BERLIN – How much longer will Berlin be known as America’s Coolest Small Town?
Merchants this week expressed concern over Mayor Zack Tyndall’s removal of the title from town letterhead and his business cards. Tyndall defended the decision at a meeting with merchants Wednesday night.
“It’s one of our many achievements,” he said. “I don’t want to tear that down at all. It’s a great thing along with [movies] Runaway Bride and Tuck Everlasting. All those things that make our town what it is. I’m not saying anybody can’t market our town that way, I’m not changing any marketing style. It’s just letterhead.”
Merchants met with Tyndall Wednesday to discuss various marketing and promotion concerns. When asked about the letterhead change, which no longer pays homage to Berlin being named “America’s Coolest Small Town” by Budget Travel in 2014, Tyndall talked about how it came about.
“Every time there’s an election, when there’s a change in leadership, new letterhead is created,” he said.
He thought the font on the old letterhead was difficult to read and said he also made some other spacing adjustments and removed the “America’s Coolest Small Town” logo.
“I also took America’s Coolest Small Town off my business cards,” he said. “It’s not on my email signature.”
When asked what he intended for the America’s Coolest Small Town sign on town hall, Tyndall said the sign would likely be there for a while.
“The town hall sign I think has some pretty good longevity to it,” he said. “Probably longer than my at least four years.”
He added, however, that if it came down for some reason and had to be replaced it would probably be replaced with a simple sign that said town hall.
“That’s what it is,” he said. “It’s town hall.”
Merchants, however, argued that the title was a reason for families to stop in town on their way to Ocean City. They said it was an attraction.
“I think it’s a good moniker for the town,” said Ann Hillyer of ShoreCraftBeer.com.
She added, however, that the town could survey businesses to get actual data on whether they benefitted from the title.
“I think this is a larger question as to how the town needs to be branded moving forward,” Tyndall said.
The mayor agreed that if data showed the importance of the town hall sign he wouldn’t question it.
“If ‘America’s Coolest Small Town’ on town hall makes the business community a lot of money, why would I say no?” he said.
Ivy Wells, the town’s economic and community development director, said that whether there was a sign or something else, a photo opportunity for visitors was a great marketing tool.
“The goal to market a town is to get them to take pictures here,” she said. “That gets shared all over social media. Then other people see it. That’s what works.”
Another change implemented by Tyndall that prompted questions from the business owners was the removal of the Lord’s Prayer from town council meetings. Merchants wanted to know why he did it without consulting anyone else including his colleagues on the council.
Tyndall said town staff told him some of Berlin’s peers were being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union regarding prayer during business meetings.
“Some of them have dug their heels in and fought that and lost to the tune of over $100,000,” he said. “I don’t see the Town of Berlin being in a financial position to defend something like that. I don’t see the Town Berlin having the resources to be able to battle something like that.”
He said that after consulting with the town attorney, who supported the decision, he opted to remove it so as not to take the chance of causing the town any financial harm.
“Are you concerned about being portrayed negatively in an article in the news every single week?” merchant Mike Queen asked.
“That’s kind of the job,” Tyndall replied. “You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some, but I’m not here to favor public opinion all the time. I’m here to represent the public, the business community, and I take that job seriously. But I don’t have all the answers. And I’m sure we’ll stumble along the way. We’re together in this for four years and we’re three weeks in.”
Realtor Cam Bunting said she couldn’t elaborate but felt the town would feel a financial impact from eliminating the prayer.
“Any time you make a decision you don’t have perfect information,” Tyndall said. “I can only act on what I have at the time.”
Tyndall added that he was drafting a letter to send to council members advising them that he was open to having a discussion regarding opening prayer and options moving forward.