Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – January 21, 2022

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – January 21, 2022

Is Ocean City government in better shape today than it was six years ago? It was the same question asked back in 2015 when the three-year stint of the former city manager was evaluated.

When considering the tenure of City Manager Doug Miller, the consensus seems to be he is leaving Ocean City in a stable position, especially considering the pandemic. Miller’s steady, professional leadership was just what Ocean City needed to guide it through the pandemic’s uncertain times. Miller’s time in Ocean City began with some fanfare with an introductory press conference at City Hall in January of 2016. From that point on, however, Miller led in a low-profile fashion. He brought calm to City Hall after a period of flux and uncertainty preceded him. Miller was described in friendly terms this week by council members and it’s accurate to conclude he had a successful run at City Hall. I am interested to see where Miller goes from here. My guess is it’s not retirement.

It was interesting to observe this week’s official announcement of City Engineer Terry McGean accepting the city manager position. There was no press conference or even a public opportunity for McGean to speak at the council meeting. It was subdued. It’s fine and could be reflective of McGean’s style. He’s a hard worker who has the respect of the council members already and his co-workers. He is known for his professionalism, integrity and work ethic. The understated manner behind the announcement seems to confirm the logic behind the hire. McGean allows the city to continue to press forward without a period of leadership adaptation and introductions.

Insider, the long-time former columnist of this newspaper, often referred to City Hall in Ocean City as “Silly Hall.” The nickname seemed appropriate as ever this week during an odd discussion of officially increasing the city’s fund balance policy.

Ocean City’s official stated fund balance reserve is 15% of its budget. The concept is to have a certain amount of emergency funding available. Current budget data shows a 15% reserve fund would equate to $13 million. The city’s current reserve fund represents an astounding 37%, relegating the stated policy as meaningless. The conversation this week was whether the town should officially increase its reserve fund policy to 20% from the current 15%. The council ultimately opted to not make an official change at this time, but it will likely happen during budget talks.

Rather than talking about elevating a policy that’s clearly outdated and ignored, city officials must discuss what to do with this excessive reserve fund. Holding 37% of a government budget – about $29 million — in reserves is irresponsible. Understandable concerns about a hurricane’s impact on the resort’s infrastructure are always expressed when it comes to supporting a high reserve fund. A beachfront resort should probably have a higher reserve fund than an inland, protected city, but the exorbitant amount of money currently being stocked away is wrong. It’s bad governing and poor leadership. The city needs to focus on how to properly utilize the amount over the 20% reserve. The funds could go to infrastructure projects to avoid financing or be directed to reducing the property tax rate.

The argument of “what if” when it comes to emergency funding is tired. Ocean City government has weathered a health pandemic in excellent financial fashion. The resort’s budget benefitted in many ways from the pandemic. The financial data confirms it. Ocean City’s elected officials must change their thinking on these exorbitant reserves.

It was good news, bad news for Worcester County Public School students this week.

On one hand, there was some relief from high school students who learned their first semester finals were canceled. Though the big test was waived, students are still working through papers and projects to wrap up their semesters next week. Nonetheless, this is also a helpful reprieve for teachers who widely acknowledge being behind in their typical lesson plans amid absences and missed instructional times. This move was cheered by most.

Conversely, in a take the good with the bad mindset, students, teachers and families learned the Maryland State Department of Education was forcing local school systems into making students utile four hours of distance learning on inclement weather days. Most school systems, like Worcester, in the state have already used their calendar’s allocated inclement weather days.  An alert was sent to families earlier this month reminding them synchronous learning would be required but the actual hourly requirement was not handed down from the state until last Friday.

Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor used some diplomacy when talking about the late change this week that has rankled parents. “This has caused a lot of dialogue, I’ll use a nice word, between the 24 superintendents in Maryland,” he said. “There’s been not really a clear expectation and many superintendents are very frustrated with what to do, when to do it and how to do it.”

Some parents are sweating this change, but others seem to be taking it in stride. “Whatever,” was one parent’s response when I asked them this week what they thought of the virtual learning change.

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.