Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

Cruisin’ is a critical event for Ocean City’s commerce, but its success over the years has led to the creation of startup events that are causing problems. That’s why I like to think of the robust concerns expressed this week as more of a weekend phenomenon than just an event centric issue.

Much of the most vocal feedback heard this week from the citizen base was negative about the event and its associated spinoffs. Issues included visitors’ alleged disregard for the town, robust littering and a general sense of extreme disrespect and entitlement among those here.

While the city and the event promotion team plan to meet soon to discuss the weekend and the positives and negatives associated with it, it’s going to be a challenge for any major changes to be made. The fact is the promoter does just about everything possible to maintain a safe, respectful event. In an interview this week, Bob Rothermel was on the mark on several fronts, including the fact the town goes from basically season transition mode for several weeks to peak summer crowds in a period of days.

Additionally, a point many people have been making privately for years is the changing demographic of Ocean City’s visitors. People are simply not talking and acting the same as they used to and that leads to heightened fears. It’s nothing for people to now open their car doors in a parking lot and discard trash on the pavement before pulling away. They do so in a violent fashion that makes other citizens hesitant to address it on the spot. It was seen all over Ocean City last weekend and is visible in other high-volume places as well.

It’s disturbing and if something can be done to improve the perception of the weekend that would be tremendous. The most logical step is to reach out to the smaller unofficial events, if possible, and try to establish a dialogue. It’s going to be a challenge, but one worthy of attempting.

Interesting new Census figures were released this week, detailing which jurisdictions in Maryland are seeing surges in population compared to others.

The data, organized by the Maryland Department of Planning, showed Salisbury’s population is growing at the fifth fastest clip (1.4 percent) among state municipalities between July 2010 and July 2013. The top five were Gaithersburg, Rockville, Bowie, Frederick and Salisbury.

On the hyper-local front, Ocean City’s population decreased by 10 between the same three years, from 7,102 to 7,092; Snow Hill increased by 31, from 2,103 to 2,134; and Berlin’s population jumped by 76 residents, from 4,485 to 4,562, a 1.7 percent increase over three years.

As far as the counties go, the lower Eastern Shore region’s growth was led by Wicomico County, which saw its population jump 2.2 percent, from 98,733 in July 2010 to 100,896 in July 2013. Worcester County increased by .3 percent, from 51,451 to 51,620 over the same three-year period. For what it’s worth, the county in Maryland with the biggest population surge over from 2010 to 2013 was Howard County with a 6.1-percent boom, from 287,085 to 304,580.

With the task force appointed to studying the matter issuing a favorable recommendation, it’s likely just a matter of time until every school system in Maryland is mandated to head back to school the day after Labor Day.

With the legislation likely to be introduced next Maryland General Assembly session, which is slated to start in January 2015, there’s a chance the change could take effect next year. However, considering how governments work, it’s more likely to begin in September of 2016.

There is no question this will make the late August weeks more crowded at the beach and give businesses a solid and prosperous end to the peak summer season. For too long, the season has been dropping off the third week of August because schools across the bridge were heading back around then. Labor Day weekend was not a big deal at all, particularly if bad weather was in the forecast.

It seems to me the logical next step will be resorts in Delaware and New Jersey and points further north to consider a similar process. All the resorts along the coast will benefit from a later start date, and tourism sources in the know along the Jersey coast intimated to me this week many folks were closely watching this task force’s work in Maryland.

It was refreshing to see the Ocean City Police Department get out in front of a planned special event that brought loads of trouble to Virginia Beach last spring.

I was in Virginia Beach last year a few weeks after the College Takeover Beach Week event brought a riot of sorts to the town’s Oceanfront area. The weekend I was there rumors were circulating there was going to be a repeat visit from the group, but it never came to fruition, probably because the city’s plans to combat any issues were on the newspaper’s front page and the police were out in full force.

It was smart of the OCPD to issue a statement in response to this newspaper’s inquiry. In the past, the OCPD would not have cooperated and instead ignored the situation. It was a foolish approach. It’s better to do what the OCPD did this week. Acknowledge that it’s coming and send a message that law enforcement is prepared ready to respond if trouble arises.

“We want all of our residents and visitors to know that their safety, as always, is our top priority. Rest assured that the OCPD is well prepared for the influx of visitors that we will see that weekend,” said OCPD spokesperson Jessica O’Neill.