Regarding this week’s website decision by Ocean City, what’s interesting to me is how the council may or may not have looked over a key part of its code in approving the $178,000 expenditure for the new website to MGH Advertising. Not wanting to make the proverbial mountain out of a molehill here, I called City Solicitor Guy Ayres this week to question him on whether the council acted properly when it decided not to seek bids on such a large ticket item.
First, a little background, according to the code, any contract amount over $10,000 shall be subject to the bidding process, which means the city must advertise the service through a notice of intent to bid and then accept sealed bids, which are then to be reviewed by the particular department and recommendations made to the elected officials. In the case of work exceeding $25,000, like the major website redesign, the advertising should take place, sealed bids would be opened at a Mayor and Council meeting and then the elected officials shall award. There are exemptions included in the code, but Ayres did not seem to think this decision applied to those.
Instead, Ayres, who has composed most of the town’s current code during his years as solicitor, said he viewed the council’s website expenditure to be part of the larger, long-term contract with the advertising firm. Therefore, he felt the council was fine with not bidding out the work. “I think the majority of the council took the position that it was an extra on a contract already bid years ago,” he said. “I did not speak up and question the council about it because I did not feel it was in conflict with the charter.”
That seems logical to me, but there does seem to be a bit of gray area here. It’s not an outright violation, since it’s part of the advertising budget that’s largely used by the town’s contracted ad agency, but it’s understandable why some might cry foul over it.
The line between perception and reality is not always clear. In a local commentary last week, Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes detailed how local schools are funded under Maryland law and allocated a few paragraphs to address the 3-percent cut in budget spending requested by the County Commissioners for the next fiscal year. Andes said that mandated cut, which will amount to about $2.2 million, added to the $1.2 million the schools have already cut this year combined with expected increases in general goods and services would amount to far more than 3 percent of the public school system’s budget.
Andes went on to write, “In other words, the proposed reduction in revenue will have a detrimental impact on the quality of our school system. While we recognize that this is a difficult economic time, we ask our state and county elected officials to simply maintain the excellent educational programs and services our community has worked so hard to put in place.”
Through the grapevine, we have heard the commentary ruffled some feathers in Snow Hill. It appears there are some semantic battles being waged. It’s unknown whether individual commissioners are upset, but I hear “rank and file” folks in other county departments are already hinting at causing an uproar if the commissioners consider excusing the school board from the spending mandate. It’s worth pointing out the school system adamantly denied a report last week that it would seek to be exempt from the spending cut. Officials never said they would not go that route, just that they have not even discussed that yet.
Again, there’s no indication the commissioners will do that, but a couple employees I spoke with this week said they have no problem doing their part in a recession and not getting raises this year. However, they say it must be equal and they will not tolerate some employees, i.e. teachers and school administrators, getting raises while their incomes hold steady. The logic goes if the school system is excluded, so should those responsible for public safety, infrastructure, health matters and others.