OCEAN CITY — Is it really a debate when only one person participates?

Voters will find out tonight when mayoral challenger Ed Price is the only person on the dais as the first of five scheduled public forums for mayoral and council at-large candidates takes place.

Jay Gillian, the incumbent mayor, has declined the opportunity to participate in today’s event, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Ocean City Free Public Library, 1735 Simpson Ave. Sponsored by Fairness in Taxes (FIT) and the Ocean City Sentinel Ledger newspaper, the event will proceed as scheduled, FIT President Michael Hinchman said.

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“We’ll go on Monday night without Jay,” said Hinchman, explaining Gillian’s campaign manager, Drew Fasy, informed him last week that Gillian would participate in the two other scheduled mayoral debates being sponsored by other organizations. “We’ll have Ed Price up there to answer questions.”

Hinchman said four of the five at-large candidates had confirmed their participation for April 14 in the second debate co-sponsored by FIT and the Sentinel Ledger, also at the library. Peter Madden, who is challenging one of three seats in the city’s nonpartisan May 13 municipal election, will not be in attendance, Hinchman said.

Incumbents Michael Allegretto and Keith Hartzell, who are each seeking a third four-year term, will be in attendance. They will be joined by challengers Michael Hyson, a retired Philadelphia police officer, and Eric Sauder, a community activist. Hyson and Sauder each are running for elected office for the first time.

Ocean City Community Association is the only organization presenting all the candidates in one night, on April 23. All five candidates for the at-large council seats and both mayoral candidates have confirmed their participation, said OCCA President Bob Barr. Council candidates will take questions from 6 to 7 p.m. and mayoral candidates from 7 to 8 p.m.

Barr sent emails to 600 OCCA members, soliciting their input on questions for the candidates to answer. To make a suggestion, interested voters can email Barr at bbarr08226@hotmail.com

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the public to become informed about an important election,” Barr said, adding the forum will not allow “give-and-take” between the participants. “The city has been at a crossroads since Sandy. There are important decisions looming, and the person who gets in has the opportunity to change decisions that have been made.”

The final two events, co-sponsored by Ocean City’s Democrat and Republican clubs, will be held April 29 and May 7 in the auditorium on the Sixth Street side of Ocean City High School. The first debate will be for council candidates; the second, for mayoral candidates. Questions the public would like candidates to answer at these forums also can be emailed to bbarr08226@hotmail.com

Each candidate will be given a two-minute opening and a two-minute closing. Michaela Walsh, a 21-year-old city resident who was the second-highest vote-getter in November’s school board election, will be the questioner for the Democratic Club. Bart Russell, who, along with mayoral challenger Price, lost a bid for the 4th Ward council seat in 2012, will be the questioner for the Republican Club.

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