(July 12 2013) In what is probably best described as a tragic choice of metaphor, the Ocean City Council engaged in a heated meta-debate this week over the debate on Councilman Brent Ashley’s suggestion of a ban on saggy pants – using the proverbial pot of poo as a reference.
“I believe what Councilman [Dennis] Dare told you was, ‘Don’t take a stick and stir the ….,’” Council President Lloyd Martin lamented to Ashley. “You made negative news for Ocean City.”
“What you were saying was, ‘Don’t stir it up and it’ll go away,’” Ashley replied. “But it’s not going to go away.”
Three weeks ago, Ashley requested that a decency policy for the Boardwalk be discussed at this week’s council session, following the recent passage of a similar policy in the resort town of Wildwood, N.J.
Wildwood, Ashley said, was banishing droopy trousers in an effort to clean up the public image and the allegedly deteriorating family environment of its own boardwalk. He added that he had similar concerns about in Ocean City, given the number of citizen complaints and high-profile crimes in June.
But this week’s council agenda did not feature such a discussion, with Martin stating that he had pulled it from the schedule because Councilman Joe Mitrecic was unable to attend this week’s meeting and there was still more information to be gathered on the issue.
But Ashley clearly believed that the discussion was simply being avoided because the topic was politically unsavory, causing Ashley to debate his colleagues on why the debate wasn’t happening.
“I don’t know how any elected official wouldn’t support at least talking about more decency on the Boardwalk,” Ashley said. “Whatever the situation or solution is, I’m only asking for a discussion, not a decision.”
“Brent, you’re a master at putting those catchphrases out there,” retorted Mayor Rick Meehan.
“I just learned from you,” Ashley quipped.
The style of dress known as “sagging” typically involves wearing one’s pants well below the waist and often below the buttocks entirely. It is commonly associated with prisons, where inmates are often issued ill-fitting pants and not permitted belts. Outside of prisons, the style often creates a connotation of gang and criminal activity.
Yet the obvious intimation by other council members was that Ashley was trying to create a problem for the current legislative majority, of which he is a frequent critic, by pushing an issue that questioned the resort’s family friendly image.
“I have serious concerns about how our community is going to be perceived during these discussions,” Meehan said. “The more we tell people that it’s dangerous to go to a place [the Boardwalk] that I’m on every day, and don’t feel that way at all … I don’t know how beneficial that is to Ocean City.”
“I’d rather discuss it than put blinders on it and pretend the problem doesn’t exist,” Ashley said, issuing another line that Meehan called a “catchphrase.”
“I could go out there in front of an audience and bang my fist and say “We’re taking our town back,’” Meehan said. “But what good would that do us? I might’ve gotten my picture in the Baltimore Sun, but what would we actually accomplish?”
The fact that Ashley has been quoted in major newspapers, radio and TV stories regarding the possible pants ordinance seemed to be the major element held against him by Martin and Meehan.
“If you have a problem, you try to take care of those problems,” Martin said. “You don’t go out in public and tell people that you have ants. If you have ants, you just call the exterminator.”
But Ashley maintained that the public was already well aware that the resort’s family environment was deteriorating and that bouncing around ideas, even if incorrect, was better than keeping mum.
“It’s about our position as an elected body and how we see our city, and how our visitors see Ocean City. It’s the perception that matters,” Ashley said. “The mayor of Wildwood has already said that people appreciate that they’re taking a positive stance. It may not work out, but he took a stand.”
The news organizations that quoted Ashley and which Martin and Meehan objected to, were contacting him, not the other way around, Ashley said.
“These instances [of crime] have already been reported in metro newspapers and on metro TV. They’re already asking for comments and ideas,” Ashley said.
At least part of the discussion, however, was about the merit of the ordinance itself, which Meehan and Martin clearly did not agree with.
“I think we have to look at ourselves and see how judgmental we want to be about everyone else,” Meehan said. “I don’t know where everyone [who has concerns] is from. Have they gone to their local mall and seen how things have changed in the area where they live?”
“When you get on TV and say, ‘You dress like a thug, look like a thug, and are a thug’… you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that’s what you did on national television, and I think it’s wrong,” Martin said.
“It’s not about how we judge other people, it’s about how we judge ourselves,” Ashley maintained.