I wonder how many reporters Ocean City Solicitor Guy Ayres spoke to over the course of his 37 years on the job. I venture a guess of 80. I wonder how many dumb questions he was asked during that time. It’s at least 1,000, including a dozen or so from me.
I recall several occasions as a cub reporter calling Ayres after a council meeting and being nervous. He could be intimidating, plus I went to high school with his twin sons, Chip and Chase, so I knew him on a personal and professional level. There were times I recall being chastised by Ayres for my line of questioning because they were not germane to his role as solicitor. He would often say that’s a policy matter for the Mayor and Council to decide and I don’t know how they will vote. He would remind me his job is to provide legal counsel not to make political decisions. That sort of response is precisely what he should have said in response to a leading question.
This week, as I reflected on some of those sophomoric phone interviews, I recall being grateful for his patience with me. He was never rude. He always returned calls. He could just be short and pointed at times. He would answer questions, but he was never going to give you a ton of material. I’m thinking there are dozens of others (or maybe 80) who would agree. However, knowing what I am aware of now, there’s no disputing the Mayor and Council, in all their incarnations over the years, did what Guy would suggest for the most part. He may not have set policy, but there were times when the law steered decisions. They followed his legal advice always, but he also brought decades of background and familiarity with Ocean City to City Hall. He may not have been a voting council member, but he was relied on numerous times for his experience and expertise.
While he was paid handsomely for his work for the city, it’s important to note Ayres also saved the town a lot of money when the city was sued. Ocean City was not viewed as a honkytonk type of town when it appeared in court elsewhere with Ayres representing the city. Though there were settlements along the way in unfavorable cases, most of the legal battles brought against the city during his tenure went the city’s favor. Back in 2008, when the city settled a $19 million police brutality case for $63,000, Ayres was quoted as saying, “Other than the fact that we don’t like to pay out anything, I think this was a wise settlement for the town and the various defendants. Sometimes you weigh these things and the smartest route is to reach an agreement.”
In May of 2016, Ayres sat down for a question-and-answer session with then-News Editor Bryan Russo. When asked how much longer he wanted to continue as city solicitor, Ayres said, “… if you love what you do, you don’t want to stop doing it. I don’t want to belittle what I do, but to me, it’s not work, it’s almost like its play. People will say, ‘Guy, when are you going to retire?’ I say, ‘I’ll retire when they carry me out of here in a box.’ My wife and I have been married for 47 years but I know she doesn’t want me home every day. She’ll be the first one to kick me out the door in the morning. I just thoroughly enjoy it, and I particularly enjoy representing the town. I love the town.”
Guy worked as long as he could before his health issues overcame him. It’s comforting to know that was how he wanted it to be.
It’s going to be interesting to see what transpires in the spring involving a deal made among the Worcester County Commissioners.
In exchange for his vote two weeks ago for a room tax increase, it’s clear Commissioner Josh Nordstrom was promised some funding for the south end of the county by his colleagues. It was reported this week that agreement involved a certain percentage of table games revenue being diverted to Pocomoke and Snow Hill. Ever since being elected, Nordstrom has been outspoken over his desire for the south end to get more financial help from the county. He threatened this spring to withhold his critical support for the room tax increase after he got the shaft from his colleagues during budget time about increased funding for his district. If he had abstained or not voted for the room tax hike, the proposal would have died because unanimous support from the commissioners was needed. Last month he went ahead and voted for the new 5% room tax, an 11% increase from the former 4.5%. He said he did so because of assurances from his colleagues a plan was in place to boost funding for his area.
Suspicious were raised, however, this week when the commissioners postponed a vote until next spring on whether to delegate a certain amount of the county’s table gaming revenue take to the south end. A vote on this quasi impact grant was initially expected to take place at Tuesday’s meeting. The delay was more of a procedural thing, according to Nordstrom.
““I have a lot of support but the commissioners are uncomfortable committing to anything that will be included in the budget before budget deliberations start,” he said. “Addressing their concern and knowing we’d have to vote again anyway before one dime was received I said, ‘well instead of trying to do a good thing badly let’s follow protocols and let’s get it in the budget for ’21. … I’m very confident it will be in the budget for 2021 but we want to go about it the right way.”
Perhaps it’s a conspiracy theory on my part, but I would not be surprised if a majority of the commissioners renege on this deal at budget time.