By Greg Wehner
A meeting between Worcester County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young, and a private investor about the proposed sports complex has some commissioners wondering how the public knew about the gathering before they did.
Commissioner Chip Bertino said it was concerning that meetings were taking place with potential sponsors without all seven commissioners being informed. He said it really did not matter if nothing came of the meeting, but suggested it was the principle.
“Other people around the county seem to know more than the county commissioners as to what is being said, with whom conversations are being had, and what is being offered. I don’t think that’s right,” Bertino told the other commissioners. “I would ask moving forward, that if anybody in the county is having meetings with regard to naming rights, what is out there, I think it’s responsible that the commissioners, all of us, be informed that either a meeting took place, what was discussed, who was there, etc. I don’t think it’s fair I had to find out by reading the newspapers, what’s going on for the county when I’m responsible, or one of the responsible people for the county.”
The commissioner’s concerns came just two weeks after a public hearing on purchasing a 95.6-acre property just west of Stephen Decatur High School along Route 50 for $7.15 million. The money will come out of the $11.2 million in bonds earmarked for financing a portion of the costs associated with engineering, designing, constructing, equipping, and furnishing a potential sports complex.
After the public hearing, the commissioners voted 4-3 in favor of the purchase, with Bertino and Commissioners Jim Bunting and Ted Elder voting against it.
On Tuesday, Bertino said he was aware that a petition to go to referendum was in the works and declared that he was not part of that effort. If successful, the public would vote on the purchase of the property.
At the moment, the county is the only entity on the hook for the facility despite conversations taking place in Ocean City and Berlin.
Young told Bertino the county has not put out plans for the sportsplex, but Ocean City has and is looking at having a “very large” indoor facility constructed on the property.
“Only the county is involved in this, and nobody should be speaking for the county except this board and you,” Bertino told Young, who responded by saying the only part of the project the county is working on at the moment is an environmental site assessment.
Mitrecic told Bertino he was on the radio last week and reiterated that the county was only at “Step A,” which is to purchase the property.
He also said he and Young met with a private investor before the property was under contract, but that it was a preliminary meeting.
Young piggybacked on Mitrecic’s comment, adding that there were discussions previously about private entities putting money forward as a match and that naming rights are on the table for the property.
“This meeting was requested with me and Mr. Young directly, and this person is in my district,” Mitrecic told Bertino. “Just as you have meetings with people in your district … nothing, absolutely nothing came of it.”
Bertino said the concern is that they hear things on the radio or at council meetings that the other commissioners were not a part of, and it’s especially concerning when the county is the only entity on the line.
He told Mitrecic if there are meetings with anyone, the other commissioners have a right to know.
“I’ll expect the same from you,” Mitrecic said, to which Bertino responded by saying he was not talking about constituent meetings.
Mitrecic said that’s all it was: a meeting with one of his constituents.
Still, Bertino held the line, and requested any discussions with outside sponsors should be reported to the commissioners.