By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
Four hopefuls keep it calm, deliberate and thoughtful
(June 29, 2023) It was standing room only at the Ocean Pines candidate forum on Wednesday night, as heavy rain and winds did not prevent residents from coming out to hear the viewpoints of the four candidates vying for three seats on the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors.
Tom Piatti, the chair of the Election Advisory Committee reminded the audience that the two top vote-getters this year’s election will serve a full three-year term on the board, and the third-place finisher will serve out the remainder of Frank Daly’s term, following his resignation from the board to move to Florida.
The four candidates — John Latham, Jerry Murphy, Elaine Brady and Jeff Heavner — provided opening remarks, outlining their backgrounds and why they are running.
Residents submitted 14 questions for the candidates in advance to the elections committee. The topics included public use of the boat ramps, digital signs, congestion, yard maintenance, budget questions and the debate over a roundabout at the north entrance.
In addition, audience members had a chance to ask questions of the candidates.
In his opening comments, Latham remarked that he would have a servant leadership style.
Murphy voiced his desire to serve the community that has served him so well over the nearly 50 years he has owned property in Ocean Pines. He was the builder of the infamous round houses.
Brady would be a legacy board member, as her father served on the board in the 1990s. She has a multi-generational perspective on the community, as her grandson was raised in Ocean Pines and just graduated from Stephen Decatur High School this year.
She noted that she spent her career working for community newspapers. [She is the former owner of the Bayside Gazette].
“I found it is such a terrific way for myself and others to connect to the communities in which we live and to know what’s going on because the decisions that are made at this level affect our everyday lives,” Brady said.
Heavner said, “What do you get when you elect me to the board? I stand for kindness, I stand for unity, I stand for integrity, I stand for conviction. I am an independent thinker.”
The first question to Latham concerned the cost of decking projects and whether he would choose pressure-treated wood that would be cheaper up front, but would need maintenance, or use maintenance-free composite decking, which would cost more up front.
Latham’s noted his background in procurement and said, “I would look at the total cost of all those options. I would map all the options out. It’s a pay me now, pay me later situation.”
Latham was also asked his opinion on a possible roundabout at the north side entrance to Route. 589.
“I have seen roundabouts work,” Latham said, adding that he would need to understand a little bit more about before passing judgment.
“A roundabout, does it fit?” he asked. “I am not quite sure that I have enough data to say that I think that would work. If it helps for us to be safe and the geese are in good shape, I would be okay with it.”
He noted that it would have to fiscally make sense as well.
Latham also responded to a question about rundown properties. He said compliance comes at a cost, noting that Ocean Pines currently only has 1.5 employees to take care of compliance. He supported tougher action.
“We can’t allow places to run into disrepair,” he said.
A question asked of all the candidates was whether they had any current amenities memberships. Latham said he just purchased a couples swim membership and goes to the Yacht Club regularly. When his kids were younger, he had the pool membership, he said.
Murphy was asked whether he would support efforts to limit access to some conveniences to OPA residents and guests only or charge a fee, particularly for commercial users.
“I would not be opposed to outsiders paying a fee to use our marinas or boat docks,” Murphy said.
He suggested further discussion with the Marine Advisory Committee would be needed.
“All options are on the table. I don’t think a slide card would work at this point. The expense could outweigh the benefit.”
Murphy then answered a question about raising assessments to maintain and enhance the community. He said that he would raise assessments as a last resort. He noted that the southside fire department will be an expensive undertaking.
“We should exhaust all other methods including local, state and federal grants,” he said.
A member of the audience asked Murphy what might be done about the urban sprawl that seems to be creeping into the area. The resident was nostalgic about the early days of Ocean Pines when it was more of a seasonal community.
“You can’t do much to stop urban sprawl, but we can work with the county to make sure the infrastructure supports this number of people,” Murphy replied.
Regarding rundown properties, Murphy said the board should look at enforcement and fines that are not under a secondary homeowners’ association.
