City Police Commission Scaled Back To Advisory Role

OCEAN CITY – The City Council voted 6 to 1 at Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting to make the necessary charter amendments that will adjust the powers and duties of the mayor, allowing for the change of the Police Commission from an supervisory to advisory board.

The Police Commission is currently a supervisory board, with Police Chief Bernadette DiPino reporting to the commission. Currently, the commission acts as the key player in the management of the Police Department, but will no longer have as much control with the switch to an advisory role.

The commission currently has four members with the mayor as a permanent member and three council members, appointed by the council, filling the remaining three seats.

The suggestion was made by Mayor Rick Meehan at last week’s work session to make the change from supervisory to advisory. The mayor felt that it was no longer necessary for the police chief to report directly to the commission.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres drew up the amended charter, which was presented, to the Mayor and Council Monday evening. The changes called for amendments to charter 413, titled Powers and Duties of Mayor.

The amendment outlines the change of the commission from advisory to supervisory. The charter formerly read that the commission “shall supervise and head the administration of the Police Department with all matters being resolved by a majority vote of the commission.” The amended charter replaces “supervise” with “advise.”

The amended charter also calls for a change in how commission members are selected. Currently, members from the City Council are appointed by the council. The amendment calls for members to be appointed by the mayor instead. The commission will maintain its current four-member system with the mayor as a fixed member and the three remaining seats belonging to City Council members.

The change will call for DiPino to report to City Manager Dennis Dare instead of reporting directly to the commission. The change will also make the Police Commission operate in the similar advisory fashion as the Tourism and Recreation and Parks commissions.

“I think this is something that has been a long time coming,” Councilwoman Nancy Howard said in support of the change.

Councilman Jay Hancock, retired OCPD officer, did not show support.

“I have grave concerns,” he said. “I don’t think this is the appropriate time to make this change.”

Meehan voiced his support for the change, explaining that he had the opportunity to view the issue from both sides, as a council member and as the mayor.

“I think the time has come to make a change. It is more appropriate to the way we do business today,” he said.

Councilman Jim Hall, former member of the police commission, agreed with Meehan, adding that the addition of unionizing the police department has called for a different mode of operations.

“This change is really the way it’s been working anyway,” Hall said, concluding that the change to advisory would not differ greatly from the way things are currently operating.

Councilman Lloyd Martin, current chair of the commission, agreed that it was the right step.

“I do support this, I do have a feeling it will work better,” he said.

The council voted 6-1, with Hancock in opposition, to pass the amended charter.