Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

It took less than a week for my first prediction of 2016 to be proven wrong, and I appreciate those who took the time this week to remind me of that fact. I guessed last week that the new Ocean City manager would be from South Carolina and be announced in February. Wrong on both fronts it turns out, as the new city manager comes to Ocean City from Aberdeen and it was announced on Wednesday. However, he will not start working here until February, so I take a little comfort in that fact.

It would seem to me Ocean City was likely looking for someone who represents a hybrid of the town’s two most recent city managers — David Recor and Dennis Dare — because that’s what is needed.

Recor was an introverted, cerebral type who would, in my opinion, make an excellent chief financial officer at a corporation or in a similar capacity in government. What Recor may have lacked in people skills he more than made up with his strategic planning efforts, organization, prowess with finances and industry credentials. Where Recor did not excel was with managing people, which became one of former City Manager Dennis Dare’s strengths during his long tenure.

While Dare, a current first-term councilman, may not have had previous city manager experience when he was promoted from engineer in 1990, he was a “24-7” leader and was always accessible to his staff. That was not Recor. Dare earned his stripes through a personal approach and what many may call unconventional management practices, which were rooted in his familiarity with the town and the respect he had earned from his department heads and general employees.

From his comments this week and his resume, Doug Miller may just be that individual who combines the strengths of Dare and Recor. His personality and leadership abilities won high praise and it will be interesting to observe him in the near future. It shouldn’t take long to figure out how he fits in Ocean City. Everything certainly seemed rosy at this week’s press conference and expectations seem high.

What Ocean City needs most of all from its new city manager is stability because at least three long-time city department heads are expected to retire over the next two years. By how he spoke this week, Ocean City seems like Miller’s dream job at this point in his career. Let’s hope that’s the case.

Due to the poor condition of the railroad, the prospects of an excursion train operation coming to this area have always been bleak in my opinion. While it’s still a big unknown if it will ever happen here, there is no question the effort received a huge jolt last week.

It was exciting news to hear a Bryson City, N.C. excursion train company funded travel and lodging expenses for Snow Hill, Berlin and Worcester County officials so they could see the operation first-hand. In addition, during the trip, they were able to speak to business owners and learn about the true economic impact. In that small town of 1,400 people, the train was drawing 3,500 riders a day from neighboring areas in November and December. That’s remarkable to me.

Next up it appears is for Berlin, Snow Hill and county officials to work together to create an attractive package to entice the company or a similar one like it to make the investments necessary here.

“The next steps for the towns are to digest the information, discuss openly what they liked and what could be improved or managed differently in an area such as ours,” she said. “I will remain involved as a facilitator and a conduit between the two towns, the railroad, the franchising company and any state level interest shown,” said Worcester County Economic Development Director Merry Mears.

While it was obvious the most recent Winterfest was blessed by unseasonable weather, despite opening day ceremonies being forced inside due to rain, the numbers were still impressive this week.

With Mother Nature being so cooperative and the holiday weekends of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s being warm, Winterfest attendance was up 14 percent over the previous record and revenue, perhaps more importantly, surged 19 percent over last year’s record collection.

Typically, Winterfest is not about the money or even attendance, although the data is monitored carefully by the city. This is an annual tradition that usually costs the city money to put on each December when manpower, labor, costs of the displays and power expenses are calculated. That was surely still the case this year, despite the new records.

In either case, the finances shouldn’t really matter. While it’s great news that nearly 127,000 people attended and $644,000 was generated at the gate during the seven-week event, Winterfest is about the annual tradition for many local and visiting families and the slight shot in the arm it gives to businesses who stay open and benefit from people coming to town who otherwise would not be here.