Board Candidates Share Views At Ocean Pines Forum

Board Candidates Share Views At Ocean Pines Forum
Candidates Paula Gray, Amy Peck, Stuart Lakernick, Monica Rakowski, Josette Wheatley and Steve Jacobs are pictured at the first of two candidate forums held this week in Ocean Pines. Photo by Bethany Hooper

OCEAN PINES – Six contenders in this year’s board election convened this week to share their views on association matters in the first of two scheduled candidate forums.

On Wednesday, the Ocean Pines Elections Committee held a forum for the six candidates running in the 2022 Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors election. This year, candidates Paula Gray, Amy Peck, Stuart Lakernick, Monica Rakowski, Josette Wheatley and Steve Jacobs will vie for three seats currently held by Peck, Wheatley and Larry Perrone.

“The successful candidates in this election will serve until 2025, and many decisions will be made by this next board of directors over the years,” said Elections Committee Chair Carol Ludwig. “Our purpose this evening is to help inform you, the Ocean Pines voters, about the six candidates.”

As part of this week’s forum, candidates were given time to share opening and closing statements and answer questions submitted by residents.

If elected, Gray, a fulltime resident, said she will bring her personal and professional experiences to serve the community.

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“I would bring the innate ability to never take board or association concerns for granted,” she said. “And finally, what I consider most important is that in all my positions and jobs in life I made every effort not to forget that I represent others, not to bring my personal plans, my personal wishes, or my personal demands to any job I ever do.”

Peck, appointed to fill a board vacancy in 2021, said she is eager to continue the work she started and support the general manager and association staff.

“I’m asking voters to ignore the loud, noisy minority with their negative messages, misinformation and the throw-the-board-out mentality,” she said. “Ignore the constant complainers offering no solutions and listen and hear the fact that Ocean Pines is doing better than ever. We need to keep this going.”

Lakernick, seeking a spot on the board for the third straight year, said he wants to work with the board and follow the association’s governing documents.

“We may not always agree but it doesn’t have to become contentious and nasty,” he said. “The only agenda I have is to work hard for this community, work hard to listen to members of our HOA and finally help our board work as a team for the betterment of Ocean Pines. Most importantly, no matter who you vote for, look at the issues and vote for a positive change for our community.”

Rakowski said she will use her skills and life lessons serve the association’s members.

“I will work hard for you, just as hard as I do for myself and in my personal life,” she said. “I will apply that same attitude and work ethic for anything I do for the board … I know how to get along, I know how to compromise, and I know how to say ‘It’s not always going to go my way.’”

Wheatley, also appointed to fill a board vacancy in 2021, said she wanted to continue serving as a director to preserve the community’s legacy and history.

“The only special interest group I have allegiance to is the 8,542 lot owners, my neighbors, and that is who I am here to represent,” she said. “And I ask for your vote so I may continue my work for Ocean Pines.”

If elected to the board, Jacobs, a fulltime resident serving on the Bylaws and Resolutions Committee and Golf Advisory Committee, said he would prioritize property values and association amenities.

“There are two central points we should keep in mind that I think are paramount,” he said. “One, people live in Ocean Pines for the services and amenities available to them. Two, the board should always avoid making adverse decisions which impact the value of the property each of us has purchased. This is my frame of reference and the guidepost we should all follow.”

On Wednesday, candidates answered questions on topics regarding the reliability of social media, community survey priorities and the enforcement of the association’s declaration of restrictions.

The candidates were also asked their views on board transparency. Jacobs said he believed the board to be open in its decision-making processes.

“I think we’re pretty transparent,” he said. “Anyone who wants to can watch the board make deliberations on YouTube and on the Ocean Pines website. There’s sufficient press coverage, and even social media.”

Rakowski argued that the board could improve communications following closed meetings.

“I do feel like we’ve gone behind closed doors too often,” she said. “And I realize there are certain reasons you must do that – I understand litigation, personnel issues and things like that – but I think sometimes when the board goes behind closed doors, there’s not enough communication afterward about it.”

Gray said the board needed to consider ways in which to inform all homeowners in a timely manner. She also advocated for moving board meetings back to Saturday mornings.

“Not everyone’s going to have an email, not everyone’s going to have a computer …,” she said. “The board has to make certain that every person in this community receives information.”

Lakernick asserted the board held several closed meetings and spent a large amount of money on legal fees.

