Happiest people in Cape May last week? Surfers. Lucky Bones busser and local shredder, Logan Fellows, told us about the waves at Poverty Beach after our last nor’easter. “The faces were six or seven, maybe eight feet,” he said.It’s especially exciting considering that Poverty’s waves haven’t broken in an ideal way in some time. “I hadn’t paddled out there in over a year,” Logan said. “After all of the beach replenishment, they broke in ankle-deep water.” But the last swell brought even professional, Ocean City-based surfers to Cape Island, including Rob Kelly, who’s sponsored by mega-brand Billabong, and Andrew Gessler, who rides for Hurley. We checked Rob’s Twitter account, where on March 8 he referred to New Jersey’s waves as “epic.”
Same Old Story
We really had hoped that a new year would bring some change at City Hall. We had heard that Mayor Ed Mahaney intended to take a different tack in his second term and that he was tired of the controversy his administration had created over the past few years. And things were looking good when he created a Mayoral Advisory Committee comprised of a diverse cross-section of people invested in Cape May’s future.
Then we attended last week’s city council…
One of our biggest worries last year was that nothing seemed to come of the $53,000 contract between the City of Cape May and Temple University. Hammered out in August of 2009, it was supposed to yield a marketing and business plan for the new $10.5 million Convention Hall. Never mind the problem we have with the number of contracts that have come to pass between the city and this university, including one for Convention Hall’s landscaping work and one for conceptual designs for some of Cape May’s open spaces, neither of which went out to bid. Let’s just focus on the fact that beginning in August of 2009, Temple experts were supposed to be coming up with an inventive, efficient way to market the city’s most expensive undertaking and, potentially, its greatest asset.
When none arrived, the Cape May Taxpayers Association pressed the city. We attended a November meeting of the organization in which Vice-President Dennis Crowley told us they’d asked “nicely, politely, and repeatedly,” and that they’d heard crickets in response.
At a meeting of city council last Tuesday, they asked again. Representative Shaine Meier asked what Temple’s projection for flood insurance was. He asked what the projected and actual operating costs were for the building in 2012, what the projected and actual revenues for the building were in 2012, and what the projected revenues and operating costs are for 2013. By our count, that’s seven questions. City Manager Bruce MacLeod offered one answer, though it wasn’t an answer to any of the questions asked.
“The contract was divided into several sections,” he said. “The part pertaining to the business plan had a budgeted price value of $5,000.” Which, of course, doesn’t tell us what the $53,000 did go toward. “Temple did provide all the deliverables,” Bruce continued. “You can decide for yourself whether you were satisfied with the portion that was relevant to the business plan. It was reported on at the May 18th meeting.”
Oh, right. The meeting at Convention Hall that was supposed to be the culmination of this partnership. The one that included such fascinating revelations as, “The main reasons for summer 2011 visitors to visit the City of Cape May were vacation and getaway.” And did you know that people like coming here for the beach? But they sure wish the parking situation was better. Who knew!? Nowhere in the slideshow presentation we sat through was there a single original idea. To call it a business plan would be straining our credulity.
Bruce then went on to explain that he did go over Convention Hall’s monies in the first year of operation at his January 23 budget presentation. “Unfortunately, I believe there were three or four people in attendance.” Which we suppose is Bruce’s way of saying: It’s your fault you don’t know things the city tries its damndest to keep you from knowing.
But then… a moment of long overdue acknowledgement. At the bitter end of this meeting, councilmember Jack Wichterman once again broached the subject of the business plan, saying that he agrees the city did not get all that it paid for. What’s more, the guy in charge of the plan wasn’t even in attendance at the presentation last May. Bruce sent an email asking him to return to the city in order to elaborate on Temple’s work, but he never so much as responded to this email. Wouldn’t this information have been nice to know just one of the times we sat outside of Bruce’s office (because he wouldn’t return our phone calls) so that we could question him about the lack of a plan? Wouldn’t it have been nice to see some acknowledgement from council that there is, in fact, a problem here? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the people you’ve elected to run our city are in fact capable of acknowledging when things go wrong, and letting us know how they’re taking action to correct them?
But when pressed for answers, our politicians (and officials) would rather ignore the questions, it would seem.
Which brings us to a second point that bothered us about the most recent meeting of council. Once again, the city is bypassing the resources available here in Cape May, this time by commissioning Seven Mile Publishing in Avalon to produce an information guide. We tried to ask what this information guide will include and why such a project would not have gone to any one of a few qualified local companies. Exit Zero Publishing already produces a 360-page guide book, Cool Cape May, now distributed to every single hotel, motel, and B&B room across the city. Then there are the folks who publish Cape May magazine, as well as CPW Creative, who produce the chamber’s guide book. All of them, like us, are more than capable of producing high-quality publications.
We figured we’d try to get an answer during the public portion of the meeting, since trying to get answers via phone or email is impossible, but we were told to sit down. Actually, we were told we were out of order by Mayor Mahaney, who banged his little gavel in a fit of petulance.
