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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Does Ocean City Need an Ethics Board

I need help understanding the debate about the Ocean City Ethics Board. I understand the question: Is it a redundant waste of taxpayer dollars, or a community watchdog to hold elected legislators, administration officials, and city connected businesses accountable? No one disagrees with its purpose. But is it working? Mixed results may be a sign that it is, because if it’s doing its job right, someone will always end up being unhappy.

Councilman John Kemenosh expressed my wish that if the administration “corrected…ethics problems” there would be no need for an Ethics Board. However, Mayor Gillian pointed out that civil service procedures and union rules make it difficult and costly to do what’s right. The fact that we still have employees working for the City who have falsified records demonstrates just how impotent the office of Mayor can be. One can only sympathize because that must be extremely frustrating to a man who has spent his entire career in the private sector. If our Mayor can’t get rid of rotten wood, what chance does a more distant state Finance Board have?

Councilman Keith Hartzell put out a challenge that I hope will be taken on by someone. He advocated for some citizens’ mechanism to investigate wrongdoing by public officials which could then pass the case on to the appropriate enforcement body if there was sufficient evidence to justify doing so. Ocean City has an abundance of smart well-intentioned citizens. Why couldn’t the Chairperson of the Ethics Board and the City Solicitor sit down and craft a solution to present to our elected representatives? All it takes is one of them (and it doesn’t matter which one) to pick up the phone. The plan does not have to be perfect. But it would give us a place to start, and we might end up with something better instead of nothing at all.

Jim Tweed, Ocean City

Posted by Jim Tweed at 12:51 AM
Categories: Administration

Our Yellow Brick Road Without the Vision--A CALL TO ACTION

I can't wait any longer. I can't wait for the Mayor's 2012 budget. I can't wait for a sophisticated well thought out capital plan. I can't wait for Council to fill the leadership role the administration has yielded. Let me connect the dots - capital spending - the new causeway - the downtown - the recently purchased boardwalk lot - Hartzell/Ping and John Flood.

About a week ago the administration presented it's capital plan to Council. It's best feature is it's size again - substantially larger than the Perrillo years mainly due to the boardwalk construction of $1.8 Million due to start in 2012. With exception of how the top layer of the boardwalk might be constructed it fails to seize the moment and earmarks $750,000 (to be matched equally by the school board) to install artificial turf at the football field.

Aside from my usual comments of how a color coded map of the city 's roads that are done and roads that need to be done so you can see ward by ward what the status in fixing our roads is, this year's and last year's capital plan fails to take direct advantage of the completion of the new causeway, our yellow brick road. Due to the lack of government leadership and planning the downtown is unprepared to capitalize on this once in a lifetime opportunity. Instead the administration and I presume council and the school board want to replace natural grass with artificial turf. Scarce resources. What is more important to Ocean City today - a fixed up downtown or artificial turf? This comes on the heals of paying $600,000 more than the assessed value of the boardwalk parking lot this summer when property values in general continue to decline. Scare resources. I and others asked council and the Administration to not overpay for the boardwalk parking lot. The town did not rise and fall on 40 parking spaces this summer where we didn't even bother to put the ticket machine on the driver's side of the car. Read a$2.1 million horse with a defective saddle. And our Mayor has been taking tickets all his life - who is paying attention? Common sense? Go figure. I ask you, will 2012's ill- conceived capital choice be artificial turf over downtown improvements? As Winnie Perino said the other night at the "branding meeting for downtown," we need to fix up our downtown because we are about to be getting a second look. You usually get one second look and we are late. We are late because all we can do is spend $375,000 on the downtown of which $275,000 is for the annex building (which is a good idea) down from $600,000 on the annex building a month ago. Back of the napkin stuff? Why not introduced a year ago? Did we just discover the Ill conceived visitor center on the causeway has too small of a footprint last month?

If completion of the causeway wasn't enough think about the impact of a reconfigured first floor of Staintons - 40 tenants at $300 per month will give the landlord a more predictable rental stream to maintain and fix the building,and the excitement of 40 different retail venues meaning more vibrancy and interest in the downtown. Are we ready? The owner intends to start to construct the condos on the top floors this year and thereby doing away with the 20 parking spaces on the west avenue side of the building.

