Dozens of Annapolis residents packed City Council chambers Monday night to attend a nearly standing-room-only council meeting. The big agenda draw was Mayor Gavin Buckley’s “dinghy,” a 17-foot, $45,000 motorboat which he asked City Council members to deputize as an official city vehicle, allowing him to use the boat for city purposes and park it at any public dock in the city.
For more than an hour, residents publicly decried the mayor’s perceived hubris, while a handful instead hailed him as a visionary who supports maritime access. Nearly four hours after the meeting gaveled in, the resolution passed, 8-1, but the mayor indicated he will consider removing the boat from a dinghy dock in Lafayette Park, which may pacify some residents’ concerns.
Only Ward 2 Alderwoman Karma O’Neill voted against the resolution, saying she worried about the inflatable BRIG also being piloted by one of the mayor’s friends or family members. “Several of my constituents reached out,” O’Neill said. City Attorney Mike Lyles said language in the resolution accounted for those concerns.
Many residents who spoke appeared to believe the mayor was operating above the law in a city full of maritime regulations, fines and fees. In May, Buckley was ticketed by the Harbormaster for docking the boat at a community dock where residents rent spaces for vessels up to 12 feet long. The resolution allows him to park the boat at any public dock, regardless of restrictions.
“What I take objection to are the three E’s, Mr. Mayor: You think that you’re exceptional. You think you’re exempt and you think you’re entitled,” said Franklin Street resident Richard Montaner.
Dissidents also included Michelle Salmon, who rents the “cleat” — nautical lingo for a spot to dock boats — immediately next to Buckley’s. She and her wife donated to the mayor’s campaign, Salmon said, but now find it difficult to maneuver their dinghy around the mayor’s boat.
Salmon recommended alternatives to the quandary, such as comping the mayor an additional mooring in Spa Creek, where he already parks a pontoon boat.
“Some cities have a parking space for a mayor; how cool would it be if our mayor had a mooring ball?” Salmon said. “We are so much better than this.”
The mayor also had a handful of supporters in the crowd, including former Anne Arundel County school board president Vincent Leggett, who founded the Blacks of Chesapeake Project. Leggett carried an Old Bay tote bag to the meeting and addressed the crowd wearing a button-down shirt embroidered with swordfish. He praised Buckley for supporting water access, including preserving what remains of Carr’s Beach, a popular segregation-era recreation site.
“We’re trying to find ways for everyone to experience this great bay,” Leggett said. “I thank you and I stand in support of this resolution.”
On the all-Democrat council, Buckley’s staunchest backers were Ward 1 Alderwoman Elly Tierney, who sponsored the resolution, and Ward 7′s Rob Savidge, who typically pushes hardest for issues regarding environmental stewardship.
“We know firsthand that the mayor does indeed take dignitaries around to promote projects that are going to benefit taxpayers,” Savidge said. “We are facilitating his job to be an ambassador for the city.”
Projects Savidge mentioned included the City Dock revitalization and a Hawkins Cove access point near public housing communities. When yelling citizens interrupted the alderman, Savidge asked them to settle down.
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“I can’t believe how out-of-proportion this is getting blown,” he said.
Ward 6 DaJuan Gay voted yes, but not before stating he was “extremely conflicted.” Gay did not approve of one justification Buckley has used: That he could have bought a more expensive Boston Whaler motorboat to deputize but instead opted for a humbler BRIG.
“The word privilege has been used often here tonight,” Gay said, and noted that he had to look up what a Boston Whaler was. “I thought that did reek of a little privilege.”
But Gay followed up by prompting the mayor to share his favorite places to visit by boat in Annapolis, giving Buckley a chance to speak about his outings with representatives from the National Park Service, and his hopes to take Maryland’s senators out in the BRIG. The end result, he hopes, will be a Chesapeake-region national park and “tens of millions of [dollars in] grants for the city.”
Buckley closed out the night by apologizing to his colleagues on the council for the stress the whole ordeal may have put them through.
“You all got a lot of heat for this,” Buckley said. He then conceded he may find a new home for the BRIG rather than his cleat in Lafayette Park.
“I probably won’t even put the boat back there,” the mayor said. “It just doesn’t feel good.”