By Donald Wittkowski
Ocean City has a series of government boards, authorities and commissions that oversee everything from zoning, planning, the municipal airport, public housing, the library, tourism – and more.
One board, the Shade Tree Committee, is involved with the “regulation, planting, planning and care of shade and ornamental trees and shrubbery on any public street, park or property in Ocean City.”
However, finding enough volunteers to fill all of those boards has become what one city councilman bluntly calls “a real problem.”
City Council is taking steps to overcome the shortage of volunteers by introducing an ordinance that would repeal the term limits for the members who serve on the boards and commissions. The measure is up for a public hearing and final vote at Council’s Dec. 13 meeting.
“I think it’s good. It keeps good people who have done a good job on these boards,” Council President Peter Madden said of the ordinance in an interview Monday.
Madden said it is particularly critical to retain qualified board members who deal with complex issues.
During a discussion at the Nov. 29 Council meeting, city officials said it has become increasingly difficult to find replacements when the existing members leave after their terms expire.
City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson told Council that in some cases, “it leaves us short” when members step down.
Councilman Bob Barr noted, for instance, that at least two or three of the city’s boards, authorities or commissions have trouble getting enough members for a quorum at their meetings.
He serves as the Council representative on one of those boards, the Utility Advisory Commission, which oversees electric, gas, water, sewer and cable television service.
“It’s a real problem,” Barr said of some boards not having a quorum.
At the Nov. 29 Council meeting, some members of the public questioned whether the city would find it more difficult to attract “new blood” to sit on all of the boards if there were no term limits.
Councilwoman Karen Bergman assured the public that the city still intends to recruit new volunteers and will not settle for “stale” membership on the boards.
City Council and Mayor Jay Gillian will continue following the same process for recruiting and appointing board members. They will also retain the same power to remove board members who are substandard or have poor attendance, Councilmen Antwan McClellan and Keith Hartzell said.
Council has included a “sunset provision” that would end the ordinance after three years. The sunset provision would allow the governing body to revisit the issue after three years to see whether or not having term limits has worked.
“It’s a safety valve. That’s what it is,” said Councilman Michael DeVlieger, who proposed the sunset provision.
Madden, though, stressed that Council has the power to repeal or change local laws at any time, so it wouldn’t necessarily need to wait for three years.
“Our job is to have a living, breathing system with everything we do,” he said.