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Ocean City

Rox pushes green initiatives as means for cost reductions, long-term growth

ZACK HOOPES n Staff Writer

Sean Rox Sean Rox(Oct. 19, 2012) This election will mark the third time that businessman Sean Rox has run for City Council. Along with his wife, Cassandra, Rox owns and operates Rox Beach Weddings, which plans and performs exotic nuptials in Ocean City and the Delaware beaches. Rox has lived in the city since 1994. n OCEAN CITY TODAY: Why have you wanted to, and why do you now, want to get into politics? n SEAN ROX: Ocean City’s always been good to me, and now I have the opportunity to give back. Once I moved down here for good in my early 20s, and knew that I was going to spend the rest of my life here, this was something that I always knew I wanted to do. n OCT: What would you say are the top things you would want to accomplish if you are on the council, as far as policy or changes to policy? n ROX: My top ambitions are to implement smoke-free beaches, eco-friendly tourism, and conservative spending policies.

The first thing I’d like to do is, if we have smoke-free beaches, see an increase in family tourism. We’ve seen that done in Bethany Beach, and their economy seems as robust as ever since they made the transition to nonsmoking beaches. Between the two of us, Cas- sandra and I worked on cruise ships for nine years. The only ships there were ever a waiting list for were the non-smoking ships. Our beach is the number one draw that we have here, and it must be protected at all costs. I walk the beach virtually every day during the season, and this season is the worst I’ve ever seen it in terms of cigarette litter up and down the beach. We tried to put trash cans and receptacles out – and I applaud the Surfiders in their efforts for the “leave your butts behind program,” but it hasn’t worked in the way we need it to, and I think we need to implement stronger measures to protect our number one asset. n OCT: Do you think that comes with any issues of enforcement, personnel, or any of the logistical problems that might arise? n ROX: From my own experience, being in the wedding industry, I have many ceremonies up in Bethany Beach. The wedding party goes right up to the beach. They’ll see the sign that says “$500 fine,” some people in the wedding party smoke their last cigarette, they take the last puff, they put it in the can, and they go off to the beach. Nobody says anything, nobody breaks the rule. Nobody wants to be that guy to create a scene. It pretty much polices itself.

Some of the eco-friendly policies would also combine cost-saving measures. This year, we’ve had a lot of pedestrian and bicycle accidents. People have said, “How can we fix this? Maybe we lower the speed limit from 40 to 35 miles per hour.” I think a better solution would be to start paving the roads, gradually, to change the roads and parking lots to concrete or another light-colored surface. At nighttime, the lights that we do have are going to reflect this much better than the traditional dark asphalt that we have now, so there is going to be more visibility at night, which would cause less fatalities. Also, it takes less street lamps to illuminate these lighter colored roads, which is going to save us electricity and energy costs. The third benefit, with a lightcolored surface, is that it will also create cooler temperatures. The sunlight will reflect off of it.

Another example would be to implement white rooftops on the government buildings in Ocean City as a roof needs to be replaced, instead of replacing it with the traditional dark-colored roof. If you look at some of the countries in the Mediterranean, they’re starting to go with light-colored roofs because, when the sun comes down, it reflects off and its going to reduce your cooling cost significantly. This is just a simple change that lasts for years and will guarantee extra money into the city’s bottom line.

Another thing I’d like to see is more wind power and solar power, when we have the opportunity. Right now, the city has already started working with some hybrid vehicles in its fleet. I’d like to continue that, until eventually we can have a majority or more be hybrid vehicles or even electric vehicles, since the city would have the capability of having electric charging stations, and it’s not like our city vehicles need to go long distances.

