Business Community Seeks Role In Filling Vacant Post

OCEAN CITY – In the month since Tourism Director Mike Noah’s resignation, the process to fill his position has entertained more people who want to be a part of the process to pick a candidate, than actual candidates.

At last week’s Tourism Commission meeting, Ruth Waters, who serves as vice president of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, said the business community would like to have an influential role in choosing Noah’s replacement.

When Noah was hired in 1996, City Manager Dennis Dare formulated a committee comprised of various figureheads in the local hierarchy, including the business community, to provide input in the hiring process, and at the time, Noah’s background in large convention center-type building operations made him the right man for the job, according to Dare.

“We were expanding the convention center at that time and we needed someone like Mike to come in there,” said Dare, “but, since Bob Rothermell ran the Convention Center, the director has worn both hats (tourism director and building manager), and several years ago, we hired Deb (Travers, assistant Tourism Director) to handle the tourism side of things.  So, I’m working with the council now to figure out what we want this new person’s job description to entail.”

Waters feels that it’s in the business community’s best interests to have more than just a “little bit of input” during the hiring process.

“We pay taxes too, and we should have a say in what happens,” said Waters. “What I’d hate to see is someone who is wrong for the job come in and do things that aren’t good for the future of the town as a whole.”

As per the town’s charter, it is the city manager’s job to appoint the new person to the position and will take his recommendation to the Mayor and City Council.  Although the business community seemingly doesn’t have the right to be involved in the process, it would be surprising if they weren’t at least involved in some way.

“It is a city position, so in the end, in accordance with the charter, it will be a city decision,” said Mayor Rick Meehan, “but we included some of our partners last time around, and I would foresee that we will do it that way again because we all want the same thing, and that’s to find the right person.”

Waters contested that the candidate needs to have a strong background in convention center sales as well as tourism, and said that perhaps the right person for the job might need to have excellent people skills, which is a widely reported skill that Noah lacked, according to inside sources.

“We need someone that is going to rally the troops and not only manage the existing business in the convention center, but also create new business so we can put heads in beds,” said Waters. “We’ve got 25 conference rooms down there that sit vacant 90 percent of the time.”

From a new business perspective, the convention center cites that all the main weekends are filled, and even in these tough economic times, the center has lost little business.  However, there is currently only one sales representative on staff, Director of Sales Fred Wise, and despite Wise’s solid reputation and performance, his solo efforts could inevitably put a ceiling on how much new business is brough to the soon-to-be-expanded convention center.

Dare said that public perception on the convention center is often misconstrued.

“It isn’t quite as simple as it appears,” said Dare. “The public sees the parking lot empty and deems that it’s underutilized, but the fact of the matter, is that there is a very large line for the prime dates, and we are consistently filling the dates in the shoulder months. But, we aren’t big enough of a convention center to run multiple events simultaneously.”

Still, Waters hoped that her plea would be heard, as she sees Noah’s exit as a window of opportunity.

“This is a magnanimous chance for the town to make a decision that is going to grow business, put heads in beds, and take our town to the next level,” she said.

Dare said that the town will be “taking their time” to make sure they know exactly what they are looking for in a new candidate, and despite side-stepping Waters’ request at the Tourism Commission meeting, Dare said that the business community will get to have some input.

Dare did not give a definite date that the position would be filled by, but conceded that sometime this fall would be realistic.