Ocean City Council candidate Mark Paddack, who is retiring from the Ocean City Police Department this month after 28 years, did not weigh in officially on the upcoming Ocean City referendum. The career firefighters/paramedics in Ocean City are seeking to add binding interest arbitration to their current collective bargaining rights with the city. One day after the City Council voted to send a letter to voters explaining their opposition to the referendum, the question was posed to Paddack about his position at Wednesday’s candidate forum. Since Paddack, longtime president of the local FOP Lodge, led the charge for the Ocean City police through five petition and referendum efforts in the 1990s, I wrongly assumed he would come out in favor of the referendum. He instead did not weigh in one way or the other. However, he did take a shot at the officials contending arbitration takes the decision making away from the city’s elected officials and gives discretion to an outsider.
“I am not here to carry their flag. I carried the flag for the police officers and I am happy for them. I am happy we have been able to work with the city,” Paddack said. “I can tell you that some of the current incumbents here came to us when the city was struggling and asked us to forgo portions of our contract. We said we would do that. We did not want to go to arbitration. Arbitration is a last resort. Now, we hear the comment about an outsider making that decision in arbitration. It’s not an outsider … I heard that back in the 90s. The reality is one side in arbitration is overzealous compared to another side and they can’t come together they go to arbitration. In that binding arbitration, there are going to be three people in the arbitration. The city is going to pick one, the officers are going to pick one and in end there will be one arbitrator. … Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide and not for me.”
Earlier in the week, Mayor Rick Meehan outlined the city’s position against the referendum. Much of what he had to say will surely be included in some fashion in the city’s letter to registered voters next week.
“We would suggest the voters of Ocean City vote against that charter amendment,” he said at Monday’s council meeting. “It is in their best interest to do so. We’re the ones elected to make those decisions and we gave that particular union the right to bargain collectively without them having to go to referendum. What the charter amendment would do would change their bargaining relationship with the Town of Ocean City. It would give them binding interest arbitration, which would allow one single arbitrator from out of this area to make the final decision on any item when we come to an impasse during these negotiations which will raise your taxes.”
As to be expected, IAFF 4269 President Ryan Whittington, representing the career firefighter/paramedics, took exception to the perceived scare tactics being used by the city.
“Binding interest arbitration is a safeguard against bad decisions,” he said. “That is all. It will not raise taxes. Binding interest arbitration has not impacted tax rates since it was given to police employees in 2003. In fact, the FOP and the town have never used the tool. Why? Because, as a tool, binding interest arbitration has helped the FOP and the town resolve their disputes. Now, firefighters want the same tool and the same result: better resolution of disputes. That has no impact on tax rates.”
It’s sad to see Planet Maze in Ocean City go. It was one of the few things vacationers and locals could enjoy on rainy summer days. Additionally, it has hosted in its 24 years hundreds of birthday parties for local kids. I know I have personally been to at least a half dozen birthday parties there over the last decade.
When this paper posted an article online two weeks ago about the site plan for a new 105-room Hilton Tru brand hotel to replace Planet Maze and the neighboring miniature golf course, the majority of responders were outraged. Most of the disbelief expressed by online haters was Ocean City does not need another hotel. Those cries are eerily similar to the claims from 2003-2005 when dozens of properties were being turned into new condominium projects. Hundreds of new condominium units came on the market in short order. With the seller’s market hot at that time, they were quickly sold and oftentimes before construction was even completed. The bubble burst in 2006 and the market quickly went south, transitioning into a buyer’s market. At some point, the market will indicate there are too many hotels and a trend will surface. When that will happen is anyone’s guess, but it’s not happening currently.
Nonetheless, the fact is the owners of the Planet Maze property simply think developing their land into a hotel will bring them a better net return over the long term. They are probably right and it’s certainly within their right to redevelop their property. Are they selling out, as was maintained on the paper’s Facebook page? I wouldn’t term it that way. They are simply redeveloping their property and the market has shown in recent years that new franchise hotels are well received and supported.