By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(June 14, 2018) A bus ticket, according to Paula Gray, inspired her candidacy for the Ocean Pines Board of Directors.
Gray, 71, was born in Baltimore City and lived for 40 years in Anne Arundel County. She has lived in Ocean Pines for three years.
“I was always wanting to get here, since I was about 3,” Gray said. “Maybe not the Pines in general, but always here. I wanted to be near the ocean.”
In 1963, Gray graduated early from high school at age 15 and wanted to attend college. She applied to the University of Maryland, but was told they wouldn’t admit her and to come back when she was 17.
“I came back when I was 17 with all kinds of credentials, courses on Latin and math, and they said, ‘Would you like to be a teacher or a nurse?’ I wanted to take math or physics and they wouldn’t let me. So, I went on to do other things.”
That included a stint working in a bank, like many women at the time, and then “accidentally working for the railroad.”
“I was working downtown for a senior vice president and couldn’t make enough money to park downtown, so I parked at the old Camden Station, saw a sign one day there saying they were hiring, and decided I’d save myself the walk and work there,” she said.
Gray was a railroad yardmaster for 32 years.
“I ran every railroad yard in Baltimore City, and during that time I managed to go back to UMBC to get a degree and I did a year of law school,” she said. “I became a lot of things on the railroad. I was the head of their safety committee, I was a federal trainer all over the country … it was a vocation and an avocation all at one time.”
When she retired, she was given an award “for being the best yardmaster from Canada to Florida,” Gray said. She also did volunteer work, including as a gubernatorial appointee to the Maryland Foster Care Review Board, and with organizations from the American Association of University Women, to the Friends of Downs Park in Pasadena, Maryland.
On running for the board, Gray said she heard over the years the phrase, “It’s a great place to live, but …”
“I didn’t see any buts when I moved here – still don’t. But, my husband and I went to buy a bus ticket to New York from the association and the ticket seller wasn’t there,” Gray said. She ended up waiting in an air-conditioned room, where, as it happened, a public board budget session was taking place.
“We propped ourselves against the wall and began to listen – whoops,” Gray said. “That was about a year and a half ago.
“As the meeting ended and they all stood up, a member of the budget committee stood up and said, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re about $800,000 short and we’re probably going to take it from the reserve fund. Bye!’” she continued. “Never in my whole life have I ever stood up and told the railroad that I’m about $1 million off and, don’t worry we’ve got a way to do it.”
After that, Gray said she began to attend more meetings and becoming more involved. She said it’s often bothered her that homeowners could attend and make public comments, but generally are not able to ask questions or interact with association leadership.
“I’m thinking, is this board really representative of the Pines, or is it representative of the board?” she said. “When we you sit and go back and listen to the films, one almost believes there’s an indifference or an apathy.”
Gray attended more budget meetings and asked more questions.
“I think one of my better questions was when I asked the budget committee, ‘What do you do with the budget when you’re done?’ And they said, ‘We give it to the board.’ And I said to the board, who was there that day, ‘What do you do with it?’” Gray said.
“No one seems to look at it once that boat floats out from the dock – it just floats around out there until next year, and I guess everyone was hoping it didn’t sink and comes back,” she continued. “But that’s not, in my opinion, what a board and a budget committee are supposed to do. You are charged, when you swear in, you have a fiduciary responsibility that says you are bound to look out, and take charge, and care for … the people you’re representing.”
She went on to say the purpose of a board is to listen to and interact with homeowners – not just regurgitate information.
“We are the Pines – we’re the Pines out here. And when we put people on that board, they’re supposed to be a microcosm or representative of us as the Pines,” Gray said. “That sounds very utopian – it’s not meant to be.
“I made a trip yesterday with my husband to take him to Johns Hopkins. One of the things about functional units is they tell you the good and bad – and if it’s bad they tell you why and if it’s good they tell you why,” she continued. “You don’t have to hear everything, but there is no information flow at all in this community – none. And the thing is, it’s so easy to do.”
Gray filed to run for the board last year, but dropped out in June because of “negative interaction through my phone and email of a disparaging nature.”
“I’ve already gotten a couple this year,” she said.
She added she would not be intimidated again.
“I was a railroad yardmaster for 32 years and interacted with the [Department of Defense] and people like that. I’m not rude, I don’t frighten, and I don’t go away if I believe that there’s something that needs to be addressed,” Gray said.