OCEAN CITY – What appeared to be heading toward a routine approval for a memorandum of understanding for future Ocean City air shows was stalled this week over questions about the flexibility of the dates for the promoter.
The Mayor and Council had before them on Monday a seven-item consent agenda that included, among other things, approval for various special events such as the Crab Soup Cook-Off and various others such as Boardwalk 5Ks for charity and a renewed memorandum of understanding (MOU) for future Ocean City air shows in 2020 and 2021, for example. As it name implies, the consent a-genda includes recurring events or other issues that are fairly cut-and-dried and not typically controversial. More often than not, the consent agenda is approved as a matter of course with little or no discussion.
The consent agenda on Monday appeared to be heading that way with a motion to approve and a second before Councilman John Gehrig raised questions about a clause in the air show MOU that left open some of weekend dates for the air show in 2020 and 2021.
“We’re providing $35,000 in direct funding and another $100,000 in in-kind funding,” he said. “If we’re paying for it, why don’t we determine the dates?”
While no one was suggesting not approving the MOU for the air show, which has become one of the biggest events in the resort over the years, Gehrig was merely pointing out the clause in the MOU allowed the promoter to pick and choose the dates in future years while the town foots the majority of the bill. He said similar contract clauses were not included in the MOUs for other major special events.
“It’s a little inconsistent with how we do things,” he said. “We should be able to set the dates. We’re talking about adding more special events and we should be able to dictate the dates. We’re paying for it, so it should be on our terms.”
However, Councilman Dennis Dare pointed out the air show is somewhat unique because of the challenges with attracting and securing the headline participants. In recent years, the pattern has been alternating years with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds headlining the shows. Dare said restricting the dates could result in losing the top jet teams because of a lack of flexibility.
“Some things are out of our control,” he said. “The jet teams set their dates way in advance. It’s kind of a big deal to get them here. It would be like Fourth of July without any fireworks.”
Dare said the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds often set their schedules as far as two years in advance and moving the Ocean City Air Show to one weekend or another helped ensure the resort got at least one of them each year.
“There are a lot of conditions they have to meet,” he said. “We are very privileged to get either one of those jet teams at our show. When we’re looking at three years out, it’s a tight fit. To get one or the other here, it’s really up to them.”
For his part, Gehrig said he knew the complexities of securing the top jet teams such as the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, but wondered if the restrictive language in that one paragraph in the MOU was necessary.
“I’m not arguing with that,” he said. “I understand the challenges of the dates. I’m just looking at this contractually. We don’t have this paragraph in any other of our special events MOUs. Any contract shouldn’t have a clause that lets the promoter dictate the terms. I think we should table this and let [Special Events Director] Frank [Miller] come back and explain why we need this clause.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight suggested Miller come back with some data showing the importance of the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, for example, to the overall success of the popular event.
“Have him bring back attendance numbers for when we have the Blue Angels and we don’t,” she said. “I know when we have the Blue Angels, those beachfront hotels start filling up.”
Gehrig asserted he was not suggesting holding up approval for the air show in out years, but rather just wanted to clarify the importance of the clause that provided the promoter with so much flexibility in the future dates.
“Just so we’re clear, I’m not suggesting we scrap the air show,” he said. “We want the Blue Angels and we want to Thunderbirds. I just don’t think we need that paragraph. It gives them control when we pay them.”
Council President Lloyd Martin said there was no real urgency in approving the air show MOU for two and three years out and suggested there could be more scrutiny on the date language in the contract.
“We do need a little more analysis of the events,” he said. “We need to make sure they’re profitable for us all year-round.”
With that said, the council voted unanimously to pull the air show MOU from the consent agenda to allow for more discussion. The other items on the consent agenda were approved.