Candidates share goals at OP forum

Board of directors hopefuls field questions on goals

By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer

Around three dozen Ocean Pines residents, members of the board of directors and a panel of Election Committee members take in the first candidate forum on June 23. The forums on that day and the following Saturday allowed the six director candidates to answer 12 questions regarding their goals, the state of the Pines and various other issues of the day.
JACK CHAVEZ/BAYSIDE GAZETTE

The six hopesfuls in the 2022 Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors election spent two days last week — June 22 and June 25 — answering a total of 12 questions regarding the state of the community and their goals if they are elected.

The candidates are Paula Gray, Amy Peck, Stuart Lakernick, Monica Rakowski, Josette Wheatley and Steve Jacobs.

Some common themes prevailed at the pair of candidate forums at the Ocean Pines Golf Club on that Wednesday evening and Saturday morning. Nearly every candidate agreed on three points: 1. General Manager John Viola has been a godsend for the association in the wake of 2018’s forensic audit into its ledgers; 2. social media is a good tool to find out the scuttlebutt around town but should not be relied on as the main source of information regarding the association; 3. Everyone wants to improve infrastructure.

Here’s how each candidate approached six of the 12 questions:

What are your biggest goals as director?

Wheatley, one of two current directors on the panel along with Peck, threw out a curveball and said she’d like to see Ocean Pines become a golf cart community, but “my realistic goal would be to make sure we’re well on our way with the drainage (challenges), with our issues and such within the community. We face a lot of different things. Water quality is a big issue here as well and I can’t stress enough that we need to start looking at that a little further out so we can protect our shores and environment.”

Gray said she wants to “restore professionalism” and the “wonderfulness of this operation.” Peck said her biggest goal is to continue making Ocean Pines an “attractive, affordable, safe and enjoyable home for everyone.” Lakernick focused on drainage and the firehouse, saying of the latter that anything that negatively affects the six-minute response time of the Ocean Pines Fire Department would be “unacceptable.” Rakowski said she would work on communication and community involvement. She said the association’s committees could use some more help and “the more involved our citizens and residents are, the better we become.” Jacobs said the association must realize it is “in competition” with similar communities in the region and that it’s important to keep pace.

How would you keep the record of financial success going?

Gray said retaining Viola should be a top priority. She spoke about the protocols he set in place to get committees and departments the funding and manpower they need for their goals and added that, should he leave, the practices he incorporated should stay. “Look where we are now,” Gray said. “We have happy employees, we’re getting production done. You can look out the window and just about at the last full meeting last week, every single solitary (financial item) was in the black.”

This was one topic where the candidates’ answers did not cover that wide of a spectrum as multiple others also mentioned Viola by name. Peck said she believes in “going line by line in the budget and asking the tough questions.” Lakernick harkened back to the time that Ocean Pines “for some reason … thought it could run a restaurant” and the $1.2 million hole he says the association dug itself in and how he could use his professional experience to ensure the community never faces that issue again .

Rakowski said she would ensure the association “paints and increases” its reserves. Wheatley praised Viola as well and also endorsed the Matt Ortt Companies as “an amazing group of people.” Jacobs said he would avoid micromanaging the committees and that the directors should “let them do their job under the guidance of both (Viola) and the board.”

What conclusions do you draw from the recent referendum results?

Jacobs, who serves on the Bylaws and Resolutions Committee, which chiefly put the May referendum together, said he’s glad the 28 questions on the ballots passed and that the whole project could not have been completed without the leadership of chair Jim Trummel.

He also pointed out that not everything that was sent to the board made it onto the ballot, including issues with how the association handled the court case involving director Rick Farr’s eligibility last year.

“We spent a lot of time talking about that whole process that’s outlined in the bylaws,” Jacobs said. “Frankly, my view was we came up with a better solution than what the board presented to the community. We would not have left everything to the secretary. We would have required the board to act. We would have required the board to inform the candidate in question and give that candidate an opportunity to present their views to the board so the board could decide how to proceed. What the community preferred was the secretary making the decision. That passed. That’s fine.”

