What’s next in City Hall: Bold steps or caution?

There’s undoubtedly more going on than meets the eye at City Hall these days, what with a new council majority and a new city manager about to get down to major business.

The biggest challenges are undoubtedly the subject of some quiet conversations, as council members contemplate upcoming union contracts, how the volunteer fire company might figure in all this, and a pedestrian safety issue that could entail possible reconfigurations of certain sections of Coastal Highway.

None of these things is without its political hazards, and this week’s voting story and its accompanying charts show that people will go to the polls when something important to them is on the line.

Just as the turnout shot up in this last election following two wild years of councilmanic-depressive activity, voter participation also increased dramatically in 2004, when the mayor’s race had Jim Mathias facing Ocean City’s own great dissenter, Vince Gisriel.

So why the stunning fall in the local turnout between 2006 and 2010? Obviously, those years were mostly devoid of big political choices and controversy. Another factor, however, had to be money.

In 2006, Ocean City was awash in the stuff. When life is flush, people don’t care much about what government does. But neither are they focused on local government when the economy heads south dramatically, as it did between 2007 and 2009. Absent some compelling political reason, most people had bigger concerns, such as scrambling to salvage whatever remained of their personal wealth. That uncaring attitude evidently carried over into 2010, as two core groups of voters fought it out among themselves.

What yanked registered voters out of their slumber was the 2011 firing of City Manager Dennis Dare, a City Hall fixture who enjoyed name recognition throughout the community. Had that not happened, there’s no telling how the past election would have turned out.

That brings us to the present and a public that’s somewhat more wary about the future than it was several years ago. As a result, the months ahead will be interesting to watch, as the council decides whether to take bold steps on these major issues or pick the spots where it needs to tread more lightly.

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