OCEAN CITY – Rather than seeking new advertising proposals from the marketplace, the City Council voted this week to continue the current agency’s contract for another three years in closed session.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Mayor and City Council reconvened in an open work session after adjourning for a closed session where the council voted 4-1 to extend the town’s advertising agency, MGH, contract for three years until Dec. 31, 2017.
Council members Dennis Dare, Doug Cymek, Lloyd Martin and Mary Knight were in favor with Councilman Brent Ashley in opposition. Council members Margaret Pillas and Joe Mitrecic were absent, although Mitrecic had submitted a letter of support.
Before entering closed session, Ashley said, “The council has discussed this issue several times and has voted in open session to go forward with the RFP [Request For Proposal] policy and process. If the council wants to change the policy to accept, consider and vote on an unsolicited contract from one advertising agency, it should be done in open session and not behind closed doors.”
The council did not agree and convened in closed session to discuss the matter.
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, who had been the town’s advertising agency for 10 years.
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 180 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.
On that day, the Mayor and City Council voted 5-2, with then Council member Joe Hall and Ashley in opposition, 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.
In October of 2013, MGH’s notice period of its contract expiration slipped by due to a staff oversight and the agreement automatically renewed for another year without the city being aware.
After returning to the open work session this week, Ashley said, “For the record, I voted not to go into closed session and I voted no on the unsolicited contract from one advertising agency that was presented and voted on … While this was last discussed last October and should have been done before now, time is once again of the essence. This contract expires Dec. 31, 2014 and 180 days termination notice must be given to the present advertising agency.”
Ashley made a motion the town immediately give notice and proceed with the RFP process as has been previously voted on. The motion died due to lack of a second.
“When we talked about going out for RFP, that was by a prior council. That same council did not have commissions. When the current council took office almost two years ago, we put back into place commissions. At this [Tourism Commission] meeting, what happened was a proposal was made by MGH, and a motion was made by our partners, including Ocean City Development Corporation, Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, Chamber of Commerce, and State tourism to support it,” Councilwoman and Tourism Commission Chair Mary Knight said. “I value that partnership … and when our partners come to us saying their happy at the same rate, and very pleased with the advertising campaign, it would be irresponsible for this council to turn a deaf ear to them.”
Ashley asserted five current council members served on the previous council as well.
“While I value the Tourism Commission’s input it is the council who sets policy, not the Tourism Commission,” he said.
Martin pointed out the town is beginning the process to complete a Tourism Strategic Plan that MGH will play an important role in and that a certain amount of trust must be offered to the stakeholders.
“The commission is made up of partners in our tourism community,” he said. “If nobody was in opposition, then we support our partners. That is what makes this city strong.”