Slicing up the Slots Pie
Commentary by Bob Lassahn
While following the discussion of slots money for Ocean Pines on OceanPinesForum.com it becomes abundantly clear that there are people standing solidly on both sides of the issue. Some want to go for the gold, while others take a dim view of soliciting a percentage off the top for Ocean Pines of whatever dollars are designated for
Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Director Bill Rakow posted his view that designated percentages should be eliminated for both Ocean City and Berlin, allowing the county commissioners to dole out dollars according to some real world information rather than use the money as a pacifier for various and sundry communities. I couldn't agree more with his position. The mistake was made early on, when our elected representatives started to schmooze the populace of certain areas with promises of a payoff from the slots pot. The Ocean Pines leadership apparently missed the brass ring when Delegate Mathias reportedly contacted OPA General Manager Tom Olson and Police Chief Dave Massey for input and nobody took him up on the offer by providing some number they pulled out of the air.
Mr. Rakow astutely points out that the percentages pledged to
Mr. Rakow readily admits that any attempt at eliminating the promised percentages for
However, here is where the situation gets really convoluted. The legislation dictates slots money is to be allocated to address some measurable impact on the communities and an appointed oversight committee is supposed to advise the commissioners in this process. To my knowledge it isn't etched in stone that the commissioners are in any way bound by the committee's findings and recommendations. Further, the makeup of the committee will obviously be important and while it appears
I'm not taking a poke at Commissioner Judy Boggs or any sitting commissioner when I say that OPA relying on the good will of the commissioners has some pitfalls. Ms. Boggs may have all good intentions toward OPA, but she is only one of seven votes on that panel and getting something done requires three other votes. Hopefully the commissioners as a body will be looking out for the best interests of every county resident, but unfortunately turf could become a factor in the decision-making process. One need only look at history, in all levels of government, to understand it happens with great frequency. Additionally, who might be occupying those seven seats at the time the money starts flowing will be a factor. In spite of any pledge of fairness from or confidence in the sitting commissioners, no one knows if they will be around to ensure the pie gets sliced up equitably.
It has been hypothesized that OPA does not qualify for a percentage, as do
There is also a belief among some individuals, including some directors, that it isn't the place of the OPA board to take a position on this issue. I will offer that no matter how often or how strongly the directors argue they aren't "elected representatives" of Ocean Pines residents, they are viewed in that light by other elected officials. A view clearly demonstrated in numerous comments I have heard from county commissioners and most pointedly by Delegate Mathias' inquiries. If the OPA leadership doesn't take a position, it is therefore assumed OPA as a community doesn't have a position. Regardless of how many letters are fired off to the actual elected representatives from residents, it can be said "we haven't heard from Ocean Pines leaders."
To Mr. Rakow's open ended question, "What percentage should OPA ask for?" my answer is 15 percent. Exactly in the middle, as is Ocean Pines geographic proximity, of what has been pledged to
To his position of "I don't want to play that game" as regards seeking a percentage, I point out it is the game being played by the legislature. OPA can either sit on the sidelines of a very uneven playing field and hope for the best, or jump into the game late and take a shot at scoring. If it fails, at least OPA was trying.
Although we see things a bit differently I have the utmost respect for Bill Rakow's principles regarding this matter, to the point where I wish he had been among those writing the slots legislation in the first place. Letting the county handle the whole slots enchilada might have eliminated some turf issues from the equation and all county residents would be a bit more likely to share equitably in the benefits. At the very least communities wouldn't be divided up into those blessed by the hand of the legislature and those left to beg for scraps. Even as I advocate for OPA, I realize that places like Showell, Bishopville and Snow Hill all deserve consideration in the long haul.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the case and we now have what others, those perhaps a bit more politically inclined, thought would be the "right" way (or the expedient way) to do things.
It now isn't a matter of what is right, fair or any other platitude about the way things ought to be; it's about whether OPA might obtain some guarantee (as have Berlin and Ocean City) that it will receive due consideration for its proximity to the slots venue and potentially negative influences on the community, whatever they might happen to be. To at least some people in the community, this obviously has a level of importance and deserves to be explored.
The OPA board has voted to send a letter to
Ocean Pines resident Roseann Bridgman has formed a grass roots group to lobby for equitable treatment as regards slots money for OPA. Her message, a suggested letter to elected representatives and a list of representatives with their addresses are provided.
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