Pines Board Withdraws Gavin Knupp Award Proposal; Officials Discuss Skate Park Renaming

Pines Board Withdraws Gavin Knupp Award Proposal; Officials Discuss Skate Park Renaming
A memorial paddleout and celebration of life was held in Ocean City last July after Gavin Knupp's death. Another paddleout is planned for July 11 to observe the one-year anniversary of his passing. File photo by Campos Media

OCEAN PINES – The Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Board of Directors voted last week to withdraw a motion allowing for the creation of an annual Gavin Knupp Award.

Last Saturday, board members had before them a motion to approve a partnership with the Gavin Knupp Foundation to create an annual Gavin Knupp Award within the community. However, the motion was ultimately withdrawn in a 7-0 vote after officials highlighted the family’s opposition to the award proposal and the community’s sentiments regarding an effort to rename the community skate park in Knupp’s honor.

“It’s unfortunate that we could not find a way to honor Gavin today,” said Director Steve Jacobs. “I hope going forward we still find a way to do so.”

While there was no motion on the agenda last Saturday, several association members came before the board requesting the Ocean Pines skate park be renamed after Gavin Knupp, a 14-year-old who died in a hit-and-run collision on Grays Corner Road in July. As of Monday, no charges have been filed and the investigation remains ongoing.

Resident Kim Gorsuch argued the renaming would not only honor Gavin but would offer a space for his friends and peers to heal.

“I think it would do good for this community, I think it would do good for the family and I think it would do good for the kids …,” she said. “It’s not going to cost us anything more. They want to come in and improve it. And kids go there, his peers go there.”

Resident Becky Vail agreed.

“We have a young member of our community who was senselessly killed, murdered by a hit-and-run driver,” she said. “That family is a part of our community. Sometimes we have to think from the heart and not from the financials. It wouldn’t take much for this community to rename that skate park in Gavin’s name. He’s a member of our family, our community.”

Jacobs, however, said a motion to rename the skate park was pulled from last Saturday’s agenda after learning Association President Doug Parks and Director Colette Horn had met with Tiffany Knupp, Gavin’s mother, on Nov. 14 and had reportedly reached an agreement to create an annual award instead.

“I confirmed the agreement with Ms. Knupp and she agreed I should remove the motion from the agenda for today’s meeting,” he said.

To that end, Horn introduced a motion last Saturday to partner with the Gavin Knupp Foundation for the creation of the annual award. But that motion was ultimately withdrawn after officials learned Tiffany Knupp had posted a social media comment sharing her disappointment with the association for not renaming the skate park. She wrote, “please kindly take the meaningless award and shove it up your a—.”

“It is unfortunate that the board’s offer of either a bench or an award in Gavin’s name is considered an insult,” said Director Monica Rakowski. “Having that information, in my opinion, there’s no action required at this time, or warranted.”

Director Frank Daly said he had supported the renaming of the skate park, as well as the annual award. He noted, however, it was unclear as to what the Knupp family wanted.

“At the end of the day, I’m not going to shove something down the family’s throat if that’s not what they want …,” he said. “Until I know what they want, I’m not going to vote on anything. And that’s unfortunately where we’re at, and it’s sad.”

Board Discusses Skate Park Renaming

Officials this week also highlighted the community’s opinions regarding the proposed renaming effort. Parks noted that he had received comments both for and against renaming the park in Gavin Knupp’s honor.

“I certainly understand these requests, but we also have to respect the requests of others who have said it would be wrong to do that, that it would set a precedent …,”
he said. “That’s the other side of the argument we’ve heard which has caused us the dilemma.”

Horn told community members last week she felt the award presentation would be a better way to honor Gavin Knupp.

“For me, I felt it was an important initiative to consider because I felt we needed a memorial that would reach the entire membership, not just the skate park membership and those families,” she said. “It’s on this agenda today because I feel it deserves an airing by this board and the public deserves to hear where this came from and what the intent is. I still believe this is an appropriate method to memorialize Gavin to the wide audience.”

Jacobs said he still supported the proposal to rename the skate park but argued that division and negativity within the community had prevented the matter from moving forward.

“In this case, it has made the chance – at least for now – for Ocean Pines to memorialize Gavin a nonstarter,” he said.

Directors Rick Farr and Stuart Lakernick also discussed threatening comments that had been made from members of the Justice for Gavin movement.

“We had to take our phone numbers and addresses off the website because of the targeted emails, text messages and phone calls we have all been getting, that are threatening us,” Lakernick said.

Parks said he understood residents’ desires to rename the skate park but questioned the timing.

“We also need to consider that perhaps now is not the right time,” he said. “Maybe it should be done at some point in the future as this unfortunate situation progresses. Nobody up here is saying it will never happen … From my perspective, perhaps we should consider it at a more appropriate time, because there is merit in doing it.”

Parks noted, however, that the community could form a petition effort to rename the skate park. He said signatures must be from association members in good standing.

“Within the governing documents of this association, members can start a petition …,” he said. “If qualified, it would generate a referendum, which then would go out to the community to vote on the issue.”

Knupp Speaks On Renaming Effort On Sunday, Tiffany Knupp shared a post on the “Do It For Gavin – Justice For Gavin” Facebook group outlining plans to begin a petition.

“We will absolutely be starting a petition to let the OP community be heard,” she wrote. “I have dedicated friends of the family that will be helping with the process. Unlike the board we welcome all views and suggestions. We will however not be doing this until after Thanksgiving. This time is for family and being thankful. Life as we know is short, let’s take a breath and be in the moment.”

She continued, “WE will announce when this will be done, and the details will be planned as all of our events have been. Any other posts about drop off locations have not been approved by me or have even asked permission to do so.”

Tiffany Knupp also addressed the board’s comments regarding negative social media interactions from the Justice For Gavin group.

“Certain people have also been removed from this page to keep the movement open but positive, the new admins will not encourage the negativity that the former admin fueled,” she wrote. “We need change, we need help, we need to make changes for our community and I will not except anything less.”

Association Maintains Relationship With Matt Ortt Companies

During president’s remarks at last Saturday’s board meeting, Parks also addressed the community’s calls for the Ocean Pines Association to sever ties with Matt Ortt Companies, which manages the community’s food and beverage operations. While no charges have been filed in Gavin Knupp’s death, the company’s former partner has been publicly linked to the hit-and-run collision.

“Over the last several months, there have been posts and comments on social media to have the board remove the Matt Ortt company as a management firm for the OPA’s food and beverage operations,” he said. “Recently there have been a number of emails sent to the directors with the same recommendation, along with calls to boycott OPA amenities and veiled threats to the board if no action is taken.”

He continued, “OPA has a business contractual relationship with Matt Ortt Companies that involves specific obligations by both parties. At this time, there is no consideration for changing that relationship or the end date of the contract. It is the obligation of the OPA Board of Directors to base any decision to do so on the business interests of the Association.

“Regardless of how some people feel about the matter, major decisions affecting the Association must include consideration for how the overall community will be affected, rather than a subset of the membership. I understand and respect everyone’s right to voice their opinions and boycott facilities as they see fit, however, those actions in and of themselves are not the basis for an important financial decision. I respectfully ask that at this time you consider and understand our position on the matter.”

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.