OCEAN CITY — A social network post by an Ocean City councilman about tourists trashing the resort and the need for the millions of visitors to pay their fair share touched off a firestorm of controversy this week and a call for an apology, but the elected official stood by the premise, if not the language, on Monday.
Following a discussion last week about increasing parking fees in the areas where meters already exist and possibly expanding the use of meters to other areas, Councilman Joe Hall fired off a post on Facebook last Friday calling for the visitors to the resort to pay a commensurate share of the cost of maintaining the resort. Hall’s comment was made in the context of exploring an expansion of paid parking to help offset the needed $41 million in road repairs in Ocean City over the next few years.
While few would argue with the concept of exploring expanded revenue options to offset the cost of repairing and maintaining roads, for example, many took offense at the tenor and language in Hall’s Facebook comments, which were viewed as further alienating the resort’s customer base.
“Why should property owners pay the whole $41 million in needed road repair and the day trippers and visitors that flood our roads and trash our town ride free,” Hall wrote. “This is not about wheather [sic] we can or can’t do roads. We have too [sic]. We are behind. This is who is the fairest to pay.”
In a later post in the same thread, Hall said the intent was not to overcharge visitors to the resort with meters at every parking space in town, but rather to explore a means to generate more revenue from tourists to help relieve the burden on the tax-paying residents.
“It is very difficult for you to make informed choices when people are only feeding you part of the idea that support their closed minded [sic] views,” Hall’s post said. “The council has only asked for the big picture on parking meters. No one, even me, has suggested blanketing Ocean City with parking meters. I’m the biggest supporter of getting users of our roads to pay for street repairs. Meter’s [sic] do that.”
Hall suggested an expanded use of parking meters and increasing the fees on the meters that already exist could result in a shared expense for the residents and the visitors.
“I think it has to come from property tax and meter revenue,” the post reads. “It’s to [sic] big of number to be payed [sic] totally by one or the other. Please get the whole picture before making up your mind. This bill is out there and it must be paid. We can no longer pass the ball down the road for another year. We can’t afford to be a city of no.”
Hall’s Facebook comments ignited a considerable response locally and beyond with many responders taking exception to the councilman’s “flood the roads and trash our town” perception of tourists.
“I have the ability to spend my vacation money anywhere,” one poster wrote. “I choose to spend it in OC, but the Outerbanks looks better every year if city representatives don’t appreciate our business and look upon us as a plague.”
Another response reiterated a desire to take one’s vacation dollars elsewhere if Hall’s comments were representative of how Ocean City officials felt about tourists.
“Maybe I should reconsider where I spend my family vacation with my wife and little boys,” the poster wrote. “Since we ‘trash the town,’ maybe we should find some place that appreciates the $6,000 to $8,000 a week that we spend on an average beach vacation.”
The number of similar responses grew over the weekend, and by Monday, many in Ocean City were asking for a retraction or an apology. There were even a handful of calls for Hall’s resignation over the comments.
Citizens For Ocean City spokesman Joe Groves broached the subject during the public comment period of Monday’s council meeting.
“One of our councilmen made a comment about day-trippers and tourists coming in and trashing the town and it had 30-40 hits on it,” said Groves. “It’s inappropriate and uncalled for and at the very least, I think the councilman owes the people in this room and this community an apology.”
For his part, Hall owned the comments, but didn’t exactly back down from at least the concept of them.
“It was my comment,” he said. “I think you characterized my comment way out of context. The reality is, Ocean City doesn’t exist for tourism. Ocean City exists for the people who call it home.”
Hall said his family has owned and operated a tourist-based business for decades, but that didn’t change his views about visitors paying their fair share.
“Tourism has been incredibly beneficial to me and my family,” he said. “We’ve benefited from tourism since we came here in 1970. When I was 10 years old, I would sit at a table at my parents’ restaurant and do my homework. To view my comment as anti-tourist is a total desire to misrepresent what I said.”
He also somewhat reiterated the need, or the desire, to spread the expense of maintaining the town’s infrastructure to the millions of people who use them
“Tourism brings a lot of people to town, but not everybody that crosses that bridge respects the town as much as we residents do,” he said. “That comes with a price. If we can’t look at diversifying our revenue stream, it comes with diminishing returns.”
In the end, Hall stopped short of apologizing for his disparaging remarks about tourists and, in a sense, compounded the issue.
“I think my words were clearly misunderstood and I’m sorry you took them that way,” he said. “The reality is tourism generates trash that ends up on our streets and they need to be held accountable.”
For his part, Groves essentially advised Hall to look before he leaps and even took a swipe at the councilman’s verbiage.
“Before you write something, you need to have somebody else look at it, or you need a class in English 101,” he said.