship store, Shore Spirits, on Route 50, which is about two miles outside of town limits. Despite the short drive, the commission argued that Shore Spirits more than meets the needs of Berlin residents.

“The County Commissioners believe that this new location not only provides convenient access to the residents of Berlin and the surrounding communities, but will also be convenient to the Worcester County visitors traveling to the beach,” Higgins wrote. “We made the decision to combine our West Ocean City and Berlin locations to a more central location just outside Berlin for the convenience of the residents and visitors of Worcester County.”

Moore unconditionally disagreed. In a response to the commission’s decision to oppose any change, Moore wrote a letter to Commission President Bud Church reiterating his belief that Shore Spirits does not fairly cover Berlin’s reasonable expectations for liquor sales.

Moore made the same argument that he gave in January to the Berlin council, pointing out that with the county pulling their retail operation in September has left a gap that has not existed in town for decades, especially for residents who would want to walk or bike to the store. Though Shore Spirits is only two miles outside of town, Moore noted that it is located on the county’s busiest highway, which often becomes deadlocked during the summer season.

“I believe I can state, with some certainty, that since the repeal of prohibition, the Town of Berlin and its citizens have enjoyed the convenience of being able to purchase alcoholic beverages,” he wrote in his original letter to the council, “without traveling beyond the Town of Berlin Corporate limits.”

In addition to his doubts about the validity of the county’s position, Moore was critical of their decision to make the vote in closed session instead of allowing him to make a public presentation.

“As stated previously, the purpose of this letter is to express my disappointment that the Commissioners would take such action and maintain a formal public position with respect to such an issue without granting at least a cursory Hearing to either myself, representing a citizen wishing to have the Legislation changed or, indeed, the Mayor and Council of Berlin which publically requested the Commissioners consideration of such Legislation,” Moore said.

Having the discussion out in the open would have been “a minor consideration,” according to Moore, and a fair one that would have allowed for reasonable discussion on the pros and cons of amending state provisions to allow Class D licenses in Berlin.

“Such a minor consideration would, it seems to me, have been beneficial if for no other reason than to air the benefits of such legislative enactment to the wholesale sales by the Worcester County Department of Liquor Control to a businessman who would be required to make a substantive investment in order to simply have the right to apply to the Board of License Commissioners, for such a license,” wrote Moore. “There is a requirement under the regulations applicable to Worcester County that no private off-sale Class ‘D’ liquor license can be issued without having the investment made and the location on the premises of not less than 25 seats available for on-site consumption.”

By opposing a legislative change, which the Worcester County Licensed Beverage Association supports, Moore argued that the commissioners are acting counter to the official goals of their Department of Liquor Control (DLC) which are, according to its website, preserving local jobs, providing service to small business in Worcester County and protecting and preserving revenue to the county and towns.

“It is my considered opinion that your recent action detrimentally affects all of those goals,” he wrote.

With the commission opposed to any legislative change, Moore acknowledged in his letter that it is unlikely that such legislation will be introduced in Annapolis this year.

However, State Senator Jim Mathias (D-38B) confirmed that may not be the case and said this week that he is still following the issue. Additionally, Delegate Mike McDermott will also be asked to consider introducing the legislation as well, in light of the county’s stated opposition.

“I’m paying close attention to this,” he said. “I’m sensitive to the need in Berlin and I would like to hear more in terms of finding a workable solution. We’ll look and see about drawing up a bill, and we’ll look to make sure there aren’t other consequences. We’ve been able to accomplish a lot, and I think we can accomplish this.”

It would have been better if the town of Berlin and the county saw eye-to-eye on the issue, Mathias admitted, but the commission’s opposition is not necessarily the last nail in the coffin.

“Sure, I’d prefer everybody to be in harmony on this,” he said. “Do I think a liquor store in Berlin would hurt the county? No. I’m just paying close attention to what else can happen.”

 

Boat Grounded On Assateague; Captain Was Headed From New York To Florida

Cropper & Sons Towing and Recovering is pictured removing the 26-foot sail boat from the Assateague State Park beach on Monday morning. Photo by Travis Brown

ASSATEAGUE ISLAND — For the second time in a month, another vessel has been grounded on Assateague Island. This time it was a 26-foot sail boat that came ashore in the early morning hours Monday.
The ship, which had New York registration and was captained by Joseph “Buck” Yates, hit the beach around 4 a.m. Monday near the H-loop at the state park. Yates had been sailing from New York City to Northern Florida.
Cropper & Sons Towing and Recovery were called to the state park first thing Monday and were able to pull the boat off the beach by 10 a.m.
Despite the frigid temperatures, Yates was journeying south to Florida and seeking a place to sleep for the evening. The Dispatch caught up with Yates while he was staying at a local hotel on Tuesday.
“I was on my way to North Florida from New York City,” he said. “And I was just at the very tail end of about a 100-mile shot from Atlantic City.”
When the boat grounded, Yates had been looking for a shallow area to anchor for the night.
“It was just a kind of miscalculation. I was using maps instead of GPS. I was looking for the shallows near there,” he said. “I thought it was about a half-mile out and I guess I was going faster than I thought.”
Yates had hoped for more light to work with while he was sailing, but both the beach and the water where dark.
“The moon had already set so it was totally pitch black on the ocean,” he said.
The waves cracked the ship’s keel, and Yates confirmed that it will have to be salvaged.
Despite the experience, Yates kept a positive attitude and said that he will likely go right back into the water as soon as he can find a new vessel. Though his boat took some lumps, Yates said he got out unhurt.
“I thought I was going to have some frostbite but it turns out I was just really cold,” he said, referring to the 30-degree temperatures the night he came ashore.
This was Yates first attempt at such a long solo voyage but he said that it was “just part of the adventure.”
While ships have come ashore on Assateague in the past, it’s not usually with such frequency. It was less than a month ago on Oct. 30 that a so called “ghost ship” beached on the national seashore and made for some eerie picture on Halloween. However, the ship was soon revealed to be a missing house boat that had been cut loose during a towing operation. That vessel was also damaged by waves as it sat the waterline.

