Voices From The Readers – June 12, 2020

Wind Farm Fulfills Maryland’s Energy Plan

Editor:

After several years of lobbying on the part of the Sierra Club/Maryland Chapter as well as countless other environmental and civic groups, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) was passed in the Maryland General Assembly in April last year. This law requires that Maryland be utilizing 50% renewable energy by 2030 and ensures the state creates a plan for 100% renewable energy by 2040.

Provisions for job training as well as start-up money for small renewable energy businesses is included in the law. Nearly 20,000 jobs will be created in solar energy by raising Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50% by 2030. Likewise, jobs in wind energy will increase by thousands.

As Maryland works to build back better from this economic downturn, we must ensure we are creating clean energy jobs with wages that sustain families and investing in a regenerative economy. A whopping 80 percent of Marylanders want government stimulus dollars invested

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into clean energy, not fossil fuels — that means wind, solar and offshore wind.

Therefore, the reaction to the proposed offshore wind energy project in Ocean City at a hearing last January was disappointing. Testimony from residents was a broken record of complaints about their property values going down (this has not happened in other cities), and that the view of the turbines 19 miles off the coast would dissuade tourists from coming to Ocean City. One woman testified that the view would be so disruptive that she would no longer be able to teach her yoga class.

Although the city council and delegates from a few Eastern Shore districts testified against placing the wind turbines off the coast of Ocean City, Salisbury’s mayor, Jake Day, testified to the positive economic benefit that Wicomico and Worcester counties were already experiencing.

On July 25, 2018, The Dispatch published a remarkable letter to the editor from Captain Monty Hawkins who wrote in detail about the benefits of welcoming the wind turbines. He stated that although fish may be scared away during the building process, the turbines, once completed, will be “The Greatest Boon to MD’s Coastal Recreational Fishing Ever.” Captain Hawkins should know. He has been fishing party boats for 38 years.

The captain mentioned some of the new business that will come to Ocean City. There will be sightseeing tours to see the wind farm as well as boats servicing wind infrastructure. He also refuted the argument about navigational errors, saying “How often do we see reports of boats hitting lighthouses?” He dispels the myth of the turbines ruining the view, noting that, in summer, he rarely sees Ocean City’s coastline until he is seven to 10 miles out.

After a detailed explanation about ocean acidification from carbon emissions, the captain concludes by saying “Wind towers are a whole lot less ugly than a dead sea.” This writer cannot agree more.

Susan Olsen

Cambridge

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A Win For Transparency

Editor:

Earlier I spoke before the Mayor & City Council (M&CC) of Ocean City to express my concerns that they had violated Maryland’s Open Meetings Act (Act). I followed up with letters to the editor providing my concerns. I noted that for 18 months, the M&CC and a committee of three council members met secretly in closed sessions dismantling the previous Pier Franchise Ordinance, negotiating amendments and rewriting a new Ordinance Agreement, as well as drafting a Resolution to establish how revenue from the new Agreement would be dedicated to the Boardwalk. The public was kept totally in the dark about the new Pier Franchise Agreement and Resolution until they appeared on the town’s website just five days before first reading on 12/2/19. For over 18 months, the M&CC kept this important matter with its significant financial implications from public view and scrutiny, violating the Open Meetings Act on multiple occasions.

I requested that the M&CC repeal the new Pier Franchise Ordinance. Upon repeal, I wrote there should be an independent audit and appraisal to determine the true value of the franchise, and that any new agreement should be renegotiated and adopted in full public view. My requests were ignored.

I then filed complaints with Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board. Independent of me, another Ocean City resident also filed complaints. The Compliance Board agreed with most of our allegations, as evidenced by their Opinion dated 6/3/20, titled 14 Official Opinions of the Compliance Board 49 (2020).

The Compliance Board found “….that the Council violated the Act over a period of time by secretly conducting public business that the Act required it to discuss publicly and by failing to disclose to the public either the fact of the discussions or the creation of a negotiating committee until after the Council had decided the terms of the franchise and ordinances.” The Board noted that “The Council’s violations were not trivial.” They further wrote that “….it appears that the combined effect of the closed-door discussions and lack of disclosures was to entirely deprive the public of any information about the Council’s meetings on the franchise matters until after the Council had decided them.”

