Commentary 11/5/2021

Twelve years ago in late October, the Ocean City mayor and council began the secret process of selecting an advertising agency to handle the resort’s multi-million-dollar account.

The city accepted the bids and picked its agency without revealing (until much later) what that winner proposed to do for the undisclosed amount it would end up handling.

So tight-lipped was the city that the companies’ presentations were delivered in a Fort Knox-like circumstance because “proprietary information” was involved.

Understandably, the agencies didn’t want to reveal their trade secrets and ideas to their competitors for fear they might steal them. Also a possibility was that some other resort might snatch and use for themselves ideas developed for Ocean City.

The same “proprietary information” argument is being used again, following the council’s Monday night acceptance of agency proposals. But money, and more specifically the room tax money that finances the resort’s marketing, is not proprietary information because it is not the property of the agencies. It’s money generated for this specific use by every lodging establishment and legitimate rental in town.

Yet, few of the resort’s hotel and motel operators (along with every other business that benefits from resort marketing) will have any idea of what will be spent and where. They are expected to trust the judgment of the City Council. But, some will ask, what about the Tourism Commission’s role in vetting the proposals? That too has to be restricted to members who also are elected officials, according to what the late City Solicitor Guy Ayres said in 2009.

If these bids do contain proprietary information, Ayres explained, then no member of the public can see them, and that includes the Tourism Commission’s representatives of the business community.

Ayres added that these documents are either open or they’re not, and allowing the commission’s business members to see them would mean they must be open to all.

Understanding that creative material should be closely guarded, we contend that the financial breakdown on who will spend what where and with whom is not proprietary and should be made public.

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