Ocean City voters will elect four council members when they head to the Roland E. Powell Convention Center on Tuesday. Mayor Rick Meehan has secured a second, two-year term by virtue of running unopposed.
In this election, and nearly all others for that matter, we look for candidates who pledge to be independent and have the audacity to stand up for what they believe in the face of opposition, whether it be from colleagues on the council or appointed staff. In evaluating this year’s candidates, the ability to think for yourself and not be swayed by other influences was paramount because it’s no secret there is an unofficial voting block, consisting of four council members and the mayor, who has no official vote but is highly influential, that makes nearly all the decisions. Although this is simply how government works in many cases, we think it needs to stop. There are exceptions, but on many issues this clique rules the day and decisions have become predictable. It’s not how representative government should work in our view, but it’s all too often the norm in politics.
The other primary concern was whether the candidate was committed to drastically reducing city spending to ease the burden on the taxpayers in these lean times. The city must lower its tax rate to the constant yield level, which brings in the same revenue as the year before, and those candidates in opposition should not be elected. Other considerations were a general acumen of town government and issues, a rational mindset, how hard the candidates campaigned, their honesty and integrity, their responses to our questions over the last three weeks and their history on the council if they are incumbents or have served previously.
The four candidates received our endorsements, which are not to be confused with predictions, will think for themselves and are committed to reducing taxes and spending while simultaneously preserving the town’s quality of life.
— Brent Ashley: He wants to be the independent and conservative voice on the council, and we think that’s needed for the years ahead. He had the quote of the election season earlier this month in an interview. “This is not a country club or social group. This is the taxpayers’ business. They forget that. I will have no trouble going up against the mayor, city manager, council member or whoever it is if I feel they are not representing the taxpayer. … We need people who are independent thinkers who can represent 7,000 very good people.” It’s with this logic that every elected official should approach the job. These types of comments are often heard around election time, but the difference here is we believe Ashley will follow through. He reiterated the point he wants to be the taxpayers’ representative by proposing a 10-percent cut in all department spending. This may be unrealistic, but it’s a worthwhile goal and should be investigated. We are interested in seeing how his conservative ideals will impact the council.
— Doug Cymek: His time has come. He is ready to serve and has worked harder and knocked on more doors than any other candidate this year in our view. This marks his third attempt at a council seat and Cymek has the ability and knowledge to be a quality councilman. He will be a diligent elected official who will be prepared and informed on the issues before the council at every meeting. If elected, he seems intent on limiting the council’s spending in the face of uncertain revenues. He understands with decreasing property assessments comes the pinch of declining tax money. From his small business experience, he realizes painful decisions have to be made to deal with a declining cash flow. He is aware some tough decisions will have to be made to reduce how much it costs to operate town government. He has the freedom from special interests and a well-balanced approach to make the difficult calls when needed.
— Jim Hall: Once a member of the inner sanctum of government operations, the 20-plus-year councilman has found himself on the outside looking in ever since he lost his council presidency in 2006. It’s a role that has invigorated him. He seems to be a refreshed campaigner with more vigor this year than in elections past. His experience in all aspects of governments and all the city departments will be invaluable as the trickle down of the global economic crisis hits Ocean City. He has promised to keep a close eye on spending and living up to that pledge will be critical. He knows Ocean City has become too expensive to live and seems intent on letting that reality serve as a guide when it comes to making decisions. He is often the first to make motions when the council is at a stalemate or at a point of uncertainty and that kind of leadership is valuable. He deserves to serve one more term.
— Joe Hall: He was a good councilman for six years and voters should send him back to City Hall. His frequent inability to eloquently state his position and expound on his view with smooth talk are oftentimes mistaken for a lack of intelligence. He understands government and is an independent person. He is not one to acquiesce to others if he feels passionately about an issue. The perspective he has gained since losing his council seat two years will serve him well. He has said his first motion as a councilman will be to delay all new capital improvement projects for at least six months. It’s a good idea and worthy of discussion. He also promises to vote against any budget that does not set the property tax rate at the constant yield or below. It’s this type of action that’s needed in these difficult times. He’s willing to explore all options.
What About The Others?
Incumbents Jay Hancock and Mary Knight have admirably served the town. We could easily make a case for both to retain their seats because they have a voting record to be proud of and noteworthy accomplishments in their respective terms, but we feel strongly about the other candidates endorsed.
— Hancock has done a commendable job in his first term, but his obsession with the current police chief and her handling of the department has become problematic. When he was elected, he was highly critical of the chief and that was one of the reasons some folks supported him. He is not alone in his criticism of the chief, a highly political post that is controversial no matter who holds the title, but Hancock never materialized his disapproval to an executive session vote on her future with the city. The chief is an at-will employee of the town and she was hired in a private meeting vote. Hancock should have demanded a vote on retaining her. Since that reportedly never took place, likely because the votes were not there to remove her, we think Hancock should have done a better job of trying to work with her for the greater good of the town and the department rather than allowing the situation to become increasingly adversarial. The chief shares in the blame in letting it escalate to this point, but she’s not up for election here.
— In her two years on the council, Knight has proven to be among the most prepared and versed for each meeting. She brings some positives to the council and voters would be justified in sending her back for another term. Knight is aligned with the powerful voting block on most issues before the council, but she proved she could be independent recently when she went against the tide and opposed eliminating the bike-only lane on St. Louis Avenue. A point Knight made that bothered us over the last month was an assertion that 72 percent of the town’s budget is fixed. Our question is: who dictates what is fixed and therefore cannot be cut? It’s either the city manager or the department heads, and the council can go over their heads and should because nothing can be called off limits. The city needs people in office who will address all levels of spending and not allow anyone to tell them what can or cannot be cut.
— Sean Rox deserves recognition for having an interest in serving, but he has been severely overmatched in his first run at elected office by more seasoned opponents who have a superior knowledge of the town and greater familiarity of government.