Event Weekend Follow-Up Talks In Closed Session Questioned

OCEAN CITY — One week after resort officials held a closed session to begin discussing how to address an unruly motorized special event, questions still lingered why the process is not being conducted out in the open.

Last Monday, in the first real public forum since the unsanctioned H2O International (H2Oi) event wreaked havoc in Ocean City again, numerous private citizens and even event participants spoke out about some of the problems associated with the traditional last weekend in September free-for-all. Again, for the record, the official H2Oi event, featuring tricked out Volkswagens and Audis, for example, is now held in Atlantic City.

However, in the years since the official event moved from its venue in northern Worcester County to Atlantic City, thousands of enthusiasts continue to show up in Ocean City during the last weekend in September and the outcome has not changed, but rather has gotten worse. To that end, after a spirited public comment period last Monday, the Mayor and Council announced they would meet in a closed session last Tuesday afternoon to begin exploring additional remedies to some of the problems associated with the event.

That closed session was held as planned last Tuesday with the full Mayor and Council in attendance, along with Police Chief Ross Buzzuro, Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald, legal counsel and some staff. At the start of Tuesday’s work session, Council President Lloyd Martin provided a brief overview of the closed session, although few details were provided.

Martin said last Tuesday’s closed session was likely the first of six, each exploring different facets of the town’s plan to address the unsanctioned motorized event. The first closed session focused on pre-filing legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session aimed at adding more teeth to the existing legislation that enables the implementation of the special event zone in the resort during certain sanctioned and unsanctioned motorized events.

The legislation approved two years ago allows for the designation of a special event zone with reduced speed limits and enhanced fines and other penalties. However, after another troublesome H2Oi weekend last year, local officials went back to Annapolis seeking to enhance penalties for some of the illicit behavior during H2Oi weekend, but the legislation failed after never making it out of committee.

After another troublesome event last month, clearly strengthening the legislation with another attempt this year will be one of the pillars of the town’s efforts to resolve some of the issues and that was the focus on last week’s first closed session.

When the Mayor and Council announced last week they would meet in closed session, many in the audience questioned why it was being held behind closed doors. On Tuesday, those concerns lingered when resident John Medelin questioned why the meeting was not held out in the open for the public to view and hear.

“The closed session was announced on Oct. 7 and was held the next day on Oct. 8,” he said. “Several people asked for an open session and I thought their concerns were valid. I don’t understand how some of the stuff we’ve seen and heard would hurt if it was made public.”

Medelin acknowledged the first closed session focused on going back to Annapolis for proposed changes in the special event zone legislation, but said that isn’t something the public hasn’t seen or heard about already.

“The council has had open discussions about proposed legislation in Annapolis,” he said. “How can we judge what you’re doing if we can’t see and hear what you’re doing.”

Councilman John Gehrig later defended the decision to hold closed sessions behind closed doors, at least initially.

“It was brought up about having open meetings on this issue and I appreciate that,” he said. “There are times when we need to discuss legal issues and personnel issues and this was one of those times.”

Gehrig explained addressing some of the issues related to H2Oi needed to be held at least initially behind closed doors because they were essentially brainstorming sessions. In the days following the H2Oi event in late September, resort officials including the mayor and the police chief said everything was on the table in terms of addressing the issues. Gehrig said with everything on the table, some of those discussions had to be held behind closed doors, at least initially. He said there would be ample opportunity for the public to participate in the process going forward.

“Sometimes, we have to be able to speak freely,” he said. “Sometimes, bad ideas turn into good ideas. This is just the beginning of a process. As the council president said, this will all be brought out to the public and there will be plenty of opportunity to weigh in.”