Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – February 12, 2021

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – February 12, 2021

June will be here in no time, and it’s going to be interesting to hear what Ocean City has been planning to prevent a repeat of last summer. Due to the nature of law enforcement, not all advanced directives and operations can be revealed to the public. Ocean City has, however, learned in the past (the college takeover weekend comes to mind a few years ago) proactive messaging ahead of time about a strong and enhanced police presence can prove effective.

It’s fair to say Ocean City was fortunate to escape last June without fatalities and more serious injuries. There was a large amount of serious crime over a five-week period from late-May to late-June – including multiple stabbings, dozens of serious assaults, shots fired and more than 15 guns confiscated. It was described by many as a perfect storm of confluence factors, including cheap rentals typically held by J-1 foreign students, unemployed individuals fueled with more money than normal and pandemic cabin fever.

It was learned this week the Ocean City Mayor and Council over the last few months have held several closed session discussions about how to handle the June situation. Police Commission meetings also feature some sort of dialogue on June as well as September’s horrible pop-up rally weekend. The January police commission meeting minutes read, “We continuously review information received through intelligence. We have continued to discuss the logistical measures for both events.”

There will likely come a time when the gist of those closed meetings will be made public. In fact, during the same police commission meeting in January, Committee Chairman and Councilman Lloyd Martin requested the OCPD attend a future work session to speak with the entire council. It also references another future meeting of the motor event task force sometime this month.

This week, during a police commission meeting, a brief statement about the plans to avoid another June like 2020 came from Communications Director and Acting Tourism Director Jessica Waters. She said her department is working on a public awareness plan for June.

“I think June has been on all of our minds since last year,” she said. “We have a plan for it and we have to communicate to the public about it. We are going to have better communication and we’re going to be better prepared this year.”

Maryland is looking to join Ohio in allowing bars and restaurants to continue to sell off-premise alcohol drinks with carryout orders. This was instituted last spring when restaurants were forced to close and only offer carryout. The carryout drinks, such as margaritas with Mexican fare, helped many restaurants stay afloat as many adapted their business models with much success.

In Ohio, upwards of three drinks per meal can now be sold in covered cups. No carryout drink can be sold without a meal being ordered along with it. Pennsylvania and numerous other states are also expected to consider making the rule change permanent to help restaurants adjust to the currently restrictive climate.

In Maryland, there are companion bills in the House and Senate modeled after Ohio’s version where cocktails are tied to a carryout prepared meal. The legislation is supported by the Restaurant Association of Maryland. The bills would limit carryout or delivery alcohol to no later than 11 p.m.

Though viewed as a major benefit to restaurants still struggling amid capacity restrictions, changes to liquor laws are typically controversial with strong sides forming on both sides of the issue. Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association Legislative Co-Chair Jack Milani told The Baltimore Sun this week he did not see any serious opposition to the bill, however. “We’re in this business of accommodating people, and we have to figure out what that is and just adjust,” he said.

In this age of operational rules changing all the time, especially for the hospitality industry, this is one pivot I think should be made permanent.

Ocean City continues to be planning for as much normalcy as possible this summer with its special events. It’s a good tact to take and officials need to look beyond some inevitable criticism about their efforts to bring past favorites, like concerts and fireworks.

Another example came this week when special events promoter Bob Rothermel discussed plans for a festive Memorial Day weekend to kick off the season, including the return of the big flag that has been spread out over the beach in the past. Rothermel said the concept was to spread the flag out across the beach in the shape of the country and to illuminate it with a bright blue light all weekend. Several commenters on out story posted on Facebook immediately chimed in with carelessness accusations amid a pandemic. One commenter said, “six feet? Where will masking be?” Another said, “And this is a safe event, how?”

The time has come to embrace a return to some normalcy. Health safety precautions are the norm and they will continue for the foreseeable future. They are a given. I embrace the return of events like fireworks, patriotic displays and concerts, all the while accepting there will be crowd limitations and safety mandates. This coming summer is all aboard inching back to the middle. It’s still going to look different and it should, but let’s start taking some healthy steps, albeit with some minimal risk involved.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.