Capital Project Process Flawed In Ocean City
From early on, I have questioned the redevelopment of the Public Works Complex, otherwise known as the “Campus Plan”. It has been extremely expensive in Federal, State and Town expenditures. It has already cost over $36 million, when initially we were told that the cost would be just under $26 million. The state allocated $18 million in federal pass-thru money, the town spent over $11.4 million since construction began and the ground level parking lot cost over $7 million in land acquisition and interest to date.
The ground level parking lot was recently constructed and enhanced to eventually facilitate a five-story employee parking garage with a helipad when the Mayor & City Council (M&CC) decide to build it. Given the last bid opening, we can expect the garage to cost upwards of $8 million in the not too distant future. By the time this project is finally completed, the total cost will approach $45 million.
This whole project has been poorly managed by the M&CC since they proceeded with this massive undertaking. In spite of opening bids that revealed excessive amounts over initial estimates, the M&CC pushed forward anyway. The Campus Plan is a textbook case of how not to build and fund a major capital project.
As reported in an email from Hal Adkins, Director of Public Works, dated July 16, 2020, which appears in the Council agenda packet for their meeting on July 20, 2020, normally a project as large as the Campus Plan would have an overall contingency fund of 10% or over $2.5 million. However, it appears that the town only had a contingency fund in the amount of just under $319,000, a point that Hal made in his July 16, 2020 email when he wrote, “…we started the overall construction effort with an extremely minimal Contingency Funding Level…” Earlier estimates reflected a town contingency fund at over $926,000, but that was before bids were opened that dramatically increased the overall costs. Why would the town start a project of this size and complexity with such a small contingency fund?
In July of 2020, the contingency fund dropped to $59,000. With an estimated six months remaining before “completion” of the project, the City Council voted to transfer $113,700 from a boardwalk fund to the Campus Plan contingency fund for fixtures, furniture and equipment. Why not at least delay the purchase of new furniture? Moreover, is it really needed? This is not the way to manage finances and capital projects.
Vincent dePaul Gisriel, Jr.
Gun Can Save Lives
*In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control: From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
*In 1911, Turkey established gun control: From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated
*Germany established gun control in 1938: From 1939 to 1945, a total of 13 million Jews and others who were unable to defend themselves were rounded up and exterminated.
*China established gun control in 1935: From 1948 to 1952, 20 million political dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
*Guatemala established gun control in 1964: From 1964 to 1981, 100,000 Mayan Indians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
*Uganda established gun control in 1970: From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
*Cambodia established gun control in 1956: From 1975 to 1977, more than one million educated people, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated. Fifty-six million defenseless people were rounded up and exterminated in the 20th Century because of gun control.
Guns in the hands of honest citizens save lives and property. You will never read or hear a liberal, progressive, socialist tell you this. Gun-control laws adversely affect only the law-abiding citizens for outlaws don’t obey laws by definition.
With guns, we are ‘citizens’; without them, we are ‘subjects’ this is why our founders made the second amendment to our Constitution the second one in importance.
During World War II, the Japanese decided not to invade the main land of the United States because they knew many, many citizens owned guns. Gun owners in the United States are the most armed force in the world.
You won’t see this data on the US evening news, or hear liberal, progressive, socialist, politicians disseminating this information.
In less than two months, we have a presidential election. Will you vote for the person that understands the tremendous importance of the Second Amendment, “the right to keep and bear arms”, and why our founders made it number two? Understand this: Biden, most likely Harris, will appoint anti-gun justices to the Supreme Court that can vote to do away with our right to keep and bear arms.
Yes, what you read above can happen here.
Dennis W Evans
Time For Change
In the Sept. 4 issue of OC Today there were two articles about the pending property swap scheduled to become a future Water Treatment Plant in Public Works Director Hal Adkins’ ever changing public works plan. The proposed water treatment plant was hatched by the council, once again, in closed session. In the same issue of OC Today, another article instructing Wayne Hartman to get an appraisal prior to purchasing a small 1,700-square-foot tract owned by the city and adjacent to an apartment house on the corner of Judlee and 26th Street that Mr. Hartman has a contract on. Mr. Hartman is a past council member of Ocean City and is currently a delegate to the Maryland State legislature. Mr. Hartman says he is the owner of 27 rental properties in Ocean City.
Ever since I was a small boy in Ocean City, I understood that Maryland was known for its “backroom politics”.
Most of my life was busy with either business or family and I didn’t pay much attention to local politics until 2009 when I noticed the Laws property deal, hatched, in closed session. The town was in the early years of recovery from the severe recession of ‘07 till ‘09 and property prices were depressed. The 1.9-acre Laws property on the bay at 64th street was purchased by the town for $5 million for a “must have” Waste Water Treatment Plant. Four months later, Laws took $2.6 million of the money and purchased a 3.2-acre superior parcel right on Coastal Highway and began to build a motel. That got my attention. The purchase by Rick Laws of the 3.2 acres of road front property was roughly half the price and almost twice as large confirming to me that the town had been fleeced in an egregious transfer of wealth by the political class from the taxpayers to Rick Laws. Many of those politicians are still in office and three are up for reelection, Dare Meehan and Knight. Moreover, the Consent Inquisition that accompanied the laws sale the council allowed Rick to transfer his density to his new hotel property, bypassing all public hearings, which is rare indeed.
