Does Ocean City Want Us To Drive Drunk
This weekend I had the pleasure of once again visiting beautiful Ocean City, Md. It was a holiday weekend (July 4th) so I expected things to be busy. I was happy to see the officers of the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) on foot at locations all around the Town of Ocean City and in vehicles patrolling north and south on Coastal Highway.
What I did not expect to see was how many vehicles engaged in traffic stops by the OCPD would be marked with Uber stickers. For those unfamiliar, Uber (and other ridesharing app companies) match willing riders with on-duty drivers for a safe, sober ride home.
At one point, approximately 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, July 3, I counted no less than 12 Uber marked vehicles being stopped by OCPD — more than non-marked vehicles I saw for the entirety of the night. So why was the OCPD focusing on and stopping Uber vehicles? I didn’t see them stop any of the local taxi companies, although I did see those same taxis making the same stops and turns as the Uber drivers.
I have seen Uber vehicles all over Maryland, but never have I seen the harassment of Uber drivers like I saw over 4th of July weekend in OC. So that begs the question, why?
Did OCPD assume that many of these drivers were from out of town and thus they would pay the fines and not return to fight the tickets? Were the police protecting the native taxi drivers against the out-of-town Uber drivers? And, most importantly, do we want the police in a resort town (dependent on visitors) making those kind of stops?
Or were all of the stops some misplaced anger from the lower number of tickets and fines issued to drunk drivers? (I’m sure the OCPD would deny the use of a quota system) Do we want police harassing those who assure we have a safe ride home so that we are forced to drive ourselves (and risk stop, arrest, and fines)?
I use Uber at home, for rides to my local establishments, and everywhere I travel, in Maryland and across the country. I think it’s the only responsible decision. My fear is that, on my next visit to OC, I won’t be able to get an Uber ride home at all (no drivers) or there will be a huge surge rate (few drivers) that I can’t afford.
If I can’t assure a safe ride home, I’m not sure I can frequent OC establishments or the Town of Ocean City at all. OCPD needs to rethink their policies on Uber and let these hard-working drivers stay on the road.
Safety Must Be Top Priority
On the July 4th weekend, the following incident occurred: As a lifeguard reported to work on the morning of July 2, two young men were already drinking beer out of glass bottles, on the beach. Over the course of the next hour and a half, those young men drank 12 bottled beers and would be addressed by three different life guards on five different occasions. At no time did they stop drinking. At no time did the police arrive.
In another totally different incident in June, and reported in one of the local papers, a young man was reluctantly arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. He had been thrown out of a very popular bar for being drunk and fighting. The police just happened to be there and assisted. The young man then wanted to fight the police, was threatened with arrest by the police and was then pulled away by friends. Again he returned, again seeking to fight the police. Another warning was issued and when he refused to leave, he was finally and thankfully arrested.
What these two incidents have in common is the reluctance on the part of businesses and city employees to call the police, and in the latter incident, a reluctance on the part of the police to arrest a person who is clearly a threat to himself and to others. I understand that arresting people who have had too much to drink is bad for tourism. I also understand that for a business to call the police is bad for their image and their business.
That said, to turn a blind eye to the above behavior gets people killed. Point being, advertisements about jay walking and putting a fence on the median on Coastal Highway, will not make a difference if we continue to place tourism above tourist safety.
The Monkey Paradigm
Attending Ocean City Council meetings, and watching people matriculate on and off the council over the last six years reminds me of the Monkey Paradigm. A paradigm is a group of ideas about how something should be done. Should is not a scientific word, it is an opinion.
In the Monkey Paradigm, a group of scientists studying behavior placed five monkeys in a cage with a ladder. Then they placed bananas on top of the ladder. Every time a monkey climbed up the ladder to get the bananas, the scientists would soak the other four monkeys with cold water – who learned to beat up the fifth monkey – to stop the cold water soaking. In time, no monkey dared go up the ladder regardless of the temptation.
The scientists then decided to substitute a monkey who had not experienced the cold water soaking for one of the monkeys. The first thing the new monkey did was go up the ladder to get the bananas. Immediately, the other monkeys beat him up. After several beatings, the new monkey learned not to climb the ladder, even though he never knew why.
A second monkey was substituted, and then a third, a fourth, a fifth, until none of the original monkeys were left in the group, yet all the new monkeys continued to beat up any monkey that went up the ladder even though they had never received a cold shower.
If it were possible to ask the monkeys why they would beat up all those who attempted to go up the ladder, I bet you the answer would be, “I don’t know; that’s how things are done around here.” Does that sound familiar?
You would think that someone might ask why we keep doing the things we do – if there might be a better way?
Some outside-the-box suggestions for Ocean City might include the following:
- Have one council meeting a month. Presently, the staff writes a 100-plus-page agenda once a week, and gives it to the council Thursday afternoon to be voted on Monday or Tuesday. Slowing the council down would give them time to more fully question and understand details regarding the money they spend, and staff could devote the hours to essential duties. Both the hours saved and slowing the council down would be prudent.
- Make the city solicitor a salaried position. In Annapolis, the salary for city solicitor is about $148,000 a year. Our city solicitor is paid an hourly rate. The more legislation he writes, the more he is paid. Even though he bills the city a reduced hourly rate, this particular paradigm leads to an outcome of excessive legislation, because he over works the job. His firm averages over $300,000 a year in hourly billings – more than twice the salary a big city pays. His piecemeal pay generated 29 ordinances and 26 resolutions in just 2015. However, the much larger hidden cost is the unneeded coercive laws that take staff time to implement, are not enforced equally, and wrongly raise the cost to some businesses. Pay the city solicitor a salary, as is done elsewhere, and I bet that you will see the numbers of ordinances and resolutions decline, thus saving tax dollars immediately, staff time implementing the ordinances, and unnecessary business and resident expense of compliance, totaling millions annually.
- Sunset old ordinances and resolutions. Over the past 50 years, we have passed in excess of 1,500 ordinances and probably as many resolutions. We need to close out old laws that are no longer relevant, and erase them from our books. Just as a toilet backs up, and eventually needs to be Rotor-Rooted, old laws need to be expunged. Think of all the staff time that would be saved. Reducing the laws will lower the cost of living for residents and businesses, and make our economy more price-competitive.
- Furlough 20 percent of the police force for five six-week increments during offseason. Furloughed police could perform non-paid community service, such as (a) serving meals at Sun Spot, (b) attending AA meetings, and (c) mentoring young high school-age males in single-parent families (41% of children are born out of wedlock). Many of our families are broken. This would be a public good, a role model for youth, and would connect the police to the community. It would also save the city 10% of the police budget.
- Lower our property tax to invigorate the economy. Home prices in the 21842 zip code are down 17% since 2004. We must break the cycle of declining home values. Lower property tax rates will stimulate home values and in turn increase tax revenues in coming years at this lower rate.
These are some ideas that require “thinking out-of-the-box” and that would improve the quality of life locally, while saving a pile of money. Raising a challenge: Do we as a community have the courage to change or will it be monkey business as usual for the Ocean City Council? Einstein once said, “Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not yet completely sure about the universe.”