I propose to help,the perceived to some and real to others, parking problem downtown that on a trial basis for one year Asbury avenue be one way north from 9th to 6th and one way south from 9th to 11th. This will enable the downtown to have angled parking and hence doubling the parking spaces - quick, inexpensive and effective. I endorse the Marcia Shallcross memo to the Mayor which specifies particular improvements to the downtown.

This brings me to the Hartzell/Ping proposal and John Flood. Separately they tried to fill a void because the Mayor is not leading and at times the Council as a whole is not filling the vacuum. The Strength of the Hartzell/Ping proposal is an attempt to deliver the same or better service at a lower cost. There should be a Hartzell/ping proposal for all the departments. If the mayor can't do it, then council have your workshops. It is not enough for the Mayor to say the new labor contracts will reflect 2012 standards - the governor did that heavy lifting. The analogy for the Mayor: did it make sense for you to have a downtown store to sell tickets for Wonderland? No, you made a structural change to your business by closing your downtown store. You started out with Mr Deaney doing just that for your administration, but have since lost your way. Go for it. The administration has lost its initiative. That is precisely why there is a Hartzell/Ping proposal today and John Flood proposed the department head evaluation guidelines. Imagine, somebody else designed evaluation standards for department heads who work directly for the Mayor.

The downtown is about to get an unbelievable amount of attention. The city has lacked focus on this, knowing for years a once in a lifetime new causeway would be done soon. We are unprepared. Instead we overpaid and failed to manage properly the boardwalk parking lot and are about to choose artificial turf over substantial downtown improvements. Meanwhile with the exception of Hartzell/Ping we are not critically examining all departments. Elimination of Cell phones and V-8 engines are important but not enough. Scare resources. Not enough time. Not enough vision. Not enough focus and in some cases poor capital choices.

Mr Allegretto, months ago I asked you to use your good name to step up. I ask all of Council to step up. I ask the Mayor to reevaluate what he is doing and how he is doing it. The yellow brick road is almost complete and we are not ready. Let's sprint to do our best to get ready. Be bold. Be clever. Be quick. Turn on a dime and immediately fix downtown at the expense of artificial turf. I thought the shining moment for the administration in 2011 was admitting Haven Avenue curbs, sidewalks and drainage was initially done wrong, and then immediatedly fixing. No fanfare just good prompt work. Change course now for the betterment of the downtown. One measure of our capital spending is what will do the most good for the most people and our town at large. An attractive central commercial district fits that criteria.

Michael Hinchman, Ocean City

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fireman/EMT Issue

To the Editor:

I hate to talk shop about my own profession, but I love to listen to other people talk about theirs. It’s like being introduced to a new world. The Council workshop on the Fireman/EMT issue was fascinating because we heard various perspectives on a given set of facts. Our City Council did what the best legislative bodies under the Faulkner Act are supposed to do: oversight. Everyone understands Council does not have the authority to specify appropriations under the Faulkner Act. But if someone tries to tell you Council is violating the Act by fact-finding and conducting public workshops, know that person has simply misinterpreted the law. At best, they don’t know any better. At worst, they fear continuing the debate and are trying to stop it.

The Administration should also be commended for their acknowledgment of the facts presented. Where there was disagreement on conclusions, Council and Administration did so with mutual respect. We all love to hate politicians and government, but the only disrespect at this meeting came from some retired fireman and EMT in the audience.

We all agree that our public safety is second to none. But we have some choices to make. We have a boardwalk infrastructure that, whether it supports Ipe, plastic hardwood, or pine, is over 80 years old and will need to be replaced. Repairs are constantly being made on our roads and alleys, but not fast enough to stay ahead of deterioration. The need to replace our eroding beaches and check-valves on our bay will go on for as long as we’re here. We can neglect those problems but just remember this: with state budget caps in place, every dollar that goes towards increasing costs for our well-paid public safety is a dollar less invested in our future.