“I feel that we have paid for some questionable advice and then we have to pay to defend that advice,” he said. “Or sometimes the board doesn’t take the advice and acts on their own. That’s not transparent, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”

Peck said she has been an advocate for board transparency, as she had pushed for hybrid meetings, electronic voting and town hall sessions regarding important association topics.

“I make sure all agendas and committee meetings are posted,” she said. “It’s important that the board own up to mistakes, like the recent certification of candidates not being done correctly the first time. I make sure to direct homeowners where to find information on our website. Even hard copies of our financials can be found in the administration lobby.”

Wheatley said information regarding the association’s budget and expenditures were closely monitored and reported on in monthly board meetings. She added that hybrid meetings also contributed to board transparency.

“As a director of the board, I support the concept of hybrid meetings …,” she said. “This is a giant step for transparency to allow full member participation.”

Candidates were also asked if they would support limiting boat ramp access to Ocean Pines residents and guests and utilizing access control gates. Gray said she would work with the general manager to determine the impact of limiting access and imposing fees.

“It’s very burdensome to hear people say, ‘I live here, and I can’t get my boat in …,’” she said. “It would be interesting to see if we can support our boat ramps with just residents.”

Wheatley said she supported the idea of imposing fees for commercial use.

“If it’s $5 per launch, well that $5 adds up at the end of the day,” she said. “And if we can come up with rough data that shows we can actually make this an affordable and feasible way to go, I’d support that.”

Pointing out the association’s nonprofit status, and its inability to limit access, Peck said she did not support the idea. She did, however, argued in support of a fee system.

“Just like we do with other amenities, we can charge different rates for residents versus non-residents,” she explained. “I actually looked into this issue. Years ago, they talked about a gate and using an electronic card to let you in and out. That is an expensive undertaking, and you might forget your card. What we can do is just issue stickers.”

Rakowski said she did not support commercial uses at the boat ramp. She also spoke against the idea of an access control gate.

“I worked at the Federal Reserve bank and people were forgetting their badges all the time …,” she said. “What are we going to do when someone has their boat up there and they can’t go anywhere?”

Lakernick said he supported the idea of limiting access or imposing a fee for non-residents.

“But the bigger issue isn’t the crowded boat ramp,” he added. “Have you gone over by Mumford’s Pool where the boat ramp is on a Saturday? The trailers are sitting all over the place. I must have knocked on 1,000 doors last year when I was campaigning, and the biggest problem in that neighborhood was parking all over the place.”

Jacobs said he would work with the general manager to come up with a solution that addresses residents’ concerns.

“How do we make sure our residents can use the boat ramp, while we might be able to realize some revenue, by having nonresidents, guests and commercial users pay a fee?” he said.

Candidates were also asked what the association could do to improve safety for walkers and bikes and accessibility to nearby essential services such as grocery stores and pharmacies.

In addition to improving crosswalks and adding signage, Peck noted that leaders should weigh in on Route 90 improvements.

“We are essentially cut in half by Route 90,” she said. “Let’s take this opportunity to ensure we have safer pedestrian bike crossings.”

Jacobs agreed, pointing out the need for communication.

“One person pointed out to me one of the things we don’t do well is we don’t reach out effectively to Worcester County and we don’t deal effectively at times with our state legislature,” he said.

Lakernick said pedestrian safety improvements required engineering.

“We need to have our issue here engineered so we can have a safe way of getting around,” he said.

Wheatley encouraged the community to embrace Route 90 improvements and walking paths to nearby stores and services.

“This will be an opportunity for our community to work together to beautify what’s ours,” she said.

Rakowski said the community could consider shuttles to and from nearby stores.

“I would like to see some sort of shuttle service, maybe once a week or once every other week, where we provide a ride to Food Lion or the post office,” she said.

Gray said the community also needed to address speeding.

“I think the police department, which is already burdened, needs to make a their presence known …,” she said.

The entirety of Wednesday’s candidate forum is posted on the association’s YouTube channel. A second candidate forum has also been scheduled for June 25, at 10 a.m. in the Clubhouse Meeting Room on 100 Clubhouse Drive. Officials say ballots will be mailed to homeowners the week of July 12, with a return deadline of Aug. 10 at 4 p.m. Ballots will be counted and vote totals will be announced on Aug. 11 starting at 10 a.m. in the Clubhouse Meeting Room.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.