Fairness in Taxes and the Ocean City Sentinel co-sponsored the first debate between four of the five candidates in the May 13 elections for the four-year council seats.
Incumbent councilmen Michael Allegretto and Keith Hartzell joined challengers Michael Hyson and Eric Sauder in the debate moderated by ocnjdaily.com editor Douglas Bergen and Ocean City Sentinel Editor David Nahan.
Candidate Peter Madden was unavailable for Monday’s debate due to a previously scheduled vacation.
The debate featured three rounds of questioning, including questions from the moderators, with submissions from readers; a round in which candidates questioned each other; and a “lightning round” in which candidates were given 30 seconds to answer yes or no questions from the moderators, including brief explanations.
When asked what votes he regrets, Allegretto expressed regret that council didn’t investigate the impact the ethics board would have on the city before it was formed in 2006. It was initiated as a way for citizens to file complaints about ethics violations among city officials and employees. It was charged with investigating complaints and ruling on potential violations.
Council voted to eliminate the board after employees sued the board over its decisions and the board sought financial help from the city for legal representation.
“We did not properly investigate the impact it would have on citizens and I wish we looked into it more,” Allegretto said.
Sauder said he would like to see that board brought back, while Hyson said he would like to see it as a fact-finding board only, with no ability to levy fines or issue punishments. Hartzell agreed it should be a fact-finding board, while Allegretto said he would not like to see it return.
Hartzell said he regrets a decision involving a house the city took a property owner to court to move and lost.
“The owner would’ve compromised, and we should’ve compromised,” Hartzell said.
Hyson and Sauder each expressed opposition to the Coastal Cottages condominiums.
Allegretto said he was most proud of being involved in the decision making process and holding the administration’s “feet to the fire.”
Hyson and Sauder said they don’t believe council has held the administration’s “feet to the fire.” Sauder quoted council members and the administration trumpeting that they have worked together as a team. He said democracy works better when there are opposing viewpoints.
Allegretto stated that he takes his problems to the administration in the days leading up to the council meetings and their differences aren’t aired in the public arena. Hartzell noted he has not voted for two of the previous four budgets.
Hartzell is proud of his work on the budget alongside Allegretto and Councilman Scott Ping as well as his work to protect Veterans Memorial Park so no one can develop on it.
Hyson said council did a good job on recovery following Superstorm Sandy and keeping taxes down. Sauder also credited the council with its ability to help the city recover following Sandy.
Allegretto and Hartzell said there shouldn’t be term limits for councilmen and that it’s up to the residents to elect them as many times as they like, while Sauder said new blood and fresh insight is needed from time to time and Hyson said a councilman should serve no more than two terms.
Allegretto, Hartzell and Hyson don’t believe there would be any problem having three realtors on council, as long as they were elected by the people and were able to make the right decisions for Ocean City. Sauder said anyone can run, but indicated getting elected was a more difficult task.
All four felt that if any project could be fast tracked, it should be a pump station on 30th Street. They also agreed pensions for part-time lifeguards should be eliminated.
Candidates also weighed in on the following issues, among others:
WHICH PROJECTS ARE A PRIORITY: Hyson spoke about the importance of roads and drainage and bulkheads, and how his efforts helped get a bulkhead on 7th Street replaced earlier than council might have done so.
“We need to do an analysis annually and not every two or three years,” Hyson said.
Allegretto said roads are an ongoing process, with the city trying to knock out the worst roads first, and Sauder said the city needs a long term perspective, including a 10-year capital plan as opposed to a five-year plan.
ON HOW TO ATTRACT NEW
BUSINESSES TO DOWNTOWN OCEAN CITY: Hartzell noted the need to get out and
visit other towns to collect ideas, but noted that businesses currently in the
city are recovering following Superstorm Sandy.
Allegretto said the Chamber of Commerce can help attract business by promoting the city to locals and invite residents from neighboring communities to set up shop in the city.
Hyson said the key is for council to come up with a way to get residents from the surrounding area over the bridge by asking what kind of businesses they’d like to see in the downtown and Sauder spoke of the need to create a viable demand.
ON SETTLING LAWSUITS BEFORE GOING TO COURT: Hyson wouldn’t support going to court at a cost to the taxpayers just to prove a point, while Hartzell, Allegretto and Sauder noted preventing lawsuits from arising in the first place through proper training of employees is the best way to handle the situation.
ON CUTS TO PUBLIC SAFETY: Hartzell noted the police department has 57 officers and the state’s standard is 58. Allegrettp said he is always speaking to the police and fire chiefs and is open to suggestions. Htsib supports reductions or increases where necessary and understands the city always has to be prepared for everything. Sauder said staffing for the fire department depends on if there are two or three fire departments.
The next debate between all candidates for council is scheduled for April 23 at the library, 6 p.m. It will be followed by a debate between Mayor Jay Gillian and challenger Ed Price at 7 p.m.