The rub is on July 3, 2020, 10 years after the egregious overpayment of the Laws property by the council Hal Adkins stated in OC Today that “the city did not pay a single dime for the transit-related portions of the campus project.” At the center of the “transit related portions” rests the 1.9-acre Laws property. Thanks to the meticulous work of Vince Gisriel, we are able to quantify the staggering costs of the Laws property to the taxpayers over time as well as its change in uses from a “desperately needed” Wastewater Treatment Plant, to bus storage lot, then a garage and finally now a parking lot. They are $5 million for the purchase in 2010, $2,064,000 for interest on the bond to finance the purchase and presently $1 million for the parking lot for a total of over $8 million plus closing costs and counting. Much more than a single dime, Hal, wouldn’t you agree?
As a boy in Ocean City many of my heroes were residents or lived on the Eastern Shore. In the 1950’s there was the inexorable Charlie Holland who frequented our small carryout on 17th street daily. Later in the ‘60s we played midnight football games on Holland’s Island, ask Pete Wimbrow. Then there was the humble reformer Dale Truitt, a Swift and Company salesmen, who was in our carryout three to four times a week. Dale was also the mayor of Salisbury, a great guy. In the late 70’s, the ubiquitous Sam Taustin, another Ocean City pioneer, who allowed me to sit in his office at the Bonfire during a difficult period for me. Of course, there was my father, Chris, who I penned a book on and after he passed at the end of the last century. I was mentored by Brice Phillips, of the same cloth as my dad and lastly after the turn of the century King Burnett, what a wise man. Some of the names may not be familiar to many readers. Although I had sold Anthony’s Carryout four years ago, after a 66-year run, Sept. 7, 2020 was the last day of its operation. Quite a run but nothing lasts forever. However, we always have our memories. John Sims the operator for over 40 years is retiring and my memories are from long ago.
Today the Open Meeting Compliance Board has been formulated to protect the public from nefarious “backroom politics” however the rub is clever attorneys have inked 15 carve-outs that if invoked allow politicians to go to the darkness of a backroom, denying the public any visibility. Even when politicians are found guilty there is no consequence unless a prosecutor chose to use the violations in a criminal complaint.
The Pier property used to be where I played in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. There has never been a day when I did not consider the Pier property the most valuable 6.5 acres in all of Ocean City.
When I confronted Mr. Gehrig who along with members Knight and Dare met for 18 months in closed sessions with Mr. Buddy Jenkins, where they hatched the new 35-year pier deal I asked Gehrig one question. “As the Landlord and representative of the town why didn’t you review the subleases Mr. Jenkins had entered into?” My thinking was the council would never have agreed to such a ridiculously low-price, not to mention a 25-year extension if they had reviewed the many hundreds of thousands of dollars of subleases Mr. Jenkins’ company had put in place. They would have known the price was too low. When I asked Mr. Gehrig, he said, “I was not supposed to look at the subleases.” At that moment my opinion of Mr. Gehrig’s business sense went down the drain. I have never heard of anything so ridiculous where a landlord who entered into a lease with a tenant would not have the right to review and approve any sub-lease his tenant entered into.
In this case a review of the subleases would have informed the members of the inadequacy of the monies they were being offered as rent. I firmly believe that if the public were involved and other bids were sought the city would have benefited by two or three times the money it was offered in the Jenkins deal. For example, Six Flags, or a comparable company, would have started the bidding at $1 million a year. So instead of the city getting $9.1 million over 25 years the city might likely have left $20 to $25 million on the table, over the next 30-plus years.
On June 3, three attorneys on the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board found the Mayor and Council had committed egregious multiple violations of statutes of the Open Meetings Act. Without a consequence the Mayor and Council apologized and promptly retired, once again, to the backroom to discuss their violations of he Open Meetings Act, a bit ironic. Within a few days they retired to the backroom yet again to discuss with MGH, our advertising contractor, the strategy of spending advertising dollars this summer which ended on Sept. 5. Judging by the quality of our summer guests this season public hearings wouldn’t have hurt this year’s MGH advertising campaign at all.
Recently Mr. Gisriel requested the minutes from the 18 months of backroom meetings with Mr. Jenkins over the Pier deal, the council refused to produce them causing one to wonder what they were hiding and bringing even more attention on the dubious backroom dealings. Legal opinion was the members didn’t have to make the minutes public. Maybe it’s time to change the legal advisor to the city as well.
This is by no means a derogatory statement against either Buddy Jenkins or Rick Laws. They are both very good businessmen. Mr. Jenkins contributes generously to fight addiction and is the largest donor to my children’s charity, Brian’s Christmas, named after my late son.
Transparency is a crucial underpinning of government oversight. It ensures the citizens’ right to know the whole truth about public issues. Armed with adequate information, people can keep government accountable. Preventing the public from knowing the full reason for government decisions hinders effective oversight and accountability. For responsive effective government sunlight is the best medicine. Time for change.
Falls Church, Va.