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Oak Harbor councilman's motion wilts under public pressure

No quarter was given to City Councilman Rick Almberg by the small mob of angry constituents who converged at City Hall Tuesday to protest his proposal for a hiring and firing freeze on the eve of Scott Dudley’s first term as mayor.

Unfair, illegal, disappointing, evil, a political ploy, snarky, a waste of paper, a slap in the face to voters and shame on you; these were just some of the words and phrases that poured from the mouths of at least 10 people who took to the microphone to condemn the proposal.

Most were well-known and outspoken Dudley supporters.

“It’s a despicable way to undermine an incoming mayor,” barked Paul Brewer, who recently lost a bid for a city council seat in the November general election.

Others who spoke were less familiar but just as dismayed over the unexpected move.

“Do you really believe (Dudley) is that fiscally irresponsible?” Oak Harbor resident Jeff Trumbore said. “I really find it remarkable and quite uncalled for.”

“Sir, you are over stepping your bounds,” said Jim Scully, also of Oak Harbor.

In a special meeting last week, Almberg made a last minute motion to discuss a six-month hiring/firing freeze for all city employees in light of staffing changes Dudley hinted at while on the campaign trail. The motion was seconded by City Councilwoman Beth Munns.

Although Almberg said he made the motion solely out of financial and operational concerns, denying any political motivations whatsoever, the proposal stirred a hornet’s nest of Dudley backers.

Many expressed outrage because the issue was being discussed while Dudley was out of town, calling it a blatant and brash attempt to subvert the will of a new mayor. Others sought legal advice, which indicated that a hiring freeze is illegal.

“I did not realize my motion would create such a political firestorm,” Almberg said during Tuesday’s meeting.

He reiterated that his motives were pure but it didn’t seem to curb the tone of comments from the crowd. Even City Councilman Jim Campbell, who had strong words of his own, said in a later interview that he did not expect such harsh opines.

Almberg also changed his proposal. After doing his own research and getting confirmation from City Attorney Margery Hite that a firing freeze is illegal, he proposed a muted resolution for a non-binding agreement in which Dudley would work with the city council on issues that may adversely affect the budget.

But the revised proposal got as little support from fellow city council members as it did from the crowd. City Councilman Bob Severns said he also feels a responsibility for Oak Harbor’s finances and believes Dudley shares that concern. While not willing to support the motion, Severns said he would be watching the new mayor carefully.

“I can tell you one thing, I’m going to be ringing Mr. Dudley’s door any time I feel we’re going in the wrong direction,” Severns said.

Councilmen Jim Palmer and Campbell both said they didn’t believe the action was necessary and Munns, who seconded Almberg’s original motion last week, was also unwilling to support the new resolution.

She said her intent from the beginning was just to talk about the issue, but her explanation earned at least one hushed expletive of disbelief from the crowd. Martha Yount was the only person to voice any support for the resolution.

Yount, who also ran an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the city council in November, said respect is earned and would support a firing moratorium. Gerry Oliver also spoke, saying he didn't see any harm in having a discussion but that handcuffing the mayor would be unfair. He later clarified that he did not support the motion.

Despite the overwhelming opposition, Almberg did make a motion to pass the revised proposal but it died for lack of a second. In a later interview, he said he had hoped for a little more support from his colleagues, but didn’t leave feeling stung.

The city council is not the “club” some people think it is; every one has their own mind, he said. Also, he said his goal was to make sure everyone  understood the ramifications of rash or politically based firings and he felt that was accomplished over the course of the discussion.

“The outcome had really already occurred,” he said.

 

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