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OP Comp. Planning Committee seeking increased participation

(Aug. 20, 2015) Ocean Pines’ Comprehensive Planning Committee is looking for a few thousand good men and women to take part in a series of focus groups that could help determine the future look and feel of the community.
In March, the board of directors approved two phases of a comprehensive study, allocating $16,500 to Salisbury University group BEACON and to Dr. Memo Diriker. The plan was for Diriker to conduct a large-scale phone survey through BEACON as part of phase one, and then hold smaller focus groups with the committee.
An obstacle arose when the committee could not get a list of names, phone numbers and email addresses of Ocean Pines property owners from the administration, and instead compiled a list of staffers, board members and friends and acquaintances it had easier access to.
The committee had hoped to start holding focus groups this week, but the decision to slow things down and try to create more involvement from Ocean Pines stakeholders was made during a meeting on Friday.
That decision apparently stemmed from a conference committee member Thomas Butler had with General Manager Bob Thompson last Wednesday. Butler wanted help from the OPA administration in developing “a mechanism for the survey to go to the entire community.”
As a result of the roughly 90-minute meeting, Butler said Thompson agreed to help, posting information from the committee on the community’s website and in its quarterly newsletter, as well as sending email blasts to the 5,000-plus subscribers.
Butler hoped the committee would use these new resources to expand its reach in the survey and the diversity of its makeup. He also wanted to pull back from previously established deadlines and, possibly, the Oct. 31 target to present phase-one findings to the board.
“Specific dates tend to give the wrong message,” he said. “It’s alright to have specific dates for a contract, but it’s not alright when we’re talking about … planning. I’ve never put a plan [together] that didn’t have a range of dates when you’re getting something done.
“As a result of that meeting … I would like at some point to have a discussion about dates and try and slow things down for us,” Butler said. “We already got killed once because we did things too friggin’ fast.”
Staff liaison Jerry Aveta, who was also present during the meeting with Thompson, said the general manager “immediately embraced what the committee is trying to do.”
According to Aveta, Thompson believed there was much confusion surrounding what the committee was doing and suggested the newsletter and web correspondence as a solution.
“Not only are you pinging the community, you’re bringing [it] to a place of common truthful information,” Aveta said.
Committee member Frank Daly agreed.
“I think it’s a great offer, and I think it’s a wise thing to do,” he said.
Daly also expressed concern that board support for the committee was currently unsteady.
“I think if we presented [the board] with any expenditure right now that there would be a big discussion, and I bet you it wouldn’t be positive,” he said. “I think that it is very important that before we talk about doing anything with phase two that we put a stake in the ground and say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to use phase one, here’s what’s going to come out of phase two, and here’s the deliverable that we intend to give you as the board.”
The committee received a preliminary summary from Diriker last Thursday based on the responses of roughly 30 people called during the first round of the survey. Many of the committee members were seeing the data for the first time during the meeting.
“It was clear to me that not everybody fully understood what they were being asked,” Butler said. “I think we have an opportunity now, because of the situation the community is in with the new board, to take a timeout and prepare the community for the focus groups, rather than rushing into it.”
Aveta admitted several Ocean Pines employees complained about their inclusion in the survey during a recent staff meeting.
“You should have heard the pushback from the staff,” he said. “Why are we being bothered? What do I say? [There was] a lot of reluctance.”
Committee Chair Steve Cohen asked if Thompson might intimidate some of the employees included in the survey, the names of which have been made public record.
“I know they will,” Aveta said. “There will be a pre-discussion.”
Aveta also expressed his frustration with the first batch of data provided by Diriker.
“I’ve got a real problem with this first focus group,” he said. “It’s not going to work, guys. Trust me.
“I think it should be more general public. Why do you need operational people’s input? That is of value, but it’s not objective,” Aveta continued. “As an employee, I’ve got a certain vested interest and I’ve got a certain perspective. And I’m not sure that’s helpful. I think more helped are the people who live here and use the facilities.”
Cohen suggested the committee regroup during the two weeks before its next meeting, when Diriker was set to attend.
“I suggest all the committee members review all this data … and we sit down and grill Dr. Diriker,” he said. “He works for us and we have to fully understand where everything is going.”
At the conclusion of the meeting the committee agreed that Butler would work on marketing material for the newsletter, likely including a brief update from Diriker, while Aveta and Daly work on presentation for the board of directors.
The committee also decided to delay the start of focus groups by a month and try to attract more interest from the community.
“The process was flawed in the initial creation of the list because we were limited on access to people,” Aveta said. “The most numbers and contacts we had were staff. If we go back and generate interest with the marketing and we can pull people from the community, we can put them in the focus group.”
Daly and Butler concurred.
“The most important thing that people understand is that this is not an exclusionary or special process,” he said. “We would love nothing more than 11,700 (people) to come and say they want to participate.”
“If we start getting interest now, the results of the survey will be of much more magnitude of importance, and we would get a much better survey,” Butler said.
To take part in an upcoming focus group, contact Cohen at 301-667-3099 or