After extensive evaluations and observations for months, the following recommendations are put forward in the local contested races of importance and referendum questions posed for citizens.
Worcester County Commissioners
Most of the activity with the commissioners took place in the primary election over the summer with Commissioners Chip Bertino, Jim Bunting, Diana Purnell and Ted Elder being re-elected. Additionally, with Commissioner Bud Church retiring after 20 years in office, Commissioner-Elect Eric Fiori will fill the District 3 seat. Commissioner Joe Mitrecic was unopposed for the Ocean City district seat he has held since 2014.
District 1: The only seat remaining to be filled is for the southern representative seat currently held by one-term incumbent Josh Nordstrom. The campaign has turned toward the negative in recent weeks with Nordstrom and challenger Caryn Abbott questioning each other’s personal backgrounds, morals, and judgments on social media. In the end, it’s the candidate’s aptitude to serve the citizens of the district worthy of judging for voters. Nordstrom gains the support here based on his public service and commitment to his district during his first term. He has worked hard during his campaign and those efforts are praiseworthy.
Worcester Board of Education
We do not see the need for a radical change with the Worcester County Board of Education and therefore support the bids of the three incumbent members. Board member Todd Ferrante is unopposed once again for his Ocean City representative seat and the lack of opposition confirms support among the constituency for his efforts and leadership.
District 1: Bill Buchanan is a lifelong educator, spending 40 years inside Worcester County public schools working with young people. He knows the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to public education. He also has witnessed the county’s rise to being one of the top school systems in the state. We support another term for Buchanan whose opinions are valued in Newark.
District 4: Bill Gordy has proven himself to be a respected school board member over his previous two terms. Gordy identified the ongoing achievement gap in local schools as one of his top concerns moving forward during a campaign interview. He taps the “equity recognition” aspect as a key component to closing the gap among the highest achieving and lowest achievers. Gordy deserves another term as a school board member to see his goals reached for public schools.
District 6: (Editor’s Note: Due to an editing error, there were selected quotes attributed to Passwaters in the printed piece and a previous online version that were actually positions articulated by candidate Katie Addis. Below is the correct and intended version of this recommendation. We apologize for the mistake.) Nate Passwaters is seeking a full, four-year term after being appointed to the role of a school board member after the tragic passing of Eric Cropper at the age of 48 in July of 2021. Passwaters has a 28-year law enforcement background, providing a unique perspective on public education and how it works with government and public policy making. In an interview, he said, “we must be cognizant of community needs to ensure that WCPS meets those needs. Our relationship with not only district level administration but with our County Commissioners must be a collaborative one, where students and staff are our top priority.” Passwaters is a parent and understands, “each day is a constant reminder of the responsibility we have as adults to create opportunities for our children to become good stewards of the world we leave to them.” A full four-year term is warranted.
The wording of Question A is important. It reads on the ballot, “The purpose of this question is to determine whether the County Commissioners may finance a portion of the costs of designing and constructing a Worcester County Sports Complex by issuing a bond.”
Though we have opposed the site and the process all along because we feel it was rushed, we recommend a for vote for the referendum because government needs to have the flexibility to decide if the bond market is the best option to carry a project of this magnitude forward.
We have long supported a sports complex for northern Worcester County for two primary reasons – economic development and supporting the youth. There is a need and there’s no denying sports tourism is a booming business for many regions throughout the mid-Atlantic. We believe a sports complex developed the right way in the best site can be a game changer for our county. It’s frustrating to leave the beach in the summer months to travel annually to a sports tournament in Lancaster, Pa. as many locals do routinely. Millions of dollars are leaving the marketplace while the influx of new funding cannot be denied with a sports complex developed the right way.
We are recommending voting for this ballot question because we want to see this project happen eventually. However, we are adamantly against a sports complex at the selected site to the west of the high and middle schools. We find many faults in this process to date. We believe this is the wrong site and remain baffled at the lack of inclusion in the process with the Town of Berlin, which will be needed if an indoor site is constructed on the site. Aside from the troubling location, even the most ardent of sports complex supporters must acknowledge the site is far too small to become a major player in the regional sports tourism market. It’s the wrong size site in a problematic location with unknown traffic mitigation plans.
Despite our concerns with the location, the high price point for the property and the lack of due diligence by the county to this point, we believe a for vote is best for our county. Government needs to have the flexibility to use the bond market for large projects that serve the community’s greater good. If the ballot question is turned down, the county will not be able to use the public financing option for the development of a sports complex in the future. We believe a sports complex is a positive addition to the county in a different location. The bond market will ease the county taxpayers’ burden in the short term and allow for flexibility over the long run as far as funding restraints.
District 38: Mary Beth Carozza deserves another term in Annapolis. The reality in Maryland is the Eastern Shore delegation – no matter who the representatives are and their party affiliation – is largely irrelevant to impact state legislation. It’s a numbers game based on the western shore’s larger population. However, the value in representatives like Carozza lies in constituent service. Carozza excels on these efforts of serving the public because of her accessibility and passion. Her impact to address shore needs through legislative bills with Democratic-controlled chambers is limited to local courtesy type measures and will be especially so with the next governor being a Democrat, but Carozza is there for her constituents when called upon. She’s proactive and visible in the community and shares the shore’s conservative values. She’s what the district needs over her inexperienced challenger.
