Time will tell if it’s a good political move or not, but Ocean City Councilman Joe Hall has made himself a pivotal figure in the town’s upcoming election that will see four seats up for grabs as well as the mayor’s post.
Councilmembers seeking re-election in November officially are Doug Cymek, Joe Hall and Mary Knight. Council President Jim Hall seemed inclined to run again a couple weeks ago, but it’s unknown what impact last week’s heart attack had on his future aspirations. My guess is he will be in the field once again.
Last week, on the heels of a similar advertisement published elsewhere several months ago, Joe Hall and his group Citizens For A New Positive Direction funded a full-page ad seeking a challenge for Mayor Rick Meehan, who has never been opposed since being appointed mayor when Jim Mathias was selected for the local delegate seat that became vacant when Bennett Bozman unexpectedly passed in 2006.
Despite having to serve for free as a volunteer city manager for nine months after Dennis Dare was dismissed, Meehan has unofficially confirmed he intends to seek another term as mayor. He will be seeking his fourth two-year term.
Joe Hall, who served as a council member from 2000 to 2006 and was returned to office by voters in 2008, is not interested in running for the mayor’s seat, although he did briefly flirt with the idea a few years ago before thinking better of it. Although he’s not interested in the mayor’s seat, he feels the mayor should not continue to get a free pass as an incumbent. Last week’s ad even said his group would fund the filing fee for an individual willing to take on Meehan, who was first elected as a council member in the April 1985 special election.
In a Facebook post this week, Joe Hall wrote, “I'm saying Mayor Rick has never been challenged and I would support a contested mayor's race. I want to earn another term as councilperson. I have my work cut out for me there. I'm up to the challenge. Most people don't realize Rick has never been challenged as mayor.”
The Worcester County Commissioners were as divided as it gets this when it came to the topic of rezoning agricultural land on Route 589 as commercial and allowing for redevelopment.
Rezoning agricultural land to commercial is always contentious because it involves a major change in the landscape. What’s a rural parcel will eventually become home to buildings and pavement and not everyone likes to see that.
The so-called Burbage property has been in the crosshairs of development for at least the last decade, and it appears it’s going to be developed soon, thanks to the commissioners’ 4-3 vote and the Planning Commission’s 4-3 vote to issue the rezoning a favorable recommendation earlier this year.
It was interesting to note how much the Planning Commission’s opinion mattered to Commission President Bud Church, who said, “I honestly believe there was a change in the neighborhood. If the Planning Commission had voted against it, I would have voted against it.”
For the rezoning to be granted this week, two criteria had to be met. There either had to be a mistake made during the comprehensive rezoning, which all agreed did not occur, or there had to be a change in the neighborhood. The latter was the point four commissioners felt had occurred largely as a result of slot machines being added to the nearby Ocean Downs.
Some commissioners tried to say the redevelopment of the property would create more jobs, but that was a lame argument because that cannot be used as reasoning for a rezoning, according to the county code.
The story might not be over yet, though, as Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who used an expletive this week to describe the decision in Snow Hill, seems to hope citizens take the matter to court. If the case for re-zoning winds up before a judge, Shockley was confident, “a judge will take 20 minutes and laugh it out of court.”
Based off the history of this property and the robust citizen comments, my guess is we have not heard the last of this decision.