(Sept. 6, 2019) Tuesday night’s Ocean City Council meeting began with a somber tribute to one of the city’s most respected figures, Guy R. Ayers III, who died at his home last Saturday, Aug. 31.
“These chambers seem a little empty tonight,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “This is the first time in 37 years that we’ve held a meeting, and Guy Ayres has not been the city solicitor for the Town of Ocean City.”
Although Ayres took up the mantle of city solicitor 37 years ago, his service to the city began even earlier, on Sept. 18, 1978, when the residents of Ocean City elected him as a member of City Council.
Meehan described Ayres as fiercely loyal to his civic responsibility — a quality that even his opponents found commendable.
“Even when [people] were in opposition or disagreement with Guy, when they walked away, they respected his opinion and his approach,” Meehan said. “Guy Ayres was truly everything you could ask for in a city solicitor.”
Meehan also credited Ayres for practically writing the city’s codebook, and said that Ayres’ memory and ability to recall information was unrivaled.
Ayres’ legacy would live on, Meehan said, as council members would continue to rely on the decades of wisdom Ayres shared with his local government and peers.
“We certainly lost something as a town government and as a community, with the passing of Guy Ayres, but what I know is… he will never be forgotten, and we will … reference the city solicitor, Guy Ayres, on many occasions.”
One of the most notable accomplishments of the City Council during Guy Ayres’ time of service as a council member continues to resonate through City Hall today — the institution of the city council/city manager form of government in 1981 and the transfer of authority from the mayor’s office to the council.
The council at that time consisted of Ayres, Granville Trimper, George Feehley, Hale Harrison, Lee Duggan, Thelma Conner and Bernard Deutch, and it was they who challenged the authority of then-Mayor Harry Kelley, who until then was the town’s chief executive.
One of Mr. Ayres’ more famous traits as solicitor was how he often responded when questions were posed to him involving matters of municipal law.
Such inquiries, frequently asked in the form of “Guy, can we do that?” were met with a long gaze and an extended period of silence as he weighed the merits of the situation and the law before issuing his advice. That pause and deliberation lent a gravity to his counsel that the mayor, council and other city officials seldom ignored.
As former City Clerk Carol Jacobs said this week, “For some 23 years, I turned to Guy for legal guidance on many aspects of the City Clerk’s Office, elections, ordinances, charter amendments, street performers, public information requests and on and on. He never let me down, a little pause sometimes before answering, but he always got it right.”
Not much of a talker just for the sake of talking, Ayres found himself one time driving back from Annapolis with then-Councilwoman Nancy Howard, who was admittedly in awe of him.
Her telling of the story is she began talking out of nervousness, and continued to talk for miles, while Ayres drove silently. Finally, Ayres interrupted her chatter, she recalled, as he turned toward her and said, “I like you, all right? Now stop talking.”
City Councilman Dennis Dare served in city government with Guy Ayres as long as and maybe longer than anyone.
“Guy served on the City Council for one term beginning in 1978. He resigned in 1982 to become city solicitor, about six months before I was appointed city engineer in the fall of 1982. During his time in office, he participated in two bold actions that shaped the Town of Ocean City forever.
“ The first was the purchase of Playland, an abandoned amusement park between 65th and 66th Street that spanned from Coastal Highway west to the bay. Up until then, city services were provided from areas in the downtown and West Ocean City.
“That was fine then, but the town had recently expanded the city limits all the way to the Delaware line, so the future was going to require many more city services over the 10-mile island.
“The purchase of Playland provided a centralized location for many of those services, resulting in reduced costs and reduced response times. Today, the parcel is home to the Public Safety Complex that houses the OC Police Department, 911 Center, District Court, etc., and an extensive public works complex that provides and maintains the city’s comprehensive infrastructure.
“The second major purchase was at 125th Street and the bay. A developer had violated the federal wetland laws. Resolution in U.S. District Court resulted in the City Council purchasing the property from the developer and restoring the damaged wetlands. Today, we know that parcel as Northside Park, home to our Recreation and Parks Department.
“These two actions in Guy’s short time on the City Council has allowed the town to grow and prosper for more than 40 years and on into the future.”