Merrill back in hunt for Oak Harbor fire chief

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley will once again ask the city council to confirm his choice to fill the vacant fire chief position.

Ray Merrill, Oak Harbor’s former battalion chief, reinstated his name for the position after withdrawing his candidacy in frustration at the end of the last council meeting.

The confirmation is on the agenda for the Tuesday, March 20 meeting. Dudley said he asked Merrill to reconsider and understands his angry reaction to the council members’ actions.

“When you have a political decision that doesn’t seem to be made in the best interest of the city of Oak Harbor, it is frustrating,” Dudley said, adding that Merrill is very passionate about the fire department.

In a showdown two weeks ago, the majority of the council members questioned the mayor’s process for choosing Merrill and highlighted evidence that suggests the mayor offered Merrill the job before even taking office. Under questioning, the city’s human resource director said she was concerned that Merrill thought he had been promised a job since he wanted to have his retirement canceled while the job was still being advertised.

Both Dudley and Merrill insist that no promises were made.

In the end, the council voted to table the confirmation until after the mayor gives a presentation about all the costs associated with the terminations of the former fire chief, the city administrator and the city attorney.

In response, Dudley said Finance Director Doug Merriman will be giving a detailed presentation Tuesday. Dudley said there won’t be much new information, but the presentation should clarify some issues. Dudley wants to point out, for example, that the city is saving money by not replacing the city administrator immediately. Steve Powers, director of development services, is doing both jobs on an interim basis.

Dudley said he’s hopeful the council will confirm Merrill.

“I hope that the city council makes a decision that’s in the best interest of Oak Harbor,” he said, “and I believe, personally, that means confirming Ray Merrill as fire chief.”

Dudley said he plans to work much closer with the council to establish an open and fair hiring process for the city administrator and the police chief positions. Chief Rick Wallace is retiring in June.


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