First thing Monday morning I posted on the paper’s Facebook page a photo of the pole dancer on the Boardwalk from Saturday night. Immediately, the photo went viral, reaching more than 150,000 people and resulting in more than 1,000 comments, 280 likes and 560 shares in less than 24 hours.
The clear majority of respondents stated it had no place on the Boardwalk and was disturbing. The woman clearly had researched the law and witnesses reported this week she was well aware what was legal and what was not and even turned down a nice tip when a man wanted to physically place some cash in her attire because she perceived that to be illegal.
While it’s unfortunate and completely out of place on the Boardwalk, Ocean City can do nothing about it, thanks to the clear federal court ruling that said the city cannot restrict the First Amendment and must allow street performers to express themselves on public property.
The result over the last two summers has been an explosion in the number of street performers of all varieties on the Boardwalk under the guise of “expressive art.” The only recourse the city has is to make sure the noise ordinance is not being broken, no food is being sold, the performers are not here on work visas and they must not be set up in an area that would block emergency vehicle access.
Although the pole dancer grabbed most of the attention this week, and she certainly embraced her week of fame, a radio piece on the Coastal Connection radio show on WAMU 88.5 on costumed characters was the bigger news of the week and confirmed funny business is taking place on the Boardwalk.
Host Bryan Russo caught up with Ocean City Police Lt. Mark Pacini on the Boardwalk to talk about street performers. His piece focused generally on street performer issues the cops have been confronting, including costumed characters. Through interviewing one of the individuals who don a costume for tips, Russo was able to determine that some Boardwalk merchants are actually hiring people to dress up as costumed characters in front of their business for an hourly fee and pocketing the tips.
In an interview, one of the costumed characters (a teenage mutant ninja turtle), who wished to remain anonymous, reported bringing in about $100 in three hours. It turns out he was hired by a nearby body piercing shop at an hourly wage. When it came time for the man to be paid, a dispute over pay ensued. After the store owner was called, the man was given $12 cash for an hour and a half of work despite the fact it was about half of what he was promised.
While on the Boardwalk, Russo and Pacini confronted a person dressed as Donald Duck. It turns out there was a 16-year-old girl inside who was being employed by the nearby Atlantic Stand to stand outside. Apparently, the business owner became so frustrated this summer with performers standing in front of his operation that he hired a girl to simply secure the location. He said it’s not about the money, but nonetheless management was told by Pacini the business is breaking the law.
“Here’s what I’m going to tell you. This is a violation of city ordinance and [the owner] is in violation of his city business license paying someone to work on the Boardwalk and then collecting money. [To the teen] your performance is over. I’m asking you to cease and desist … if I see you again, you will get a citation of up to $1,000,” said Pacini.
When the manager asked for clarification as to why a nearby Mickey Mouse was not being targeted by police, Pacini told him it was simple. Mickey Mouse was not being run by a business.
Later, in the piece, despite talking tough to the Boardwalk business, Pacini seemed to show some compassion to the merchants.
“The merchants believe they are getting a raw deal. They are very upset that a person who does not have to pay rent, licensing fees … is able to be out here and collect money,” he told Russo. “They are joining them illegally which they shouldn’t be doing.”
The entire radio segment is worth a listen and can be found at www.wamucoast.org.
The much-anticipated public hearing on the issue of problematic rentals in Ocean City single-family residential and mobile home districts will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. and it’s expected to be a crowded affair.
In fact, the issue is getting a decent amount of public attention. So much so The Baltimore Sun, which rarely tackles any substantive news issues at the beach, is planning a story in Sunday’s issue about it. Additionally, the Coastal Association of Realtors has been conducting research on the matter in the hopes of providing the city with alternatives to drastic changes in the rental laws. CAR representatives have contacted the Ocean City Police Department to get input on how notification is made to property owners about problems at rental homes in the hopes that better communication might be the answer to the concerns being expressed about unruly renters in places like Montego Bay and Mallard Island.
The public hearing is expected to begin with a presentation from the city detailing the problems and providing data about recent complaints. There are reportedly 3,845 properties in R-1 and mobile home districts in Ocean City. Of that, there are 276 rentals licensed (presumably many more are actually being used as rentals without licenses). From 2013 to the end of July, there have been 67 complaints logged from 13 rentals, according to the city.
If there is truly only about a dozen problem properties in town, it seems to me approaching the landowners specifically might be the easiest short-term action.