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Five take part in candidate forum

Ocean Pines Board candidates prepare for the first – and only – scheduled election forum, overseen by the association elections committee and moderated by committee Chairman Steve Habeger, right.

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(July 5, 2018) Five of the seven remaining candidates for the Ocean Pines Board participated last Wednesday in the only scheduled public forum.

Held at in the upstairs ballroom of the yacht club and hosted by the elections committee, it included Steve Tuttle, Frank Daly, Greg Turner, Paula Gray and Ted Moroney. Questions were provided to candidates in advance.

Esther Diller could not attend and did not provide video clips as originally planned, and Arie Klapholz called in sick at the last minute.

Of those who did show, a common theme emerged that, yes, things have been bad during the last few years, but help is coming. Four of the seven seats on the board are up for grabs on the board this year.

On experience

Asked what experience prepared him for serving on the board, Tuttle talked about learning common sense while growing up on a farm. He has a background in civil engineering in Chicago and later gained ministry experience on secular college campuses. He also was a building and facilities manager.

As chairman of the association elections committee, Tuttle was able to pass significant overhauls of election guidelines in each of the last two years, to open up the ballot counting process and require the immediate announcement of vote totals.

“And finally, I’d say 50 years of marriage prepares you for a lot,” he said.

Daly said he’s been involved in the community since moving to Ocean Pines in 2013. He’s currently chairman of the comprehensive planning committee and also serves on the golf advisory committee.

He also touted “a 40 year-plus career in senior-management and board-level assignments.”

“I started as a mechanical engineer … [and] ended up as vice president,” Daly said, adding he boasts a “pretty decent education” that includes master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, and finance and marketing.

He has previous experience on a homeowner’s association board and on boards for the University of Arizona and the University of California, Berkeley, among others. Daly is also president of recruiting firm Jordan Frank & Associates, a company he founded.

Turner said he brings leadership and management skills to the table. He runs Turner Electrical and Construction in Ocean Pines.

He gestured to Tuttle and Daly. “I’m the guy that takes the two engineers over here, and takes their dreams and ideas and sheets of paper” and makes them into buildings, Turner said. “Without engineers … we wouldn’t have paper. Without me, their paper is just a lot of nice drawings. I make their plans work and that’s what I plan to do here.

“I think that we have a beautiful community and I think that there’s just nobody taking care of everything — everybody just looks the other way,” he continued, adding the biggest problem in Ocean Pines is a lack of supervision.

“If you elect me … I plan to make people do their jobs,” he said.

Gray said she benefited from being growing up poor.

“As I went through life, I was able to see how things really work,” she said. “That seems to be missing in some of the things here. It bothered me a lot and that’s why I decided to run for the board.”

Gray was a railroad yardmaster in Baltimore for three decades and worked her way to the top.

“My 32 years as a yardmaster and 10 years with the department of defense taught me that you can learn things from the janitor just as well as you can learn things from the head of the company,” she said.

Gray also said she knows how to work on a budget.

“The budget here seems to be a rather unidentified word,” she said. “One of the things that my experience has taught me is … you cannot live on your American Express card and expect never to have to pay the bill.”

Moroney, the only current board member, was the CEO of a midsize contracting firm. That experience included “every aspect of the business at one time or another,” including hiring, training and human resources functions. He has also overseen contract negotiations and financial and banking duties, he said. Moroney founded and led a regional trade association and served as a trustee and board president for a nonprofit school in southern Virginia.

Before joining the board, he was a prolific volunteer in Ocean Pines with about a decade of experience on many task forces and committees.

“I know a lot of people within the community and also within the staff and management here, so I’ve developed some relationships,” he said. “As a director, one of the most important things has been to develop a relationship with the new finance officer and the new GM. I think I’ve done both of those and I think they will help me, going forward, to be able to make the changes that we’ve already started.”

Key issues

Asked about the biggest issues of the next several years, Turner said he would work to lower costs by improving the bidding process.

