Council Debates Removing Paddack From Office After Weekend Incident

Council Debates Removing Paddack From Office After Weekend Incident
Councilman Mark Paddack is pictured taking his seat on the dais after a 2018 swearing-in ceremony. File Photo

OCEAN CITY – City officials this week took no action on a requested motion to remove Councilman Mark Paddack after an incident last weekend, but the issue will likely be revisited next week.

Around 6 p.m. last Friday, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officers responded to a north-end restaurant for a reported minor vehicle collision. It was reported that a parked vehicle was struck in the private parking lot. According to a press release, OCPD officers met with the individual who had reported the collision and the owner of the vehicle that was allegedly struck by Ocean City Councilman Mark Paddack.

According to police reports, the owner of the struck vehicle exchanged the appropriate information with Paddack, who was discovered inside patronizing the restaurant when police arrived. OCPD officers reportedly observed Paddack inside the restaurant consuming alcoholic beverages when they arrived. It’s important to note Paddack was not charged with any violations related to the incident.

According to police reports, Paddack was observed by OCPD officers consuming alcoholic beverages inside the restaurant and instructed him to have a designated driver take him home later. The investigating officer then completed an official information exchange form from the collision and the officer did not observe any evidence that Paddack was impaired prior to the collision, according to police reports.

A concerned citizen then informed the investigating officer in the parking lot of the restaurant a male later identified as Paddack was inside the restaurant yelling at his child, a 14-year-old boy. The officer entered the restaurant and attempted to de-escalate the disturbance, according to police reports. At that point, Paddack agreed to leave the restaurant and was taken home by a sober individual, according to police reports. The child was taken to police headquarters for his safety and the Department of Social Services was notified about the domestic dispute. Social Services contacted the child’s mother and she later picked up her son at police headquarters, according to police reports.

Again, it’s important to note Paddack was not charged with any violations related to the vehicle collision or the subsequent domestic dispute with the child inside the restaurant. However, during Tuesday’s work session, Councilman Peter Buas made a motion requesting Mayor Rick Meehan remove Paddack from any boards and commissions.

“I want to start a discussion on this now,” he said. “A month ago, this council censured Councilman Paddack on some social media comments that he made. There has been an investigation, but no explanation has ever been given. Now, a month later, we have another incident this past Friday night that I’ve had dozens of calls over the weekend about. There appears to be a pattern developing that does not reflect this town.”

Buas said Paddack’s alleged actions last Friday, along with an unrelated social media post late last year, merited consideration for removing him from office.

“It’s really starting to be a distraction from all of the good work this council has done,” he said. “To the public, I just want to answer the question I got over the weekend, which is how can a sitting councilmember be removed. I think we need to address the situation. I’d like to make a motion that we ask the mayor to remove Councilman Paddack from any boards and commissions and that he be removed pending a review of the code of conduct.”

City Solicitor Heather Stansbury explained the removal of a sitting councilmember would likely require a charter amendment. She suggested it be reviewed before next Monday’s regular public meeting before any action was taken. Councilman John Gehrig suggested letting the process play out before making any decision. Buas’ motion essentially died for lack of a second.

“I don’t know if anyone condones this,” said Gehrig. “When it comes to a code of conduct, that’s a little stick I think. Whatever happened, that’s your call. What I don’t want to be is a judge whether or not he should be sitting here. That’s up to the voters.”

Gehrig said the matter was far from settled.

“We have our personal opinion, then there’s the police side of it, which is different,” he said. “Imposing our will, no matter how much sense that makes, we can say down the road that’s conduct unbecoming of an elected official. That’s probably why it is the way it is. We need to think on that and I don’t know that I can vote on that right now.”

For his part, Paddack called out Buas for his motion seeking a dismissal from elected office.

“We will be talking about this on Monday,” he said. “You being a lawyer, you must respect the Constitution of America and the Fifth Amendment. So, by you doing this here and now, you are simply judging me for something you know nothing about. I see six police officers in this room right now. The police department investigated a complaint made by my son after speaking with his mother.”

Paddack said last Friday’s incident was a personal family matter and reiterated he had not been charged with any crime.

