Tourism Board Frustrated Over Current Role

OCEAN CITY – This week the town’s Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) expressed its frustration with the lack of communication from the Mayor and City Council.

TAB was formed last November after a vote initiated by Councilman Joe Hall dissolved the city’s sub-committees, including the tourism commission. At the time, Hall felt all city business should be conducted in front of the entire council and not just those assigned to sit on the different committees.

In response, the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) and the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce devised a plan to create TAB. The board creates a dialogue between private business leaders and the city’s tourism related departments. It promotes coordination amongst the various tourism-related departments and keeps the Mayor and City Council informed on tourism-related issues and opportunities that require attention.

Since November TAB has been meeting twice a month and is made up of a number of business leaders in the area. Over time, the board has presented the Mayor and City Council with a number of ideas as well as working with different venues that come to town in order for the event to run smoothly, for example the Dew Tour.

“There is a lot going on,” TAB member John Gehrigh, past president of the Chamber of Commerce and owner of D3Corp. “There are a lot of good events and a lot of good ideas of festivals and concert series, but with that said there are some holes.”

According to Gehrig, those “holes” come down to communication between TAB and town officials.

“We need more direct communication with firsthand knowledge,” he said. “The business community is going to drive the discussion, but we need the players in the room so we can all lean on each other and brainstorm.”

Gehrig said the ideal team players would be the Mayor and City Council as well as department heads directly related with tourism. He explained that once ideas start getting thrown around at meetings it’s hard to nail them down without official input, which also prolongs the amount of time to have a concept completed.

“We have too much to do and things aren’t really focused,” he said. “We are wasting our time.”

Gehrig asked specifically for the mayor and at least two council members to attend meetings at least once a month as well as the city manager and department heads.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas argued that the requirement to have department heads involved with TAB’s agenda was already removed when the board was first established. She added that TAB should be coming before the Mayor and City Council during work sessions on a more regular basis to receive their input.

“Once we do it in a meeting then we have to do it all again in the work session and there is a lot that may be lost,” Gehrig said.

Gehrig added that new concepts cannot be predicted to be placed on TAB’s meeting agenda’s, resulting in TAB members not knowing which department heads to request to attend.

Pillas then pointed out what TAB was asking for “mirrored” the structure of the dissolved tourism commission.

“The tourism commission, having those people in the room worked,” Gehrig said.

Councilman Joe Hall said TAB’s first priority should be to create a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mayor and City Council stating the required participation of those involved with the board.

“The Town of Ocean City is contracting you to be the body that comes forward with tourism recommendations for the advertising dollars for the town,” he said. “Personally I would make that [MOU] my first priority or you will continue to flounder without not quite knowing.”

Joe Hall added that he is not comfortable with the idea of the Mayor and City Council attending unofficial city meetings. He said that once the board has developed a concept it should then come to an official council meeting, or work session, to present the council with the program.

“There have been problems in the past where if a few council members have sat on certain committees and things either got moved along or pulled back,” he said. “The other members who didn’t take the opportunity to be there were either left out or felt uninformed and unable to make the informed decisions, so there’s risk there.”

On the other hand, the mayor and some members of the council were appreciative of the invite to attend TAB meetings.

“I am so excited to be invited to your meetings,” Councilwoman Mary Knight said. “I agree you need council input, if it’s all of us or two of us.”

Councilman Lloyd Martin said he had served on the tourism commission for a year and enjoyed watching concepts grow.

“I do believe the Mayor and City Council and parts thereof should be involved … you need all the players in the same room,” he said.

Mayor Rick Meehan said he is looking forward to attending TAB meetings and growing the continued partnership.

“We all need to work together and there are other things going on that we can inform you on so that you know what is already happening,” he said.

Council President Jim Hall said he will work to set a dedicated time aside for TAB to attend city work sessions at least once a month to update the council on its progress. In the meantime, TAB should send emails requesting the attendance of city officials and department heads to their meetings so they are notified of the time, place and agenda.

“We can either kill it or embrace the idea quickly and then you’re not spinning your wheels,” he said.