Voices From The Readers – April 29, 2022

Voices From The Readers – April 29, 2022

Conflict Of Interest

Editor:

My letter should be of interest to all voters and tax payers in the Town of Ocean City as well as all of the Town’s employees.

In a letter appearing in the local newspapers on April 15, Mr. John Gehrig, a council member, wrote a letter under the title “Make money or take your money?” He wrote, “The question is simple. Do you want your elected officials to seek ways to make money to pay their bills or do you want them to keep raising your property taxes?” Is it that simple?

Over the last year, the mayor and members of the council have hired over 30 new employees, and started a new expensive tourism department. These actions by mayor and council greatly increased Ocean City’s expenses going forward Now Mr. Gehrig wants to spend many millions more on a sports complex saying “we have a gigantic opportunity to ride the wave of a $20 billion a year youth sports industry.” Mr. Gehrig’s assertion is made despite the evidence to the contrary in the Town’s study revealing a significant slowdown in sports participation.

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Can we trust Mr. Gehrig’s judgement with what looks to be the biggest project in the County in decades? What is his record? Have his efforts made the town money before?

Four years ago, Mr. Gehrig along with Dennis Dare and Mary Knight were assigned by the mayor to be architects, in closed sessions, of the Pier deal. The Pier property is approximately 6.5 acres and contains more than 25 amusements, games and businesses extending from Ripley’s to Thrashers and back to the Pier. I have always considered the pier property to be the most valuable property in Ocean City. The deal struck behind closed doors was approved by the Ocean City Council and extended Mr. Jenkins’ lease another 25 years granting Mr. Jenkins’ company approximately 33 more years of control over the pier.

Certainly, questions have never been answered by Mr. Gehrig who was one of the three who met in closed sessions over many months before it became public. Why was the Pier the only property that wasn’t bid out to the public? Mr Gehrig, as Ocean City’s representative, why did you not review the subleases Mr. Jenkins entered into to better understand how to price the property for lease? How did you arrive at $250,000 a year beginning in eight years with 3% increases?

Maybe most important of all Mr. Gehrig, why did you not recuse yourself from voting on the Jenkins Pier deal let alone meeting with him in private for 18 months and being one of the architects that presented the present deal to the mayor and council? Isn’t Mr. Jenkins a substantial customer of your company D3? Who were you representing Ocean City or D3? How is this not a huge conflict of interest? Don’t the taxpayers and voters have a right to know how much money Mr. Jenkins’ various companies are paying D3 every year?

After the Jenkins deal, both Dennis Dare and Mary Knight stepped down from running for council. The State of Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board found the mayor and council in numerous violations for having these meetings behind closed doors including Lloyd Martin, Deluca, Paddock, James and the mayor. To this day the council has failed to make public the minutes of these meetings.

Mr. Gehrig should not have held closed meetings with Mr. Jenkins or voted to give Mr. Jenkins the Pier for an additional 25 years. Mr. Gehrig’s company, D3, has and had multiple business dealings with various companies that Mr. Jenkins owns which placed him in conflicts of interest and should be grounds for his expulsion from the council. The mayor, aware that Mr. Gehrig built and maintained multiple websites for a number of Mr. Jenkins companies, knew he was conflicted and should not neither have allowed Gehrig to go on the private committee that architected the Pier deal nor voted on the Pier deal due to his conflicts.

In my opinion, the Pier deal that Mr. Gehrig architected and voted for will cost Ocean City not millions but 10’s of millions over the next 33 years and should be of great concern to all who say they love Ocean City.

So, with Gehrig’s dubious record of “making the town money” lets fast forward to today and look at another Gehrig deal, the Sports Complex, also with 10’s of millions at stake once again. The present $11.2 million bond will just pay for the Harrison property and to draw up plans for the development. If we follow Gehrig again, we are looking at likely $40-$50 million in future debt for the County and Ocean City. Can we afford to let another Gehrig deal go through? Or should the sports complex be looked over more carefully by people without a history of conflicts of interest?

Gehrig’s own words to the Ocean City voters and taxpayers sums it up best by the man who brought Ocean City the Pier deal.

“So back to the question do you want your elected officials to make money, or take your money?,” he said. Seems like Mr. Gehrig is threatening the voters and tax payers by saying if you don’t vote for my sports complex, I will raise your taxes.

In two to three weeks, I will give the local papers another letter in which we will explore what is a public good? What are the public’s best interests? I will also disclose further conflicts of interest as the weeks unfold leading up to the election. With an election coming it is important that we continue the conversation on conflicts of interest. It is my sincere hope that my letters will stimulate interest and cause more people to run for mayor and council in Ocean City in the fall elections.

Tony Christ

Falls Church, Va.

Ocean City