OCEAN CITY – In early February, Terry McGean celebrated his first anniversary as the town’s city manager.
Serving as city engineer for more than three decades, the longtime employee was appointed last winter to lead daily operations for the Town of Ocean City. Since that time, McGean said he has prioritized not only the safety of the resort’s residents and visitors, but the employees who make the town’s goals possible.
This week, The Dispatch sat down with McGean to discuss his first year in the city manager’s office, the challenges of running a resort town, and upcoming capital projects.
Q: With the one-year anniversary of your swearing in ceremony now past, how are you feeling about your first year as city manager?
There was a lot of learning. Some things I had a big leg up on because of all my years with the town, so I knew a lot of people, I know a lot of the issues. But a big learning curve, some of the things I was not as familiar with, was lot of the union negotiations – I quickly had to get up to speed on that – some of the legal issues and other things I was not as much aware of as city engineer.
Q: Since your promotion, there have been several shifts with the town’s departments. You have filled the city manager position, JR Harmon has moved into the new deputy city manager position and Paul Mauser has taken your former role as city engineer. There has also been a shift in the way departments report to the city manager. How has the transition been?
One of the first things I realized when I became city manager was the way things were set up, it was too much for one person to keep your hands on and manage the way you need to. And the council understood that too. In fact, it was one of their tasks to me to look into a reorganization and helping the city manager’s office. So I looked at what departments I felt were critical, that needed to stay as a direct report, and then what departments might work better reporting to a deputy. So we looked at that and looked at what I wanted that deputy city manager position to be. I didn’t want it to be just somebody you had to talk to before they talked to me. I wanted that position to have direct responsibility over departments. So we came up with the restructuring that we did. I think it puts a good mix of departments under the city manager, so it gives him the ability to learn a lot of different departments and took a lot of burden off of myself. We took planning and community development, recreation and parks, the IT department, the risk department and put those all under the deputy city manager. I think that’s worked out well. It’s taken a burden off me, and it’s helped those departments. They get better feedback from the city manager’s office.
Q: Looking back at this first year, what would you say have been the most challenging aspects in leading daily operations for the Town of Ocean City?
The biggest challenge has been the inability or difficulty in getting part-time and seasonal employees. The model that we’ve used for a hundred years is becoming less and less sustainable, whether it be lifeguards, whether it be part-time paramedics, whether it be seasonal police officers. In my opinion, for some of those positions, we just have to shift away and move to a more full-time model. And how we do that, and how we do that affordably has probably been my biggest challenge.
Q: How is the town trying to address that? Is it just going to a full-time model? Is it pay or incentives?
All of the above. We have significantly increased pay for our part-time, seasonal people. We’ve offered incentives, signing bonuses, housing allowances, retention bonuses for a lot of our part-time positions – and I should add in bus drivers as well, as it’s been a challenge for us. We’ve done that and we are going to have to continue to do it. We’re also hiring more full-time firefighter-paramedics, hiring more full-time police officers. We’ve going to have to continue doing both of those things. The ability to grow the season, a lot of times it’s the special events putting a burden on our employees. That’s one side of it. Another side of it is if we’re going to have to move from a seasonal, part-time model to a more full-time model, then we need to grow the season. So balancing those two things, making that transition, is a challenge.
Q: Do you feel the town is better prepared for this coming season?
We’re trying to be. I hope we are. At least this season, we’ve put a lot of these incentives out before the season and not saying, “Oh my gosh, we have a problem.” We’re trying to be more proactive than reactive. From that standpoint, we’re more confident. But on the other hand, we’re not seeing growth. In some cases, it’s not a matter of money, it’s just that the people aren’t there.
Q: In your swearing in ceremony, the mayor pointed out that you had your fingerprints on just about every significant project in the resort over the last three decades. What is the next big project for the town?
There’s two where I just want to get the shovel in the ground, and we’re very close to it. The downtown recreation complex, the contract is sitting on my desk, so we’ll be starting that next month. Fire Station 3 is on the agenda for tomorrow. Hopefully the council approves that contract. Those are the two projects I was working on as city engineer, and I really want to get those things done. Then the two really big projects on the horizon are Baltimore Avenue and the sports complex. Baltimore Avenue, we’re going to work hard to pursue grant funding. I recognize the concern of the council and the fact that the cost of that project doubled. And I share affordability concerns unless we get grants, so we’re going to put hard to do that. I think there’s a lot of infrastructure money at the federal level, and hopefully we can get some of that. We’re going to push hard for that. The sports complex, we’ll have the Maryland Stadium Authority present to everybody in April. Then the council is going to decide how they want to move forward.
Q: What does the sports complex project look like for the town? How would the town be involved?
I think a lot of that is going to have to do with when they hear the Stadium Authority’s proposal. We know where it was proposed for the county. Does the town want to take that project level? To what level does the town want to take it over? Do we still want to look at that location, or do we want to look somewhere else? I think there’s a lot of decisions that are going to have to be made, but the first step is hearing that study.
Q: I know you’ve only just completed your first year, but is this a position you hope to be in for the long haul?
I plan on ending my career here, hopefully. This is my last stop. I don’t intend on going anywhere.