Gray thanked the Bylaws and Resolutions Committee for their work. Peck said her biggest conclusion was that “we have about 1,800 homeowners who are highly engaged.” Lakernick also lamented the “12 or 14” last-minute resolutions from the committee that were “slammed” by the board.

Rakowski said she’d like to see the association improve community involvement and that the referendum needed to be done. Wheatley said she thinks it’s important that the association tighten the bylaws, as the vast majority of those who voted showed they want.

Should boat ramp access be limited to residents or should nonresidents pay a higher fee?

Peck said that there’s no way the association could simply limit access to the boat ramp to Ocean Pines residents. “We cannot do that,” she said. “We are a nonprofit so I can’t support that because it’s illegal.” She added that she’d like to see stickers issued that indicate resident or nonresident, making it easier to charge non-residents a higher fee. “This would limit the craziness … and give residents preferential treatment for using boat ramps.”

Lakernick, on the other hand, said he would limit the boat ramp to residents only and said that the biggest issue is the trailers clogging up the Mumford’s Landing Pool parking lot during the tourist season. However, he also said he’d charge outside residents “but you can’t restrict it.”

Rakowski simply said, “How big of an issue is it, really?” and added she’s opposed to commercial use of boat ramps. Wheatley said she observes other area commercial ramps as having good functionality and that if she’s deciding only between limiting access or charging outsiders more, she’s “going for B.” Jacobs confessed he is not a boat owner but that a matrix should be devised that ensures residents have full access while maximizing revenue.

How would you improve safety and access for bikers and pedestrians along Route 589?

Rakowski said she’s like to see a shuttle service to help residents get from the residential areas to the commercial parts of Ocean Pines area. “Maybe once a week or once every other week, but we could provide a ride to the Food Lion,” she said. Or a ride to the post office. Or a ride to the Library. Some people might not be able to walk that distance. What are we doing to address that?”

Gray focused on how bike and pedestrian access in the vicinity are dangerous. Peck stressed the importance of the Route 90 study that MDOT-SHA is in the middle of and said it’s “time to weigh in” with the community’s input on what a revamped Route 90 corridor through Ocean Pines should look like.

Lakernick equated the ideal scenario to that of Levittown cities — communities that he said are extremely walkable. The example of a Levittown city is Bowie, which in recent years has been dogged by nearest critics saying the incorporated city of around 60,000 people is nowhere near walkable or bikeable enough.

Wheatley embraced the possibility of widening Route 90 and brought up how improving drainage around the community would help curtail hazardous conditions. Jacobs said that the association needs to work on how it reaches out to the county for help in tackling these kinds of problems.

What would you prioritize from the recent community surveys?

Lakernick said he’d tackle the affordability of some of the community’s amenities and especially the pools. “If you get a full membership, your family is $340. If you want to buy parking in town, it’s another $140. That’s $480 for a swim club membership for the season with parking down in town,” he said. “Here’s where the problem comes in: You have your grandchildren come down with your kids — four or five of them come into the house, that’s $50 if you want to go to the pool for the day — 50 bucks! I don’t know what the answer is but we’ve gotta figure out a solution to that.”

Gray said she’d focus on maintaining the value of Ocean Pines properties and its quality standard of living. Peck identified infrastructure, maintenance, fire police and protecting the old and young of the community. She also mentioned drainage, beautification and enforcing the association’s declarations of restriction. Rakowski and Jacobs zeroed in on safety and infrastructure while it was safety and drainage for Wheatley.

Other topics that were covered how OPA uses social media, how to improve enforcement of legal decisions, what transparency means to each candidate, what each candidate does think OPA does well, what liaison roles would everyone like to explore and whether each candidate is prepared for the demanding schedule of a director.

To view the forums in their entirety, visit the Ocean Pines YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/OceanPinesAssociation1.

Important upcoming election dates include:

Cutoff date for voter eligibility – Wednesday, July 6

Ballots mailed – Week of July 12

Ballot Deadline – Wednesday, Aug. 10 by 4 pm

Ballots counted and vote totals announced – Thursday, Aug. 11 starting at 10 am in the Clubhouse Meeting Room

Annual Meeting – Saturday, Aug. 13. Time and Venue TBD

This story appears in the print version of the Bayside Gazette on June 30, 2022.

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