It’s interesting to us that, in preparing the calendar of events that will go in the front of our Cool Cape May book, which we’ve been publishing since 2005, we encountered problems for the first time this year; the city wasn’t able to provide us with the information about their events, at least not without a great deal of prodding, and several emails sent to the recreation department, the director of marketing, the mayor, and the city manager. Yet, when we called Jack Wichterman, he told us he’d seen sample pages from the city’s new guide about a week before, leading us to believe that the city did have access to the information we’d been requesting all along.
Jack also told us that he didn’t know about the city’s publication until, also, about a week ago, meaning either Bruce MacLeod commissioned this project, or the mayor did. We’d like to think it was Bruce, since the mayor has no power to make policy decisions on his own, but something tells us this isn’t the case. Whoops… sounds like the Faulkner Act just got breached again.
We emailed all of our questions — why the city even needs to produce another guide book with Cool Cape May put out by us and a visitor’s guide put out by the chamber, and why none of the money needed to do so would stay in this town — but it was ignored by both Bruce and the mayor.
This, folks, is barely a democracy in action, and we intend to take this lack of transparency and refusal to answer press questions to a higher authority. Stay tuned. We know you will.
THERE is a bike-o-lution happening on Cape Island, according to Marc Jacopec, who we interviewed a couple of weeks ago for an article on his new bike tour business. And Marc might be on to something. Case in point: Eddie Behrens’ new bike delivery service, Cape Couriers.
Twenty-four-year-old Eddie — a born-and-bred Cape Mayan and the son of legendary Lucky Bones bartender Patty Behrens — told us he’s been sitting on the idea for a couple of years now; he was inspired by the courier service he encountered on a trip to San Francisco. But it was his business partner, Cabanas server Matt Reeves, who finally “put legs” underneath the idea.
Or, in this case, wheels.
“You always read in the Herald’s Spout Off column about parking and traffic in Cape May,” Eddie said. “So this just makes sense. It all comes down to how valuable your time is.”
What will he (on his three-speed bike with large basket) and Matt (on an old 70s condor) deliver to you? Just about anything from food (“A lot of places in town offer takeout but not delivery,” he said) to construction supplies (“Guys on a job might run out of screws or nails and not have time to go to Swain’s”). And where will they deliver it? Anywhere, including the beach. (Far be it from Eddie, an avid surfer who’s been managing Southend Surf Shop for over a decade, to neglect his fellow beach lovers.)
The guys have divided the island into four zones. If what you need only requires travel within one zone, you pay $5. For two zones, it’s $7; three zones, $9, and four zones — say, from the Coast Guard base to the Red Store — $11. “And, hopefully, a tip as well,” Eddie says. “We want this to be affordable.”
It’s a win-win for businesses, not only because their offerings will become more accessible to visitors not wanting to brave the crowded summer streets, but because they’ll have opportunity to advertise, both within the brochure the couriers will hand off with each delivery, and on the jerseys they’ll sport as they ride through town. Not to mention, on a yet-to-be-launched website.
But what gets us most excited about this — aside from the obvious environmental benefits of less cars on the road — is the fact that so many local people are involved. David Macomber, whose artwork you may have seen on display at Big Wave Burrito, is designing the logo. Sue Lotozo of Flying Fish is printing the jerseys. And Jesse Lampert, whose amazing work showcasing Cape May we’ve recently posted on the Exit Zero Facebook page, is working on a video. And because it’s doubtful that two guys will be able to handle all of the calls a delivery service in Cape May is sure to get, at least one other courier — Brianna Bovey of George’s — is joining the team. “I’ve noticed over the years what a strong sense of community there is within Cape May,” Eddie told us. “Businesses help out other businesses.”
Appropriately, Cape Couriers will launch on Earth Day, April 22. Good luck, guys!
THE sun will come out tomorrow, they say. But for the students at Cape May City Elementary, the days have been a bit brighter for a couple of years now, since Sheila Williams pushed for and succeeded in launching an accessible drama program. Sheila, a former Star of the Sea teacher who now substitutes at Cape May Elementary, made her directorial debut with last year’s The Jungle Book, and this month, her intrepid team of 20 third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders (though not that many sixth graders, because just being cool at that age is a full-time job) will tackle Annie.
“I’m the lucky one,” Sheila told us. “These students have put in an immense amount of work, and are so enthusiastic.”
Enthusiastic, and grateful for the opportunity to participate. “There are other theatre programs for children, but they are not affordable for everyone,” Sheila said. “One of the wonderful things about Cape May Elementary,” she explained, “is that it serves such a wide cross-section of kids of varying socio-economic backgrounds.”
Not to mention varying interests. “Aside from helping them develop important skills like public speaking, drama is an outlet for kids who might not excel at sports or other activities,” Sheila said. “I want them to have the experience of trying something new, succeeding, and feeling good about that.”
You can see Annie, the tickets for which will cost you only a donation of your choosing, on March 22 at 6:30pm or March 23 at 2pm.
Also check out the children’s production of Cinderella at Cape May Stage (see page 3), and Lower Cape May Regional High School’s production of Anything Goes (pages 20-28). Or, for information on East Lynne Theatre Company’s many children’s programs (Director Gayle Stahlhuth just finished directing Rip Van Winkle at West Cape May Elementary, and now, 40 more children are preparing to perform Music, Drama, Improv under the direction of three ELTC’s artists-in-residence), contact 609-884-5898.