OCEAN CITY – Legislative committee assignments may be a pretty cut-and-dry portion of what goes on in local government. Yet, this week, the appointment of City Council members to the respective committees perhaps inadvertently revealed some glaring divides in the council itself.
Though it is allowed in the town’s charter in section C-413 for the mayor to appoint all members to the respective committees, it has been practiced in recent memory for the mayor to grant power to the council to decide who serves on each one.
“Since I’ve been mayor, I believe it’s something the council should decide, so I’ll leave that up to the council to make that decision and make the appointments to the committees,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.
What proceeded was a pretty fast and furious nomination process with newcomers to the council like Doug Cymek being chosen and approved to serve on three committees including the Police Commission, the Noise Board and Risk and Retention Committee. Councilman Joe Hall will serve on the Coastal Resources Legislative Committee as well as the Maryland Coastal Bays Board of Directors and as an alternate for the Beach Mediation committee.
When nominated to serve along with Lloyd Martin and Mary Knight on the Tourism Commission, Hall declined, saying, “I would like to withdraw my name if Margaret [Pillas] would still like to serve on it.”
Pillas, who has been the chair of the Tourism Commission since former Councilwoman Nancy Howard resigned from the post in 2006, expressed her desire to continue to serve on the committee and eventually kept her spot on the committee with a 5-2 vote, with Council President Joe Mitrecic and Knight in opposition.
Pillas said she was not upset she was not originally nominated for the committee, but wasn’t surprised either.
“I got word about two months ago after the MGH website meetings that some people wanted me out. I wanted to have open meetings where the public and the press could sit in, and that wasn’t well received,” she said.
Pillas was vocal in saying that the tourism commission’s alleged request for MGH Advertising President Andy Malis to do research concerning a new website for the town of Ocean City was not grounds for Malis to come back to the commission with a full proposal, an opinion that may not have been popular with those who wanted MGH to redesign the outdated www.ococean.com site.
“I was appointed to that committee because I have a vested interest in tourism and the business community, and they seem to want to control when everyone gets the information on what we are planning to do,” said Pillas, who owns a Boardwalk store. “The public elected me to get all the information on things and then give my opinion.”
Pillas hinted that some of the appointments might have been pre-determined well before the mayor conceded his power to appoint members to the respective committee.
“We need to follow the charter and not micromanage government. When is City Council going to start abiding by the charter with the mayor serving in his place and the council serving in theirs? Why did he grant council power to choose the committees because it felt like it was all decided beforehand?”
In the end, Joe Hall will serve on two committees and as an alternate on one and Pillas will only serve as a member of the Tourism Commission. Jim Hall will serve on four committees including Recreation and Parks and Police Commission. Only Knight will serve on more committees, as she will now serve on five. Councilmen Cymek, Lloyd Martin and Council President Joe Mitrecic will all serve on three committees, respectively.
Councilman Joe Hall motioned for the reports on the committees to come back to the City Council in a more timely fashion as well as getting a motion passed that will require all committees to present full reports on their meetings within a week.
For example, at Monday’s meeting, the Tourism Commission’s Nov. 6 meeting was reported on, and the month lag between committee meeting and committee report is “a disservice to the full council and to the public,” said Joe Hall.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres said that as far back as he can remember, the mayor has always granted the power to the full council to appoint committees and the practice has never been to unseat anyone that was willing to serve.
“It used to be council liaisons and Mayor Kelley would appoint various members by simply asking who wanted to serve,” Ayres said. “After the charter was changed around 1982, it got away from the liaisons and changed to the different committees that we see today.”
Despite feeling like she was getting squeezed out of a post that she wanted, Pillas doesn’t think that she’s in the minority as far as moving forward both on the commission and on the council.
“The tide of the town is for open information, and they are swimming upstream, not me. You aren’t seeing a battle amongst the council. The fireman’s situation was a battle. All you are seeing is simple politics, and the majority is changing,” she said. “We aren’t resisting the pace of change, we are resisting the process.”