City Hall Changes Needed
When I first learned of the scope of the Ocean City Public Works and Transit Facility Upgrades, or “Campus Plan,” I questioned the excessive cost estimates associated with this massive undertaking. When the bids were opened in early 2018, total costs for the Campus Plan rose from an estimated $25.4 million to $35.8 million. The cost of the five-story employee parking garage alone increased 34%, up from an estimated $8 million to almost $10.7 million. To their credit, the Mayor & City Council (M&CC) scrapped plans for the garage. However, in its place the M&CC approved a Surface Parking Lot with Guard House & Security Controls, saving nearly $3.8 million in Town costs. I wanted to know where this savings was being spent.
In March of 2019, I attempted to obtain answers to my questions regarding increased costs. When I could not get answers from Public Works, I tried to figure it out on my own. I soon surmised that it was being absorbed by the other increases in cost. For example, the Administration Building which was estimated to cost $4.8 million came in at bid over $7.8 million, up over 60%.
I also wanted to know why the Town pursued building the Service Facilities and Public Safety Storage Building which rose from an initial combined estimate of $2.3 million to over $8 million. Initially, the town was to pay $212,000, but after the bids were opened our costs increased to over $3.2 million. I noted that the formula changed from a 95% Maryland Transportation Administration (MTA) share with a 5% Town share, to a revised MTA/Town split of 60%/40%. I questioned why the M&CC would pursue construction of these projects when they had scrapped plans for the employee parking garage due to an exorbitant increase.
In March of 2019, I spoke before the M&CC bringing these questions and issues, and my verbal cost analysis presentation to them. I also raised the matter of where the displaced Impound Lot would be placed and the costs associated with it. When I finished speaking, no one challenged my analysis; not then or since. The mayor said that they would have Hal Adkins, Director of Public Works, view the video of that meeting and get back to them, so that they could provide answers to my questions. Over 15 months went by, and I still had not heard from anyone.
After reading an article in a local newspaper published in July 2020, on the progress of the Campus Plan construction, I sent an email to Hal requesting to know just what is being paid for with the $11,000,000 in Bond proceeds that the town sold in January of 2018, for the town’s portion of the Campus Plan. Again, I inquired about the status of the Impound Lot and costs involved. For two more weeks, I received no answers to my latest questions.
On July 20th, 2020, I went to the M&CC meeting prepared to speak about my lack of answers and to express my frustration about receiving no feedback. Prior to speaking, Adkins handed me an apparent revised “Project Cost Analysis” spreadsheet that frankly raised even more questions.
After reviewing the information, I wrote two letters to Adkins in August of 2020, requesting specific answers to questions and noting observations. I sent copies of both letters to the M&CC, as well as to the city manager. Now, after 19 months, I have still not heard from anyone within the Town of Ocean City regarding my initial inquiries, nor my recent questions.
Earlier this year, I filed complaints with Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board about the M&CC’s failure to conduct public business in open sessions on another matter. The Compliance Board found that the City Council had consistently violated the Open Meetings Act on multiple occasions over an eighteen-month period. This M&CC has a horrible record when it comes to transparency. I am convinced that too much public business is conducted in closed sessions. The M&CC’s refusal to answer questions about the finances related to the Campus Plan is another example of their cavalier attitude about openness and transparency.
On Nov. 3, we have a municipal election. Change cannot come fast enough.
Vincent dePaul Gisriel, Jr.