(Oct. 9, 2020) Monday night saw another failed attempt to reinstate in-person Ocean City Council meetings, after several councilmembers expressed their desire to see unanimous support for a return to normal practices.
This will be the third failed attempt to return to in-person meetings since early September.
The council had returned to in-person meetings late June, but had to return to a virtual format after technological failures that caused Councilman Dennis Dare’s participation to be less than efficient.
Dare has participated virtually since the council meetings went online in March, and has remained firm in his opposition to returning to the council chambers.
In September, Dare said he would not feel comfortable returning unless the city had taken several measures to reduce covid-19 exposure.
This included installing a new HVAC system, spreading out the dais, limiting/distancing chairs and stricter mask protocols.
On Monday, City Manager Doug Miller explained what had been done thus far to ease Dare’s concerns.
“We have upgraded the HVAC system in the council chamber, we have spread out and socially distanced … the dais … and we have eliminated a considerable amount of chairs for people to actually be in the chambers — we’re going from 96 down to 28,” Miller said.
Despite this, Councilwoman Mary Knight said the decision would have to be an all-or-nothing decision, and each councilmember’s comfort level had to be taken into consideration.
Council President Lloyd Martin agreed and asked Dare how he felt.
“I don’t understand the rush to do it, but if you’re saying I have the opportunity to participate remotely, I’m fine with that,” Councilman Dennis Dare said, adding that he might inspect the arrangements at City Hall sometime this week. But, “I’d rather not be exposed to the public like that.”
Councilman Mark Paddack voiced his support for returning to in-person meetings, as he had heard from constituents who did not have access to the virtual meeting technology.
“They’re relying on the local papers and/or friends discussing through social media our actions as City Council,” Paddack said. “I think we’ve waited long enough, we’ve been very prudent and reasonable and it’s time for us to now have open council meetings at City Hall.”
Knight countered Paddack’s claim, pointing out the low attendance during in-person meetings compared to the relatively high attendance during virtual ones.
Dare abstained from the vote, which led to a three to three vote — Paddack, DeLuca and James in favor, and Gehrig, Martin and Knight in opposition — killing the motion.
The issue will be reviewed during next week’s council work session.