OCEAN CITY – Local residents stood strong this week in demanding Ocean City officials make a difference when it comes to increasingly rowdy behavior associated with car rally events.
Last month Cruisin hit Ocean City with 3,400 classic cars officially registered for the event and an in-kind number of hangers-on, or “wannabes” as the event promoter refers to them. While the officially registered participants appeared to be well behaved for the most part and attended the event’s official activities at the Inlet and Roland E. Powell Convention Center, the latter group raced up and down Coastal Highway and other streets, dumped trash in parking lots and left a considerable amount of rubber on the roads.
Cruisin’ has become one of the biggest weekends of the year in Ocean City, according to promoter and organizer Bob Rothermel and many business owners. While local residents bristled at the steady roar of the hot rod engines and the consequences of the large convergence, special events drive the economy in Ocean City, especially in the shoulder seasons. Balancing them with the quality of life has always been a challenge.
Immediately following the event complaints were heard loud and clear. However, this week a group of concerned residents came before the Mayor and City Council on Monday evening demanding major changes.
“I am here because last year we heard a lot of promises after the debacle of Cruisin’ weekend, and I’m wondering what happened this year because it seemed worse. When are you going to govern this event? When are you going to protect the laws and protect the people of this town by enforcing our ordinances? People come here and drink in public, reckless drive, squeal wheels, and ignore our ordinances,” local resident Gabriel Mancini said. “I hope this council governs. Form a committee and address the grievances of the public because honestly all of us are fed up with it.”
Local resident Ellie Diegelmann listed several suggestions.
“Stop making excuses and sincerely encourage the public to call the police, especially the business owners and lot owners hosting these lawbreakers. Be sure to emphasize and honor confidentiality. Save the outside police support such as the Maryland State Police and Worcester County Sheriff’s Department for technical police work. Instead bring in auxiliary towing companies to further accommodate responsiveness to the Ocean City Police Department. Form a chaos task force including myself and any other individuals who wish to participate, along with police and other vital departmental staff, and deputize, train and support selected citizens chosen by the task force to be the eyes and ears and first response, including calling tow trucks,” Diegelmann said.
Local resident Debi Thompson Cook, whose family history goes back more than 100 years in Ocean City, wants to see the event eliminated altogether.
“I was disgusted by what happened in town two weeks ago. People were afraid to take their kids to the school bus. I didn’t leave my house. I saw people drinking from open containers, double parked and tractor trailers parked on the street anywhere they wanted. I never saw a police officer all weekend [in my neighborhood], and I didn’t want to call them because they were so overwhelmed and busy that I wouldn’t even call them over a parking violation,” she said. “We are a beach town. Our asset is the ocean, the bay, the surfers, the skateboarders and the beach lifestyle. That is why people come here and we are killing our brand with this kind of event. This does not belong here.”
Cook questioned costs of police overtime during the event and of public works to repair and clean the roadways.
“I am so tired of people saying we need this money [revenue from the event]. I lived here before these events were here … and we were just fine before all of this. It may take us a few years to recover but if we do away with it eventually people will come back to enjoy what is really here. It is appalling and I am begging you to do something about it,” she said.
Mancini suggested extending the season and inviting the events to come during less busier times of April and October.
“We have changed a lot in the past 30 years. Most of these events were formulated to bring people to town on the fringe of the season. Our season has expanded from May to September … those months are now in season and a money making time for us. If you can bring those events, such as Cruisin in the end of April and the motorcycles to mid-October it would help a lot. Right away you would solve half the problems we are incurring with the traffic and noise. We are trying to fit too much into our busy season, and these events are conflicting with the people that are already here,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan assured the speakers their voices were not falling on deaf ears.
“We are listening. Things have changed in the past 30 years. We face more challenges today than we have before. The world around is becoming more defiant, and they are moving towards our resort bringing with them some of those same characteristics. All of us up here agree that something needs to be done to address those situations,” he said.
Meehan agreed with Mancini changing the dates of events could be beneficial in moving forward.
“We all [Mayor and City Council] recognize there are problems but give us a chance to address them. I know the issues have been scheduled to be discussed by the Police Commission to bring back recommendations to the full council. I know we talked about this last year and some things didn’t come to fruition but I know you will be seeing some changes next year,” he said.
Council Secretary Mary Knight used H2O International, a VW/Audi rally held in the fall, as an example. She pointed out the town has already been working with the organizer in changing the date of this year’s event to avoid conflicting with Sunfest weekend.
“Our police department has had several meetings with the organizer of H2Oi … we are doing things that the public doesn’t see. The organizer knows a lot of people come to H2Oi that are not registered who cause havoc. It is not a sanctioned event and we are working with the organizer in making it better,” she said.
Meehan concluded by presenting the Town of Ocean City’s new 311 smartphone app. When downloaded, users can view events and information about Ocean City as well as report issues in neighborhoods and around town for prompt action and resolution, such as abandoned vehicles, alcohol or drug violations, animal complaints, city ordinance violations, noise violations, parking complaints, problem properties, public safety concerns, suspicious persons or activities and vandalism or graffiti.
The app is free on both iTunes and Google Play or can be downloaded by visiting http://oceancitymd.gov.
Cruisin promoter Rothermel last month defended his event, although admitted there were unruly visitors in town.
“The problem becomes the people not associated with the event get a little full of themselves and run afoul of the law,” he said. “The event really doesn’t have any authority to control what happens on the street. The police department does a great job, but they can’t be everywhere. The problem is with the wannabes. Those are the people we have to figure out how to control. I don’t know what else we can do as an event. We can only do so much.”
Rothermel is willing to work with the police and town officials on change, but he said the economic impact cannot be discounted.
“You have to remember, this event has turned into a big weekend,” he said. “It’s the major event of the year, bigger than the Fourth of July. With the great weather, we had big crowds and most behaved but there are always those knuckleheads that come here just to rip it up … “If you go to a Ravens game, there will be an awful lot of knuckleheads, but you don’t blame the Ravens. If you don’t like the traffic on the Fourth of July, you don’t blame the forefathers.”