It was naïve of Ocean City to think the Worcester County Health Department would bless the holding of a Christmas parade at this time.
There were two online articles on the subject this week. The first story was posted Tuesday after the council meeting on Monday when the City Council voted 4-1 (with Councilman Dennis Dare opposed) to move forward with planning a modified Christmas parade on Dec. 5 if the health department supported the town’s plans to socially distance individuals and adhere to other pandemic-related rules. In objecting, Dare said, “This is another example of how we send the wrong message and put wealth before health. This sends a bad message at a critical time.”
I immediately wondered how the health department was going to sign off on this event in Ocean City when serious concerns were raised from the same agency over fireworks proposed over ballfields in Berlin on New Year’s Eve. Though a definitive no was not given by the health department, Berlin officials were told they would have to present a detailed layout and plan on how they would social distance individuals gathering for the fireworks. Other logistical issues with traffic also doomed those plans.
With the Berlin advice and other precedents for other events, it was no surprise to hear late Wednesday the health department had expressed serious concerns about the event and how Ocean City would enforce social distancing guidelines. In the second online story, which reports the Christmas parade will most likely not place now, it was interesting to hear the take by Worcester County Health Officer Becky Jones on the event as expressed by Ocean City Special Events Director Frank Miller.
“Her concern is having a potentially larger crowd because so many other parades and holiday events in the area have already been postponed or cancelled,” he said. “She was not sure how we would be able to enforce social distancing and masks over a three-quarters-of-a-mile parade route. … The risk of us creating a numbers issue could potentially affect the schools. I spoke to the city manager and he said that’s something we probably don’t want to risk. It looks like that’s the direction we’re going to take.”
It’s tough to argue those points.
Two days after next week’s Ocean Council election, a new council president will be sworn in. Odds are it will be Councilman Matt James after an unsuccessful attempt in 2018. James won his second term in October of 2018, securing 70% of the vote. The council majority voted 5-2 to retain the presidency with Lloyd Martin, who was re-elected in a close vote, besting the fourth-place finisher by just four votes.
Councilman John Gehrig pushed hard for James to take over the presidency, saying, “… None of the other candidates who won this election got more than 50 percent of the vote. One candidate got 70 (percent). Are we going to listen or not? Are we going to have confidence in our youth and next generation of leaders? Are we going to be high minded or are we going to hold them back? That’s what this vote is about.” The council was not swayed with the majority reinstating Martin with little comment. Though the election may change things up a bit, there appears to be an agreement in place at City Hall for James to replace Martin as president at next week’s council meeting. It’s the right thing to do as the transition of leadership needs to occur.
When I asked him this week why he didn’t run for mayor, as had been rumored for some time in Ocean City, James said after a rough summer on all fronts he didn’t want to spend his fall knocking on doors. Instead he was spending Tuesday afternoon hunting. Though he has admitted to having conversations about the council presidency over recent months, he said there was no promise made for the leadership position in exchange for not running against long-time incumbent Rick Meehan for mayor. Following the unsuccessful attempt to become council president in 2018, James said he was asked to wait two years. Next week would be that time.
Every election there seems to be an advertisement or two that causes some waves. For Ocean City Council hopeful Nico Eastman, it’s the full-page ad purchased by Tony Christ. Councilman Matt James also took issue with the information purported as fact in the ad. For Eastman, after his request to have his name and photo removed from the ad altogether were rejected, he issued the following statement, which I said I would share as a trade-off for not removing him from the ad.
“My name is Nicholas Eastman and I am running for Ocean City Council. There is an advertisement in the paper that uses my name and photo that is very misleading,” Eastman said. “I want to make it clear – I support all city workers and as city councilman will ensure that they have all resources to do their job effectively. I also want to make it clear that I do not support the childish removal of competitors’ signs that some people have engaged in, not now or ever. This ad is running without my approval. In fact, I have asked for my name, image, and likeness to be removed. So, I want to take this opportunity to let you know what I truly believe in – the success of our town, safety, and American values. Freedom of expression is fundamental to democracy and I understand the paper’s desire to run this ad despite my opposition and thank them for doing so. As for the event, I will always attend any event where I can speak to voters.”