Divisive Mood At City Hall As New Mayor, Council Sworn In

Divisive Mood At City Hall As New Mayor, Council Sworn In
The voters have heard my message, they like my message and it was clear they think I am doing a good job up here,” he said. “I would be honored to serve as president.” Photos by Bethany Hooper

OCEAN CITY –  Council President Lloyd Martin and Council Secretary Mary Knight were reappointed to their positions during an organizational meeting of the Mayor and City Council last Thursday, but not before a lengthy discussion on the desire for change and new leadership.

Two days after residents cast their votes in last Tuesday’s municipal election, incumbents Mayor Rick Meehan and Councilmen Matt James and Lloyd Martin and newcomer Mark Paddack were sworn in by Worcester County Clerk of Circuit Court Susan Braniecki.

According to final election results read into the record at the start of the meeting, 2,427 voters cast their ballot in person last Tuesday, while 139 turned in absentee ballots, totaling 2,566 votes in the 2018 municipal election.

Meehan received 1,695 votes, defeating challenger Joe Hall, who received 773 votes. On the City Council, James secured 1,787 votes, Paddack secured 1,187 votes and Martin secured 1,183 votes to take the three open seats. Remaining candidates Emily Nock and Chris Rudolf received 1,179 votes and 848 votes, respectively.

Outgoing councilman and Delegate-elect Wayne Hartman thanked those who supported his campaign and applauded each of the candidates who ran for a seat in the municipal election.

“I want to thank those that ran for council here in the town,” he said. “It’s important that we have choices for our residents to make. I want to congratulate them on the race that they won. For those that didn’t make it, I certainly encourage them to come back in two years and stay involved.”

Hartman also encouraged the Mayor and Council to consider new leadership for the elected body.

“We talk about retirement in different departments,” he said. “It creates opportunities and promotions and gives people the opportunity to move and change. I think we need to practice what we preach, and I ask all of you tonight to consider that same concept. I think we need to start grooming new leadership for the Mayor and City Council. And we need to prepare for the future.”

Following last Thursday’s swearing in ceremony, Councilman John Gehrig made a motion to nominate James for council president. Paddack seconded the motion. Councilman Dennis Dare also made a motion to nominate Martin to return as council president. Paddack also seconded the motion.

For his part, Gehrig said his nomination represented the voters who supported James’ reelection.

“I’m in line with Councilman Hartman’s leadership speech, and I think the voters have clearly spoken for three straight elections here,” he said. “With that said, Matt James getting 70 percent of the vote or more in each of his elections I nominate Matt James the next leader for council president of the Ocean City Council.”

James told the Mayor and Council that last week’s election sent a clear message.

“The voters have heard my message, they like my message and it was clear they think I am doing a good job up here,” he said. “I would be honored to serve as president.”

Gehrig – who argued that the vote was essentially “predetermined” in phone calls leading up to the organizational meeting – applauded Martin’s leadership but highlighted James’ election record and pointed to the need for a succession plan.

“None of the other candidates who won this election got more than 50 percent of the vote. One candidate got 70 (percent),” he said. “Are we going to listen or not? Are we going to have confidence in our youth and next generation of leaders? Are we going to be high minded or are we going to hold them back? That’s what this vote is about.”

Martin, however, disagreed.

“I think the voters did speak, and they elected three people to be in office,” he said.

Martin pointed to the challenges the council has faced and his ability to lead the group in tough times.

“I think the tough times we’ve been through has made me stronger, and I’m not ready to let go of the council president seat,” he said. “I think we have a good unity here and a good team. And I think we can all work together.”

James commended Martin for his leadership and noted that he would seek Martin’s guidance and mentorship if he were elected council president.

“I would like to be given the opportunity to prove myself,” he said.

James also noted the various phone calls and discussions that occurred in the preceding days.

“That position shouldn’t just be dropped in somebody’s lap,” he said. “I’d imagine we will have a handful of new people up here in the next two, four years, and I think any great organization should have a plan in place for when that happens and not just let it all hit the fan.”

After their arguments were made, the council voted 5-2, with Gehrig and James against, to reappoint Martin as council president. The council also voted unanimously to reappoint Knight as council secretary.

PaddackTakingSeat-150x150.jpgIn comments following the votes, Paddack said he was happy with the direction of the Mayor and Council.

“At the beginning of my campaign, I mentioned the quality of the city council during this past couple of terms,” he said. “I’m very happy with them. I like this group and I like this direction we are moving. There are some things that need to be changed, and that’s why I’m here today, to help facilitate some of those changes.”

Knight said she looked forward to the coming years and working with the Mayor and Council to tackle issues.

“I always look at this meeting as reenergizing,” she said. “I always get excited about it. It is a new beginning for all of us.”

For his part, Gehrig encouraged residents to get involved in the election process.

“Elections get stifled and people get talked out of running here. I’m telling you that’s the truth,” he said. “We need everyone that wants to run. The more people that run, the more engaged we are as a community, the more passion we have as a community to go vote.”

Martin agreed.

“We needed new blood and I think Matt is working his way to becoming a true leader for the Town of Ocean City …,” he said. “Hopefully we can put this behind us and move forward.”

Meehan said he heard both comments of support and criticism on Election Day and noted that the Mayor and Council would work to make the necessary changes.

“It’s about taking the time to listen to the public and hear what they have to say,” he said. “There will be changes, and contrary to some of what’s been said, change will be made by this group that is sitting up here.”

Meehan also called for unity moving forward.

“We’ve had our election, we’ve had our election of officers, we’ve heard our comments,” he said. “Now it’s a call for unity. It’s time to focus on the issues.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

Alternative Text

Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.