It was a pleasant surprise to see the Worcester County Commissioners vote 5-2 to explore implementing a public comment period at its meetings. Making the motion was Commissioner Joe Mitrecic and supporting the effort to seek a public comment mechanism at their meetings were Commissioners Caryn Abbott, Ted Elder, Eric Fiori and Diana Purnell. Opposed to allowing public comments were Commissioners Chip Bertino and Jim Bunting.
Citing an editorial in this newspaper, Mitrecic believes it’s time to designate a portion of commissioners meetings to public comments. As far as I know, the Worcester County Commissioners have never allotted a meeting agenda item for public comments, unlike nearly every other government in Maryland and in the country. There are other jurisdictions that do not allow public comments at every single meeting, but the great majority provide time for citizens to address their elected officials as a body at most meetings. There was a concern expressed the meetings will not be as productive if the citizens are provided time to address their representatives. It’s a bogus excuse, as nearly every government in the country functions and operates while carving out some for citizens to address their elected officials as a body. The hope here is for the commissioners to at least allow public comments at one meeting a month, but the reality is it should be offered at each meeting.
After last week’s editorial calling for public comments to be permitted by the commissioners, the Worcester United Facebook group created an online petition last Friday, gaining more than 265 signatures in a matter of days. An official letter was sent by the group to the commissioners, signed by “The Citizens of Worcester County.” It read in part, “We, the undersigned citizens of Worcester County, hereby express our strong desire to have public comment sessions incorporated into all future County Commissioner meetings. We believe that public participation is essential for a transparent and inclusive decision-making process. Public comments provide an opportunity for community members to voice their concerns, share valuable insights, and contribute to the decision-making process. By allowing public comments at all County Commissioner meetings, we aim to foster a stronger sense of community engagement and ensure that the diverse voices within our community are heard and considered. We understand the importance of efficient and productive meetings. Therefore, we propose implementing a structured system for public comments, with reasonable time limits and guidelines to ensure the smooth flow of the meetings, similar to those used by the Board of Education. This will allow residents to express their views without disrupting the overall proceedings.”
It’s good news the Worcester County Fair will now essentially be operated by the Worcester County Recreation and Parks Department with the current fair board serving in an advisory capacity. Times change and most county fairs in rural areas around the country have seen a loss of attendance and interest in recent years. Despite the best intentions of the 4-H folks and the fair volunteers, the reality is the event could use a boost, and the county has the desire and the ability to breathe new life into the event.
For this year, there will be a new date, Aug. 8-11, and a new site, John Walter Smith Park. It was a good move for the commissioners to support county staff’s recommendation to take over the fair. The department has demonstrated the ability to lead successful special events, such as the Harbor Day at the Docks and sports tournaments, but will need the assistance of the experienced fair volunteers with rebranding the event to a larger audience. It appears to be a win-win for everyone.
Once it was confirmed the OC Air Show would move from June to August this year, there were a few hints about a possible new event planned to take its place. Though the dates may or may not have lined up exactly, it appears those early intimations were referring to the Race World Offshore (RWO) Boat Race that returned to the Ocean City Mayor and Council this week for June 7-9 approval.
What makes this boat race event unique is it would be a Town of Ocean City special event like Springfest and Sunfest, for example. It will be operated by the town with the tourism department producing it and RWO acting as the race organizer due to it being a sanctioned body. The council approved a one-year agreement this week with options for a second and third year based on how things go with it. The event now needs county approval as well.
As for details, an offshore race area will be set up from the Inlet to 32nd Street (basically Baltimore Avenue’s length) with a designated wet pit area at Sunset Marina and a dry pit area at the convention center. The town will pay $110,000 to RWO the first year, including $75,000 from the tourism budget and $35,000 redistributed from funds set aside for the air show in the current fiscal year budget. Since the air show will now be held in August, it falls into the next fiscal year’s budget that has not yet been drafted and approved. RWO estimates 40 to 45 boats will participate in the first-year event, which city folks hope will turn a profit. Special Events Director Frank Miller said, “We’re hopefully forecasting we can make a net profit on this event, even in its first year. And that’s using conservative attendance numbers in terms of what we will have for revenue streams.”