OCEAN CITY — In his final meeting before Tuesday’s municipal election, Councilman Dennis Dare on Monday delivered a heart-felt, often emotional speech recounting his three decades-plus service to the town and thanking those who joined him along the journey.
Dare chose not to seek re-election this year as his seat on the City Council was one of four up for grabs, so he likely knew a farewell speech after his three-decades plus in service to the town in various capacities was coming. He delivered that emotional address near the close of Monday’s regular Mayor and Council meeting, resulting in a standing ovation from those in attendance.
The organizational meeting following Tuesday’s municipal election will be held at the Performing Arts Center on Thursday night and welcoming speeches for the newly-elected councilmembers along with parting tributes to the incumbents leaving the council were intended to be reserved for that occasion. However, because Dare would not be able to attend Thursday’s organizational meeting, he delivered his parting message on Monday.
Dare was hired as city engineer in 1982, a position he would hold until 1990. He served as city manager from 1990 to 2011 and was elected to the City Council in 2012. He thanked former City Manager Tony Barrett for picking him to be the city engineer on the cusp of a great period of growth and development for Ocean City.
“Ocean City back then for an engineer was like a blank canvas for an artist,” he said. “When we talked about doing Northside Park, I drove out there and it was just a dirt road to an abandoned construction site full of trash. The town acquired the old Playland amusement park at 65th Street for what would become the public works complex and the transformation of that property continues today.”
Dare went on to list more of the projects and initiatives under his watch as city engineer.
“The convention center with that big ramp down to the highway had structural issues and I was able to convince the then-Mayor and Council to expand and rehabilitate it,” he said. “That expansion continues today with yet another phase. After Hurricane Gloria tore up the Boardwalk in 1985, my marching orders were to have it repaired and open by Memorial Day or have my resume updated. By March 12, the last board was nailed in.”
Dare said former Mayor Roland E. “Fish” Powell groomed him to become city manager after Barrett’s replacement lasted only a short while. He said Powell had been serving as interim city manager while a replacement was being identified.
“After Tony Barrett left, the next guy lasted two months,” he said. “Fish worked on me about being city manager. I like to think it was because of my abilities, but maybe he just didn’t want to be interim city manager for another eight months.”
Under Dare’s watch, Ocean City entered a multi-governmental partnership to create the beach replenishment program that has preserved the beach and protected billions of dollars in real estate over the decades.
“Perhaps the most important project for Ocean City was beach replenishment,” he said. “That partnership with the state and federal governments and Worcester County ensured a recreational beach, but also protection from storms for decades. There was also the Public Safety Building, Eagle’s Landing Golf Course and a lot of infrastructure projects too numerous to name.”
Dare also thanked the town’s “boots on the ground” employees for carrying out the visions of the elected officials over three decades-plus.
“The biggest challenge in being city manager was managing our employees,” he said. “We were able to stabilize the workforce. We can never forget as elected officials our employees are responsible for making Ocean City the first-class resort it is.”
Dare acknowledged it was difficult to leave his formal service to the city, and while he is proud of his many accomplishments while wearing various hats, he acknowledged there was much still to accomplish. He specifically cited the proposed dualization of Route 90, the rehabilitation of the Baltimore Avenue corridor, the civil unrest during certain motor vehicle events, protecting the single-family neighborhoods and tax differential fairness.
Dare specifically acknowledged his long-standing relationship with colleague and good friend Mayor Rick Meehan, who has served alongside Dare in various capacities for over three decades. When Dare was removed as city manager by the then-council majority at the time, Meehan stepped in and served as interim city manager during the search process.
“He has been the one common denominator through my three different stints with the town,” he said in an emotional message to the mayor. “Rick came on board in 1985 when he still had brown hair. He was part of a younger group of councilmen that mixed in with the old guard.”
Dare praised Meehan for being the face of Ocean City in good times and when times are challenging.
“People don’t realize just how difficult a job it can be,” he said. “The mayor doesn’t make motions and doesn’t vote. The council makes decisions on policies and the mayor’s job is to be out front and be the face of the town and often takes the heat for the decisions or policies handed down by the council. I just want to publicly thank Rick for his support and friendship over the years.”
Dare said he would be remiss if he did not thank the residents and visitors and acknowledged his wife, Liz, for her unwavering support over the years while he was at countless meetings and other functions in his many roles with the city.
“I also want to thank the residents, the non-residents and the business owners,” he said. “Ocean City is a special town. Finally, I owe a deep gratitude to Liz for her support all these years. I am looking forward to spending more time with my family in retirement.”
Councilman John Gehrig said he wasn’t sure if Monday’s meeting was the right time or place, but wanted to take a few minutes to acknowledge Dare’s service to the town during his final meeting.
“We don’t always agree and frequently disagree, but you are one of those people who, when you speak, I listen. I’m going to miss the knowledge,” Gehrig said. “Ocean City is a better place than when you found it and you will be missed.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca voiced similar sentiments.
“We will miss the experience and then history that gives us a context when we make decisions,” he said. “The thing we’ll miss the most is you’re the voice of calm and reason and often bring us back around when things go off course.”
Council President Lloyd Martin praised Dare for his commitment to Ocean City in his official and unofficial capacities over the years.
“If you needed help, Dennis was there,” he said. “If you need a volunteer, Dennis is right there. He’s always right there. He has a beautiful family and we wish him the best in retirement.”
Finally, Meehan addressed his long-time colleague and his many contributions to Ocean City.
“All you have to do is go around town and look at the plaques on our buildings,” he said. “You’d be hard pressed to find a plaque without Dennis’ name on it either as city engineer, city manager or councilman.”
Meehan acknowledged he and his long-time colleague did not always see eye to eye over the years.
“We all have heated discussions and arguments,” he said. “Nobody argued more than Dennis and I over the years when he was city manager, but it always ended with a smile and a joke.”
Meehan said Dare’s departure from the council left big shoes to fill.
“I think there will be a big void in this building when you leave,” he said. “There will be plenty of times when we will say what would Dennis have done.”