Ocean City Today

More protocol, transparency questions brought to council

Councilman doubts validity of liquor sale reversal, vote still stands for mixed drinks
By Katie Tabeling | May 18, 2017

(May 19, 2017) As the dust settled after the Ocean City Council’s do-over vote on liquor sales at OC Bikefest, Councilman Wayne Hartman this week questioned the legality of reversing a vote that on a matter that had been decided.

During Monday’s council session, Hartman asked City Solicitor Guy Ayres if the council had the right to reverse a vote if it had been previously voted on.

Two weeks earlier, the council shot down a Bikefest organizers’ request to sell mixed drinks at the September motorcycle event. The vote to reject the request was 5-2.

But then, in the final moments of the May 8 work session, Councilman John Gehrig revived the matter and got a 5-2 vote to allow mixed drinks, contingent on the approval of the county Board of Liquor Control. Hartman and Council Secretary Mary Knight against voted against the measure.

“Was it proper to bring that back up for a vote? I hope we don’t conduct business like that in the future,” Hartman said.

“Typically, the parliamentary procedure is that once a vote is taken, that is the vote, unless a member of the [majority] wants to change their vote, not the individual on the losing side,” Ayres told Hartman. “Because without someone on the winning side being willing to change their vote, all you have is rehashing the same thing.”

Gehrig made the first motion to approve liquor sales at OC Bikefest, which failed on May 1. He also made the first motion that successfully passed last week, based on an email sent by Bikefest organizer Kathy Michael that clarified how the liquor would be served.

Hartman pressed the matter concerning Gehrig’s involvement, but Ayres said there were little grounds to overturn the vote. Ayres added that since Robert’s Rules of Order, the manual of parliamentary procedures, was not written into the city’s charter, there is no legal backing for Hartman’s argument.

“I’m not in a position to say what’s legal. The procedure is whatever the president [of the council] allows,” Ayres said.

“Hopefully, the president will all give us a chance when it’s our turn. This isn’t personal, but I’m passionate on formality,” Hartman said to Gehrig.

Gehrig did not respond to Hartman’s comments at the time. In a later interview, he said he did not take exception and that Hartman’s comments were “well made” and spoke to larger issues on transparency.

“I brought [liquor sales] back up because we had fresh information and I thought it was relevant to the discussion,” Gehrig said. “I absolutely did not bring it up because I knew opinions had changed.”

After the first vote, Michael emailed the mayor and City Council, outlining that a shot and a half would be poured into an 8 to 10-ounce glass filled with ice. The drink would later be topped off with soda or lemonade.

“I think she sent that because she wasn’t given the opportunity to speak,” Gehrig said. “But there was no backdoor meeting on this.”

When Gehrig ran for council in 2016, he ran on a platform of providing the council new voice, instead of adding to a chorus, and being upfront with the public. Five months into his term, he’s seeing no evidence of transparency issues.

“I’m committed to having issues out in the open, but I’ve seen no evidence of prepackaged votes. I haven’t seen evidence of the council meeting and deciding the vote before the session. It’s a good group,” he said.

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