House of Delegates
District 38A: Charles Otto has been a delegate since 2010 and his experience in Annapolis gives him the edge over Todd Nock, a Pocomoke councilman. Otto faces the same upward challenges in the House as Carozza does in the Senate. Therefore, his value to his community is through constituent service while also articulating the needs of the shore even if they largely go unheard.
Ocean City Council
With Mayor Rick Meehan receiving the ultimate vote of confidence by being unopposed for another term, the attention in Ocean City is squarely on the three council seats up for grabs and the three municipality-only referendum questions.
It’s a ho-hum election truly, but Lloyd Martin’s retirement after 20 years in office assures there will be at least one new face behind the dais at City Hall.
There are three seats open with just four candidates. Our endorsements are as follows:
- Matt James made Ocean City history in 2014 when he was the top vote getter at the age of 21. Now seeking his third term on the council, James has proven to be a strong elected official, serving well the last several years as council president. A unique background as a member of the hospitality industry and through service as a first responder provides him a unique perspective that serves him well in office. Though not one to filibuster at meetings with long thoughts, James will chime in when he feels passionate on a subject. Because he picks and chooses when he speaks on matters, it means more when he does weigh in. James deserves another term in office.
- Will Savage will be a good addition to the council. He’s a family man who has experience operating businesses in Ocean City and has experience with the fire department. He will bring a new small business owner perspective to the council that is valuable in government. Savage has been attending government meetings since filing and keeping up to speed on current events, demonstrating a commitment and desire to serve his community. We support his candidacy and are grateful for his willingness to serve his hometown.
- As a result of his controversial first term, we cannot support Mark Paddack for a second term in office. Paddack made history in Ocean City when the council voted to publicly censure him over a racist comment made on a resident’s social media story. An extensive probe was unable to confirm Paddack himself posted the comment, but it did report the post was made from his home IP address. The forensic technology probe was an unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars. Later, there was bizarre incident when Paddack verbally berated his son inside a restaurant after an accident in a parking lot. The teenage son would later go to describe his father on social media in a disturbing fashion. An elected official’s integrity and genuineness should never be questioned to the degree Paddack’s has been multiple times in recent years. It’s all just too much, and time for a change. Carol Proctor will have a learning curve because of her lack of government experience, but all new elected officials need to be educated to some degree. She has owned her shortcomings in interviews but pledges to bring a passion and work ethic to the job that should serve her well moving forward. We think she deserves a chance to hold a council seat.
Ballot Question 1: We think the increase of the mayor’s annual salary from the current $30,000 to the proposed $50,000 is far too much too soon. It’s difficult to argue with the data comparing the pay of other mayors in similar municipalities, but a 67% increase is too much at once. Nonetheless, it has been 33 years since the wage has been changed and an adjustment is needed.
When considering this question, it’s important to take the individual currently in office out of the equation. Current Mayor Rick Meehan works hard at his job and does a solid job of representing Ocean City on all fronts. We believe the same could be said for his predecessor, Jim Mathias. Both Meehan and Mathias have devoted full-time energy and effort into what is intended by charter to be a part-time post. What lies in the future when leadership changes hands is unknown. We believe the increase should have been $10,000 but we would go with a for vote since it’s been the same pay dating back to 1989.
Ballot Question 2: The amendment deals with doubling the council member’s pay from the current $10,000 to $20,000 and increasing the council president’s stipend from $11,000 to $23,000. Our position is similar to the mayor’s compensation – the increase is too much too fast. However, research shows that municipalities with similar sized budgets pay their elected officials more. Recent history has also shown there’s paltry interest in serving in elected office. Increasing the rate may help foster greater involvement for those contemplating the sacrifices associated with public service. We say go for the adjustment, albeit wishing the increases were more conservative.
Ballot Question 3: The issue deals with how Ocean City spends the 2% of gross room tax revenue it collects. Currently, of that 2% of gross room tax revenue 60% goes to the general fund to help with expenses associated with tourism, such as public safety, and 40% goes to marketing the resort. The ordinance passed last year – and subsequently petitioned to referendum – allows the city to spend more of the room tax revenue on marketing, incrementally increasing the marketing share by 2% each year in fiscal year 2024 and fiscal year 2025. Stated in the referendum is a key clause that says when the room tax rate exceeds the current 5% — as it’s proposed to do next year – the resort will return to the 40% figure for marketing in the split with the operating budget.
It’s an intricate matter for city voters to understand. It’s further complicated by the likelihood the county’s room tax rate will be increased to 6% next year, making the ordinance passed in Ocean City last year moot because of the clause stating if the room rate increases beyond 5% the marketing share will stay at 40%.
We see no reason for a change to the room tax revenue distribution and recommend a vote against the ballot question. Ocean City spends enough money on marketing and advertising and does not need a larger slice of the room tax distribution. We prefer to see the formula remain as is.
The room tax rate is likely to be increased next year and there will be more dollars already included under the current formula distribution. The ordinance is not needed.