Voices From The Readers – April 14, 2023

Voices From The Readers – April 14, 2023

Museum Closure Concerns


I am writing to express my concern and opposition to the planned closure of the Ward Museum and the transfer of its contents to an as yet to be prepared space on West Main Street in downtown Salisbury. I do so as someone who has worked at Salisbury University and has been a supporter of the Ward Museum. I also do so as a local Salisbury native, having graduated from Wicomico Senior High School and am now a local resident.

As you may have learned, I began a petition to Save the Ward Museum at Schumaker Pond, Salisbury, Maryland. Within several days of its launching, it now has surpassed 3,700 signatures. It is a measure of how much the current course of action is misplaced.

Much has been made regarding the outbreak of a mold infestation at the Museum last July when the HVAC system failed. That failure was quickly repaired within several days. The system has since been operating at normal levels. A factor that has caused the University to announce the move is the expense of replacing the boiler and related maintenance. The boiler is now some 30 years old and needs replacement to avoid future HVAC failure.

Following the failure of the HVAC system, Ward Museum officials hired an outside consulting firm to estimate the cost of fixing the system and to replace the boiler. That estimate is approximately $275,000. This figure is considerably less than reports of three to five million dollars associated with public communications at Salisbury University regarding repairs of the Ward Museum. What makes this problematic is that the cost of renovating a downtown storage and display space has been estimated at upwards of $900,000. Together with only the Museum’s internal estimate of $275,000, the total cost of a move could easily approach $1,000,000 or more.

Expenses aside, the Ward Museum’s 38,000 square feet includes some 14,000 square feet of display space in a uniquely designed building. In contrast, the proposed downtown space does not reflect the unique environmental setting of the Ward Museum and its associated nature walk on Schumaker Pond. The downtown location would have only some 5,000 square feet of which only some 1,500 square feet would be available for display of the wildfowl art collection. Spending over three and a half times the money for ten percent of the space just does not make any economic sense.

I know that Salisbury State College, as it was then known, was instrumental in housing the original Ward Brothers decoy collection. Over time, as the collection grew, space became an issue. That led to a public-private partnership resulting in the construction of the current multi-million-dollar museum now on Schumaker Pond. For years, this partnership worked well until the Museum was unable to underwrite both its operating costs and the debt service incurred in its construction. In 1990, an agreement signed between the State of Maryland and the Ward Museum transferred ownership to Salisbury State University as an agent of the University System of Maryland. In exchange for the transfer, Salisbury State University would assume the $1.6 million in outstanding debt and major capital expenditures while the Ward Museum would retain responsibility for normal operating costs. Although the University has continued to make financial contributions to the Ward Museum, it has not renewed in writing its commitment for the past three years, to which it now has announced its decision to close the Museum at Schumaker Pond.

The Ward Museum is an iconic institution with a reputation that extends well beyond the Delmarva peninsula. It draws visitors from all 50 states and several countries abroad. It is featured regularly on tourism promotions, including what has been up to now a website sponsored by Salisbury University. To close the Museum and disperse its contents for a limited space downtown undermines the mission of both the Ward Foundation and the reputation of Salisbury University. I urge you to work toward a viable solution that can enable to Ward Museum to continue its mission at its present site on Schumaker Pond and in which the reputation of Salisbury University with a community commitment to the Museum is justly affirmed.

Phillip LeBel, Ph.D.



A Time-Bomb Is Ticking


This should be of concern to all the employees of Ocean City many of whom I have known for years and consider friends. In 2012 I had raised concerns about the management of the town’s retirement funds to the council. My problem was twofold: Morgan Stanley was underperforming and the town was not putting enough money in to funds annually to protect from future insolvency. The response from the Town was “Ocean City’s funds are 70-80%, while other funds are only 60% funded.” To me underfunded is underfunded.

To be specific, Ocean City at the time was assuming that the funds were growing at 7.5% percent a year while I had calculated over thirty years, they had only grown at 3.6%. You would have to put twice the money in annually if they were only growing at 3.6%. There was resistance to funding more money. Morgan Stanley has managed the funds since 2004 and mostly improved the return claiming an average annual growth rate of about 5.5% per year. As recent as 2018 however that was still two percent below what the city was projecting. But that is a shortfall from the return that determines what the Town funds.

