Election Preview: Ocean City Mayor’s Race

Election Preview: Ocean City Mayor’s Race
Rick Meehan has been Ocean City's mayor for 12 years. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — When Ocean City voters head to the polls next week, they will have a pair of familiar names and faces to choose from in the mayor’s election.

Incumbent Mayor Rick Meehan is being challenged by former councilman Joe Hall for the seat and each brings unique skill sets to the 2018 race. Meehan was first elected to the council in 1985 and has served the city continuously since in a variety of roles including the last 12 as mayor. Meehan served as city council president for 14 years prior to his ascension to mayor in 2006 and has also served as interim city manager in two different stints totaling 17 months during that time.

Meanwhile, Hall is also no stranger to Ocean City municipal government, having served on the city council for 10 years. He has since made two unsuccessful runs at re-election to the city council, but this year is setting his sights on the mayor’s seat, a position he has coveted since an early age. Both candidates were posed questions by The Dispatch this week and their responses are as follows:

Q: What makes you specifically a good candidate for elected office in Ocean City?

Hall: Standard answer would be I love this town with incredible passion. Who doesn’t?  So, what qualifies me? Thirty-five-plus years of hospitality work as chef, server, and manager of several establishments gives me a pulse on what makes Ocean City, Maryland tick. Then, 10 years of service as an Ocean City councilman where I focused on sustainable conservative governance. My learning curve for mayor will be short due to already working with every city department through 10 years of different financial budgets. The time on the council opened my eyes to all aspects of municipal government, good and bad. I learned we often preached transparency to the voter, yet did so much behind closed doors unnecessarily. I was there observing the obsession for fast and furious growth supported by the current mayor. It was manage the town to maximum growth, forgoing any quality of life issues. It cannot be a surprise we now attract high impact events that treat our roads as their private drag strip. The town grew and now they come in droves. Fast and furious Coastal Highway. I will be a citizens’ first mayor. Focused on infrastructure and maintaining essential services. God will be first in my heart.

Meehan: After working in Ocean City all through high school and college, I moved here in 1971 after graduation. I made the choice to move here because I loved the town and believed that there was a unique opportunity to build a future here. Both of my kids were raised here and now my grandchildren call Ocean City home as well. I still have the same love for Ocean City today and believe that opportunity still exists and the future remains bright.

I ran for office to be part of Ocean City’s future and was elected to office in 1985. I had the privilege of serving with the late great Mayor Fish Powell and learned more about government from one man than I can ever tell. I have always taken my elected office seriously and made sure that I was prepared to face the challenges that came our way. I served as Council President for 14 years prior to becoming Mayor in 2006. I have also served as acting City Manager on two different occasions totally 17 months. I attended Emergency Management Institute training at the Maryland State Fire Association Headquarters in Emmitsburg and was prepared to assume the responsibilities of the Mayor during both Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy.

Today we face continuing challenges in this ever-changing world. We have to be prepared to expect the unexpected and I believe I am prepared to do so. Ocean City is my home and I remain committed to serving all of Ocean City’s residents and taxpayers.

Q: What is your position on the referendum? A “for” vote would allow Ocean City’s paramedics/firefighters to have binding interest arbitration in addition to the already approved collective bargaining.

Hall: Binding arbitration is an incredibly big hammer to give a group you will be negotiating with on contractual issues. Since granting binding arbitration to the police officers, the citizens now pay sustainably more, for about the same level of service we received before the unionization. I can only tell you an expensive labor attorney advised the mayor and council at the time, well-managed organizations don’t get unionized, poorly managed ones do. Clearly, the town was mismanaging its workforce. It would have been much cheaper at the time to address the concerns without the union. I was exposed to a stubborn management style, therefore had no choice but to support the police referendum. I don’t wish to make that mistake again. I will vote against the referendum. As mayor, I will insist on a fair and open personal management style that gives the citizens the qualified workforce it deserves.

Meehan: I respect and support our Paramedic/Firefighters, but I do not believe a vote “for” the charter amendment is in the best interest of our city or our taxpayers. We granted the IAFF the right to collective bargaining in 2007 and we have successfully bargained four contracts. To grant the union “binding interest arbitration” would make this process more difficult and ultimately leave the final decision to a third-party arbitrator who is not vested in our city or responsible for setting our tax rate. As council president and as mayor, I have participated in the bargaining process, and I believe it is in your best interest to have the individuals you elect accountable for the decisions made on your behalf.

Q: Vehicular special events and their associated impacts on Ocean City’s businesses and residents remain a major issue. Are you satisfied with Ocean City’s direction on managing these events? Is there anything you want to see handled differently?


Former Ocean City Councilman Joe Hall is pictured at last month’s candidates forum. Photo by Chris Parypa

Hall: The vehicular events and all high impact weekends are a result of 30 years of growing the town to maximum capacity. It’s a business first approach that the current mayor has implemented over his political career. While convincing the citizens it’s in their best interest. So, now we are left to try in manage these overzealous visitors after all we did to attract them. We scramble building fences down Coastal Highway to manage a drinking problem. We rally all agencies, ours and neighbors, to control our streets. Even to be as bold to ask the governor of Maryland to help with a problem we created. It’s time for self-responsibility. It is time for redirection of our priorities as a town. It is time for a citizens-first approach to the town of Ocean City, Maryland, Mayor Joseph T. Hall II will deliver that town. God bless Love OC Joe.

Meehan: It is interesting but when these events were started over 25 years ago they were meant to bring visitors to Ocean City during what was then the “Off Season” when very few other vacationers were here. Well times have changed and not only has the season grown but so have these events and the problems associated with the events.

I believe we have taken the right first steps to control and or eliminate the problems but we still have work to do. The MCC formed the Motor Event Task Force and this was a step in the right direction. Based on recommendations from the task force we went to Annapolis and were granted legislation to enact a Special Event Zone during these events to lower speed limits and increase fines. We have asked the promoter to establish other events outside of town during the cruising events to reduce the impact on Ocean City. We have also asked private businesses to increase security and they have complied. I recently asked the Police Commission to support asking the Governor to commit to increasing the number of Maryland State Troopers available to us during the H2oi event.

We need to continue to enforce all of our laws and seek additional legislation to assist us in controlling these events. We need to send a clear message that Ocean City while we welcome all visitors we expect everyone to obey the law.

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.