Is it a big deal that Ocean City Councilman Joe Hall billed the city $3,300 for 220 meals his restaurant served to emergency responders during Hurricane Irene?
Some say yes, some say no. Some even bashed me when the story was produced electronically on Wednesday for even finding the transaction newsworthy in the first place. That’s fine and a range of opinions are always expected on political stories. Actually, I personally enjoy hearing all sorts of comments on what we publish, positive or negative.
In the case of the $3,300 transaction between Hall’s Restaurant, owned by Joe Hall and family, and the city, there really was no major foul committed here. Clearly, the city’s purchasing policy was not followed, but it seems all rules were thrown out when it came to Irene.
However, in this case, there are restaurants up in arms over this, no matter how innocent it might have been. It’s just that none of them want to vocalize their umbrage. Due to all the misinformation circulating in the days prior to Irene last August, many proprietors were panicking because they were being told power was going to be shut off at a certain time and the sewer plant was going to be closed off at a certain time. Among their concerns was what to do with their perishable products, such as crab meat, shrimp, oysters, fruits and salads, etc.
What Joe Hall was able to do as a result of being an elected official and being nearby when Fire Chief Chris Larmore discovered the food supply was at a depleted level was conduct some business. Some think it’s not a big deal that he was able to execute a $3,300 sale based off the fact he’s a councilman, while others were not. Some say he should have donated food, like BJ’s on the Water and the Harrison Group did. Some think he deserves a medal for bailing out the city.
Either way, it was newsworthy. You decide what you think.
Not surprisingly, things got a little testy this week during the discussion of Ocean City’s advertising agency. The tensions eventually led to a predictable 4-3 vote along majority-minority lines with the result being the city will conduct another bidding process to hear from new firms in the fall. Whether that process takes place will be decided by the voters in the fall. If the balance of power is altered, the new council could simply decide to renew the contract and continue dealings with MGH for another year.
Two days after the controversial vote at City Hall, MGH President Andy Malis sent an email to Mayor Rick Meehan, Council members Doug Cymek, Mary Knight and Lloyd Martin and several members of the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), which recommended renewing the MGH contract for one more year rather than testing the market.
Malis made it clear he wants to continue to work with Ocean City, but he also touched on some current events, among other things. Here’s an excerpt of the letter, shared with me by several of his addressees.
“MGH and Ocean City have been great partners for ten years, and while I am disappointed that our agreement wasn’t renewed, I am hopeful that ultimately we will continue to work together for many years to come. I believe the record is clear. Any realistic appraisal of our work together can lead to only one conclusion. The state of tourism in Ocean City is strong. We crushed Virginia Beach and The Jersey Shore during the height of the recession by making value a centerpiece of our brand, and our messaging reminded those who could afford a vacation to take a vacation,” he wrote. “Some on the council believe that increasing the budget by 4X should have led to 4X the visitors. What it did was stop the bleeding and give us a fighting chance. I can’t imagine what business would be like had that tax not been approved. … Of course you can (and one day will) work with another firm. But the truly ‘full service’ relationship we have – in essence an outsourced department – is very hard to replicate. It only comes around a few times in a marketing career. You have allowed us to do GREAT work. Work that has created a unique brand for Ocean City. Work that gets noticed. Work that works.”