An Ocean City Treasure
Last week I had the pleasure of helping to restore the huge Native American sculpture that’s been located at Ocean City’s Inlet since 1976. I call him “Chief,” and I’ve found him to be a calm place to visit over my 40 years of living here. Peter Toth, who I assisted, has sculpted at least one of these artworks in each of the 50 states to honor native culture. These sculptures are valuable, and gain interest with each passing year. Some people tour the country visiting as many of them as possible; some visit all of them.
Our sculpture needs care to contend with the often-harsh weather it experiences exposed beside the Inlet. While Mr Toth’s recent visit is important, Ocean City must continue to keep this local treasure in good shape for future generations. Toth is age 74. Ocean City is very fortunate that in all of Maryland he chose to place a globally recognized legacy project here. Mr Toth is willing to share his preservation tips with the Ocean City staff responsible for maintaining other sites around the city. I’m willing to continue to donate my time to the conservation of this sacred object dedicated to the spirit of the native ancestors of this land.
I’m a teacher, and Native American history is grossly underrepresented in our public school curriculum. Having myself lived for a time with natives in New Mexico, I know there is much that Americans have to learn about the people that inhabited this land for 30,000 years before the first Europeans arrived.
Take some time when you’re near the Inlet to visit “Chief”. He’s a steadying presence and an excellent listener.
Culture Of Conflict
A politician like a lawyer is required to recuse themselves should they be presented with a conflict of interest. When personal business dealings overlap your elected responsibilities, you are conflicted. In politics you are required to disclose when you are conflicted and abstain from voting or influencing the vote. In Ocean City the mayor not only encourages conflicts of interest but in some cases places councilmen in charge in areas they are conflicted. Our politicians should neither propose, vote or be in charge of legislation or public expenditures when they are conflicted, anything that could leave them personally better off, presents a possible conflict. Why does conflicted behavior proliferate in Ocean City politics? Why not in the county?
About 10 years ago after an Ocean City Council meeting during which I proposed that council salaries should be raised to $30,000 or $40,000 per member, Mary Knight told me, “we don’t want to raise the pay because more people would run for office.” Her statement has stayed with me for a decade but is only part of the reason that explains the general apathy toward politics in Ocean City. Starkly contrasted by political involvement in the county, apathy invites conflicted behavior by Ocean City politicians. Recently, while having a chance to work with many county politicians, I began to believe that it is not only the low pay which leads to the disinterest but the apathy of the voter base in town that dissuades political involvement and leads to conflicted behaviors by Ocean City politicians.
If you look at the seven County Commissioner races you will see that every race is contested except one. A couple races have four candidates in the primary. The race for Ocean City Commissioner, Joe Mitrecic, an Ocean City politician, is in the only uncontested race. This allows Mr. Mitrecic to take liberties with his position not seen or taken by other commissioners who are in competitive races. When approached by a private investor Mr. Mitrecic chose not to tell the other commissioners and declined using private money to build the sports complex without the other commissioners’ knowledge. Moreover Mr. Thom Gulyas points out correctly that in Mr. Mitrecic’s rush to push forward the deal, he had signed the purchase agreement for the Harrison property committing over $7.15 million in public funds three weeks before the public hearing. “Why hold public hearings when Mr. Mitrecic’s signed a purchase agreement three weeks before the public hearing?” Mr. Gulyas raises a good question.
Presently there are four candidates running for the seat representing West Ocean City and part of Berlin in the county. All seem to be highly motivated and reflect unambiguously the public’s best interests. Mr. VanVonno, Mr. Gulyas and Mr. Fiori all think we should slow down with the large financial commitments of the sports complex which presently rests on the public purse strings. All share a reasonable care with the public’s limited funds. Also a feeling shared by three sitting commissioners who feel Mr. Mitrecic should have brought the private money purchaser to the commissioners’ attention and had no authority to dismiss the private money offer. In the county, there is no shortage of very talented sitting commissioners including Mr. Bertino, Mr. Bunting and Mr. Elder and a long list of very qualified contenders including Richard Addis, Caryn Abbott and Grant Helvey to name a few.
Ocean City Council members with no challengers often remain in conflicted roles. For example, why does member John Gerhig feel that he can advance his interests by serving as a shoehorn for two of the richest “good old boys” in Ocean City history? Buddy Jenkins, his customer at D3, for whom he extended the pier deal rental period, for 25-more years without a competing bid and Hale Harrison by advocating for a payment to the Harrisons of $7,150,000 for farmland they own for an athletic complex when numerous other less expensive properties were available? In both deals Gehrig was the primary mover. How is the public better off when Gehrig picks the costliest alternatives with limited public funds? Why does member Peter Buas, a trained lawyer, who understands conflicts of interest feel that putting all the electric lights on Baltimore Avenue underground for at least $25 million is in the public’s best interest when his family owns a number of properties and hotels on Baltimore Avenue which would directly benefit from that city expenditure? Shouldn’t members Matt James and Peter Buas recuse themselves from all town expenditures that involve tourism, where the stated intent is to fill hotel rooms when both their families own and operate a number of hotels? Instead, Mr. James has headed a key committee on tourism. Aren’t both Matt and Peter conflicted when they vote to expand town funds to fill hotel rooms? Shouldn’t member Paddack recuse himself of all council votes regarding union matters? Of course, he should.
Are these four members acting in the public’s best interest? If conflicted why do the city’s voters tolerate it? Why don’t the city’s voters even show a sufficient interest? Why do Ocean City candidates often run unopposed?
Contested races bring out the best in all of us. They are the essence of what democracy is all about. In Ocean City we seldom have contested races. Although we are the richest city in the county, we often have only one candidate running for re-election or election. In Ocean City the voters only pay 5% of the taxes. Many are retired and are not reliant or connected to the ups and downs of the economy, as they are in the County. They don’t have a dog in the fight, or sufficient skin in the game. In the county things are very different and this is apparent in the many contested races and in the county’s high level of political interest.
Ocean City is an anomalous political entity. Moreover, the controlling group of voters are elderly, retired and not dependent on the local economy. They receive checks in the mail monthly, it could be argued that they do not have a dog in the fight or sufficient skin in the game. The local government is keenly aware of this and has created a political culture of conflict promoted and sanctioned by the mayor.
This culture of conflict raises the issue in many monetary expenses of purpose. What is a public good? Is this expenditure in the public’s best interest or do political decisions often just wrongly transfer more public assets to the self-interested and in some cases the good old boys?
If we were to ask John Fager if he would write a $7,150,000 check to the Harrisons and build the athletic complex he would balk. Why? Because John Fager is a very smart businessman. Although he is in favor of using county money, he would need to know many more details before he committed to own and operate the complex. Details like the total expense? And how you make money? Mr. Fager would need much more than Gehrig’s and Mitrecic’s assurance that the sports complex will make money.
Ocean City/Fairfax, Va.
The border has been broken for decades. Presidents come and presidents go with different perspectives on how to address or even ignore the matter. That said, only Congress is to blame and only Congress can fix the problem. Immigrants cross the border and immediately claim asylum, based on them having been oppressed in their homeland. They are given a court date on which their claim can be heard and are released into the US.. About 85% do not show for that court date because they really weren’t oppressed. Had they showed up for that court date, they’d have been deported. So they melt into the fabric of America.
Our asylum system, allowing entrance prior to proof of oppression is flawed and America’s kindness is being abused. We can do better for America and for those forced to live here in secrecy, living lesser lives as “illegals.” We need to solve this problem and use our vast resources to address legal immigration which benefits America and those anxious to come and work in our country.
Our Representatives in Congress need to revise the law, fix the problem and stop playing partisan politics.