(April 20, 2017) About 200 people – an unusually large turnout for an Ocean Pines Board meeting – crowded into the community center last Thursday night and heard what they hoped they would hear: the introduction of family fun day on Sundays at the previously adults-only Oasis swimming pool is not going to happen.
After hearing resident after resident decry the schedule shift, the Ocean Pines Board of Directors voted 5-2 to reverse the decision of acting General Manager Brett Hill.
So concerned about the change were homeowners and residents that they spilled over into two standing-room-only sections in the rear and side of the Assateague Room. In addition to the addition of the family day at the Oasis pool, Hill planned to introduce adults-only hours on Sundays at the Swim and Racket Club.
Previously, a family event was held at the Oasis pool, formerly called the yacht club pool, on Wednesday evenings until 8 p.m. That was shifted to another pool after an apparent conflict with county regulations forced the pool to close at 6 p.m. It was discovered after the fact, however, that the county would allow hours until 7 p.m.
At one point during the meeting, supporters of the new policy were asked to stand, and just two people rose to their feet. After nearly two hours of public debate, the board of directors voted to overturn the change.
Before that could happen, Board President Tom Herrick opened the meeting up to public comments, which he said were strictly limited to the pool discussion, the meeting’s lone agenda item.
“Also, no negative comments are allowed,” Herrick said, drawing laughter and boos from a large portion of the audience.
Board Vice President Dave Stevens clarified that no negative comments “of a personal nature” were permitted.
Stevens and other directors said they had received more than 100 emails on the subject, most of which were not in favor of the changes.
Sharyn O’Hare, a former board member, said Hill’s decision was dividing the community. She said Hill told her his plans for the pool during former Controller Art Carmine’s retirement party, and that she had advised him against it then.
“I sent an email to the board when I found out about the change. I got four responses back and I found out the board didn’t even know,” she said. “Your job and responsibility as acting GM is to work with your board and work with this community. And this community has a very strong feeling here – we are not against children – we have never said we’re against children – but you’re dividing this community.”
Ted Moroney said his problem with the modification was the process in which it was done. All Hill needed to do was apply for a county variance to keep the Oasis pool open later on Wednesdays.
He also called for better communications among association officials.
“I think Brett’s done a whole lot of good stuff, but there has to be communication. Board members, you need to make sure that Brett, as one of your partners, is communicating with you ahead of time and you’re taking it back to the community. It’s real simple.”
Cathy Brennan called the pool “an oasis for adults” and said it was among the deciding factors for moving to Ocean Pines in 2010.
“I hope you will change your mind because I think if you don’t, you will have a lot of angry people,” she said.
Anthony Smith, who said he has lived in Ocean Pines since 1981, speculated the special meeting was the first one called to address actions taken by a general manager.
“It’s a shame, in my opinion, that all these people have to be here for this … because of unilateral and inconsiderate actions taken by one person,” Smith said. “An institution that’s been in place for almost 50 years that many people feel very strongly about has been changed without discussion with the board, without any conversation of the property owners that paid to build [the facility].
“I believe that the directors and the property owners of Ocean Pines have been insulted because we have not been consulted and, obviously, our opinions do not count,” Smith continued. “But they should count – we paid for it.”
He said Hill needed to be removed from his position and asked that the board start that process immediately.
Barbara Mann suggested the change was made because young families wanted to be able to drink while their children swam in the pool. The Oasis is the only pool with a full-time bar.
“I don’t ever remember hiring a babysitter and saying, ‘make sure they have enough beer.’ I never took my child to a pool or the beach and made sure I had alcohol with me,” she said.
Sharon Haley also wondered if the availability of alcohol was a factor.
“If the reasoning behind opening the pool to the families is to enable the adults to drink and to listen to music, that isn’t a good enough reason, and if you’re going to do that then you need to raise our lifeguard salaries for being babysitters, because that’s what they’re going [to become],” she said.
Nancy Carter, a former lifeguard, also brought up the issue of the bar.
“I have been swimming all my life. My children have been swimming all their lives. I never – never – want to see alcohol with a swimming pool,” she said.
Paula Gray said the pool closest to her was not as accessible to seniors as the Oasis. Moreover, she said it was not unusual for she and her husband to have to dodge cannonballing youngsters at other pools. She worried about his safety following a recent surgery.
She also said seniors were being generalized, and she, like others, was retired but still worked.
“There are a lot of us who work,” she said. “Because of that, we need that quiet time – that time to step away from all the demands to us … what we need to do is really look at our population – the real population.”
Helen Curley said the association has been moving towards making the Oasis family-friendly for years. Prior to the installation last month of a pirate ship playground near the pool, white lounge chairs that were easier for seniors to sit in were removed, she said.
“All we had left to sit in was chairs,” she said. “We could never get the white lounges back, although we asked for them, but we’re good little lambs and we sat in chairs.”
One man, Emmet McGovern, said he supported the change in policy.
“I really just came out here to voice support for the return of Family Fun Night,” he said. “My son is a teenager now and I’m here for no other reason than to support the past and the good times that we had as a family. It was a very special time and those kids really, really enjoyed those three hours that they had at the pool on a Wednesday night. It would be really sad if they didn’t get an opportunity to go back there.”
Herrick said Ocean Pines was in a unique position, because the board did not have a full-time general manager. He said Hill also had a full-time job and a family and was donating his time his time to the association “in the goodness [of his heart] to help this community.”
“He’s not available at a whim like a full-time general manager would be,” Herrick said. “And there are some issues. All I’m asking to you is to understand that it’s a different situation right now and it’s not a perfect world.”
That, Moroney said, is precisely why the board needed to have more communication with Hill.
“He’s not here full time. He ought to be talking to you and bouncing this stuff off,” Moroney said. “You’re making the case for what we’re saying. The idea is he needs more help.”
Director Slobodan Trendic said he and three other directors called for the special meeting. He thanked everyone for attending and said he wanted to apologize.
“We have let you down,” he said. “We have signed up for a job that’s not always easy and we’re doing the best we can.
“Having said that, I’m deeply disappointed that we’re even faced with this situation,” Trendic continued. “I hope it wasn’t intentional and we’re trying, now, to rectify that. The fact remains that the process was not followed. The discussions should have happened at the board level, at the committee levels, at the community level. Let a lesson be learned from this – this should never happen again.”
Director Cheryl Jacobs said the board had received emails from homeowners and residents “every two or three minutes.”
“It is clear what the overriding opinion is about the use of the yacht club pool,” she said. “There [is] not a revolt by four directors – there are simply four directors who are doing what we believe is our job, what we were elected [for], and I do not like to be characterized as somebody who is revolting simply because we are taking a stand which we believe is in the best interest of the entire community.”
Jacobs was referring to a letter to the editor sent by Hill to the Gazette last week. In it, he wrote, “I now have four directors revolting against me, and bringing me into a special meeting.”
She brought up Resolution M-02, governing amenities and cited by both Hill and Herrick as evidence the general manager is allowed to make such a change to Ocean Pines policy.
“The point is [M-02] talks about rules – it doesn’t talk about policy. Policy clearly comes from the board,” Jacobs said. “That is why, rather than getting input from your staff, you should have gotten input from your board.”
Director Doug Parks moved to direct the general manager to cancel the Sunday event and take no further action on the matter.
The motion passed 5-2, with Hill and Pat Supik voting “no.”
Several directors said they would look into a variance with the county to bring back the Wednesday evening event. The board could also explore changes to Resolution M-02 during a later meeting.