(Editor’s Note: This article is the latest in an ongoing profile series of the current Ocean City Mayor and Council members.)
OCEAN CITY –A challenge seemed to spark it all for Council President Joe Mitrecic.
Mitrecic’s hard-nosed political prowess is an interesting contrast to the man, whom when he’s not holding the gavel, seems to be a non-political politician, or perhaps an atypical “Average Joe” in a position of local power.
Never one to “soapbox”, Mitrecic’s rhetoric when on the council stand tends to be one of profundity rather than prodigality of political prose and admittedly, he says he is just a no-nonsense guy that feels compelled to serve the town of Ocean City.
“I think that I’m the right person to do it and I want to give back to my town,” said Mitrecic. “I certainly don’t do it for the money, because as my brother will tell you, it probably costs us more money than I would ever hope to make doing it, but to help guide this town in the direction the people want to go is very rewarding.”
Mitrecic works during the day with his brother operating his late father’s general contracting company, and prior to that, he and his brother owned a Boardwalk pizza place before the quest to help get a parking garage in the downtown area of Ocean City, seemingly sparked a challenging phone call that would lead Mitrecic into the local world of politics.
“I will tell you that I owe a lot of my political career to former mayor (and now delegate Jim) Mathias,” said Mitrecic. “While we were trying to get the parking garage approved, he made some appointments that I didn’t agree with, so I called him and let him know about it. Yet, instead of back-peddling, he basically said ‘what are you talking about? I don’t see you serving on any boards, or see you stepping up and putting your time in or your ass on the line out there as an elected official,’ and I hung up the phone so angry because I didn’t get any satisfaction from the conversation.”
As the story goes, Mitrecic’s wife conceded later than evening that the former mayor of Ocean City was right and that notion in so many words or steps, led Mitrecic to the campaign trail.
“Knowing that he was right made me really mad, and I decided then that I was going to run, and I haven’t looked back since,” he said.
Mitrecic’s first run for office in 2000 came up short as he lost by 34 votes before finally being elected in 2002. He said that earning so many of the public votes in his losing campaign in 2000 only increased his desire to serve.
“I came out of nowhere in that election, and I was happy that 1,300 people voted for me,” he said, “so, I didn’t see it as a loss, and I vowed to run again.”
These days, Mitrecic and his colleagues on the council are facing one of the toughest budget balancing acts in the town’s history and has received his share of criticism on how he runs the meetings and about some of the things that go on in the closed session portions of council meetings.
“The rewards of this job outweigh the cynicism of some people,” said Mitrecic, “and everyone has their own little vision of what Ocean City is and how things effect them. All the City Council members, the mayor, city solicitor, and many others, all live in Ocean City and the tax rate effects all of us the same way it effects everyone else. Just because I sit on the council doesn’t mean that I get free taxes.”
Mitrecic emphasized that though certain things discussed in closed session “probably could be talked about out front”, the council can’t jeopardize important matters that face the town, by discuss pending legal matters or internal employee issues in front of the general public.
What’s interesting however, that oftentimes, Mitrecic’s way of answering tough questions is often to pose a question himself.
“How many people are worried about the stuff going on in closed session, because it’s probably a small minority?,” he said. “I guess you could go to a congressional meeting if you wanted to, but sometimes, people like the fact that they don’t know what’s happening, so they can just go on being accusational towards us.”
Still, Mitrecic realizes sometimes the parts of the public that choose to speak are often less than thrilled.
“It’s politics, you can’t let it bother you, and you won’t make everyone happy all the time, and the people you don’t make happy are the ones who are going to voice their opinion,” he said. “The people that are happy aren’t going to take the time to write a letter.”
In should be mentioned that Mitrecic admittedly does not read the papers and despite being accommodating to the media, he steers clear from the majority of public outcry, including a cutting letter to the editor two weeks ago, to which his mother-in-law shot back against last week in a similar letter.
“My mother-in-law was fit to be tied and she thought what was said was very disparaging, and it was written by someone who probably doesn’t watch the council meetings on TV and doesn’t come to the meetings, so how does she know what went on unless she read it in a paper? I’m convenient to the media as far as being available for comments, but I’m living it, I don’t need to read about it,” he said.
Mitrecic said that he is more concerned with the current challenges facing the town and has concentrated his efforts on the task at hand rather than “mugging for the cameras” or getting caught up in political power struggles that have encompassed some whom have sat in his seat before him.
“A lot of times the mayor and council president have a bit of a power struggle for lack of a better word. I never wanted that and I don’t believe he (mayor Rick Meehan) did either,” said Mitrecic, “We are both there to get the job done, and that’s our goal. We can talk about it all day, but if you don’t get the job done, you are just wasting time.”
What started with a challenge has led to many challenges ahead for Mitrecic and his colleagues on the council, and though he admits he doesn’t have all the answers, he says he’s reached a point in his life where he is brimming with optimism.
“I’ve reached a level of inner contentment that I’ve never had in my life before and it’s a good feeling,” he said. “I’ve got a great wife, and two great kids, and despite the hard times that everyone is facing, I truly believe that Ocean City is going to be alright.”