OCEAN CITY – The tables turned at this week’s Mayor and City Council, as the minority of the council flipped over to become the majority vote and won in favor to keep the police commission in place.
A charter amendment resolution was before the council this week to abolish the police commission and to eliminate the requirement that any diminishment of the powers and duties of the mayor be submitted to a referendum of the voters, which is contrary to state law. This does not abolish the right of the voters to petition to referendum.
The charter amendment would delete the police commission, which consists of four members, one being the mayor and three members of the city council, with all matters being resolved by a majority vote of the commission.
“I think it is pretty obvious that I support the boards and commissions that have served this community very well in the past years and I think they have played an important role,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.
Meehan explained that most governing bodies and organizations contain committees and subcommittees and few govern with the entire council body sitting on committees and subcommittees.
The mayor also pointed out that the council just voted to support the new Tourism Advisory Board, which will contain its own subcommittees.
Meehan explained that when the council manager form of government was established in 1981, and was put into place in 1982, that was the form of government the citizens chose.
“I support that form of government, whole heartedly and always have, and I support the role we all have in this government,” Meehan said. “This form of government was set up so that there was a balance of power and have been checks and balances within the government. Abolishing the police commission in my opinion would be reducing the mayor’s role, and contrary to the intent of the charter.”
Meehan suggested to the council that the police commission, instead, be expanded.
“I ask for your consideration, to fulfill what your looking for to make it all inclusive, to keep the police commission in the charter, but to expand it to seven members and the mayor so that everybody participates,” he said. “Everybody gets all the information, which I think is the intent, and we can move forward without what I think would be a mistake and begin to address changing the charter for the town of Ocean City.”
The mayor’s words had no effect on Councilman Joe Hall, who had initiated abolishing the police commission. He made a motion to accept the charter amendment as is and was seconded by Margaret Pillas.
Councilman Lloyd Martin, who has served on the police commission for eight years, agreed with the mayor’s suggestion.
“I think the police commission has worked,” he said. “It makes sense to me. We all want to work together…we’re going to do the same thing anyway, but why change our form of government.”
Joe Hall rebutted that he had also served on the police commission, and during that time he would sometimes fail to inform his colleagues of information and issues that had occurred on the police commission level, and it creates a form of frustration that can be avoided.
“There has been an issue that has put the town at risk that happened between the police commission and the administration,” he said. “We have had legal issues, we have had micro-managing, just too much management meddling in the day-to-day operation with management up there. I feel that not having the police commission chartered would be the best that thing that could happen for the town of Ocean City to keep us in full breast of what is going on.”
Councilwoman Mary Knight said that she has been on the council for four years and has never been aware of such legal issues, micro management, or “meddling”, that Hall had asserted.
“My concern is that in 1981 we became this form of government and it was voted on,” she said. “All those years, it’s been this form of government…why all of a sudden if things are going well, and I’m one of those people that if its not broken then why fix it, then why are we going to make this rash of a change.”
Council President Jim Hall also felt that the commission has worked well.
“It is the flavor of the new council that everyone wants to have every bit of information all at the same time, and I agree,” he said. “It really does the same thing, as long as all of us have the police commission meeting together.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres said that in the practical matter there isn’t any difference.
“One way you don’t have a police commission,” he explained. “The other way there is a police commission but with the entire Mayor and Council. Either way, you’re going to be doing the same thing, either called the police commission or the Mayor and City Council.”
Joe Hall’s initial motion to accept the charter amendment as is did not pass in a 3-4 vote, with Joe Hall, Brent Ashley and Pillas in favor.
Knight did not waste any time to place a motion to expand the police commission to include all seven council members and the mayor, and was seconded by Lloyd Martin. The motion passed in a vote of 4-3, with Doug Cymek, Council President Jim Hall, Knight and Martin in favor.