The comments this week at City Hall about the Trump flags placed on the beach in Ocean City remind me of a similar, albeit more high-profile situation during the summer of 2020.
In August of 2020, a Maryland man appeared on the Boardwalk with a vulgar sign condemning then-Gov. Larry Hogan for the masking policy he instituted in Maryland. The sign included foul language and picture of the governor wearing a mask. The sign created a stir with Dough Roller employees who sought to bring balance to the ordeal following him around with “Stop The Hate” messages created from pizza boxes. The OCPD at the time issued a statement, saying, “The Ocean City Police Department is aware of the large sign being displayed on the Boardwalk regarding Governor Hogan. The City Solicitor and the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office have been consulted. Unfortunately, the sign, including the profanity, is freedom of speech. We share your frustrations with this and are as disappointed as you are. We support freedom of speech and expression, but do not agree with the inappropriate and offensive language used in the sign.” The lack of action resulted in a statement from the Dough Roller team expressing disappointment in town leadership turning their heads.
Ocean City’s hands off position when it comes to blurring the lines of Freedom of Speech was back on display this week when a resident shared her issues with political flags on the beach. The group of flags read, “Trump 2024, Save America Again.” The citizen believes the fellow Ocean City resident should not be allowed to display political flags on the beach and plans to research what other municipalities do in this case. For now, Ocean City Solicitor Heather Stansbury reiterated a similar position held by the city in 2020. A costly First Amendment battle over street performers was lost in court and the ruling was clear. “You will recall years ago we had someone on the Boardwalk with what was like a sign he made with some words I think most found particularly vulgar, and it was directed at a particular politician,” Stansbury said. “And we had to endure that because we could not regulate that type of speech. It goes back to the First Amendment. This is not territory that this council, under my advice, should get into, unfortunately perhaps. But it is protected speech, and it has been fought and fought and fought throughout the country for years, well beyond you or I.”
Cool heads seem to be prevailing on the ongoing dialogue with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and State’s Attorney’s Office and the Board of Education. What was particularly interesting this week was the language used in the joint statement, which featured all three logos across the top in demonstration of partnership.
Throughout the last two months during the battle of statements, there has been a desire from parents to know what incidents are not being reported to authorities. The statements from State’s Attorney Kris Heiser and Sheriff Matt Crisafulli have referred to disturbing situations within the schools that have not been reported to authorities. The public has the right to know exactly these incidents entailed. Was a student or teacher assaulted? Was there a school violence threat made on a bus? Is there bullying taking place? Did an incident involve a weapon? The public should know, and the statement seems to be asking for patience on that front while private discussions continue.
The joint statement in part read, “the Sheriff, the State’s Attorney, and the Board of Education recognize the right of parents and the public to transparency and accountability from their elected leaders, particularly on matters involving the safety of children at school. … we also look forward to a time in the near future when we can collectively present school safety information to the public to answer questions, eliminate confusion and confirm to our community that we are doing everything we can to make schools the safest places in Worcester County.”
Solid early reviews have been heard for the new and ongoing Beach, Beats & Broadway series at the Ocean City Performing Arts Center, a 1,200-seat beautiful venue inside the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. I was among the nearly sold-out crowd who caught the Rumours of Fleetwood Mac show Wednesday night.
Ocean City has clearly directed attention and resources to utilizing the venue better. Promoter Bob Rothermel and the Ocean City Tourism Department under Director Tom Perlozzo have partnered on booking more events in this space. Previous recent shows included last month’s Greatest Piano Men tribute, Boardway’s Rock of Ages and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which earned high marks from attendees, and last week’s Stomp. Solid attendance totals have been reported and the momentum appears to be building. A few conversations I had at this week’s show prove this is an economic development opportunity. One group of ladies all went out to dinner before the show on a “school night” that otherwise would have been quiet at home. Similar conversations were had with other attendees, including a few from out of town staying in local hotels.
Visit ococean.com/pac for a look at upcoming events, and according to Rothermel many more acts will be announced soon for 2024. “We are thrilled to be putting the ‘performing’ back in the performing arts center,” said Rothermel, the former executive director of the resort’s convention centner. “I am happy to be part of these shows and thrilled to be involved in this great partnership with the Department of Tourism.”