The current petition effort to defund the performing arts center’s current financing structure, which comes at little to no fiduciary risk at all, continues to be a major talking point in Ocean City.
No matter how you feel about the size of the facility or its ability to land top drawing acts, the fact is the issue was researched extensively over several years and the recommendation was made, and two bodies of the Mayor and Council approved it. The fact two council bodies voted unanimously in support of the performing arts center merits consideration.
The council majority that currently controls most government decisions at the elected office level is comprised of Mayor Rick Meehan, Council President Lloyd Martin and Council members Doug Cymek, Dennis Dare, Mark Knight and Joe Mitrecic. Although reluctant to refer to themselves as a voting block, the fact is more often than not these six are on the same page, and Council members Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas typically hold opposing views, particularly on tourism-related issues.
The former council majority, in power for two years from October 2010 to November 2012, was comprised of Jim Hall and Joe Hall, who both lost in the last election, and current Council members Ashley and Pillas. Both Ashley and Pillas are up for re-election next year, along with Martin.
All of these council members voted for this project under its current financial plan, and they did it multiple times. That’s noteworthy because these individuals rarely agree on anything, but they saw fit to approve on several occasions this project and the financing.
The current petition seeks to place a significant government decision before the ultimate stakeholders, the voters. That’s a move I almost always support. Fundamentally, I think the petition process is government accountability at its best, but this is the exception. There is too much at risk and the effort appears to be grounded in misinformation.
It was reassuring to hear half of the homes approached by one petitioner refused to sign the petition. The problem is many people will sign whatever comes to the door to get the person off the stoop. That’s a shame, and the only solace in those circumstances is the hope they signed their name wrong as far as election records indicate and that they are non-residents.
During the planning and studying phase, most concerns I heard about the proposed 1,200-seat performing arts auditorium was it was not big enough to attract major acts and be a true difference maker on local business. Additionally, there were concerns the addition of the center to the mix might lead existing customers to go elsewhere.
While concerns about whether it will bring top-name acts may be valid, and surely its small size is going to limit the potential scope of major bookings, the belief that current customers will look elsewhere has not been proven at all. There have been concerns about the uncertainty of what the construction will mean for next year, and I think an argument could be made the city should have been more proactive in addressing those concerns, but officials seem to have assuaged fears with success thus far. The cheerleading convention is an example. The cheerleading group expressed concerns about the construction timetable initially, but convention center officials were able to have a beneficial dialog that calmed worries.
Petition organizer Tony Christ intimated in an email to City Solicitor Guy Ayres late this week that he is considering abandoning the petition effort in the near future but needs some questions answered before coming to that conclusion. Later, he said he will continue the petition through the weekend and re-evaluate as time goes on. I hope he makes the right call and drops the petition drive. This is not a fight that needs to be pursued.
In the meantime, performing arts center supporters are beginning to circulate signs made encouraging residents, “Do Not Sign The Petition, Signing Will Cost You Millions Of $$$”. You should expect to see these red-and-white signs this weekend.
What’s going on with “Ping Pong Summer,” the independent movie filmed in Ocean City in September and October of 2012? Here’s an answer, according to the movie’s Facebook page.
“One year ago today, while the Hurricane Sandy terror was rising, Ping Pong Summer wrapped principal photography (at 2 a.m.). We promise that the movie will be landing in 2014 in some way, shape, or form — hopefully earlier than later — so thanks for being patient, everybody!”