OCEAN CITY – A message rang loud and clear to have more citizens step up and vote during a rally held on Monday morning in which hundreds attended, organized by the Citizens For Ocean City.
Resident have turned out in outrage ever since the majority of the council, Brent Ashley, Jim Hall, Joe Hall and Margaret Pillas, voted to force former City Manager Dennis Dare to resign or be fired after 21 years of service.
The rally’s key speakers, Citizens For Ocean City spokesman Joe Groves, Seacrets owner and former Councilman Leighton Moore, former Councilman and Mann Properties owner Buck Mann and Clarion Hotel owner Dr. Leonard Berger sat in front of the room joined by Council members Doug Cymek and Mary Knight. Council President Jim Hall and Councilman Joe Hall also attended but sat amongst the crowd.
A consensus was stated among the speakers that Dare’s resignation is in the past but the voters of Ocean City need to unite to ensure such actions by the council will not take place in the future.
“Today is the day to become unified as concerned citizens of Ocean City and if you can vote for God’s sake do it,” Moore said.
The last election that took place in October of 2010, marked the lowest number of voters in recent history with just 1,458 of the 6,551 registered resort voters turning out.
“We have to change from this point forward, and move forward as a cohesive group trying to get people to register that can vote,” Moore said.
Moore said in a way Ocean City is getting what it deserves because of the paltry number of voters in last year’s election. He partly blames himself for not voting because he lives outside of Ocean City but felt that he could have influenced others to vote.
“I put my head in the ground like an ostrich,” he said. “Some of the people in this room probably didn’t vote either, and yet you’re here today because of what did occur, who is elected, and we are concerned where the future will lead this town.”
Moore asked those in attendance to keep a look out for leading business people to run in the next election.
“You need to look within yourselves and within the ranks of people that care enough to be here today and look for the alpha leaders, not the followers,” he said. “Look for people with vision or people that are willing to listen, and follow through on the desires and wishes of the people that elected them.”
Mann agreed that it is time to move forward and leave the apathy in the past.
“We have 13 months to think about this and we need to do our research,” he said. “We need to talk to people and we need to get the vote out.”
Mann said it is time for leaders to step up to plate that are willing to work with other council members as a team. He said in his eight years serving on the council the only 4-3 vote he could remember involved the first expansion of the convention center. But the council put it to the side to take more time to think over and returned in a 7-0 vote of approval.
“That is what happens when you work together, you do your research, and you don’t let personal items get involved … and that’s what we need,” he said.
Berger wasn’t willing to move on passed the council’s swift actions in having Dare resign.
“I’m like an elephant, I don’t forget,” he said. “We’re here today to express our dissatisfaction with the actions of the four members of the City Council, which include a vindictive and vitriolic firing of the city manager.”
Berger said the council majority should change its ways by working with the other members in an “open, honest, and transparent manner”, or the citizens of Ocean City will find a way to have the individually replaced.
“We should ensure the citizens are informed, have input, and cast their votes for good and responsible government,” he said.
There were a few suggestions made by rally attendees to increase votes, for instance to move Ocean City’s election day to the national election so the date is hard to forget.
“I think a lot of the people that aren’t voting are obviously 18 to 35 [years old],” Chris Shanahan, co-owner of K-Coast Surf Shop, said. “I think that’s a major part of the constituent base that we should really look into rallying to understand what they’re voting for.”
Shanahan also suggested targeting Ocean City residents who travel in the winter time in order to receive their absentee ballots before they leave town.
Groves urged attendees to sign a petition initiated by the Ocean City Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
The FOP is currently collecting signatures for the petition to referendum to recall elected officials, which will be placed on the ballot for next election in October 2012. At least 20 percent of registered voters must sign the petition for the recall to be placed on the ballot.
If the referendum is passed and the public pursued to recall the mayor or council members, 450 signatures of registered voters would currently be needed. The numbers of signatures are based on persons qualified to vote in town elections equal in number to at least 30 percent of the average number of ballots cast in the last three town elections, rounded up to the nearest multiple of 50.
If the charter is amended and the required signatures are met to recall an elected official, the official would have five days to step down or a special election would be held seeking a yes or no vote from voters.
Councilman Doug Cymek said in the near future he will present the council with a motion to change the charter to allow for the recall process to immediately become effective. Should the self-professed majority choose not to vote for this change, the citizens will have to move forward to have it placed on the ballot during the next election in October 2012.
“Mary, Lloyd, and myself support the change to allow for a way to remove an elected official from office should they feel it justified,” he said. “Should the self-professed majority choose not to vote for this change the citizens will have to move it forward to have it placed on the ballot.”
On Monday, Council President Jim Hall said the direction of the government will attempt to move toward unanimous votes among councilmembers, instead of the ridiculed 4-3 votes.
“The direction we want this town to go in is seven people are elected, as well as the mayor, and everybody will be working together in a timely manner, get the information, and be able to represent each and every one of you,” he said.
Jim Hall explained over the last year the four-member council majority has been working to relieve taxpayers by cutting back on expenses.
“This is all about an administration that fought us all the way, whether it was pay and benefits, whether it was tax rates, whether it was getting the streets paved,” he said. “It was the administration that said we can’t do it, and guess what we did it but we did it with a hard push.”
Groves wrapped it up reiterating the importance to vote and advocate for others to vote.
“We have to stand up and be accountable, work together and stay united,” he said. “That is how we make a change.”