OPA Board Drops Ball on Slots
... inaction may cost OPA a million or more per year
Commentary by Joe Reynolds
Norm Katz, rejected on two occasions in bids for a seat on the OPA Board of Directors, may have more political and financial moxie than the entire Board of Directors and the General Manager combined. Case in point is Katz's early October letter to the board on the slots issue. He never received a response; some might say this is nothing unusual in OPA-land. However, the significance of Katz's letter is compelling; it cried out for a response and, more importantly, action.
Katz began his letter with, "Please don’t equate this letter as being pro or con on slots. It is a 'what-if' letter and it is prompted by slots once again being in the limelight."
Katz did not ask the board to take a position on slots, he asked the board to consider what should be done for the greatest benefit to Ocean Pines should slots actually come.
Katz went on to say, "I suggest that we should be lobbying now for a monetary benefit if slots come to Ocean Downs. For many the knee jerk reaction to that is, it is premature now and it would be useless anyway to lobby for the very reason that we are not a municipality. Who will listen to a HOA? If we buy into that we can be assured we will get what we deserve for inaction. Nothing, nil!"
OPA may get more than nothing, but OPA will have to go to Worcester County every year and beg for a portion of what the county receives from the state. Unlike OPA, Ocean City and Berlin won't have to beg; each will receive a stipulated percentage of the county share as mandated in the slots legislation. Had the OPA Board heeded Katz's advice, OPA might also be receiving a stipulated percentage every year.
By ignoring Katz's letter and doing nothing, the OPA Board of Directors may have missed a unique, once in a millennium opportunity to secure substantial income for OPA. The amount could be $1 million or more per year.
Association member Tony Pasquariello did some research on slots income at Dover Downs and Harrington locations in Delaware. Based on their actual reported income, Pasquariello believes each slot machine should produce $80,000 in income per year. Ocean Downs has been allocated 2500 machines, and they should produce about $200 million in income per year. The local jurisdiction would receive 5.5% or $11 million to be currently divided among Worcester County (70% - $7.7 million), Ocean City (20% - $2.2 million) and Berlin (10% - $1.1 million). Since this area is a major tourist destination, unlike Dover and Harrington, the proceeds could be substantially higher.
Incredibly, some board members did not even understand Katz's distinction between taking a position on the slots referendum and taking steps to try and obtain a piece of the money pie should slots be made legal. After Katz wrote on OceanPinesForum.com that the board was "copping out" on the issue he raised in his initial letter, Director Bill Rakow replied, "I happen to be against slots, but do not believe it is appropriate for the Board to speak out on this issue for the membership." One month after Katz's letter, Rakow still didn't realize Katz was not asking the board for pro or con position on slots.
Also writing on OceanPinesForum.com, Tony Pasquariello said, "As I have stated before, this is far more than simply asking for a reimbursement of expenses. The local share is about spreading the wealth to garner support. Had our board had any foresight, they would have been talking with the County about a cut for Ocean Pines. Surely we will be affected more from a quality of life standpoint than Berlin."
Director Marty Clarke replied, "Foresight or not I would not personally sink to the kind of pork barrel politics I think some of the forum members are talking about. Never. I do not believe that it is in the best interest of Ocean Pines Association, Inc., or Worcester County."
Given Clarke's mantra about always doing what's best for 8400+ lot owners, one can only assume receiving a million or more per year was somehow not in the best interests of lot owners. Clarke later softened his position.
Some board members suggested the OPA Articles of Incorporation prevented OPA from lobbying the state or the county. Not so. The Articles state: "No substantial part of the activities of the Association shall be the carrying on of propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation..." Substantial is the operative word. Besides, the Articles can be changed at any time by the Board of Directors, and there are several examples of OPA lobbying in Annapolis in the past.
Where is OPA President Bill Zawacki in all this? In a local newspaper interview published on November 28, Zawacki said the board had not discussed the issue of slots and was not likely to do so in the near future. So much for leadership.
Then there are those, apparently including Delegate Jim Mathias, who believe Ocean Pines, as an HOA, could not be included for a cut of the local share. The argument is a straw-man at best, considering that the slots referendum is for a constitutional amendment. In a constitutional change virtually anything is possible.
All of this may be moot at this point because OPA totally ignored Katz's savvy advice. OPA never even asked for a piece of the money pie.
Katz still holds out hope the board will do something. He dreams of a press release from the board, something like this:
"Your Board of Directors believe the pro and con arguments on slots should be left to the individual home owners and decided in a referendum. However, with hindsight we now realize that if slots do come to Ocean Downs, Ocean Pines should be compensated, just as Berlin will be compensated. Your Board of Directors will aggressively pursue a monetary benefit for Ocean Pines that will help offset some of the possible detrimental effects of slots in our immediate vicinity. We will be contacting our state legislators and local officials. On an individual basis, we urge all homeowners to do likewise."
Katz then adds, "Just a dream. Egos are probably too big to accomplish that."