“Personal matters within my family are clear among my friends and are not entitled to the public because he is 14 years old and because of the challenges he has had,” he said. “So, you bring this motion up in a work session based on hyperbole based on public comments. All of it is untrue.”

There have been many questions about the alleged racial comments Paddack made on social medial and he again reiterated his personal account had been hacked and that the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office was conducting an independent investigation, which has been completed.

“Going back to your comment about the incident earlier this year, I do have a report,” he said. “I’ve had it for two months. I’m still waiting on Worcester County to confirm it before I release it to the public.”

Paddack did not dispute the elements of the incident last Friday.

“As far as what happened on Friday, the press release that was done is accurate with the exception of one thing,” he said. “It said the owner of the truck that I bumped called the police. He didn’t call the police. It was my son who called the police. I’ve been in a number of situations in the past when that’s a matter between myself, my lawyer and my family.”

He did, however, dispute some of the elements of the incident based on social media.

“The police did their job,” he said. “There are people out their saying it’s a coverup. The police are not covering for Mark Paddack. If Mark Paddack did something wrong, then I need to be charged and given a day in court before a jury of my peers. Yes, there were some words spoken between my son and I, and at that point I asked the supervisor to call the mother and come and get the son and they took him to the Public Safety Building. Social Services is involved and has been involved in the past. This is something that is nobody else’s business except my son, myself and my ex-wife. I would appreciate if the nasty, spiteful hate that people are out there spewing would stop with the lies. End of story.”

However, Council President Matt James, with whom Paddack has sparred somewhat on social media, said the issue was far from over.

“It’s not the end of the story with the language that you used,” he said. “You should be held to a higher standard then the general public when you’re out there causing a disturbance.”

That led to a brief exchange between the council president and the councilman.

“If I was creating a disturbance, Mr. President, the police were right there and could have arrested me,” said Paddack.

To which James responded, “They probably should have from what I’ve heard,” he said.

Paddack then responded James was reacting to what he read and heard on social media.

“That’s your opinion, but you weren’t there,” he said. “You’re going off what you heard on Facebook.”

James said councilmembers had received an email from a witness and concerned citizen who was a social worker and had witnessed the interaction with the child.

“We received an email from a social worker who said the scene at the restaurant was the worst experience she has ever seen in 25 years as a child advocate,” he said. “What you did was the worst she’d ever seen the way you treated your son and the words you spoke. We all got the email. It went on for quite some time and you were very loud and you were creating a disturbance. She said it was the worst case of abuse she had seen in 25 years as a child advocate. As councilpersons, we are held to a higher standard.”

Again, Paddack reiterated he had not been charged with anything related to the collision or the subsequent domestic incident.

“Did she see make break the law?” he said. “It’s hyperbole. You just don’t know. There are people disturbed with your actions when you put your little marks on stuff.”

Gehrig attempted to diffuse the tense interaction among the council and attempted to persuade Paddack to step away from the public eye for a period of time.

“I don’t want to be a judge,” he said. “I’m certainly chief among the sinners. We all make mistakes. I don’t want to be judging you. Matt’s right about one thing. We are held to a higher standard whether we like it or not. The public has every right to make the statements that they make. How do you feel about maybe just getting out of the public eye for a little while? Take some time to reassess and allow for some healing to happen. I’m not saying you should resign, but maybe just take a month off.”

Paddack did not entirely dismiss the recommendation.

“I’ll think about it,” he said. “We can talk about it again at the meeting on Monday. I know they’re going to be here throwing knives and sticks. We’re going to get the details that some members of this council are aware of. I’m just one man trying to do the best that I can, but what happened on Friday should not have happened the way it did, but it was not criminal and there are underlying circumstances personally with our broken family that have not been totally addressed.”

Again, Gehrig suggested Paddack take a little time way from public service to address the apparent family issues.

“There are so many dynamics that are not public,” he said. “Because of that, it may be the best situation to get these issues with your family resolved as well as the public, the city council to decompress a little so we can get back to a normal operation. Making that move can allow the whole situation to resolve and give you a chance to resolve some of these issues with your family.”

In the end, Buas’ motion died for lack of a second. The Mayor and Council will likely revisit the issue on Monday after the protocols for removing a sitting councilperson are reviewed.

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.