Today’s final Ocean City Council vote on rules for Boardwalk performers should conclude a process that began almost five years ago. There could be a surprise — past proposals have been held at least three times — but this time city officials, merchants and performers have come to good terms and the rules should be enacted.
Wherever there are crowds, especially festive summer ones filled with vacationers, there will be buskers — street performers earning gratuities or simply recognition.
It’s a testament to the benign character of America’s Greatest Family Resort that performers have entertained throngs there for years without the need for rules that other venues adopted. The desire to protect that benign character, though, prompted city officials to first pursue heavy-handed regulations when the need for oversight of performers became obvious.
The current ordinance started a year ago with a city proposal to exile performers from the busy part of the Boardwalk (to the business-free block from Fifth to Sixth streets), make them buy and display a $50 permit ($100 for duos or groups), and stay at least 100 feet from each other. After opposition and at the mayor’s request, the proposal was tabled to give the administration time to improve it.
In December, the ordinance came back with some improvements and new onerous requirements for Boardwalk performers. While they could perform on the railing sides of street ends in the busy section between Seventh and 14th streets, they now would have to undergo criminal background checks with fingerprinting (and pay for it, up to $90 in total fees). That struck many as excessive, and not just among the mainly teenage performers.
Once again the proposal stalled, and this time performers and community members joined the conversation between city officials and Boardwalk merchants on how to proceed.
The good result of working together was the fourth version of the ordinance in the last five years, introduced and tentatively approved the first week of this month. The background checks are gone, available locations range from Fifth to 14th streets, and the cost is limited to the annual permit fee of $50. Performers and merchants seem happy with it, so city officials are happy.
The rules look appropriate to the resort’s benign character, remaining a little stricter than those for boardwalk performers in Maryland’s Ocean City. There, no permit or fee is required, just registration for a lottery of performance spots in the busiest section. Street ends on 17 other blocks are open on a first-come, first-serve basis. And the maximum fine for rule breaking is $1,000, half that in New Jersey’s Ocean City.
So today’s expected ordinance approval looks like another productive municipal exercise in democracy, one that assures continued good experiences for Boardwalk crowds, merchants and performers.