Green Sea Turtle Rehabbing At Aquarium After Being Found In OC

Area resident Harry Reinhart, a volunteer first responder with the aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program, drove the turtle to Baltimore after it was found in downtown Ocean City. Photo by Steve Green

OCEAN CITY — A cold stunned green sea turtle that was transported from Ocean City to the Baltimore National Aquarium this week is recovering but still vulnerable.
“He isn’t completely out of the woods yet,” said Jennifer Dittmar, manager of the National Aquarium Animal Rescue team. “We consider him to be in critical condition. But he is showing improvement over the last 24 hours, which is a good sign.”
Dittmar clarified that while she is referring to the green sea turtle as “he” the gender of the turtle has not been identified, as it is a juvenile. The turtle is probably between 2 and 5 years old and weighed about five pounds when admitted into the aquarium.
The turtle has been confirmed as a green sea turtle, a species that’s uncommon to the waters around Ocean City.
“It is a green sea turtle. Green sea turtles are a little bit rarer for us to see in the area,” said Dittmar, “but we still do see them, just not as much as we see the loggerheads or the Kemp’s ridley.”
The green sea turtle was in poor health when it got to the aquarium. Sea turtles up and down the east coast have been turning up cold stunned over the last few weeks, with about 50 reported in Cape Cod. It is the “heart of cold stun season,” according to Dittmar, and the green sea turtle had a dangerously low body temperature earlier this week.
“His body temperature was about 38 degrees when he arrived [on Monday] and their normal body temperature should be anywhere between about 70 to 80 degrees,” said Dittmar.
But the turtle has been breathing on its own the entire time and has been gradually warmed up to about 60 degrees body temperature as of Tuesday. The process can’t be rushed because if the turtle is made too warm too quickly it could throw off the pH balance of its blood, causing it to become acidic and damaging to the turtle’s health.
There are also associated threats when a turtle is cold stunned.
“The cold stunning process can crash their immune systems and it opens them up to a lot of secondary infections,” Dittmar said.
The next few weeks will be critical for the turtle, as it will be continually monitored for any signs of infection. The aquarium will perform a radiograph, likely this week, to check for signs of secondary health issues. Trouble in the lungs is most common after a cold stun with systemic and blood problems also possible.
Once spring rolls around, if the green sea turtle is in good shape, Dittmar said that her team will begin to think about release either locally or further south, though it’s too early yet to know how that will play out.
For now, Dittmar is glad the turtle, which is one of 11 the aquarium is currently helping through a cold stun, is showing positive signs.
“He’s breathing on his own, he’s really alert and he’s actually in a pool right now doing a supervised swim test to see how active he is and how well he’s swimming on his own. And he so far has passed all of those tests,” Dittmar reported.
Coincidently, of the other 11 sea turtles recovering at the aquarium only the one from Ocean City is a green sea turtle. The other 10 are Kemp’s ridley turtles.
The turtle doesn’t have a name yet but will receive one in the next few days.
“Our naming theme right now is characters from Top Gun,” said Dittmar. “So he’ll eventually get a Top Gun character name.”
Unfortunately, one of the other cold stunned turtles is already named the appropriate “Iceman.”

County To Close OC Liquor Store, Move Two Blocks

County To Close OC Liquor Store, Move Two Blocks

OCEAN CITY — Continuing to alter their retail and wholesale operations, the Worcester County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) confirmed Monday it will be closing one of its Ocean City locations and opening a larger store two blocks away.
“We just need a bigger store. We want something a little more modern, newer, and a little more attractive,” said Bobby Cowger, director of the DLC. “That’s the main thing. As you know, we’ve gone out and we’re doing a lot to upgrade and make our stores nicer and more presentable.”
The DLC’s 18th Street retail store will close Nov. 30 and relocate to 16th Street sometime in late-February or early-March. Besides wanting to modernize all locations, Cowger explained that the DLC is in the process of adding wine to stores along with traditional spirits. The current 18th Street mart does not have the room for wine and also already sits next to a beer and wine store.
“We’re putting wines in our stores and this store is going to have a wine selection in it … Wine is really getting to be a big business out here,” Cowger said, “and we’re missing part of that market and it ties in with our business.”
Along with the added retail space, the move to 16th Street will open up a new wholesale location for the DLC. It will allow bars access to their alcohol orders from an Ocean City location. Currently, all businesses have to travel to the DLC’s flagship store off Route 50 in Berlin for wholesale buys doing non-regular delivery days. The new spot will meet longstanding licensee wishes, according to Cowger.
“That’s pretty much what they’ve been asking for here for years: a centrally located, convenient pickup location right in Ocean City,” he said. “And we’re going to have that right there, too.”
Outside of Ocean City, Cowger reported that the DLC is satisfied with their flagship store, which was built last winter and replaced two other locations, one in Berlin and the other in West Ocean City.
“The customers seem to be really happy, they seem to be satisfied. It’s a really attractive store,” said Cowger. “We’ve got great selection and big volumes in there. Our pricing is getting a lot more competitive with Delaware now because of our buy-ins and what we’re doing. The overall retail operations are doing well. We’re real pleased.”
The flagship store is doing about the same business of the former two stores together, he added, but costing the DLC less as they are only paying expenses for one location.