(Aug. 30, 2019) Despite general enthusiasm for a February beer event, trouble brewed among City Council members Tuesday, as they found themselves in a debate of funding principles.
Presented to the council was the Tourism Advisory Board’s (TAB) decision to support the Spartan obstacle course competition with $80,000 and the Shore Craft Beer’s FeBREWary: Love on Tap event with $12,300, on Aug. 19.
The council members were all on board for funding the new Spartan event, which is scheduled for Oct. 5, but Councilman John Gehrig found issue with funding the already-established craft beer festival.
Ann Hillyer, the event organizer, said the event had been a huge success over the years, and had outgrown its previous location, Seacrets Jamaica USA on 49th Street.
Now, the event will be held at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, 4001 Coastal Highway.
Hillyer said she believed that the event would draw a crowd of at least 1,600 people — almost double the size of last year’s crowd of 850.
In addition, Hillyer said she had invited craft-beer bloggers to promote Ocean City’s craft beer community.
“I’ve been trying to make this area a top craft beer destination since 2014,” she said. “The only people that can do that are beer bloggers,” she said.
Hillyer requested $12,300 from the Tourism Advisory Board, which would go toward the convention center rent, the fee for the in-house food provider, Centerplate, complimentary tickets for the bloggers and incidental costs such as decorations and advertising.
“When I was on TAB, we funded new events,” Gehrig said. “I just don’t want to open up a policy where every event in town is coming back asking for funds.”
TAB Chairman Steve Pastusak explained that the board had viewed the event differently because of its switch from a private sector location, Seacrets, to the convention center, which has a relationship with the city.
He also told the council that the event was scheduled on a leap year, which meant less competition and a higher chance for beer bloggers to attend.
Because the event is expected to grow exponentially, the board felt the return on the investment would be much greater than the amount requested—especially during a month when Ocean City sees little revenue.
“I get it, that all makes sense, I completely support that,” Gehrig said. But while he backed the concept, he still had issues funding the event, specifically in regards to decorations, which he considered an optional expense.
“You don’t have to decorate Seacrets, that comes pre-done,” Hillyer said in response to Gehrig. “We have to make it cool, it can’t [look like] a convention center.”
Gehrig returned to his earlier argument that the issue was a matter of principle.
“We’ve had a precedent of how we fund events, and funding existing events has typically been a deal-breaker,” Gehrig said. “Setting the precedent that any existing event can spark a new area of growth … I think the messaging is tough there.”
Gehrig suggested cutting the amount to $9,600, which would cover the costs of the rental fee and ticket fee, but not the decorations or advertisements.
“I’m looking at a $12,000 investment in February, to bring 2,000 people here,” Councilman Dennis Dare said. “It’s an economic boom at a time that the businesses that are open need it.”
He also mentioned Kite Fest as an example of an event that the council repeatedly helped until it was able to grow independently.
“Just remember, I stood there [podium] … and we had a debate over Bike Fest, and this is a complete 180,” Gehrig said to Dare. “Everything you said is accurate, but I’m just trying operate within the boundaries that we set … and what you yourself said to me when I stood there.”
Observed Councilman Tony DeLuca, “This is different. We are examining each event on its own.”
Councilman Mark Paddack added that the council should not micromanage TAB and its decisions. He also said that if there was a policy issue, that would be TAB’s problem, not the council’s.
“I think this is a Pandora’s box…I think this may have consequences,” Gehrig said.
Despite Gehrig’s concerns, the council voted 6 to 1 in favor to give $12,300 to the FeBREWary event, with Gehrig voting in opposition.
Another debate spilled over soon after, when City Clerk Diana Chavis presented the council with its 2020 meeting calendar, on which some Monday council meetings are moved to Tuesday because of a holiday or a special event.
“I think we meet … too much, so I make a motion to make any Monday night meeting that is cancelled, that we do not have a (makeup) meeting on Tuesday,” Gehrig said.
Chavis told Gehrig that it was easier to have the meeting on the schedule and to cancel it later, than it was to not have the meeting on the schedule and then add one if the need arises.
Gehrig countered that the council had just cancelled a meeting for the White Marlin Open, so his request should not have posed an issue.
Chavis clarified that the Monday meeting had not been on the schedule at all because of previous requests from council members, and that it had not been cancelled.
“It’s just easier to alert the public that we’ve cancelled a meeting,” Chavis said.
While several council members agreed with Gehrig that the council met too frequently, they were conflicted about cancelling the meetings then and there.
Councilman Dare, however, was the most vocal about keeping the meetings on the calendar.
Dare said while the council members were complaining about meeting too often, the city staff was working 40-hour weeks. He also said that cancelling the meetings in advance would be inefficient and work would be pushed off rather than addressed immediately.
Chavis reminded the council that Monday night meetings are when legislation and ordinances can be passed, and that they held more importance than other sessions.
“We don’t need more ordinances, we have a whole codebook,” Gehrig argued, contending that city government should be less involved.
Dare responded by pointing out that Monday meetings were also public meetings, and that by reducing them, the public would have less opportunity to address the council.
“What we’ve done has worked well,” he said. “I remember the days of us being here until … midnight. We are quite a bit more efficient at what we are doing.”
Gehrig made a motion to remove three meetings from the calendar, which failed to pass.
The council then voted to approve the schedule as presented by the city clerk 6 to 1, with Gehrig opposed.