Murphy does not currently have any memberships to amenities in Ocean Pines. In the past, he was a member of the golf and beach clubs. He visits all the amenities and supports them. He currently pays per use.
Brady was asked to identify specific decisions or actions of the current board that she agreed with and those she would have handled differently and how she would do that.
While she could not identify specific decisions, she said she had no problem with the decisions our current board has been making.
“We are not all always going to agree, but we need to be willing to listen,” she said. “Listen to the community. Listen to each other in order to come to some sort of reasonable decisions on the issues.”
One question was posed to Brady concerned electronic signs, specifically replacing the North Gate sign as a first step. Brady had been on the Communications Advisory Committee in the past and was well-acquainted with the issue.
She said she knew that there were concerns from some community members about light intrusion from an electronic sign, but that the committee had identified signs that would be black with white lettering which would not emit too much light.
“Right now, we have staff that have to go out every week, lift those heavy signs, change all the letters,” she said, adding, “all of the signs are different from the north to the south. Depending on what gate you come out of, you may never get certain pieces of information, or updated information,” Brady said.
She noted that with electronic signs, changes can be made easily.
When asked about run-down properties, Brady replied that she lives in a division of Ocean Pines that has a secondary HOA that imposes fines for violations. The homes in her association are very well kept, she said. She also thought that reasonable fines work and they should be considered for the entire community.
Brady does not currently belong to any amenities, but she uses the Yacht Club and the Beach Club. She did think that the board should be familiar with the amenities and their wants and needs. She hoped that now that she is retired, she will have more time to spend at the amenities.
Heavner was asked about the role of advisory committees in support of the board of directors.
“Our committees are one of the most valuable assets that we have. We ought to listen to what these committees advise the board on,” Heavner said.
He also endorsed more of a presence from the committees at board meetings.
“I would love to see the chairs of these committees report to the board during regular board meetings on regular updates on just the very big issues they are working on,” Heavner said.
He added that he thought this would encourage a bigger turnout at board meetings and would support transparency.
Heavner also was asked about the role of the board liaison to the advisory committees.
“The job of the liaison is to make sure the committee understands the issue they are working on,” he said. “By no means should the liaison drive the decision-making process. They should be the liaison bouncing information from the committee back to the board, but they should not intervene in the thinking process of the committee.”
As for the matter of run-down properties, Heavner said the board would have to take a hard look at how to address the problem an economic way. He said he supported make the properties that aren’t well-maintained an issue of the Architectural Review Committee.
One resident asked how capital decisions and priorities are made.
“We have a strategic plan which is well laid out on capital projects. We have to keep investing to be a premiere resort community,” Heavner said.
Heavner does not belong to any amenities, but he used to belong to the Beach Club and visits the Yacht Club and the pools occasionally.
In closing statements, Heavner said he fell in love with this place [Ocean Pines] overnight. “It’s the best decision I ever made.”
Brady noted her background, owning the Bayside Gazette and said, “I want to continue to connect with the community now that I am retired. I’ve been following the issues for a long time.”
She also suggested the OPA connect with the county economic development department to help shape development outside the community.
Murphy emphasized the many amenities that make Ocean Pines unique.
“We are one of a kind.”
He noted that as the community grows, there will be many issues it will need to address, including the firehouse, drainage, property values, and other issues and reiterated the experience he could bring to the board.
Latham noted that he had spent months going through documents, resolutions and the strategic plan. He also told the audience that he took an HOA Board of Directors leadership class.
He highlighted the need for the board to be a “single source of truth” in times when there is so much misinformation in the community.
To view a video of the forum, visit: https://youtube.be/xYGgsfGYmiA.
Important upcoming election dates are:
- Voter eligibility deadline – Wednesday, July 6
- Ballots mailed – Week of July 11.
- Ballot deadline – Tuesday, Aug. 8 by 4 p.m.
- Ballots counted and vote totals announced – Thursday, Aug. 10.
- Annual Meeting – Saturday, Aug. 12.