The employees understand what this means. To base the town’s annual contribution on an assumed 7.5% annual return when the actual return is only 5.5% means the town was underfunding by over 30% each year. Finally, after years of objecting at Council meetings the Town lowered their assumption of growth to 7% which forced the town to contribute a little less than 10% more annually to the pension funds. But the problem has significantly worsened.

Overtime, I discovered another problem, about the return from the manager. Morgan Stanley, was shrinking and worse than that they were charging undisclosed fees.

Despite the market having some of its most dramatic upward years from 2016-2000. The 10-year averages and since inception average returns dropped to near 5%. The less then 10-year averages were far worse despite the market significantly going up.

Also, after Mark Paddack was elected, he asked me to do an evaluation of the Pension Funds for the Council. I spent hours on my presentation. It was hard to evaluate the costs Morgan Stanley charged. If the manager chose a Morgan Stanley Mutual Fund with an undisclosed cost of say 1%, Ocean City was never informed. When there were newer funds called ETF’s and as well as stocks and bonds with much smaller charges or no charges at all. That is exactly what the manager at Morgan Stanley was doing. Moreover, he was allocating some of the town’s pension funds to two other managers so Ocean City was double paying for management fees that were not disclosed.

After my presentation in 2020, the Manager slightly lowered his disclosed fee, which was hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in addition to the undisclosed fees and no one on the Council or Pension Committee seemed concerned about either the lack of performance or failure to disclose additional charges. The Council and the Pension Committee seemed content with the nominal reduction in the disclosed Morgan Stanley charges without further investigation of the undisclosed charges. To date there has been no effort to reveal the hidden charges. To date the Town doesn’t even know the total costs of the undisclosed hence hidden charges.

Let me be clear, Morgan Stanley has managed the Pension funds for 20 years. Even an undisclosed charge of one percent (1%) each year, which today is $1.6 million across both pensions, and the medical retirement account. Compounding Morgan Stanley’s claimed 5% return, on the hypothetical 1% undisclosed charge per year, the total cost would be well over $12 million over time for the funds.

Recently I asked Matt James to send me the most recent Morgan Stanley results and I was horrified.

The latest showed a 14.5% loss in both Pensions and the medical fund. This loss reduced r the 3 year-average return 1.62%, the 5-year average return 2.5%- and 10-year average return 4.85% This decade the results have been going straight downhill. The recent 14.5% loss had the effect of reducing the 20 years average return by about 1%. While the Council members continue to assume the pension funds and medical fund is growing at 7% each year allowing them to contribute far less into the funds then the actual performance would require. You would think the 15% loss of all the pension monies would get some attention. This tremendously increases both the risk of pension fund solvency and the future liability for Ocean City going forward. If I was an employee of the Town I would be concerned.

Tony Christ

Fairfax, Va.

Ocean City


Italian Festival Thanks


The 11th Annual St. Joseph’s Day Italian Festival on March 18, presented by the Sons and Daughters of Italy Ocean City Lodge #2474 and St. Luke’s/St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, was an enormous success and our best attended to date. It was a fun day for all who attended and a profitable fund raiser.

We have many individuals, merchants and organizations from Ocean City, Fenwick Island, Berlin, Ocean Pines, Bethany Beach, Millsboro, Ocean View, Selbyville, Rehoboth Beach, and Lewes to thank for their generosity in donating items for our silent auction and gift basket raffle as well as for placing ads in our Festival program. A very special thank you to our five Festival sponsors – ASPIRE’S Summer Work Travel Program (Eastern Regional Office, Ocean City), Mio’s Italian Steakhouse, Moe and Marie Grimes, Tomasetti Law and the Ocean City Knights of Columbus Council #9053/Pope John Paul II 4th Degree Assembly #2452.

Our contributors and the many attendees helped us raise the funds that we use to fund our charitable giving program and our scholarship program that each year recognizes local high school seniors in Maryland and Delaware.

Our thanks to all.

Morrell Delcher

Vito Potenza

(The writers served as event co-chairs.)