Another opportunity is that, if we have a database down at City Hall – I believe right now we use the AS400 system – and were able to have a system that would enable people to do their forms online, whether they’re renewing their licenses, get their noise control permit, register their taxes, anything that they need to pay could be online. Instead of having us mail it out to the person, fill out the form, send a check, and process that. We’re going to eliminate human error, free up our valuable employees from menial tasks and allow them to be more productive with time they have, and save a significant amount of money on paper and mailing costs. If we were to gradually go mostly paperless – it’s impossible to go completely paperless – it would generate significant savings that could in turn lead to a tax reduction for the taxpayers. n OCT: When you say eco-friendly tourism, does that involve people coming here specifically for some sort of natural beauty or a certain environment? n ROX: I want to see the same amount of people coming to Ocean City, but I’d like to see significantly less cars. That would involve turning parking lots into parks, when we have the opportunity, and protecting our most valuable asset, which is the beach. Also increasing pedestrian safety and making it more bicycle-friendly. Perhaps instead of a family coming down in four cars, they’ll come down in one car and bring their bicycles with them or rent bicycles here, or Segways, or use the bus to get around town.

If we increase the safety for pedestrians and cyclists down here, and make them feel more comfortable by expanding bicycle lanes when possible, lighting up the streets – with more streetlamps, or as I’ve suggested, lighten the color of the roadways themselves – people will come down and find alternate means of transportation. Our square footage is limited, and we need to maximize it.

Another thing that I’d like to see, just for the aesthetics of the town, is to wherever possible take the above-ground power lines and put them underground. I was very disappointed a few weeks ago at the City Council meeting when they were doing the St. Louis Avenue Project. They said, “Well, right now it isn’t happening. Can’t we get the power lines underground?’ And I believe the council and the city engineer said, “If we’re going to give notice in the next week or two, we can’t do that.” And rather than take time and do that project right, they just put that through. That’s a safety issue, and it detracts from the natural beauty of the town. Any kind of a severe storm, you have the chance for power lines to come down and create safety issues and possible damage, as well as cutting power to the businesses and the people who need it. When we have the opportunity to get those underground, we have to take advantage of it. If I was on council, I would’ve made sure that that project did not get done until we could do it correctly. n OCT: How would you gauge the need to get things done that need to be done versus waiting until we have the money to do it, which is not necessarily guaranteed in this economy? n ROX: My solution is not a short-term solution; it’s a long-term answer. And I am the only candidate that will be in a position to make a difference 20 years from now. I’m in it for the long haul. n OCT: You mean because of your age? n ROX: Yes. n OCT: As far as the city’s previous cost-cutting measures, a lot of which have been contested over the last few years, particularly the salary and benefit issues – do you think those have been done well? What would you do differently? n ROX: I agree with the conservative costcutting measures that have been done. I was in favor with the reductions of benefits and salaries for new employees, and I applaud the fact that they did not take anything away from current employees. I thought it was handled in the right way. I’d like to continue that conservative policy towards new hires.

Ocean City is an amazing place to work, and that is one of the benefits that you get when you come here. You get to look out your office window and see the ocean. I would take less money to work in Ocean City than I would to work in, say, Salisbury. Even if it was the same job, would I take a little less? Yes, because there are certain perks to being in such a beautiful work environment, working in a safe environment, a family friendly environment, and with access to great restaurants. And any time you have a break, you can go out to look at the ocean. And that has to be part of the package that we’re selling to get employees here. n OCT: Do you think we can do similar things to get people to come here as residents? I think that’s something people generally agree really boosts business, having a residential base that’s here for more than just summer. n ROX: That’s going to be a challenge for any place that doesn’t have a school. The population, especially the younger demographic, are going to go where the schools are. So a school in West Ocean City, a school in Berlin —that’s where those population centers are. Could that change in my lifetime? Sure. I’d love to see a school in Ocean City. That’s probably what it would take to increase that.

