By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer
(Nov. 24, 2022) The Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors is pointing to the “temperature” in the community as to why it will not consider renaming the local skate park in memory of 14-year-old Gavin Knupp at this time.
There were no fireworks at the regular board meeting on Saturday, where Doug Parks gave that explanation at the beginning of the meeting in a prepared statement. But plenty of association members were present to voice either support or opposition to the decision.
Just days before the meeting, the association officials announced that residential identification cards would be required to attend the meeting, a move made in anticipation of non-Pines residents attempting to crash it.
Instead, the mostly full room was slightly tense at times, but never out of order. A handful of picketers, who were not outside before the meeting, were spotted toward the end of it. They left before the actual meeting ended.
“Regardless of how some people feel about the matter, major decisions affecting the association must include consideration for how the overall community will be affected, rather than a subset of the membership,” Parks stated at the beginning of the meeting.
He also added that residents have reached out to specifically oppose the renaming.
The other deciding factor he listed was the “business contractual relationship” the association has with the Matt Ortt Companies. There is no consideration for changing that relationship or the end date of the contract, Parks said, though he did not expand on that comment.
Those who have followed the mostly one-sided online dialog revolving around the fallout from the hit-and-run crash that took the 14-year-old Knupp’s life — especially in the “Do it for Gavin – Justice For Gavin” Facebook group — may be surprised to learn that there is opposition to the bid to rename the park, but more than a couple residents showed up to oppose it and further scold the actions of some supporters.
“There’s not one single person that I know who doesn’t want justice for Gavin,” said resident Mark Thomas. “That said, there are a few people in every group that are bad. I’m all for people supporting (this cause) but when you become angry and attack people, that’s wrong to me.”
Thomas went on to defend the Matt Ortt Companies, saying owner Matt Ortt “made a mistake and apologized.”
“If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me,” Thomas said.
On the other hand, some residents lambasted the identification requirement, the legality of which many in the community have questioned.
“Under Maryland law, you did not have the right to ask for that. We’ll have a discussion about it,” said resident and former director Josette Wheatley. “We lost a very important part of our community — a child … The fact is our children look at us as leaders. We are here to (lift) each other up as a community so our children can end up as good people in our society.
“Renaming a (skate) park is nothing, truly nothing.”
Another resident characterized those boycotting Matt Ortt-led amenities as “this group of bullies.”
“It’s ludicrous,” resident Steve Ransdell said. “Many people in the Pines and people out of state are trying to tell us how to run our business.”
“It’s like lunch money with a bully. If you give it to him one day what does he do the next? He comes back. I do recognize and sympathize wholeheartedly with the loss of a child but you don’t get what you want by demanding, threatening, bullying, cursing, doxxing and stalking people who (want to) wait for the evidence (to materialize).”
Resident Kathy Vail acknowledged the opposition to the skate park but said that it shouldn’t stop the directors from doing the right thing.
“(Renaming this park) will help our children. I hear you want to take your time and there’s a party on both sides,” she said. “As leaders, your responsibility is to do what’s morally right. You’ll always have people disagree with what you say. At this point, the community and membership are asking you to stand up and name something — if they can name a whole Ben’s Red Swings in Salisbury, we can name an existing skate park the ‘Gavin Knupp Skate Park,’ OK? You will continue to have people disagree and I’m asking you to take your leadership, understand some won’t agree, and do it anyway.”
After residents spoke, the directors responded.
Director Colette Horn recalled her shock when she learned that the meeting with Gavin’s mother, Tiffany, apparently did not go the way she thought it did.
“I have to say I was gobsmacked when someone sent me a social media posting in which I was told to kindly — pardon my French it’s not my French it’s Mrs. Knupp’s French — shove this award up my ass,” Horn said.
Director Stuart Lakernick pointed out that the home addresses and phone numbers of the directors and General Manager John Viola were taken offline after threats were allegedly made.
“We’re volunteers, folks,” Lakernick said. “We’re you. How would you like it?”
Director Monica Rakowski said the anger voiced inside and outside of the community has led to members asking if the amenities were even safe to attend, which garnered some laughter from some in the crowd.
Parks minced no words in saying what he thinks Tiffany Knupp should have done after she rejected the association’s offer of a yearly award in Gavin’s honor instead of the skate park.
“She could have come back directly to (us) and said thanks but no thanks,” Parks said. “She didn’t even have to be polite. But we find out on social media — Not only was it a bad idea but there were some things in there that weren’t appropriate.”