The water in the proverbial fishbowl that is elected office got a little hot this week in Ocean City, as the shenanigans at City Hall continued.
The silliness began on April 1 when Councilman Joe Hall ignited another firestorm of controversy via Facebook. He sent a private message through the social network to the Citizens For Ocean City, writing, “Due to constant pressure and relentless criticism I feel compelled to resign my post. Serving Ocean City has become to [sic] hard. Dated April 1st, 2012.” More than 40 comments followed with many questioning the councilman’s judgment while others simply pointed out it was an April Fool’s joke.
The next evening at the Mayor and Council meeting Joe Hall again was in the crosshairs of criticism when city employee and property owner Greg DeMarco explained the depths of the city employees’ morale problem and at times was critical of the council majority, specifically targeting a comment made by Joe Hall during the process to alter new employee pay and benefits. After DeMarco, resident and frequent council attendee Frank Adkins addressed the council, pleading with the council to give raises to employees.
Councilman Brent Ashley, a colleague of Joe Hall’s on the four-member majority side, was quick to defend Joe Hall, calling out the critics, or “you people” as he put it. He said “I resent” the criticism and “I’m tired of this.” He added, “Some of this has gone far enough for me. I sit here and take the criticism … nobody has given more to this town to make it better his entire life than Joe Hall has … and for you people to come here and continually criticize Joe, I think you got a lot of nerve … enough is enough of this crap.”
Clearly, Ashley went too far here with his anger pointed toward DeMarco and other critics. He owes him an apology for his tirade and DeMarco did not deserve Ashley’s rant, which was completely out of line. Later, Ashley offered to take DeMarco to lunch to further discuss DeMarco’s contentions.
The fact here is the majority has made some bold decisions since gaining power in October of 2010. Some of those moves have hurt the city (such as removing the city manager without any sort of plan in place), while perhaps a couple decisions have helped the city and may eventually result in some cost savings. The fallout of these changes is truly beginning to be felt, and Ashley is being naïve if he didn’t think these moves were going to have an impact on current employees.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas handled the criticism much better, saying, “Mr. DeMarco, you come up here often as you want and criticize … I’m not taking this personally … we welcome all your comments … criticize me all you want.”
There has been an interesting trend in the figures that represent the two key economic indicators in Ocean City when compared to demoflush.
Less people came to Ocean City this winter, from November to January, according to demoflush estimates, but more room and food tax was collected during that time frame.
The latest available figures for room tax and food tax represent January’s collections. Both room and food tax figures were up (9% for room tax and 10% for food tax), while demoflush dropped slightly (less than a percentage point).
Figuring it was an anomaly, I checked out November and December figures. I was surprised to see the same trend held true — less people, more taxes collected.
In November of 2011, room tax jumped 8% (from $136,866 in November 2010 to $147,538) and food tax spiked 24% (from $20,951 in November 2010 to $25,925). All the while demoflush plummeted in November 2011 by 14% (from 368,590 to 315,552).
In December of 2011, room tax jumped 53% (from $91,748 in December 2010 to $140,139) and food tax bumped up 12% (from $21,099 to $23,573). The same trend held here, as demoflush figures declined by 2% (from 276,494 in December 2010 to 270,033).