By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Dozens of unpaid appointees sit on a variety of boards and commissions that may not be generally well known to the public but are still an important part of Ocean City’s local government.
They include the planning and zoning boards, the Historic Preservation Commission, the Library Board of Trustees, the Tourism Development Commission and others. There is even a Shade Tree Commission that oversees the planting and maintenance of trees and shrubbery on public streets and property in town.
City Council approved an ordinance Thursday night to temporarily end term limits for the appointees on those boards and commissions to avoid the need to make “massive appointments” by the end of the year.
Approved by a 7-0 vote, the ordinance puts term limits on hold until Dec. 31, 2022, giving Council and Mayor Jay Gillian’s administration another year to possibly work out a new plan for just how long appointees should serve on boards and commissions.
Previously, any members of a board, commission or committee appointed by the mayor or Council could not be reappointed after serving two consecutive full terms.
With the end of the year approaching, a number of appointees would have been required to step down after their second consecutive term expired on Dec. 31 if Council had not approved the new ordinance.
A whole new crop of appointees would have been needed to fill the vacancies if the term limits had not been set aside.
“It will eliminate the need to make massive appointments,” City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson told Council of the ordinance’s immediate impact.
McCrosson said Council will now have more time to consider its options for board and commission terms. They could include abolishing term limits altogether, reinstating them or having appointees serve staggered terms.
Council would be able to change the ordinance at any time in 2022, if it wanted to. If it doesn’t, term limits would be on hold at least until Dec. 31, 2022.
Some of the Council members indicated they favor having a system of staggered terms to create openings that could be filled by new appointees bringing fresh ideas to the city.
Councilwoman Karen Bergman agreed that the city should find ways of encouraging “new blood” to serve on the boards, but she also expressed concern about the possibility of losing too many experienced appointees.
“They’re all important jobs. They’re all important positions,” Bergman said of the need to keep the board and commission seats filled.
In an interview after the Council meeting, Gillian said terms limits had made it more difficult to find enough appointees to fill the boards and commissions. He said in some cases, some of the boards struggle to have enough members for a quorum for their meetings.
Gillian indicated he is willing to work with Council to come up with a plan for board appointments to satisfy everyone, including Ocean City’s residents.
At the same time, he stressed that he considers experienced board and commission members to be particularly valuable to the city.
“I look for experience,” he said. “When you’re talking about the planning and zoning boards, you need experienced members who know the codes and laws.”
During public comments on the new ordinance, Ocean City resident Donna Moore urged Council to strongly consider having staggered terms for appointees.
Moore said having staggered terms would be a “Democratic” way to open up the board and commission seats to talented new members.
“I support it because we need fresh energy in town,” she said.
In other business Thursday, Council rejected the bids for new stormwater pumping stations that would be placed at 10th Street and Haven Avenue and 14th Street and Haven Avenue to help ease chronic flooding in the area.
Nine bids ranging from $11.7 million to $17 million were rejected because they were significantly higher than the city engineer’s $8.6 million estimate for the pumping stations.
“We do remain committed to the project,” City Business Administrator George Savastano told Council about the city’s plan to still build the pumping stations.
The city is pursuing state and federal funding to help finance pumping stations, drainage improvements and road construction projects between Ninth and 18th streets, including the flood-prone areas of 10th and Haven and 14th and Haven.
Savastano mentioned the possibility of having the city start building the road improvements separately from the pumping stations to get the project underway.
Although it is only a half-mile long, 14th Street is considered one of Ocean City’s most important arteries for crosstown traffic.
Starting at the bay and heading east toward the ocean, the street passes through residential neighborhoods, crosses over the downtown business district and then ends at the Boardwalk.
Perhaps the most pressing issue is 14th Street’s flooding problem in the area of Haven Avenue.
The city’s plan to alleviate flooding between Ninth and 18th streets, including 14th Street, is part of a broad strategy to protect the island from stormwater. Overall, the city has proposed spending $25 million on flood-mitigation projects around town in the next five years.