OCEAN CITY — Concerns over the political involvement of committee members in today’s debate for candidates in the city’s upcoming municipal election have forced a change in the event’s format.

The event, organized by the Ocean City Community Association, was originally designed to devote one hour to the five men vying for three open at-large council seats and an hour to the two candidates running for mayor. Following a specially convened OCCA board meeting late Monday, the organization informed the candidates that the format had been changed from question-and-answer to a meet-and-greet that would feature short speeches by the candidates.

The event will start at 6 p.m. with each of the five council candidates giving a five-minute speech. The remainder of the hour will be open to the audience approaching the candidates for one-on-one discussions. The format will be repeated at 7 p.m. with the two mayoral candidates.

The change in format was forced by the associations held by three of the four debate committee members. OCCA President Bob Barr is serving as incumbent council candidate Keith Hartzell’s campaign manager, board member Drew Fasy is serving as incumbent Mayor Jay Gillian’s campaign manager, and board member Jim Tweed is hosting a meet-and-greet for mayoral challenger Ed Price and council challenger Eric Sauder at his home one day after the debate.

Fasy resigned a while ago from his position on the debate committee, although the exact time he did so is unclear.

Barr, who originally solicited questions for the candidates to his personal email address, said he had sufficiently separated himself from the debate Q&A by forwarding any input he received to Tweed. Hartzell said last week that Barr was not taking an active part in the debate process and that Barr’s involvement was primarily ceremonial. Also, the men said there would be an announcement prior to the start of the debate as to their affiliations with the candidates.

Tweed said last week that he had erected what he called a “firewall” between questions forwarded by Barr and Barr’s candidate by putting those questions in the mayoral debate pool. The point became moot when Tweed’s computer crashed over the weekend and he lost all his data for the debate. Additionally, the board felt that Tweed, by scheduling a coffee klatch for two candidates and allowing two yard signs on his property, presented a concern considering his role as the sole person charged with formulating and asking questions of the candidates.

The event has been beleaguered from the start, with an initial announcement that $10, representing the cost of OCCA membership, would be charged for attendance. That was later amended so that no requirement to join the association would be imposed but that priority seating at the event would be reserved for members.

Contact Cindy Nevitt:

609-463-6719

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.