Councilman Sees No Need For Town Subcommittees

OCEAN CITY – Joe Hall might be the only one vocalizing it, but he might not be alone in thinking that town commissions are “inefficient” and “useless.”

It could be noted as ironic that one of Joe Hall’s main campaign promises leading up to his October election was to shrink the local government, thus giving more power and a stronger voice to the business community.

What’s ironic about it, however, is that at Tuesday’s work session of the Mayor and City Council, Hall called for the potential dismantling of departmental committees, which often include the business community, citing that he wants council to hear all the information and make all the final decisions.

“The commission process is broken,” said Hall. “It creates an inefficiency rather than an efficiency, and when we are dealing with big ticket items, I think the discussion should be had at the council level rather than up in the convention center with only a handful of the council present.”

After each election, the mayor appoints members of the council to several different committees, which essentially help to micromanage large areas of concern for the town, all while bringing in representatives from the town’s partners throughout the community for their feedback on issues that effect them as well.

For instance, the tourism commission, which meets at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, consists of three council members (Mary Knight, Margaret Pillas and Lloyd Martin), the mayor and representatives from various groups including the Chamber of Commerce, Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the Economic Development Committee.

Hall claimed that most of the discussion involving “essential information for making the right decision” pertaining to issues such as the recent recommendations from the tourism commission to grant MGH the $178,000 website contract for the redesign of and the recommendation to extend MGH’s advertising contract for 15 months (both recommendations Hall denied when it came before council); took place without the full council’s presence.

“I want to be privy to the same information as they were while they were making that decision,” said Hall. “My only obligation is to the people who voted for me, and I want to have all the information as it’s presented, and not get some predetermined recommendation by the time it gets to council.”

Mayor Rick Meehan, on the other hand, vehemently disagreed.

“I couldn’t disagree with Joe (Hall) more,” said Meehan. “Look, we didn’t invent this process; it’s proven to work and will continue to work effectively.  In Annapolis, they break up into smaller subcommittees to investigate more issues and can attend to matters that way much more efficiently.”

The mayor went on to imply that Hall’s issue might be one of trust.

“I trust my colleagues up here, and I know if they come back from a committee meeting with a recommendation, I am going to take a good look at it, and consider their thoughts,” said Meehan. “It’s not like they have the whole HMRA up there, they send a representative who speaks on their behalf. These committees will continue to work if people just put some trust in their colleagues.”

Hall might not be alone in his thought process, however, as Councilwoman Margaret Pillas mirrored some of his thoughts concerning the committees.

“If we are going to talk about big money issues or controversial ones, I think it should be done in front of the full council, rather than just on the committee level,” said Pillas. “There’s always a possibility that someone could see things from a different point of view. All this would do is provide more transparency in government, which I think is always a good thing.”

Hall hinted that he would like to see the restructuring of the tourism commission to resemble the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), which in his mind, would create and “authority rather than just a commission” to address the town’s number one asset: tourism.

Councilwoman Mary Knight, who also sits as the chairperson on the tourism commission, also frowned upon Hall’s claims and idea.

“These committees are in place so we don’t become full-time micromanagers as a council,” said Knight, “I fully respect all those entities at the table to the Nth degree.  Why would we empower department heads to make decisions if we are just going to make all the decisions for them?”