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For Diriker, planning meeting was minefield

(Sept. 3, 2015) Plenty of questions were asked last Thursday at the Ocean Pines Comprehensive Plan Committee meeting with Dr. Memo Diriker and some of them were not welcome.
Diriker’s presence at the session followed a mid-August meeting when the committee agreed to reconsider the timeline on several components of its comprehensive plan and sought guidance from Diriker, head of the Business Economic and Community Outreach Network [BEACON] at Salisbury University.
The Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors voted in May to pay Diriker, and BEACON, $16,500 over two phases to help put together the plan meant to guide the community through the next decade-plus of projects.
Thursday’s meeting, however, seemed to return to subjects already discussed.
 “This is probably the third meeting where the same questions were being asked by sometimes the same people, sometimes new people coming on board,” Diriker said.
OPA President Pat Renaud said at times the meeting appeared to be taken over by public comments. Renaud said committee member Tom Butler was so upset that he threatened to quit and Diriker left the room at least once.
“I went out and got Memo and he said, ‘Do you want me to come back in?’ And I said, ‘Most certainly, yeah,’” Renaud said. “That’s when I gave a lecture point. We’re here not about process, but about results. There is a time when process stops and results have to be considered, and that’s where I am with the situation.
“It got to be a point where I had to step in and say something. Otherwise it was going way, way off track,” Renaud added.
As a result of the situation, the committee plans to release a “community awareness document,” compiled by Butler. As Diriker put it, “That way there won’t be the same questions being asked and answered over and over again.”
Renaud and Diriker spoke briefly after the meeting.
“He said, ‘I’ve had difficulty with other groups before, but I’m not sure I ever had this much difficulty,’” Renaud said. “I told him you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen this group.
“I think overall we’re moving in the right direction with this thing,” Renaud added. “We just have to get out of the woods. We can’t have people that are new coming in and asking what the whole process is. Memo has gone over this I can’t tell you how many times. He just said, ‘that’s it – I’ve had enough.’”
Renaud also said Committee Chair Steve Cohen could do a better job of controlling the meetings.
“It’s alright to have public comments, but it should be at a certain point in the meeting – not the whole meeting. That’s what it was,” Renaud said. “I’m not blaming [the questioners]. We didn’t have any restrictions.”
As for the committee changing its deadlines, Diriker said only the timeline would change – not the approach.
He went on to say his role in the development of the comprehensive plan was to, “provide any and all assistance we can based on our experience with similar projects.”
That includes, he said, gathering data as well as understanding how it works in terms of “how that information can help with the planning process as they look to the association’s future.”
“We can’t solve problems and that’s not our role there,” he said. “Our function is to give them the kind of information they need to be able to make good decisions. That’s what we’re doing for them.”
Overall, Cohen said the meeting was productive.
“I think we accomplished some things,” he said. “The big sticking point now is how we’re going to get the survey out. We have to talk to the board and we have to talk to Pat Renaud, but he’s on board.”
Diriker will host a pair of focus groups later this month before developing a larger survey that will likely be sent to the entire community. Cohen said the committee preferred that approach, because it allowed Diriker to get a “flavor” of the community before tackling the larger survey.
He also said the board – not the committee – would have the final say on the questions in the survey.
Diriker and BEACON have not billed Ocean Pines yet, and he said an invoice would not be sent until he delivers the results of the survey.
“Once the survey responses are compiled, we will present our findings to the board,” Diriker said. “Based on that they will decide whether they are going to move onto phase two or not.”
Renaud said the committee looked into mailing surveys, although costs proved to be prohibitive.
“It would have been more than $10,000 just to send it out to everybody and have them address it back to us,” he said. “We’re going to do it another way. Email blasts probably would a good thing to try to reach as many as we can.”
Another option is to include the survey in the next community newsletter.
“It doesn’t cost any more to do that, so that’s probably where we’ll end up,” Renaud said. He added that no board action was planned on the committee’s work.
“We’re going to wait and see,” he said.
To take part in an upcoming focus group, contact Cohen at 301-667-3099 or