OC Council Back To Virtual Meetings

OCEAN CITY — For a variety of public health and safety reasons, the Ocean City Mayor and Council meetings have returned to a virtual format.

Throughout much of the spring, state COVID-19 directives mandated the Mayor and Council’s public meetings be held virtually via the Zoom format. In June, when Maryland entered stage two of its COVID-19 recovery plan, the Mayor and Council went back to meeting in person at City Hall in a hybrid format that allowed Councilman Dennis Dare to participate remotely from home. Dare expressed early on he was not comfortable with meeting in a public forum.

Members of the public and press were advised to follow social distancing guidelines during the meetings in council chambers and at some point, masks were required of all participating in the meetings. City Manager Doug Miller explained the reasoning this week to return to online-only meetings.

“It was a combination of reasons,” he said. “First, we need Councilman Dare to be able to hear us and fully participate. We could not make that happen technologically. Zoom allows all members to participate at the same level.”

Indeed, there were often glitches in Dare’s participation in the in-person meetings throughout the summer including lapses in times the councilman could hear what was going on or be heard. There were also times when there was a delay in the real-time, in-person meeting and Dare’s live-feed from home.

However, it was not the only reason the Mayor and Council have returned to the virtual format for their meetings. Miller said there were times during the meetings when attendees were not always practicing social distancing and there were also concerns about sharing the desk and microphone during the public comment periods.

“Second, not all of the citizens who came to the meetings social-distanced in the council chambers,” he said. “And third, we saw a fundamental flaw in terms of public health in how citizens gave public comment. They all used the same microphone on the same table when they spoke to the council. So, if eight people gave comment and the first three were COVID free, but number four had the virus and coughed on the mic or the table, then the last four speakers could be in danger of contracting the virus.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.