The Board reminded the Council that they had provided similar guidance as early as 1995, as a result of earlier complaints about drafting an ordinance in a closed session. In the interest of full disclosure, I served on the City Council when that Opinion (1 OMCB Opinions 145 (1995), was rendered. I participated in the closed sessions leading up to that earlier violation. While the Board found a violation in 1995, they point out in this most recent matter, “Here, by contrast, the discussions were numerous, lengthy and far-reaching.”

Under the Open Meetings Act, there are fifteen exceptions permitting a public body to go into closed session, such as considering acquisition of real property for public purpose, or consulting with counsel to obtain legal advice. In their most recent Opinion, the Compliance Board gave examples where the Council indicated initially that they were going into closed session to seek legal advice and yet there were lengthy discussions about the pier franchise, but no legal advice was requested or sought. The Board wrote that “….the closed-session minutes show that the Council’s closed-door discussions far exceeded the legal advice exception and, often, did not involve legal advice at all.”

The Council used closed sessions to negotiate a sole-source, so-called “contractual” matter, clearly a violation of the Act. The Board wrote that there is no exception to go into a closed session for “’negotiation issues’ as such”. There was no competitive bidding involved in these eighteen months of secret meetings. The Board wrote “….we find no part of the Council’s closed-door discussions about the pier franchise fell within the procurement exception.” But, even more notable is when they added, “Thus, except to the extent that parts of the Council’s closed-door discussions about the pier franchise might have fallen within the legal advice exception, the Council violated the Act at every closed meeting at which it discussed the pier franchise.”

Quite revealing is the fact the Compliance Board found violations of Sections 3-305(d) and 3-306(c) of the Act to be “….numerous and substantial.”

While the non-quorum, three council member committee or “work group” that led the negotiation discussions in behalf of the full Council may not be a “public body” as such, the Board cautioned that appellate courts in Maryland “….have to some extent promoted function over form in determining whether an entity is a ‘public body’ under the Act.” The Board further wrote “….the structuring of an entity to exclude it from the Act’s definition of ‘public body’ does not always mean that the entity or event is immune from the Act’s open meeting requirement; the courts have also considered the facts on issues such as the actual function played by the entity or the conduct of business by fewer than a quorum as an evasive device….”

The Board added, ”The Council failed to disclose even the existence of the work group, which was created during a closed session. Given that secrecy, a member of the public could understandably conclude,……that the Council created or used this work group as a device to avoid public discussion of the business at hand…..”

The Board further wrote, “Our guidance is this: A public body’s secret creation of committees to address public business that is subject to the Act, coupled with the public body’s secret consideration of that business, at the very least goes against the stated policy of the Act to increase the public’s faith in government.”

The Open Meetings Compliance Board wrote an extended “Conclusion”. However, it can be summed up by their leading statement: “For approximately eighteen months, the Council excluded the public from meetings that the public was entitled to observe and withheld from the public information that the public was entitled to have.”

Thus, a victory for transparency in local government.

Vincent dePaul Gisriel, Jr.

Ocean City

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Compassion Embraced

Editor:

I want to extend my gratitude to the public officials and businesses in the surrounding beach communities for their sentiments and public recognition for BLM. It is so reassuring in these crisis moments in our nation to observe such compassion and humanity.

Thank you all.

Greg Thrasher

Fenwick

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Litter Disturbing

Editor:

I have spent several weeks in Ocean City each summer starting in the early 1960’s. During recent years, my wife and I typically walk the entire Boardwalk each morning.

During our morning walk on Monday, June 8, I could not believe the amount of litter on the Boardwalk. It is unconscionable how disrespectful tourists are. More alarming is that OC leadership allows this and has zero control except plowing tax money into clean-up efforts.

Whatever happened to the fun, clean and healthy atmosphere in OC? This stretch of beach has digressed over the years and will become low life central riddled with more serious liabilities if allowed to continue. Please gain control over the litter problem before it is too late and tourist dollars relocate to cleaner and healthier beaches. “Cleanliness is a Good Habit.”

Keith Hickey

Richmond, Va.