printed 10/15/2021

Ocean City Councilman John Gehrig was wrong and out of line Tuesday when he accused city Budget Manager Jennie Knapp of playing a shell game with room tax revenues so she could short-change the advertising budget.

So severe was Gehrig’s attack on Knapp that normally low-key City Manager Doug Miller demanded an end to what he characterized as an inquisition. Unfortunately, the mayor and council did not respond and let Gehrig’s harangue continue.

As Knapp has explained repeatedly, the portion of room tax revenue dedicated to advertising adheres to the rules the council has set. What has fluctuated is the advertising budget itself, because of money allocated to it from other sources.

If the budget increases because of other contributions and the revenue put into it from the room tax via the established formula stays the same, then the tax revenue as a percentage of the ad budget will be lower. It’s as simple as that.

Misunderstanding the formula, the budget or where the money goes — even though every council member gets a line-item budget breakdown on a thumb drive — is one thing, but personally attacking the integrity of any city employee in a public forum is way out of bounds.

What Gehrig should have done is had a sit-down with Knapp and Miller, who is responsible for all finances and is Knapp’s boss, and asked for an explanation in as much detail as he wanted.

But to sit up at the dais and yell down at Knapp that she is out of control and to suggest the appointment of an internal auditor who’s answerable only to the council, well, that says Gehrig thinks both Miller and Knapp are being dishonest.

If honesty is the issue here, an honest assessment of Tuesday’s sad episode would be there’s more going on here than a room tax distribution dispute. It looks personal and that Gehrig wants Knapp gone because he sees her as an impediment to what he wants to do.

The point is, however, where and how room tax money is spent is the council’s call. If members want to boost advertising spending all they have to do is vote, instead of taking it out on the person responsible for keeping track of the public’s money.

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