Drawing from Mayor Rick Meehan’s observation this week, there’s a good probability that the late City Solicitor Guy Ayres had a greater impact on Ocean City than many people realize.
As Meehan said, Mr. Ayres, during his 37 years as the counsel to local government, practically wrote the city code, which means in ways large and small that hundreds of thousands of people, visitors and residents, institutions and businesses have been affected by his legal interpretations of the City Council’s wishes.
It was his job, after all, to keep the mayor and council from acting on impulse and running headlong into indefensible legal territory. His was the cooler head that had to prevail when politics or personal beliefs threatened to propel elected officials in the wrong direction.
That’s what makes his loss so difficult for local government. Although other attorneys who have sat in for him on occasion are highly capable themselves, it is impossible to replace Mr. Ayres’ four decades of institutional knowledge and his legal library of recollections.
As for his accomplishments during his tenure with Ocean City government, both as its attorney and as a member of the council, Mr. Ayres could boast — were he a boastful person, which he clearly was not — of his involvement in some of the most significant moments in local government history.
He and six other council members in 1981 conducted what amounted to a coup against then-Mayor Harry Kelley. They stripped him of his authority over finances and operations, granted those powers to the council, and hired a city manager to carry out their directives. That was the big turning point in the conduct of local government.
Later on, as former city manager Councilman Dennis Dare recalled, he guided the council through two major land purchases that resulted in the creation of the Public Safety and Public Works complexes on one parcel and Northside Park on the other.
That’s quite a legacy, but what his contemporaries, associates, friends and even City Council audiences will remember and miss most of all will be simply this — his presence in the room.