OCEAN CITY – Councilman Brent Ashley is carrying on the free gas giveaway in attempts to continue the promotion of Ocean City and to express the town’s appreciation for its visitors.
Ashley, the voice behind the free gas giveaway promotion, released a news release on Tuesday morning that was titled “There Will Be Free Gas in Ocean City, Maryland This Summer”, despite the council’s vote to eliminate the free gas promotion last week.
The gas promotion was first introduced as an incentive to have people vacation in Ocean City regardless of raising gas prices. Ocean Gallery owner Joe Kroart developed a rough idea of the concept and distributed it to media outlets in the local and metropolitan areas.
On May 31, the council voted 4-3 to approve the allocation of $100,000 from the town’s advertisement budget for a free gas giveaway promotion.
In his release, Ashley wrote, “The news media picked up the story and it received national attention. Calls and e-mails began to come in requesting more information on Ocean City and the promotion. Television stations in major metropolitan areas such as Baltimore and Philadelphia aired stories on their nightly newscast … city staff, the Tourism Advisory Board and the city’s advertising agency began working on the details.”
A flipped majority of the council then voted to shut down the gas promotion in a closed session last week after discussing how the private sector of Ocean City has already activated free gas giveaways within their own businesses.
Ashley became frustrated and said, “I am very embarrassed for the town and for some of the elected officials. It’s given Ocean City a total black eye and has killed our credibility.”
This week Ashley wrote in his press release, “Then, with a prepared promotional plan presented and after two weeks of national publicity, one council member changes his vote saying ‘I had reservations about this idea even when I first voted on it’. I find it unconscionable that this council member would change his vote and make this promotion look like a Public Relations Stunt from the start. As a voting member of the council, I believe it is vitally important that this promotion moves forward.”
Ashley has decided to use a portion of his City Council salary as well as financial assistance from supporting local businesses to carry on the free gas giveaway promotion.
“The free gas promotion in Ocean City continues,” he said. “Although the amount of the giveaway will be different, the intent remains the same … the promotion of Ocean City and showing our visitors that we care and appreciate their business. Free gas is just another good reason for families to visit Ocean City, Md. this summer.”
On Tuesday, Ashley stressed that the free gas giveaway is not about the gas but about promoting Ocean City and thanking its visitors. He referred to the promotion as a continuation of his proposed “thank you” campaign.
A couple of weeks ago, Ashley also proposed a campaign to re-iterate the town’s appreciation for its visitors by posting signage around town thanking visitors for choosing Ocean City for their vacation destination.
“I don’t know how you can offer something and take it away, but regardless of that I’m moving on and continuing on with the program and the promotion,” Ashley said. “The taxpayers in the town pay me a salary to do a job and part of that job is promoting Ocean City so I am using my own money.”
Ashley’s funds with be joined by local businesses who support the free gas giveaway. Ashley said the details have not been “ironed out yet”, but it is sufficient to say there will be a lot of happy families in Ocean City this summer, he said.
Ashley felt it wasn’t appropriate to name any businesses that will be participating and the amount of money to be dedicated to the independent gas promotion is still unknown but he was willing to reveal that there has been one local business that has dedicated $500 to the free gas giveaway so far.
“The amount is not the important thing,” Ashley said. “It’s a promotion to thank the people.”
Ashley said the concept has not been settled on but there are ideas and it is safe to say that the promotion will be popular and will receive a lot of attention and publicity for Ocean City. He expects the promotion to hit the streets within the next couple weeks, around the time the families start their vacations in Ocean City because they are the “bread and butter” for the town.
“It’s a grassroots effort and I want to put my own money into it. I believe when something is promised it should be delivered on,” Ashley said.
Ashley added that people look for honest politicians so he is following through on his word whether the City Council would like to participate or not.
“I’m willing to put my own money on the line here to do the right thing … the right thing is to thank our people and tell them that we care,” Ashley said. “Maybe I am a super supporter of Ocean City but I’ve always been that way and if that’s a fault so be it.”
Ashley also pointed out that the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) had the opportunity to become involved with the free gas giveaway once the council had chosen not to play a part.
“They had their chance. They elected not to participate as did the city council so I’m moving on,” Ashley said.
Ashley added that when TAB was formed the council allocated $300,000 to the board for city promotion.
“When the city turned it down, they [TAB] were asked if they wanted to participate using their own money and they declined to do so,” he said. “So this is on my own. I haven’t asked them … this is really none of their business.”
On Tuesday, TAB issued this statement in response to the news of Ashley’s free gas plan.
"It is a good thing to see so many folks interested in tourism. Clearly, there is a need for open discussion, procedural structure and collective strategic planning. It is our hope that everyone will keep in mind the end goal of bringing visitors to Ocean City which generates room and food taxes, thus keeping the local economy healthy," the statement read.