OCEAN CITY – Audience members and candidates all were disappointed by the format of Wednesday evening’s forum hosted by the Ocean City Community Association, with some calling it “a waste of time.”

It was the first time all five candidates running for three open at-large council seats and both mayoral candidates in the May 13 municipal election attended.

But instead of a question-and-answer debate that had been advertised, OCCA hosted a meet-and-greet that was preceded by five-minute speeches by the candidates.

“I’m very, very disappointed with the format,” said Vic Staniec, a resident who is a fixture at Ocean City School Board and other community meetings. “I think it would have been a lot more productive if questions from the entire audience were allowed. We just wasted our time here.”

Council challengers Mike Hyson and Eric Sauder also were disappointed by the format change.

“I was prepared to answer the questions posed to me and I think it is important for the voters to hear how the candidates respond and where they stand on the issue,” Hyson said in his opening statement.

“A question-and-answer would have been more of a test of any candidate,” Sauder said.

Former 4th Ward Councilman Roy Wagner said he would not have enjoyed such format for a debate when he ran for office.

“You wouldn’t know what’s on people’s minds,” he said of the disorganized scene following the candidates’ statements, where most members in the audience of 100 mingled with one another rather than approach the candidates for a one-on-one as was OCCA’s intention.

The change in format from a Q&A to a meet-and-greet was decided Monday in a specially convened OCCA board meeting. OCCA President Bob Barr said the change, coming 48 hours ahead of Wednesday’s event, was forced when OCCA board member Jim Tweed’s computer crashed and he lost all the questions for the debate.

This is the third of five scheduled forums for the candidates. The remaining events are scheduled for April 29 and May 7.