“The biggest thing is just spending money,” he said, adding Ocean Pines often spends money on things the county provides for Worcester’s incorporated towns.

Gray said two of her top-three priorities were improving communication. As an example, she said the community was at one point told no contract for food and beverage management had yet been awarded, “and yet we were all over here by the pool watching them modify the restaurant.”

“The people who are here [the Matt Ortt Companies] are wonderful. I’m glad they’re here. But it’s really difficult for the third [priority], board credibility,” she said. “We have to start to be able to trust the board. That got lost last year, whether people want to admit it or not.”

Moroney called for capital improvement and preventative maintenance plans that would inform many other areas. He said a reserve study should be finished by the end of the month.

“It is fluid, living document … [that] will give us something to plan with,” he said. “We can no longer defer maintenance, and having that CIP allows for planning and maintaining which, ultimately, will extend the life of our assets.”

Tuttle said his main concern is the breakdown of trust and civility by the board.

“I believe the board can change the narrative and rebuild the damaged OP brand,” he said. “I think that will be accomplished by transparency and that has improved some over the last year, but in my opinion there are way too many closed meetings. Board meetings should be public meetings as much as possible.

“I think the loss of civility and the inability for the board to function well is a major issue that needs to be dealt with and resolved. And I think that we have a chance to do that in the upcoming election,” Tuttle added.

Daly said the association needs strong leadership from the board and general manger.

“In many ways, you’ve been failed over the past two years,” he said. “Working together, the GM and the board need to engage the homeowners, understand their priorities, and develop a strategic plan that lays out a vision for maintaining and improving Ocean Pines, correcting the known problems and identifying the costs for doing so.”

He also said the board needs to commit to working together better “and to solve problems in a businesslike manner.”

“We have to learn to criticize without punching and how to accept valid criticism without crying,” he said.

Improving amenities

On amenities, Moroney said he looks for all operations to at least break even. April numbers were in the black, he said, and when the June numbers for food and beverage facilities are released, he said members will be wondering why the association didn’t bring in outside management sooner.

If that part of the operation breaks even, he said that would add $800,000 to the bottom line as compared to fiscal 2018.

Tuttle agreed amenities should break even and said all operations needed to be evaluated as to whether they should be kept. There “may be some hard decisions,” Tuttle said.

Daly said the “build it and they will come” mentality of the past must stop. He said the new general manager and board last winter helped change that philosophy. He also called for more aggressive marketing.

Turner said there aren’t enough people in Ocean Pines to use the restaurants, and that golf is on the decline.

Gray called for learning why some amenities underperformed and warned against those who had already suggested taking over yacht club management in two years when the Ortt contract expires.

Greatest strengths

Gray said her greatest strength was her grandmother’s common sense.

“If it looks like a duck and it talks like a duck and it walks like a duck, it’s a duck,” she said. “[Common sense] really is necessary when you’re dealing with 8,500 community properties. It’s really necessary in any state in life.”

Moroney said he benefited from not being beholden to any one amenity or constituency.

“The decisions I make are in the best interest of the association,” he said. “I have an ability to seek and secure support and, just as important, to support my colleagues [when] they’re moving forward.”

Tuttle also said he would use common sense, which he said was ironically not all that common. He said his engineering background and nonprofit experience would benefit the association.

“The board is made up of seven people who bring various experiences and expertise, but we don’t know everything,” he said. “You need to be willing to work with other people and borrow in that expertise when the opportunity is there.”

Daly said his greatest skill is using his education and experience to work with people and accomplish difficult tasks.

“I don’t care how you cut it, for the last two years we’ve been short-changed,” he said. “It’s not about blame, it’s about performance [and] it simply has not been there. We need to elect four people that are going to go on the board this year and get performance back to where it should be.

“It is not rocket science, it’s blocking and tackling issues,” Daly continued, citing specifics like “knowing the grass in Maryland starts growing in March, not in May” and “knowing if ditches are filled, they don’t drain right.”