But it is what it is down here. We’re not surprised by the pattern of business or the seasonal nature. You know before you get into business down that that’s the way it’s going to be. You just have to know your business cycle. You know your business cycle and what you have to work with. Perhaps, when businesses are well run, they should survive on the amount of tourists we have. If your business right now says, “We have millions and millions of people coming in the summer, but it’s not enough, we need a few million more,” maybe you need to take a good look at your business plan. There is a point of diminishing returns, and there’s only so many people we can fit on this island. I would even say there’s only so many people we want to fit on this island. n OCT: Do you think we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns with the special events we have? That’s been brought up. n ROX: We are at the saturation point. I don’t want any more bikes in town, because I don’t need another 10,000 more bikes for bike week. We had enough; we don’t need to bring any more in here. There’s only so much square footage on the island. And it’s a great thing for the businesses, but the actual residents that live here may not be enjoying these events the same way that the hotels and restaurants are. And at the end of the day, it is the taxpayers – we’re the ones that live down here, and we have to deal with the repercussions of this. n OCT: How would that, and your ideas about environmentally friendly tourism, affect our marketing? n ROX: Is there a point one day where you say, “Have we advertised enough?’ How much more can we advertise if we have a certain amount of people coming in? Is it wrong to back off the advertising budget a little bit and just see what happens? Sometimes there’s no problem with pulling back and just comparing your numbers to the year before. I’ve done this. I spend a lot of money on advertising online and in print advertising. And I said, “I’m about as booked as I can be. I really can’t schedule any more,” so I pull back on advertising 10 percent, and I say “did it affect the sales?” Pretty much, the numbers are the same. And that’s because you develop a lot of advertising though reputation, which is free, and word of mouth, which is free. Our number one asset is the beach, which sells itself. Everyone knows the beach is here.

Rodney is nice in that he goes out and reminds people that, “Hey, here’s the beach.” But at the end of the day, there is only one Atlantic coastline and we’re on it. Whether we advertised or not, people have always come to the beach. They were coming here 100 years ago, and we didn’t have the million-dollar marketing campaign, and they’ll be coming here 100 years from now. Sure we should advertise, to bring in the right type of people that we want. We want people who are going to spend money and not create a nuisance here. The advertising and marketing is important to promote the events that we want people here for – Sunfest, Springfest, these are events that are unique to Ocean City. And we do not have a lot of extra police cost for these. They’re family-friendly events. So the marketing I’d use would be on the familyfriendly.

But I think that, again, we could probably pull back a little on the marketing. And the private sector is going to step up. I have a business down here, and I spend a lot of money on advertising and marketing, and that’s just part of being in business. I think that the private sector will step up, and if they’re experiencing sales issues, they can go out and spend money too. But taxpayers should not be subsidizing any increase in advertising. n OCT: As everyone has to be asked, what’s your current take on the union push and the debate over city employees? n ROX: I personally will be voting against a union. The last time Cassandra and I were in Athens, Greece, we were there when they had a garbage strike. You had the beautiful Parthenon, sitting atop the Acropolis – and then you had all these garbage bags piled up everywhere. It really ruined the experience as tourists, and I’m sure for the locals, too. We can’t have that in Ocean City, and the way it’s structured right now it can’t. If we end up unionizing, we could have strikes in Ocean City, and I wouldn’t want that to happen on my watch. n OCT: Do you think there is an issue among the employee base that they’re being excluded or slighted somehow? That’s kind of become a he-said, she-said sort of thing in local politics. Do you have a sense of that? n ROX: I have a great relationship and a healthy amount of respect for all the employees. I understand their frustration, and I think a lot of that is that many are not able to vote in Ocean City, and feel like a lot of this is out of their hands. I think that’s where the frustration is, because it seems to me that the majority of our employees don’t live in Ocean City, and so they feel that their voice isn’t getting heard. n OCT: Do you think there’s a way to reduce the cost of living here so that that wasn’t the case? A lot of places have that problem, where their own employees can’t afford to live within the city. Is there an answer to that? n ROX: Sure. Reduce taxes for the residents, through green, environmentally friendly technology, through reductions in advertising. Why are we in the golf business? We have a golf course in Ocean City that could probably be leased for a profit. There are ways and solutions to actually give money to people who are here in Ocean City, and that would be the motivation to live here. It is expensive.

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