Enforcing Ordinances Not Always Simple

It’s easy to say Ocean City should not pass any ordinance it cannot enforce. In a perfect world, that would be the case. However, in reality, where practicality reigns, it does not always happen that way.

For example, it was known for years on the Boardwalk the town did not have enough staff to enforce regulations on signs. Therefore, businesses would set up sandwich-style signs and other illegal advertisements along the Boardwalk every day. It was allowed to continue because the town did not have anyone who could walk along the boards and monitor it on a daily or even weekly basis. Some changes have been made to track this situation better this year, but there are still violators. It’s a difficult matter to continuously monitor.

The ordinance mandating carbon monoxide detectors in fuel-burning areas and nearby dwelling units appears to be a similar example. However, Ocean City is trying to figure out a way to better monitor compliance, while also realizing there is not enough manpower to check up on the nearly 30,000 rooms that may be required in municipal limits. Fire Marshal Sam Villani is currently studying the matter. An enforcement recommendation as well as the results of a recent pop inspection conducted around a three-block radius will be presented to the council in a couple weeks.

Last week we opined hotels and condominiums in violation should be hit with huge fines by the city to send a message that non-compliance will not be tolerated. The town did a decent job of making an example of the Americana Hotel this week. Last Tuesday, that hotel was evacuated after a carbon monoxide leak, resulting in numerous guests suffering from symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. It was fortunate this was not a tragic event.

The hotel was fined $10,000 for not having the 10 necessary detectors in the potentially dangerous areas and nearby rooms. Additionally, it will stay closed through the rest of the traditional summer season, pending other improvements.

How the city will proceed from here will be interesting. Officials need to find a way to reiterate the message. Unfortunately, if we have learned anything this summer, it’s clear some business people, and they are the minority, are callous. Otherwise, they would have installed the required carbon monoxide detectors to stave off any loss of human life. Sure, it’s the law now, but we think it’s common sense for hoteliers and condominium owners to comply with the law to ensure guests are not hurt or killed in their building. It’s a matter of conscience. Protecting guests seems like common sense to us, but clearly some do not care.

Ocean City has a solid carbon monoxide detector law. It’s one of the only municipal governments with a law mandating them. It’s worth pointing out that came only after a heartbreaking tragedy and would not be on the books had that Pennsylvania family not left a local hotel in 2006 without a father and daughter. The ordinance was a reactionary measure, but a wise one.

An argument could be made enforcement should have begun in February when the two-year grace period lapsed. However, that’s not practical for the city, but at least there is a study underway and the issue will soon come before the Mayor and Council.

There were some mixed sentiments expressed this week about the Americana’s $10,000 fine. We feel like it was a little light by itself, but its important to realize the town has revoked its occupancy permit until it’s proven all fuel-burning equipment is in solid shape. That’s essentially amounts to a huge fine and is not simply a slap on the wrist.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.