OCEAN CITY – City staff members received a tongue lashing this week after the town’s advertising agency’s notice period of its contract expiration slipped and was automatically renewed for another year.
At the conclusion of this week’s Mayor and City Council legislative session, Councilman Brent Ashley brought up then contract extension of the town’s advertising agency, MGH, expressing frustration with how the opportunity for the town to re-bid went to the wayside.
Ashley approached the subject a few weeks ago asking if a Request For Proposal (RFP) to re-bid the town’s advertising contract had been considered. Staff was unsure of the expiration date on MGH’s contract and replied it would be looked into and brought back for discussion.
In September of 2012, Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) Chair Greg Shockley made a request for the council to reconsider the town’s contract with MGH, the town’s advertising agency for 10 years. A month prior, the council had voted 4-3 to not renew MGH’s contract and to have a RFP prepared for when the contract expired.
Tourism Director Donna Abbott explained the agreement with MGH commenced on Jan. 1, 2011 and was for a two-year period that ended on Dec. 31, 2012. The agreement renews automatically for an additional one-year period unless terminated by either party with 120 days’ notice prior to the termination date.
Ocean City last conducted an agency review in 2009 and selected MGH to continue out of a field of several advertising agencies who submitted proposals. The agreement was and still is the agency is paid nearly $23,000 a month totaling an annual expense of about $275,000.
At that time, City Manager David Recor’s Strategic Planning Initiative was in its initial phase that would later result in a specific layout of the town’s goals moving into the next 15 years, including an advertising plan. Since the town was taking on the initiative, the council decided to put the RFP process on hold.
The City Council voted 5-2 to instead extend MGH’s contract for one year and in all future contracts that the notice be 180 days to give adequate time to properly place a RFP.
Since the last meeting, it was brought to Ashley’s attention MGH’s contract had been renewed for another year as of result of the 180-day notice time having passed.
“This is what I was talking about at the last meeting and everyone seemed confused. Is everyone clear now?,” Ashley asked. “My question is, at what point was it decided not to do the RFP and who decided it?”
Recor responded there was not a conscious decision not to do a RFP. He added that since the Tourism Commission was re-established in the beginning of the year, TAB’s role has diminished and strides have been made between MGH and the commission with a number of significant tourism initiatives.
“You have a valid motion, a second, and a majority vote to do this and it never happened,” Ashley said. “We set policy up here, and we pay salaries for professional people to follow the directive of the council.”
Recor claimed responsibility and refused to provide an excuse.
“You know what Mr. Recor, we just had a case a couple of weeks ago with a parking lot where the lease wasn’t paid for two years and nobody knew it. Who is watching the store here? It is not up to me as a council member. When a motion is made to move forward with a majority vote, it is up to you to make sure that happens. So, now we don’t have a RFP, it’s too late to do it again,” Ashley said. “Is there anything else we should be checking here before it slips through the cracks?”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas motioned to have City Solicitor Guy Ayres review the appropriate documents to determine if a proper notice was given or not. The council voted unanimously to approve.