OCEAN CITY – Councilwoman Mary Knight became the second incumbent to file for re-election when she filled out her paperwork at City Hall last month.
Utilizing the tool of social media to express her message as well as simultaneously receive opinions from Ocean City citizens, Knight has established a list of goals to accomplish if she returns to the City Council after November’s election.
Knight said she decided to run for re-election for the future of Ocean City and its citizens.
“I think my love for Ocean City is obvious,” Knight said. “The election is about the future and it’s not about the past.”
Knight joined the council in 2006, and she reflected this week on the work that has made her proud. In the last three years, Knight said the council has been able to save over $6 million in the town’s budget by right sizing and out sourcing.
Knight also recalled being part of the initiative to increase room tax by half of a percent and that increase was allocated to tourism and marketing, resulting in an increase of the tourism budget from $1 million to $5 million.
She has also been pleased with the town’s movement toward social media to spread the word on the resort, such as Ocean City’s Facebook page that has grown from 2,000 likes to over 400,000 in the last couple of years.
“The whole migration in how tourism has grown, I feel that I am a part of that,” said Knight, who served four years on the Tourism Commission, two of which she served as president, before the commission became obsolete almost two years ago.
Knight said she is able to bring thoughtful and prepared decision making skills to the council.
“I try to bring into my voting decision my business background,” she said. “I am very lucky because I have never had a business on the Boardwalk, or in town, and I have no affiliation with any businesses so I am surely looking at every single decision as a vote for the taxpayer.”
Knight’s most challenging moments serving on the City Council has been in the last 21 months, or since the last election in October of 2010, she said.
“I have never been a person that just off handedly made a motion without background information,” she said.
Knight referred to a number of actions the majority of the council, including members Brent Ashley, Jim Hall, Joe Hall and Margaret Pillas, have made in the months immediately following the election to change city employees pay and benefits, which resulted in Mayor Rick Meehan making a number of vetoes and the council returning to the drawing board.
“There were decisions made without any actuarial studies, and there was so much financing that we needed to know before we could decide whether or not you wanted a defined benefit plan or a 401k,” she said. “If the mayor wouldn’t have made the vetoes that he did, then it would have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.”
Another difficult time for her was when the majority of the council decided to oust former city manager Dennis Dare, claiming they wanted to take the town in a different direction.
“Going through that and not understanding why, and not understanding what the new direction was,” she said. “In the last 21 months, I have felt totally out of the loop. Every meeting I go to is a surprise … it is very challenging not to feel part of the conversation.”
In moving forward, Knight would like to return decorum to the City Council and return the faith of the city employees, department heads and citizens in the City Council.
“One of my big goals is to regain the morale and support of the city employees, to make them safe, happy that they are coming to work for the Town of Ocean City, and most importantly make them feel appreciated again,” Knight said.
Knight furthered that she wants the council to stop micromanaging the city department heads.
“I tend to realize that they are the expert, and they are going to come with the best recommendation for the Town of Ocean City,” Knight said.
A major goal she would like to see reached in the next four years is to re-establish the town’s reserve fund. In 2010, the reserve fund held $17 million and now it sits at $10 million.
“We are at the very lowest point that we can be and what happens is when your reserve fund goes that low it affects your bond rating and … we are just one hurricane away from blowing the whole reserve fund,” she said.
Starting next week, Knight will be the first candidate to launch an organized social media campaign. She will be using Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and her own webpage to interact with voters.
Knight explained that the demographic of voters in Ocean City is 54 percent over the age of 60, 56 percent under 60, and the 22-35-year-old segment is a large percentage of voters under 60.
“I am attempting to reach out to the younger voter and I am also attempting to have a lot of vehicles to reach out to everybody,” she said. “I think it is a mistake not to use social media in a campaign in 2012 … it gives another vehicle for every single person who votes to see what the candidate is about, and it is interactive.”
Knight has pledged to support her fellow incumbent, Doug Cymek, who filed for re-election last November. She added she will also support Mayor Rick Meehan, former Council President Joe Mitrecic, who was voted off the council in the last election and mulling another run at the council, and former city manager Dennis Dare, who is also considering a jump into politics.
According to her biography on the town website, Knight received her Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Business Administration and Marketing from Loyola College in Baltimore. She attended Johns Hopkins University for her graduate studies. Knight previously had a management career with AT&T for 27 years. She has served on the Ocean City Grievance Committee and prior to her election as the Labor Commissioner. As a council member she served on Coastal Resources Legislative, Humane Society, and American with Disabilities committees.