OC Council Candidates Discuss Motorized Event Problems

OCEAN CITY — During a larger City Council candidate forum on Tuesday, the debate eventually came around to the variety of motorized special events, and the consensus among the candidates was more enforcement was needed and one event in particular should just go away.

During the question-and-answer period of Tuesday’s Ocean City Council forum hosted by American Legion Post 166, a question was raised about the candidates’ opinions on the various motorized special events each offseason, particularly a prolonged stretch through much of September and early October. The stretch includes long-standing events like Endless Summer Cruisin’ and OC BikeFest, for example, along with comparative newcomer and the often troublesome H20 International, or H20i, car show.

The events put heads in hotel beds and backsides in restaurant seats to varying degrees, some obviously more than others, but with them come traffic, noise and various other annoyances in the otherwise “quiet” seasons. While most are sanctioned by the city and organized by professional promoters, some are not, including the rather dubious H20i event. What is unique about the H20i event is that is not officially headquartered in Ocean City, but its participants, registered or otherwise, tend to cause the most headaches.

Ocean City officials spent much of last year forming different strategies to combat the problems associated with the motorized special events including a new trailer ordinance, for example. The town has also partnered with allied law enforcement agencies across the shore to provide an additional police presence on those weekends and the initiatives have proven somewhat successful.

However, some of the same problems with the events persist, particularly the H20i event, which caught the ire of most of the candidates who responded to the question at Tuesday’s candidate forum.

Incumbent Mary Knight said while she supports most of the motorized events, she would like to see more of a shift to other special events.

“I’m very pro-sports marketing and very pro-family oriented special events,” she said. “My biggest problem is H20i. They drive up and down Coastal Highway and cause a lot of problems. We are looking at things I can’t articulate right now about H20i.”

Council candidate John Gehrig said the proverbial cat is out of the bag now with some of the special events that have become fixtures on the fall calendar. He said for the most part, those who register for the official events are well-behaved, but it is often the hangers-on and “wannabees,” as Mayor Rick Meehan called them, that cause most of the problems.

“Here’s the reality, whether we like them or dislike them, they are here,” he said. “Not all of the events are sanctioned. There are social media events that attach themselves to the sanctioned events and you get the bad apples that spoil the whole bunch.”

Gehrig said special events are a necessary evil in a resort town, but urged more well-managed and promoted events.

“There are inconveniences for every event we have and that’s part of living in a coastal resort town,” he said. “Let’s get professional promoters that create well-run, sanctioned events and minimize the inconvenience. The problem with the motorized special events is that they’re all stacked up behind each other.”

Incumbent Tony DeLuca said he also had concerns with some of the impacts of the back-to-back motorized special events, but one in particular caused the most problems.

“I support all of the events but one,” he said. “I think H20i is always an issue. They don’t respect the town and don’t support the businesses. We need to step up enforcement on that event and there are things that are being done to make that happen.”

Council incumbent Doug Cymek, who serves as chair of the police commission, said some of the initiatives put in place last offseason were achieving the desired results, but promised more efforts to curb some of the behavior associated with the events, especially H20i.

“It’s the one event we constantly have trouble with and it costs us a lot of money,” he said. “There are things going on with the Police Commission that will take care of some of these things. I just ask you to be patient.”

Meehan agreed some of the initiatives put in place last year were working. He pointed to the trailer ordinance, for example, and the fact there were over 1,200 traffic stops made during the H20i event last month. While the town might continue to live with some of the events already featured on the calendar, Meehan said there would likely be no more added.

“We’ve taken a zero tolerance position,” he said. “We’ve passed the trailer ordinance that has achieved results and generated revenue that offsets the cost of bringing in extra police during some of these events. We’re not going to allow them to take over our community. The one thing we are not going to do is sanction any more motorized events.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.