NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: Passionate Debate Held Over Decency Rules In Ocean City; Resort Hesitant To Address Fashion Trends

OCEAN CITY – The potential to regulate indecent fashion choices on the Boardwalk was not included on the Mayor and Council agenda this week, as expected, but a passionate discussion about the resort and recent trends did take place.

A few weeks ago, Councilman Brent Ashley re-introduced the idea to institute legislation that is referred to as the “Droopy Pants Ordinance.” He had initially brought the concept up in 2011 when he presented the council research he had conducted finding a number of municipalities do not allow pants any longer than three inches from the tops of the hips exposing skin or undergarments.

Ashley broached the topic against last month when the City of Wildwood passed an ordinance establishing decency standards on its Boardwalk. The resort’s ordinance specifically states, “The waist-band of shorts, swim-trunks, pants and/or skirt shall not be worn more than 3 inches below the wearer’s waist, interpreted to mean at a level below the crest of the ilium, so as to expose either skin or garment underneath.”

The ordinance continues, “the City of Wildwood has received numerous complaints from residents and visitors who frequent the City’s Boardwalk and consider certain dress, or lack-there-of, of a certain proportion of persons on the Boardwalk as offensive, indecent and alarming to themselves and their children…the City of Wildwood markets its Boardwalk as a family friendly environment with its residents and businesses relying heavily upon the tourism industry…”

Wildwood’s ordinance even requires people to wear shoes and shirts on the Boardwalk, meaning no bathing suits allowed. A citation for not less than $25 can be given to violators with subsequent offenses resulting in higher citation amounts.

The Mayor and City Council agreed to further discuss the matter during this week’s work session. In the meantime, Ashley has been interviewed by many news outlets from newspapers to television.

As Tuesday’s work session approached, the discussion regarding decency on the Boardwalk was removed from the agenda, due to Councilman Joe Mitrecic’s scheduled absence and Council President Lloyd Martin wanting the full council to be present.

Before the council hit the first agenda item, Ashley requested for the discussion to be scheduled for the Mayor and Council’s next regular session on July 15, as he awaits the Tourism Commission’s thoughts and what City Manager David Recor and staff have found in research.

“In addition, in my conversations with the mayor of Wildwood, the mayor has offered to help with input and insight or any other expertise he might offer that might help our decision … because we continue to receive emails with negative comments about how Ocean City has changed. I think all of us, as elected officials, should welcome this discussion as soon as possible … I think we have to move forward and govern with this type of discussion,” Ashley said.

Mayor Rick Meehan interjected once the word “govern” was spoken, disagreeing with the thought governing is led through such dialogue and that the discussion should be placed as a top priority at the height of Ocean City’s peak season.

“This is something that we should think a lot about and what it is that we are really trying to achieve, and what values we are trying to instill upon others in this ever changing world we live in,” the mayor said.

Meehan, along with the rest of the council, has also been receiving emails from individuals who have been relating fashion choices with gang-related activity in Ocean City, and have voiced concerns of how Ocean City is changing, and turning away from its traditional stance of being a family-friendly resort.

“I just have some concerns in how we are going to perceive our community and how we will be perceived during these discussions. Yes, we have some issues we have to address and I think they will be a little bigger issue in what somebody is wearing,” the mayor said. “There is an awful a lot of people out on the Boardwalk … and if we are going to address everybody’s concerns like that I am really not sure who is going to be allowed up there.”

Ashley kept pushing the issue, saying the decency issue on the Boardwalk is not necessarily about what someone is wearing. It is about the position of the elected body, which leads to the perception of Ocean City by its visitors.

“I am concerned about some of the things I see, but I try to be open minded because the world around us has changed … I understand your concerns but I think we all need to look at ourselves and make a decision about how judgmental we want to be about everybody else,” the mayor asserted.

Taking a stance against indecency on the Boardwalk is not judgmental, Ashley responded, but instead maintaining community values.

“My concern, again, as I am sure yours is, obtaining our family visitors. When people tell me they are afraid to take their kids to the Boardwalk, I see a problem there,” he said.

Meehan reiterated his opinion officials need to be careful in how the discussion is approached being mindful of the world everyone lives in today.

“We need to be cognizant of what is happening around us, what is happening in our community and how we can best address it,” he said. “We all have the same goal in life just a different way to go about it addressing it.”

The mayor pointed out that while Wildwood took action by passing an ordinance outlawing indecency on the Boardwalk, it would most likely face challenges ahead in federal court. Ocean City is currently embroiled in a court battle with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on its noise ordinance, and the mayor stated he has no interest in more court appearances due to restricting fashion choices.

“As the mayor of Wildwood told me, people appreciated the fact that they took a positive stance. They have had many people call and email saying they will come back to Wildwood because they took a positive stance. It may not work out but they took a stand,” Ashley said.

Rather than focus on decency issues, Martin said the city needs to focus on more important current events.

“We had a week in Ocean City that was a little unruly … hopefully that is not the norm. I haven’t seen it as the norm in Ocean City … we will get to the bottom of it. We find out who these people are and why they are here. That is what you do. It is not about how somebody dresses,” Martin said.

Martin referred to Ashley’s recent interviews where he has made references to “thugs” in Ocean City.

“In the 70s when I was growing up … people had long hair, and if you had long hair then you must have been a hippie or a dope head. Not everybody who had long hair did drugs. You can’t judge a book by its cover all the time, and that’s what you said on national TV, and that is wrong,” Martin said. “I want a positive message to be sent out there. I want to show that we are going to address the concerns, do the right thing but not jump to conclusions. We need to do it right … You made negative news for the Town of Ocean City … we are continuing in a positive environment and you took a stick [to stir it up] because you like to be on TV.”

Ashley ended the conversation by stating news outlets come to him, he does not seek the attention out.

“I just want to have a discussion,” Ashley said.

The day prior the Tourism Commission met to discuss the potential decency ordinance, and commission members were in consensus that baggy pants is a fashion choice, but one that is fading out. They also felt that the matter shouldn’t be used to draw attention to Ocean City though the news. The commission decided to report to the full council it had no desire to pursue legislation regarding indecency on the Boardwalk.