Voices From The Readers

Voices From The Readers

Be Sure To Register

Realizing how quickly the November elections are approaching, I am reminded of the promise that I made to myself after our last municipal election. It was to become pro-active during the 2012 election season so that voter apathy would not result in another unqualified majority serving on our City Council.

Our council majority’s past election campaign promises of transparency and responsible spending never materialized. After the last elections, we received the opposite. The “Change of Direction” that our council majority referred to, but never explained, should have been a clear and well thought out series of changes, implemented after a discussion by all seven council members. Instead, an ill-conceived agenda of change (solely designed and implemented by our council majority of four) became a disruptive runaway train.

Hasty decisions resulted in complete disharmony of our town employees, trampling city morale, costly firing of dedicated staff members and absolutely no concept of how to deal with the costs or fallout of budgetary decisions made without due diligence.  We simply need to elect a few more qualified council members who have what it takes to serve everyone in Ocean City.

We need to elect candidates who have the ability to work together with all of their fellow council members, not just a few. It is our good fortune to have Rick Meehan as our mayor. We need to elect candidates who understand and respect what the mayor does for Ocean City. Mayor Meehan works tirelessly to promote and campaign on behalf of our town. He consistently works overtime for what is a “part-time” paid position.  We are very lucky to have such a dedicated mayor.

I encourage all residents and business owners to join me in helping register, educate and encourage family, neighbors and employees to get out and vote. Anyone can register for federal, state, county or municipal elections in Maryland by going to: https://voterservices.elections.state.md.us/OnlineVoterRegistration/VRA . It’s quick and simple. Or you can check the Citizens for Ocean City Facebook page for more voter information.  Business owners will also find a printable voter registration PDF which can be printed and distributed to employees who reside in Ocean City. Let’s get everyone in Ocean City to register and participate in the November election.

Patti Miller
Ocean City

Figures Contradict Position

Responding to my comments in a recent letter to the editor, former city manager Dennis Dare said that increasing the number of Public Safety personnel from 158 in 1997 to 200 in 2012 was “to keep pace with the growth in property and number of lives for police, fire and emergency medical personnel to protect.”

Mr. Dare goes on to say, “So, one could say that the growth in the number of employees was ‘excessive,’ but I would say it was responsible and needed to accommodate a growing Ocean City over the last 20 years.” Sounds like a good approach, but the figures don’t support Mr. Dare’s position.

According to city official records, the year-round population of Ocean City has remained steady at about 7,200 for many years. In fact, the latest census report shows that Ocean City has actually lost full-time residents. Although much higher in the late 80s, our seasonal visitor count has maintained a constant average of about 4.2 million for over 20 years. Additionally, the number of visitors for the entire year, has maintained a constant average of about 8.2 million since 1993.

Although the town’s population figures have not grown in many years, the size and cost of government did. From 2000 to 2009 (hiring freeze instituted), 77 new full-time employees with benefits were hired. In fiscal year 2005, the city’s payroll was $33.4 million. By fiscal year 2009, it had increased by $12.2 million to $45.6 million.

Some of the cost savings initiatives that Mr. Dare mentions such as outsourcing large public works projects, reduced solid waste collections, reduced bus service, bidding the town’s electricity and right sizing the workforce were long overdue steps in the right sizing of government as a whole. But the question remains, if these initiatives work now, why weren’t they instituted much sooner before costing the taxpayers millions of additional dollars?

In a recent article in The Dispatch, Mr. Dare was quoted as saying, “We instituted hundreds of cost-saving ideas, and these ideas came from the employees. They didn’t come from the council or the city manager …”

I believe him.
Brent Ashley
Ocean City
(The writer is a member of the Ocean City Mayor and Council.)

Utility Expansion Opposed  

My home is located in the Caine Woods community in northern Ocean City. Delmarva Power has an existing electric substation at 138th Street and the power company wants to expand that facility. I am opposed to the expansion in my neighborhood.

Potential health hazards to residents, visitors and workers in the vicinity are a serious concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been studying the effects of low level Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) on humans for many years. Although there have been many studies that indicate that EMF is not harmful to people, research has not yet determined the effects of long-term exposure to EMF. WHO writes on their website: “There is no doubt that short-term exposure to very high levels of electromagnetic fields can be harmful to health. Current public concern focuses on possible long-term health effects caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields at levels below those required to trigger acute biological responses.” WHO acknowledges that “…some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research.”  They write: “The absence of health effects could mean that there really are none; however, it could also signify that an existing effect is undetectable with present methods.”  WHO also writes regarding epidemiology studies involving electromagnetic fields that they are “…a collection of studies with weak positive results, which however are inconsistent among each other.”  More research is needed.

Such an expansion can have a dramatic and significant adverse impact on property values in the community, particularly to those homes within close proximity to the substation. However, whatever adversely impacts part of Caine Woods, impacts all of Caine Woods. As a licensed Certified Residential Appraiser and a former State of Maryland real property assessor, I know that perception can equate to reality in the real estate marketplace.

