Officials Bothered By Performer’s Impact On Business

OCEAN CITY – Busker issues continue this week as a complaint was filed against a spray paint artist after fumes carried into a Boardwalk restaurant and is now being investigated as a health hazard.

At the conclusion of Monday night’s Mayor and City Council meeting, Council President Jim Hall reported an incident he heard on the police scanner earlier that day.

A Boardwalk restaurant filed a complaint with the Ocean City Police Department over spray paint fumes produced from a street performer entering the restaurant and customers becoming bothered by the vapors.

According to Jim Hall, Police Chief Bernadette DiPino had called off officers responding to the complaint “because there was nothing that they could do about it.”

“It concerned me very much that was going on … there is a Freedom of Speech, and a freedom of a lot of things, but when you are agitating people sitting on the Boardwalk that is something else,” he said.

Earlier this month, DiPino and members of her staff, along with City Solicitor Guy Ayres, hosted a meeting with concerned citizens and Boardwalk business owners in an effort to clarify regulations governing street performers following a rowdy summer season with the buskers last year.

Last June, the City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance requiring all street performers to register each day at City Hall and to pay a nominal fee for the registration. The emergency ordinance also solidified language in the code prohibiting street performers and artists from openly selling their wares on the Boardwalk and included specific language about where they could and could not be.

One week later, spray paint artist Mark Chase, who became the spokesman for the Boardwalk street vendors, filed suit in U.S. District Court claiming the town’s actions against him specifically, and street performers in general, were in violation of his First Amendment rights.

In September, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Holllander issued a preliminary injunction ruling in favor of Chase and street performers in general on certain key elements of the suit, while siding with the town on others, including a prohibition against street performers setting up shop on the Boardwalk at North Division Street, citing public safety issues with most important access point to the Boardwalk and beach for emergency services.

In February, the parties reached a consent decree that essentially formalized the elements of the preliminary injunction handed down last September.

At this month’s meeting, Ayres briefed downtown business leaders on the outcome of the case, more specifically that the street performers will not be required to register and they will be able to sell or take donations for their wares as long as their creations pass the test as “expressive materials.”

On Monday night, Councilman Doug Cymek followed Jim Hall’s concern by saying something odd had struck him when the town was told the health department had no problems with the fumes produced by the spray paint artists because it was being produced out in the open air.

Cymek decided to contact the Maryland Department of Environment and personally filed a complaint. He has also pursued action with the Health Department’s section of food services.

“Well it is in the restaurants,” Councilwoman Margaret Pillas asserted. “I mean we don’t even allow smoking in restaurants.”

On Wednesday, Cymek furthered his concerns over the matter.

“It just bothers me when people can’t go into lunch and enjoy themselves without being annoyed with the fumes from the spray,” he said. “We are looking into what can be done … they continue to disrespect others and create this problem, a problem that requires some action.”

The identity of the spray paint artist that caused the complaint has not been released.

“The identity of the person wasn’t important to me,” Cymek said. “It’s just the principle of the matter … I would just ask the performers to use some discretion and to show a little more concern for others. Setting up and just letting the wind carry the spray vapors into a business is just not fair to anyone.”