Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

The fact Ocean City is moving toward implementing official smoking restrictions is not a major surprise, but the discussion and subsequent vote was a bit perplexing.

The council’s decision in a 4-3 vote to move ahead officially with creating designated smoking areas along the Boardwalk and beach should not be confused with an outright ban. Smoking will still be allowed in Ocean City next year, but it will just be required at the limited areas. It’s not a ban and shouldn’t be called that under any circumstances.

Those found to be in violation of lighting up outside the targeted areas will be treated kindly it seems and most likely will just be given verbal warnings, although there will reportedly be some fines worked into the ordinance as a measure of last resort. No matter what the final ordinance has to say, enforcement will be the big uncertainty and probably be a question heading into next summer.

What was most interesting about this week’s discourse on limiting smoking involved the Boardwalk with Council members Brent Ashley, Mary Knight and Margaret Pillas — an unlikely trio to be on the same side of any issue — wanting no smoking on the Boardwalk at all. The trio was unable to land the critical fourth vote and therefore smoking will be permitted on the Boardwalk at selected locations. Mayor Rick Meehan was on their side, though, raising questions about the logistics of smoking stations on the boards. Ashley actually advocated for a complete ban on smoking on the beach and Boardwalk, while Knight and Pillas said they were fine with designated areas on the beach but wanted to see no smoking on the boards.

At this week’s meeting, it was suggested there would be 21 designated smoking areas with receptacles stationed along the east side of the Boardwalk from 7th Street to the Inlet and receptacles placed at the street ends north of 7th Street.

This has been a tricky issue for Ocean City and that’s why city officials have been largely reactive on it. In fact, in unprecedented fashion for him, Meehan asked his Facebook “friends” their opinion on making the beach and Boardwalk smoke free. More than 120 comments were received as of yesterday morning with a great majority of them in favor (some more snide than others).

Over the last couple years whenever smoking limitations have been discussed, concerns have revolved around trying to avoid alienating a certain base of the town’s tourists. Council President Lloyd Martin addressed that this week.

“Moving forward with something like this [regulation] will be taking small steps and then re-evaluate it moving forward,” he said. “According to research, 20 percent of our visitors do smoke and we need to have somewhere for them to go. If we give them a place to go and they feel comfortable with that, they will self-regulate themselves.”

The filing deadline for Berlin elections is next week and it’s been surprisingly quiet. It’s not that Berlin is typically a hot bed of political activity, but I figured with long-time Councilwoman Paula Lynch stepping down from her at-large seat that more interest would abound.

At least for now, with Tuesday’s filing deadline near, it appears to be quiet as usual as far as candidate filings. As of yesterday afternoon, there have only been two candidates officially express their intent. Incumbent Councilman Dean Burrell is seeking to retain his District 4 seat, while former Berlin Council and Worcester County Board of Education candidate Thom Gulyas is seeking to fill Lynch’s shoes.

Regarding the at-large seat held by Lynch for the last 26 years, Gulyas, who filed yesterday morning, will not automatically win the seat if nobody else files next week. However, it would be a strong likelihood unless a well-organized write-in campaign is launched.

Worcester County Public School students head back to the classroom next week, and it was interesting this week to hear about the school system’s planned technology initiatives during one of the opening meetings.

In the future, there will come a time when high school students will eventually not utilize textbooks. In some universities, that’s already the case, and the future is certainly in digital migration through computer tablets, such as the iPad.

At this week’s opening meeting in the north end of the county, Worcester County Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Dr. John Quinn discussed the county’s planned digital migration and its scope in the short- and long-term.

“As our digital conversion advances, it is our plan for every ninth grader to be equipped with a digital device beginning next year, a device that they will be able to bring home,” Quinn told the assemblage of teachers. “This is a long-term plan that we hope to continue and expand.”

The long-range plan is for all high school students to have digital devices and for students in kindergarten through eighth grade to also utilize digital devices on a routine basis, but the younger kids will not be permitted to take them home and instead would check them out each day.

This is good news and indeed necessary. Private schools in the area are far ahead of this technology migration for a variety of reasons, most having to do with smaller enrollments, less political hurdles and parents having the means to purchase the devices. For example, at Worcester Prep in Berlin, students in fourth through 10th grades will be in the school’s growing iPad program this year.