59.4 F
Ocean City

Commissions reinstated without council minority

(March 8, 2013) Despite some signs of reconciliation earlier this year, the Ocean City Council will be reinstating its controversial legislative committees without the participation of two dissenting members, likely ensuring that the work of the council’s sub-bodies will continue to be politically charged for the foreseeable future.

Council members Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas have bowed-out of the new committee and sub-commission system. Although Pillas was absent from this week’s council session, Ashley again reiterated his stance – and the stance of the former council majority – that such a legislative system would allow un-elected interest groups to steer policy before it was heard by the general body.

“Remember that we [the former majority] never voted to eliminate these committees – we only moved to have the issues brought before the entire body and the public,” Ashley said.

But a strong desire was also present to return to a system that proponents say encourages consensus-building and a broad base of input from different groups.

Joe Groves, current president of the Delmarva Condo Manager’s Association and spokesman for the political action group Citizens for Ocean City, which has campaigned against Ashley and Pillas’ allies and in favor of their opponents, asked Ashley to reconsider.

“Remember, the majority of people in this town asked for a new direction,” Groves said. “We cannot do that unless you are willing to come to the table and sit with us.”

Later in the meeting, the council unanimously approved, with only Ashley in objection, Mayor Rick Meehan’s committee and commission appointments, which included Groves’ assignment to the city’s newly formed committee to study possible changes to the surf beach rotation system.

The dissolution of the council’s standing committees was the first action taken by the four-member majority that came to be when Ashley, along with Joe Hall, Margaret Pillas, and Jim Hall, created a four-member voting bloc that openly bucked the previous administrative norms.

In November 2010, the victors’ first act was to dissolve the council’s commission system, whereby separate sub-committees of one to three council members heard reports from city staff or interested parties and presented the information back to the full council for any decision necessary. All reports were subsequently presented in open session, before the entire body.

Despite the removal of the dominant faction in the 2012 polls – in which Hall and Hall lost to former City Manager Dennis Dare, now running as an elected official and not a paid executive, and Joe Mitrecic – the commission system has continued to be a symbol of political discontent.

The surviving members of the 2010 majority, now up against a five-person voting bloc, submit that the commission system reduces transparency by developing policy in ad-hoc legislative groups, rather than before the empowered body.

But proponents of the system’s return argue that the additional input garnered makes for richer legislative action and that by forcing every issue before the whole council, the previous majority was simply trying to expand the scope of its political control by micro-managing.

“[Committees and sub-commissions] allow us to break into smaller groups and work on each other’s behalf … it’s about trust [amongst council members],” Meehan said earlier this year.

Meehan further reiterated this week that committee and commission meetings, and all materials therein, will be open to the public, and that discussion or recommendation of policy will not take place without the knowledge of the full council.

Ashley also questioned Meehan as to several of the finer points of the reinstated system. Members of the legislative bodies will not be paid, and do not have to be Ocean City residents in order to serve, two stipulations that do apply to those serving on the city’s charter-mandated boards such as the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“Those boards are making decisions, whereas these are only making recommendations,” Meehan said.

“Not all those people live in town, but their hearts are in town,” said Council President Lloyd Martin, in response to Ashley’s questioning of the residency requirement.

“You had your TAB board that you put together, and not all of those people lived in town,” Martin said in reference to the Tourism Advisory Board. “They brought recommendations in here too. It’s no different.”

The previous council majority had created the board as a citizen-only – without sitting council members – replacement for the Tourism Commission. Meehan previously said that although he will be re-appointing a new Tourism Commission, the TAB would stay independently functional.

Plan Your Trip
OceanCity.com Recommends

Follow Oceancity.com


More articles



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here