BERLIN – Candidates shared their views on everything from fiscal responsibility to facility usage at a forum this week as the Ocean Pines Association prepares for its annual election.
All seven candidates running for the two available seats on the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) board of directors participated in a forum at the community center June 24. The recent management presentation outlining the idea of allowing community groups to use Pines facilities in exchange for performing community service proved to be a hot topic. Candidate Tom Herrick said the concept seemed to discourage amenity use.
“Let’s not solve the problem with making more problems,” he said.
Though it’s been reported that the community center receives thousands of requests from groups interested in using space there, Herrick says when he comes by in the afternoons there are no lines of people waiting to get in. If there is such a demand for space, community groups should be able to use room in other facilities.
“We built a $5 million yacht club,” he said. “We have an upstairs … we could have various functions on that top level that sits empty all day long.”
Candidate Cheryl Jacobs was also critical of the idea that local groups should be required to perform a certain amount of community service in order to use the facilities for free.
“When I hear ‘doing community service hours’ that reminds me as a prosecutor of what we offer people so they don’t have to go to jail,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Candidate and former board member Terri Mohr said she thought community service wasn’t a bad idea but didn’t believe it was the total solution
to the question of whether or not community groups should be provided with free amenity use.
“Should members be using the facilities for free?” she said. “I don’t know. We have so many groups that need these rooms. I think we need to talk about it longer and come up with a better solution.”
The notoriously bad relationship among board members and between the board and the general manager was also criticized during Wednesday’s event. All of the candidates stressed the need for teamwork and communication among the directors and the association’s general manager, Bob Thompson.
“They don’t communicate with one another,” Mohr said. “If they don’t communicate with one another they don’t communicate with you.”
Herrick said he considered the “dysfunction” of the board the community’s greatest challenge.
“I think we need to elect people that have an open mind, that know the meaning of the word compromise and understand the need to debate with civility,” he said. “I really believe that it’s up to the community to put the right people there to stop the dysfunction.”
Candidate and former board member Bill Zawacki agreed that the relationship between the board and Thompson needed work.
“The relationship between the board and the general manager, it needs to improve,” he said. “It appears the general manager does not react to what the board wants in a timely and effective manner.”
Candidate Slobodan Trendic spoke on the importance of accountability.
“If the performance is not there you take the action you have to take…,” he said. “We need to hold everybody accountable.”
Carol Ludwig said the first thing she would do if elected was turn the board into a team.
“Everybody needs to have a say,” she said.
Ludwig said she would bring diversity to the board, both by being a woman and also by having worked with numerous community members on various committees through the years.
“I’m running for the board because I love Ocean Pines,” she said. “I’ve been very active since the day I got here.”
Calls for fiscal responsibility also dominated discussion among the candidates. Zawacki, in particular, was critical of the board’s failure to meet budget targets. He said that just one month into the current year’s budget, the association was already failing to meet financial goals.
“I can’t even describe it,” he said.
According to Zawacki, although the community’s yacht club lost more than $100,000 last year, it was budgeted to make $62,000 this year.
“To accomplish that, we go from 21 employees to over 30,” he said. “They’ve added nine people. They’re going to spend $44,000 less in payroll than they spent this past year. How do you do that?”
Candidate and former board member Ray Unger said it wasn’t possible for all of the community’s amenities to make money.
“They were never designed to be profitable,” he said. “It’s an amenity we all enjoy.”
Trendic commented on the association’s “bloated” reserve fund and lack of capital improvement plan. He pointed out that the community’s
bridges were known to be deteriorating and had yet to be addressed. He said a plan for the future would ensure the association was able to take care of itself.
“We’ve got to get things right the first time,” he said. “You can’t afford a $5 million mistake.”
Jacobs said she didn’t know how Trendic could even call the reserve fund bloated when the community had no idea what its future needs were.
“The number one priority for me is we need to have a comprehensive plan,” she said.
Unger said the reserve fund was important because it could save the association in the event of an emergency. He called it a safety measure.
“It’s only a matter of time until the hurricane comes up the road,” he said.
Mohr, as a former board member, defended the association’s budget process, which she said entailed a lot of research, but agreed with her fellow candidates that a comprehensive plan was vital.
“I’ve been saying it since day one,” she said.
Mohr said that was key to ensuring the association’s facilities were maintained and not allowed to deteriorate beyond the point of no return.
“We promised you when we built the yacht club that we’d never let this happen to another building in Ocean Pines again,” she said.
Ballots for this summer’s Ocean Pines election, in which voters will select replacements for outgoing directors Marty Clarke and Sharyn O’Hare, will be mailed to residents July 7. They must be returned by Aug. 6. Results will be announced at the association’s annual meeting Aug. 8.