Turner said his construction and management experience would benefit the homeowners.

“Everything we do is either construction-oriented or people-oriented,” he said. “The ability to make things work and make things move [is] one of the strengths that I do have.”

He said his Irish-German background made him “a tightwad.”

“I don’t like our money being spent and thrown around,” he said. “I don’t want a plaque on a building for me. I want a building that’s going to stay there long after I’m gone.”

Final thoughts

In closing, Moroney said as a board member he has been part of many positive changes that have occurred.

Since September, he said the board restored stability with a new general manager and director of finance, “returning to a system where the board makes policy and the GM implements policy, affectively ending some of the unilateral decision making … and restoring some checks and balances.”

He said a more realistic budget was developed with input from the budget and finance committee, steps were made for the first time to bring employee benefits and wages more in line with the rest of the marketplace, and a human resources professional was hired.

He said an experienced management company “with an incentivized contract that protects the Ocean Pines Association” was hired to oversee the yacht and beach clubs, and a forensic audit was approved to “clear up accusations of impropriety and identify any fraud, theft and management practices that need correcting.”

“I’m not going to promise assessment reductions or anything I can’t deliver. What I am going to promise is that I’m going to try to make decisions based on what is best for Ocean Pines. That’s what the duty of a board member is,” he said. “I believe in the last nine months, whether you agree with every decision or not, my service on the board has contributed to the righting of the ship.”

Gray joked she was “incessantly nervous” during the forum, but said she would bring a fresh view to the board and not be beholden to anyone.

“I would appreciate you realizing that when I talk about being a railroader it’s not 10 little boxcars by the side of the road — these were million-dollar operations, day and night, for 32 years,” she said.

During the last few years, she said, she attended many board and committee meetings, and has “spent hours talking to people in the Pines.”

“I’ve left my husband stranded a few times while I was busy talking, trying to find out what is important to you all, and that’s what I would bring to the board,” she said, listing her ability to work well with others “and an ability to keep us steady and steadfast” as particular strengths.

“No promises — you can’t get everything in life, but the ability to listen and to make sure that you are heard would be one of my main stays,” she said.

Turner admitted he was “a little rough around the collar” and not as educated as some, but said he brings a love for the community and a knowledge of how things work.

“What our community needs right now [is] … somebody to come in here and maybe not flush the toilet after every time you go to the bathroom,” he said. “It’s somebody that’s going to do something different and is going to rock the boat. To be honest with you, I plan on doing that.

“I’m not a conformist. I don’t want things to be the way that they were and I think that’s the biggest problem with this board and any board, is there’s always somebody there [saying] ‘that’s not the way we did it last time.’ I don’t want to hear that,” Turner added.

“I’m here to do a job, work with whoever I have to work with, spend our money wisely, try and get things back to normal … and live in a community that I like and be around people that I like,” he said.

Daly said he wanted to leave the audience with one thought: “If you agree that Ocean Pines is a good place to live, but it could be better managed, then elect four of us that will give you a better board,” he said.

“Better management really starts with a better board, a board that will listen to you and a board that will communicate with you, a board that works together and works with the general manger to improve our business processes, to make sure you are getting real value for your assessment dollars,” Daly continued.

He also called for a board dedicated to realistic budgets and that protects against corruption and fraud.

Tuttle invoked rock band Chicago in calling for change.

“Their 1969 debut album included the song that asked the probing question, ‘Does anybody really know what time it is?’” Tuttle said. “My friend, it is time for some new leadership, some fresh ideas, and restoration of trust and confidence in your board.

“Asking the right questions is of utmost importance in serving as a director on the board, and I pledge to spent the time necessary to serve the association to the best of my abilities,” he added.

Tuttle said teamwork is essential for the board to succeed.

“The board is no place for egos or personal agenda,” he said. “If elected I will be one vote out of seven, but I will always champion the cause of transparent action by the board.”

Finally, he said he would work to expose the truth about fraud and mismanagement “and hold those accountable responsible.”