While the proposed equipment to be built by Delmarva Power will be beneficial in regulating the delivery and flow of electrical service to the entire region, I feel that a more suitable, rural location can be found that will not adversely impact a residential neighborhood. This new facility will not only serve Ocean City, but eastern Worcester County and Sussex County, Del. as well. I disagree with the notion that northern Ocean City, a densely populated area, is the only place this facility can be built.

On Aug. 7, 2012, at a Planning & Zoning Commission hearing for conditional use approval to expand the substation, Delmarva Power testified that PJM, the large power grid of which they are a part, wants the new facility at the north Ocean City location. Since when do outside influences dictate what a local power company does; but more importantly, since when does a town have to accept such a mandate?

While studying the issue of electromagnetic fields for years, the World Health Organization suggests that local authorities and the general public work with power companies to locate these facilities taking into account “aesthetics and public sensitivities.”

The Planning & Zoning Commission ignored public sensitivities.  Following the hearing on Aug. 7, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted unanimously to approve sending a favorable recommendation for the expansion to the Ocean City Mayor & City Council. The Planning & Zoning Commission made a hasty decision with very little deliberation and without weighing all the facts, testimony and exhibits presented at the hearing.

The Mayor & City Council must take more time when they deliberate and should reject the recommendation of the Planning & Zoning Commission. We need leaders in this community who make decisions that are best for the health, safety and welfare of the people.

Vincent dePaul Gisriel, Jr.
Ocean City

Sweeping Changes Needed

I read with great interest the response by Mr. Dare to the question concerning the city’s spending.

The response was a well thought out and articulated and enlightened not only the questioning councilmember, but also the members of the community who probably found it very interesting reading.

I have two questions: After being in office for almost four years why didn’t the councilmember know or have this information at hand? Why didn’t the councilmember go to the current city manager and get his questions answered?

I do know one thing. Had the gang of four not mistakenly fired the prior city manager all they would have had to do was walk down the hall and asked he would have been glad to answer.

There is a saying among lawyers: "never ask a question you don’t know the answer to" and this is a perfect example of why. This is the second time in recent weeks when a member of the gang of four have made comments or asked questions that people outside of government have had to respond. It seems they are too busy trying to push their "vision" for Ocean City rather than getting facts straight.

There are two members of the gang of four up for re-election this year.

Let’s hope that there are two good qualified people in Ocean City who will step forward and run for election to try and fill those spots so we can go back and have good responsive informed government in Ocean City.

What do we want in our council members? I would like to see councilmen who have offices open daily so citizens can stop by and discuss problems.

I would like to see council members who attend numerous community events day and night to answer the people’s questions and explain what is happening in city government.

I would like to see who are basically full-time serving the people.

While I realize this is posted as a part-time job, I feel if you want to run you should want to serve.

But then again maybe that’s just me.
Len Bender
Ocean City

Evaluating Manager Costs

It was reported in The Dispatch based on information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, that the cost to remove Mr. Dare was $252,469. While other numbers have been thrown out, this number seems to be substantiated. I have summarized the costs reported as follows: $140,933, salary; $36,244, accrued vacation and holidays; $29,189, benefits; $33,602, search related new hire; and $12,500, legal.

The article went on to say that if you include the new city manager’s cost during that same period, about $54,000 would be added, bringing the total figure to $306,469.

“Cost” can often have ambiguous meanings. When I look at a situation like this, I like to compare what is being spent against what would have been spent had the event not happened. The difference provides an insightful view known as “incremental” cost.

In this case, some estimating and assumptions are necessary but I believe we can get to a rational figure. Had Mr. Dare not been terminated, we would have spent the following:

$187,417: Salary (for the 13-month period used in the newspaper’s analysis); $28,113: Benefits, conservatively estimated at 15% of salary; $36,244: Accrued vacation and holidays (would have likely been paid in future years); $251,774: Total

Subtracting what would have been spent anyway, $251,774, from the $306,469 cost calculated in the newspaper, results in an estimated “incremental” cost to the taxpayers of $54,695.

It could be argued that the search-related expenses would have been incurred at some later date anyway when Mr. Dare resigned or retired. Also, the new City Manager, Mr. Recor, makes less money than Mr. Dare (a reported $147,000 vs. Mr. Dare’s $173,00 annual salary) so there will be some cost savings there in the coming months as well.

Conversely, it should also be pointed out that the mayor had to fill in during the period of not having a city manager (without receiving additional compensation) and the town potentially lost some benefit of having a dedicated city manager during that time.

As to another hot issue, the cost to the taxpayers of running the town, we need to look no further than the information provided on the town’s website. It shows that the total costs (excluding the revenue generating activities) of running the town to be $69,962,880 (2011). This compares to $45,353,940 just 10 years ago, a 54% increase.

If businesses had this type of increase in costs, they had better be showing substantial increases in revenues as well. Unfortunately for businesses, they can’t force their customers to give them money like the government can through taxation.

Instead of bickering about who should be credited or chastised regarding the costs of running our town, we should dig into this issue and understand how our costs ballooned over the last decade while the number of residents and the average summer population (tourism) have been relatively flat during that same period (again based on information from the town’s website).

We should look back only to learn, so that experience and knowledge can be applied to the future.
Bob Baker
Ocean City