Council Updated On Pop-Up Week; No State Safety Declaration Planned

OCEAN CITY — With the unsanctioned pop-up special event looming, the Mayor and Council this week got a briefing on a recent meeting of the motorized special event task force meeting.

The motorized special event task force convened late last month for the last time before the expected pop-up car rally at the end of September. During the year since the last troublesome pop-up event last September, plans on how to combat some of the lawlessness and reckless behavior associated with the event have been debated at various levels including the police commission, the motorized special event task force and with the Mayor and Council.

On Tuesday, Mayor Rick Meehan briefed the council on the most recent task force meeting. Last year, the town ramped up its towing ordinance with broader guidelines for legitimate tows of vehicles deemed not street-legal and heftier fees. On Tuesday, Councilman Mark Paddack said it appears the fleet of available tow companies and tow trucks falls short of the goal.

“I’m seeing where there are 20 tow companies with 40 tow trucks lined up,” he said. “I’ve heard some complaints from some tow companies that they were being excluded for various reasons. I would think we would need more than 40 tow trucks available.”

Meehan pointed out the 20 companies and 40 available tow trucks were for Ocean City alone. He said there will be more tow companies operating that week in the county at-large and surrounding areas.

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Paddack also pointed out there were discussions after last year’s unsanctioned event about the state declaring a highway traffic safety week during the unsanctioned pop-up event later this month in order to increase law enforcement visibility around the state and along the routes leading to Ocean City and the resort area.

“We’ve been planning for this for a year,” he said. “I thought we were going to petition the governor to declare a highway safety week proclamation for this week.”

Meehan said that official declaration never happened, but he has assurances from the state there will be high law enforcement presence on the roadways leading up to and during the pop-up event.

“We talked to the state, but they didn’t declare a traffic safety week,” he said. “We’ve been assured there will be a high visibility presence along the highways in and around Ocean City all week and throughout the Eastern Shore. Delaware has also said they are increasing the visibility presence throughout that week.”

Paddack said he hoped that was the case.

“I hope that our allied agencies and partners around the state can identify some of these vehicles and address some of the behavior before they even get to Ocean City,” he said.

After a particularly troublesome motorized special event season a few years back, Ocean City formed the task force to begin exploring strategies to combat some of the lawlessness and abject bad behavior associated with some of the participants. Out of those early sessions came the first iteration of special event zone with lower speed limits, enhanced enforcement powers, increased penalties and enhanced fines.

Those early sessions also led to an increased police presence in town during certain motorized events in partnership with allied law enforcement agencies along with a stronger partnership between the town and its residents and business owners. Still, those early measures, which did achieve some successes, were not enough to curtail some of the lawlessness and the reckless behavior continued and even worsened in some cases, particularly during the unsanctioned and social media-driven pop-up rally.

The special event zone, along with the expanded law enforcement presence, a stronger towing ordinance with stiff fines and penalties and the growing partnership with the private sector was successful in putting a lid on last September’s pop-up rally for a couple of days, but the event reached a crescendo on Saturday with lawlessness reaching new heights on the streets.

To that end, resort officials, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) and its allied partners, state officials, the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office and the private sector have working publicly and privately over the last year to form strategies to better curtail the event.

During the fall motorized special events, including the pop-up rally, the special event zone will be deployed throughout Worcester County and not just in the resort and the area around West Ocean City and Ocean Pines, for example. The enhanced towing ordinance with increased fines will be deployed again and strictly enforced. Traffic patterns will be altered at times during the events and speed bumps or speed humps will be deployed in certain residential communities.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.