OCEAN CITY – Mayor Rick Meehan addressed the Boardwalk performers’ protest last week during a code amendment discussion on performers and municipal infractions.
On Monday evening, an ordinance adding the recently implemented street performing regulations to the City Code’s section for municipal infractions, while also revising the list of personnel authorized to issue citations, came before the Mayor and City Council on first reading for approval.
The code currently states, “Any person, partnership, corporation, unincorporated association, or other business entity who shall be deemed to have committed a ‘municipal infraction’ shall be issued a citation for such violation and/or noncompliance … the following listed officials are authorized by the Mayor and City Council to issue citations to violators: police officers, Cadets, Animal Control Officers, the Fire Marshal, members of the fire prevention commissions, fire investigators and fire inspectors, members of the beach patrol, building officials, planning and zoning administrators, licensing investigators and licensing inspectors, city engineers and assistants.”
The amendment removes cadets and replaces it with qualified police officers and employees authorized by the chief of police; removes members of the fire prevention commissions and replaces it with fire chiefs; adds deputy fire marshals to fire investigators and fire inspectors; adds Recreation and Parks personnel; and adds the solid waste manager.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres explained the amendment is a matter of updating the code due to the way positions have changed over time.
The amendment also adds the language “Lien on Property authority” where “any municipal infraction resulting in a judgement against the violator shall be a lien on the violator’s property, and the property shall be subject to being sold at tax and lien sales” on top of what the code currently states, “…for each and every such violation and/or noncompliance respectively, be deemed to have committed a ‘municipal infraction,’ punishable by a fine of not less than $25 nor more than $1,000.”
The City Council voted unanimously to approve the amendments.
Meehan took the opportunity to share his experience over the weekend in observing the performers on the boardwalk.
“It was amazing. They were all crowded with big crowds around them and they were all very successfully entertaining the public,” the mayor said. “It showed after we designated certain areas of the Boardwalk the traffic flowed better without the crowds blocking the path of pedestrians and that was the goal. The goal all along was to make it work better for the town, the street performers and the pedestrians on the Boardwalk. If you go up there and look, it’s working, and they [performers] are thriving. Their crowds are big and everyone is smiling and everyone is happy.”
The Town of Ocean City has been struggling with the proliferation of performers on the Boardwalk for several years. A Boardwalk Task Force was created to specifically look into the growing concerns. After two public hearings over the winter, the task force’s recommendations were submitted to the Mayor and City Council and presented in an ordinance form. The task force was assisted in the process by a law firm specializing in First Amendment issues.
The council followed course with many of the recommendations, and in mid-June passed an ordinance implementing 32 designated spaces on the street ends of the Boardwalk from the Inlet to 9th Street.
Once the new regulations went into effect on July 27, a group of Boardwalk performers gathered outside of City Hall last Monday in protest wearing T-shirts reading “Free Speech Prisoner” and holding up signs stating “Expression not Suppression.”
“As far as their right and their ability of expression, or to perform, or to entertain, it hasn’t been inhibited at all,” the mayor furthered on Monday, pointing out of the 32 designated spaces five remained open last week. “The street performers are fun to watch, and some of them are excellent. What we have done to solidify that and providing designated areas I think was a good move, and hopefully that will continue to work while they continue to prosper, and we can continue to prosper together.”