OCEAN CITY — There are still more questions than answers as to whether an Ocean City councilman’s disparaging comments on a local resident’s social media page were his true sentiments, or if he was hacked, but the issue flared up again during Monday’s meeting.
The issue arose two weeks ago when Councilman Mark Paddack commented on the Facebook page of the recently-married wife of a local business owner and longtime resident while the couple was honeymooning in Italy. In a picture from the honeymoon, Bobby Hammond, whose family owns and operates Atlantic Physical Therapy, was apparently seen wearing a baseball-style hat backwards.
Paddack, in a Facebook post sent to Hammond’s wife allegedly posted the following message deemed inappropriate and flirting with racism:
“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 the contents of Paddack’s comments on his own Facebook page. The 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. Paddack reached out to the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office to conduct an investigation into whether his social media account was hacked. The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office Sept. 15 confirmed the Worcester County Bureau of Investigation was leading the probe as a result of Paddack’s inquiry.
When the Mayor and Council learned of the alleged offensive post, Council President Matt James during the next meeting asked Paddack to consider taking a leave of absence, a request supported by others on the council. Paddack did not step down and has continued to assert his social media account was hacked. He said he retained an attorney and had reached out to the sheriff’s office to conduct an investigation.
For the last two weeks, the council, with Paddack in his usual seat at the dais, has gone about usual business and the issue had not resurfaced. On Monday, however, Hammond addressed the issue during the public comment period of the meeting.
“There are few things I love more than Worcester County and Ocean City,” he said. “I’m always here to help. I came here today to ask Councilman Paddack did you ever hear a conclusion on your Facebook messages? Anybody?”
Hammond dismissed the notion Paddack’s account was hacked and that a personal message ended up on his wife’s page.
“In my experiences, when someone hacks, it’s usually to get information,” he said. “It’s never a specific comment when someone’s away on their honeymoon. Telling someone to wear their hat the ‘white way’ or telling them that they are a POS or a punk.”
Hammond said since the issue has been simmering over the last two weeks, he felt compelled to come to the meeting and address it in person. He referenced an African-American friend who attended the meeting with him.
“I came here today, I was going to let it slide, but I said that’s not right,” he said. “You know what? I can always turn my hat around and wear it the white way, but Deandre here can’t. He can’t turn it around and wear it the white way.”
Hammond said Paddack’s relative silence on the issue was deafening.
“People came out of the woodwork to defend you,” he said. “You didn’t say anything. You didn’t say maybe those comments weren’t real, but you didn’t condemn them. You didn’t say sorry about the racist comments. You didn’t say racism is bad. That’s okay.”
Hammond also referenced the steady stream of comments that followed the alleged offensive post.
“People came to defend you,” he said. “We saw comments like if you don’t like it, leave, because that’s the way things are. This isn’t the way things are. I grew up here. I went to school with everybody in here. Black, white, gay, straight — we all got along.”
Hammond said he felt certain Paddack was not going to take a leave of absence until the issue was resolved as some of his colleagues have suggested.
“So, I came here to let you know I know you’re not going to do anything,” he said. “You’re not going to step down or anything. But, I promise you the next time you run, you won’t win. Worcester County doesn’t stand for this.”
Career Firefighter-Paramedics Union, or IAFF 4269, President Ryan Whittington was on hand on Monday to speak about other fire department issues, but took the opportunity to respond to Hammond’s comments.
“Before I begin, I’d just like to thank Mr. Hammond,” he said. “Sometimes, people tend to shy away from the tough conversations. Thank you for standing up for what you believe in.”
Local resident Rob Greenebaum spoke on behalf of Paddack during the public comment period.
“Somebody needs to defend him,” he said. “He’s innocent until proven guilty. I’ve talked to a lot of people around town and saw all of the bad press on this. This cancel culture is a little crazy. The majority of the people don’t believe it. Asking him to step down, I think, was a little bit overkill.”
When it came time for Mayor and Council comments, Councilman John Gehrig broached the subject again.
“There are still questions, Mark, about your comments that came from your account,” he said. “Is there an update on the investigation? I get questions all the time. I don’t know if the rest of us do.”
For his part, Paddack issued a stern no comment.
“No comment to you about any of this,” he said. “To bring this up, I have no comment. I’m trying to be updated as well. This outward digging of me about finding out information I still don’t have. Why did you even bring this up?”
Gehrig said he was just seeking answers to the many questions he has been receiving from the community.
“I’m just asking for an update,” he said. “I get questions all the time. We haven’t talked about this in two weeks. Are we ever going to get an answer?”