OCEAN CITY — Whether Ocean City Councilman Mark Paddack’s social media account was hacked has yet to be determined, but several of his colleagues on Tuesday called for him take a voluntary leave of absence.
The issue arose over the weekend when Paddack commented on a Facebook story post made by a local woman who had recently married Bobby Hammond, whose family owns Atlantic Physical Therapy and is active in the local community. In a picture from the honeymoon, Hammond is apparently seen wearing a baseball-style hat backwards. Paddack commented on Hammond’s wife story, posting an inappropriate comment.
“Tell the dude to turn his hat back where the white designed the hat to be worn,” the post reads. “Where I come from, that is a punk. Immature POS.”
Hammond shared Paddack’s comment on his wife’s story on his Facebook page, writing, “Interesting comment coming from OCMD councilman Mark Paddack sent to my wife. Apparently I’m a POS for not wearing my hat the ‘white’ way… But at least I’m not a racist POS, Mark. I think I’ll run for councilman next time up. Keep that seat warm for me, pal. In Worcester county we don’t have room for racism.”
Hammond’s social media post quickly went viral and the Mayor and Council learned of it. For the record, Paddack has claimed his social media account was hacked, and there is an investigation into that claim. However, at the close of Tuesday’s Mayor and Council work session, Council President Matt James addressed the issue.
“Over the weekend, there was some disturbing information that was brought to my attention, as the Mayor and Council became aware of a social media post by Councilman Paddack,” he said. “The comments of Councilman Paddack do not reflect the views of the Mayor and Council. The Mayor and Council denounces all acts of racism. I consider the comments to be shameful and totally unacceptable.”
James never made the alleged social media post public and called on Paddack to address the issue.
“There is no place for racism in Ocean City, and it’s shameful we have an elected official with comments like that on his social media account,” he said. “I’d like to give you the opportunity to address the public if you would like to do so.”
For his part, Paddack said he, on his own, initiated an investigation into the possible hacking with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department. He declined to comment otherwise on Tuesday.
“From our discussions earlier today, I commented I have retained an attorney and she is asking me to make no comment at this time,” he said. “Thanks for the opportunity to address the council at this time.”
James asked Paddack to consider taking a leave of absence from the council until the investigation runs its course.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for you at this time to hold a position on the council until the investigation is complete,” he said. “Would you consider taking a leave of absence until the investigation is complete?”
To which Paddack responded with a blanket no. Council Secretary Tony DeLuca reiterated James’ sentiments.
“As secretary of the council, I also feel this action and statements are totally unacceptable,” he said. “I think Mark should consider taking a leave of absence.”
Councilman Peter Buas agreed.
“I agree with the council president and the council secretary,” he said.
Councilman John Gehrig said the investigation will determine if Paddack’s social media comments were accurate and not the result of a hacker, but urged his colleague to consider taking a leave of absence.
“None of us can sit in judgement until this investigation is complete, but it is critical for us to be unified as a council,” he said. “These comments are pretty divisive. I’m not sure how these comments got on your page, but I also believe you should consider a leave of absence. You don’t have to make that decision now, but for the good of the community, it might be a good time to consider that.”
IAFF Local 4269, the career firefighter-paramedics union of Ocean City, President Ryan Whittington also denounced Paddack’s alleged social media comments.
“Those words, and many like them, have no place in Ocean City,” he said. “They have no place in City Hall, on the Boardwalk, or anywhere. Those words are not acceptable from anyone and they cannot be tolerated from town leaders, employees or anyone who is affiliated with the town. That includes coming from a councilman’s page.”
Whittington said the town has made efforts to eliminate and discourage the types of comments and actions in Paddack’s alleged social media message.
“The town has made strides toward eliminating hateful speech and demeaning conduct,” he said. “The town has steadfastly voiced a commitment to equal employment. And the town and its fire stations have become a tolerant, more respectful and accepting of all people. Ocean City firefighters and paramedics are more empathetic and more decent than ever before.”
The investigation is ongoing, and it has yet to be determined if the councilman’s social media account has indeed been hacked, but Whittington pointed out it seems unlikely given the direct contact with Hammond’s new wife in the post.
“Councilman Paddack claiming to be ‘hacked’ means that he has the burden of proof that he was hacked to the residents, employees of the town, his fellow councilmen and the mayor,” he said.
In an email to Whittington over the weekend in response to the union chief seeking clarification on what Paddack meant with his Facebook post, the first-term councilman maintained he was hacked.
“I have reached out to Worcester County Sheriff Department, Computer Forensic Law Enforcement community for assistance. Documented as not criminal with no physical or emanate threats,” Paddack wrote. “Fraud of a FB page on my profile is not a priority unfortunately. Now this non-criminal social media complaint is in their hands to determine the source. Not personal perceptions. I was hacked as we have determined and am providing all of computer hardware, images, from my computer to assistance … for closure …. I do not know the source of a hacker but have immediately reached out to independent qualified investigation resources with credentials to find the source the hack and resolve the social media on Facebook.”
Paddack was elected to the council in 2018 after working for the Ocean City Police Department for 28 years.