Letter to Editor regarding the City Council’s Poor Response to FIT’s Drive to Stop the Purchase of the Klause Property

To the Editor:

If so many people on both sides agree that Ocean City should acquire the old Perry-Egan Chevrolet lot for public purposes, how did this become so divisive?  Many have blamed Michael Hinchman for causing the uncertainty by raising doubts about the two appraisals upon which the City based its $9 million-dollar offer.

But Mr. HInchman had help in creating uncertainty. We haven’t forgotten that last year, with the exception of Councilman Barr and Councilman Hartzell, the other 5 Council members believed the Tennessee Ave. property was worth paying $700,000 for.  When the Administration decided not to go through with the deal we found out the true fair market value last summer when the willing seller met the willing buyer – for $350,000!  So, it should be understandable when not everyone shares Council’s certainty.

Of course, real estate values go up over time. By that simple logic everyone who has sold a property in Ocean City over the past 150 years has been a fool.  It’s the pitch that all sellers’ agents use.  But the elected officials represent the tax-paying buyers.  Does it increase your feeling of certainty to hear them talk like sellers’ agents?

So why does Council feel so offended? Councilman DeVlieger even said they should place a plaque of shame on the property with all our names on it after the Klause’s build their coastal cottages.  I understand that they are convinced $9 million is a “take it or leave it” offer.  Maybe it is.  Or, maybe the Klause’s are just the more persuasive negotiators.  According to Mr. Klause we will all know soon enough.  By October 31st permits will be in hand, pilings will be “in the ground,” and the buyers eager to pay more than $9 million will come out of the shadows.

And that will teach us one more truth. If the sellers are that eager to move forward now, all that talk about doing something good for the City because “it was the right thing to do” was nothing more than words of sentiment with no substance.  So, go ahead and build that plaque of shame.  Put all our names on it.  But be sure to put the sellers’ names at the top where they belong.

We will also learn something about our Council representatives. Pay close attention to the ones who like to brag that “the City wins either way.”  Those will be the ones who didn’t really care whether the City gets the public use or the rateables.

The real test of their desire to do something good for the future of the City will be how confidently they assert our (the peoples & taxpayers) constitutional right of emanant domain. Some will tell you that we shouldn’t do that because we have tried it before and lost.  That tells me we should find new trial lawyers.  It feels like the coaches on our team are telling us, “we can’t play against that other team because we have lost before.  So, let’s not try.”

I don’t doubt the Mayor’s good intention here. I believe he does weigh the costs and benefits of every lawsuit the City is part of.  I’m convinced he is sincere in believing he acts in the best interests of the City every time.  But there is another cost that is uncalculatable.  When companies, or cities, or lawyers settle too many cases they attract predators.  There’s an old saying: “millions for trial, not one cent for tribute.”  This may be a costly choice at first, but for us, it won’t be in the millions.  And in the long run it will be worth it.  All will learn not to take Ocean City lightly in the future.

So, if those we elected to represent us are unwilling to fight for us, remember to include their names to that plaque of shame as well.

Jim Tweed, former President of Fairness In Taxes

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