Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – July 31, 2020

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – July 31, 2020

Hindsight always making matters clear is an interesting concept. Here are some thoughts on the topic:

•In hindsight, the Boardwalk should have been a mask required space all summer. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan is expected to make an emergency declaration requiring masks on the Boardwalk effective Friday. The requirement comes after Gov. Larry Hogan essentially decided the matter. Along with expanding inside areas needing masks, Hogan said facial coverings will now be required outside whenever social distancing of six feet is not possible.

As far as Ocean City goes, the immediate question that comes to mind involves enforcement. Will it be in the form of gentle reminders or warnings or tickets? No matter the course, there is one thing all can agree on – some people are not going to like it and will not wear a mask. How that’s handled is going to be tricky.

•I spend far too much time wondering if hindsight will make Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s management of the coronavirus pandemic look wise. It will probably be years before it’s known definitively.

The reality is closing down businesses after opening too fast is worse than waiting a couple extra weeks to open. Folks in many states, like Tennessee, know that well. Therefore, slowly reopening and missing big weekends for restaurants and bars might have actually been the wise decision, but it remains a divisive topic today.

I think the problem all along with Hogan’s handling of the pandemic has been the communication. For many months, there was great apprehension over Hogan’s press conferences and what announcements he would be making. There seems to be a fondness for the level of surprise among the administration. Even this week there was rampant concern on what Hogan would be saying at his typical Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Overall, I think Hogan deserves a ‘B’ for his handling of this crisis at this point. Considering it’s an impossible situation to navigate and there is no applicable precedent to use as a guide, I think he’s been solid overall. It’s difficult when reviewing Hogan’s performance not to be aware of some clear planning for the future. A presidential run in 2024 seems like a certainty with his chairmanship of the National Governors Association, his seemingly nightly appearance on network news and the recent release of his new book.

•In hindsight, public school officials in many Maryland counties will regret playing the health and safety card as the primary reason for their decisions to keep schools closed for in-person instruction.

It’s the logistics driving the decision in many jurisdictions. While the health and safety of students and teachers is a major concern, the fact is public school systems cannot meet current CDC guidelines requiring social distancing to even have their students back in the classroom. There are far too many kids and not enough room for almost every county in the state. Busing is also a practical impossibility.

With most counties deciding to remain virtual to start the year, the efforts now need to be on beefing up the online program and doing whatever is necessary to shift the burden of teaching away from the parents in the elementary and middle grade levels. There must be more live instruction. Many parents will not be able to return to work with schools not open physically. Deliberate intentions on easing the pressure these parents face trying to educate their children must be evident.

•In hindsight, the Berlin Mayor and Council gave too much authority to the town’s administrative director in the past. That much was learned this week during a review of the town’s finances.

It’s now clear the town’s elected officials were unaware of how bad the town’s finances were until two years ago. It’s this lack of knowledge of how the town was being managed financially that led to the record property tax increase last year. There would been another significant increase this year if it weren’t for the current health crisis. This lack of understanding of the town’s fiscal management was long suspected, but it was made clear this week.

An example would be the town’s sewer fund has not been self-sustaining and required dollars from the general fund to be in the black most years. When it was asked by Councilman Zack Tyndall when that transfer was okayed by the council, it was stated no authorization was needed and staff handled the transfer of funds from the general fund to the specific utility funds underperforming for whatever reason.

Councilman Dean Burrell hit the nail on the head when he said, “When I was working I had to maintain a budget. I didn’t have flex of getting to end of the year and writing stuff off. I had to monitor and project where I was going to be at the end of the year. If was projecting a deficit I had to change my operations. During the year if we are projecting a deficit what do we do to try to mitigate that and not have to borrow? Or do we just let it go on with the expectation that at the end we’ll get it from the general fund?”

Mayor Gee Williams said, “It was never brought up during any budget process at all. If we’d known the sewer fund was underperforming, we could have changed the sewer rates five, six years ago.”

Hindsight will definitely make it clear a change in that shortsighted approach is required.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.