More turmoil at Oak Harbor City Hall
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
June 1, 2012 · 3:33 PM
Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley returned to work this week after donating a kidney and promptly fired the city attorney.
Meanwhile, other changes are coming soon to city leadership.
The mayor didn’t return calls for comment Friday, but he sent out a notice to employees and council members that simply states Hawkins is no longer serving as the city attorney as of June 1.
“For the interim, we are exploring contracting out our need for legal services,” Dudley wrote. “I anticipate having more information shortly.”
In an interview Friday afternoon, Hawkins said the mayor told him he “just wanted to move in a different direction” when he handed him his termination papers Thursday.
Hawkins said it’s a city attorney’s job to give correct legal advice, even when it’s not welcome.
“If this mayor wants to fire me because I did my job, I will wear that proudly as a badge of honor,” he said.
City Councilman Jim Campbell and other city officials contacted Friday said they were in the dark as to the reason for the termination.
“It’s going to cause us a lot of grief,” Campbell said.
Dudley appointed Hawkins, who was formerly the assistant city attorney, shortly after coming into office in January and firing then-City Attorney Margery Hite. Dudley also fired the city administrator and the fire chief; he is forcing Police Chief Rick Wallace to retire at the end of June.
Dudley’s housecleaning of city management has been criticized by council members who complained about the cost of paying out severance packages and hiring new people to fill the positions, as well as the effect on morale in City Hall. The city’s finance director estimated that cost of terminating the at-will employees at about $500,0000.
Now in addition, Hawkins said he will receive six months of severance pay and another month of vacation pay.
Hawkins was previously the elected Island County prosecutor before leaving public office to open a private office in Oak Harbor. Jim Slowik, the former mayor and Dudley’s campaign rival, hired Hawkins as the city’s prosecutor in 2009.
In addition, Dudley has named a new interim city administrator to start June 11. He is replacing Steve Powers, currently doubling as interim city supervisor and development service director, with Senior Planner Larry Cort.
Dudley said Powers has done a fine job of running the city, especially during the time when he was out of commission donating a kidney to a stranger in British Columbia. But Dudley said he was concerned that City Council members wouldn’t like to see him appoint the same person to the position repeatedly.
“I think it would have raised eyebrows” to keep Powers in the position, he said last week.
In addition, Campbell said Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson and her assistant have given notice that they are leaving. Neill Hoyson is leaving to take a job in Mount Vernon at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, the process of finding a new police chief is moving ahead. Neill Hoyson said the city received 15 applications for the job during the advertising period. She said the city isn’t releasing the names of the applicants until the numbers are narrowed down for interviews, though Lt. John Dyer has said he applied for the job.
Identifying the top candidates may take a while. Neill Hoyson said the first step will be to weed out the applicants who don’t meet the minimum qualifications or fit the description of the ideal candidate.
Next, the applicants will be asked to give a short presentation to a small panel of City Hall officials. She said it will likely be done online through Skype since many of the applicants are from out of state.
The applicants who make it through the first two steps will be interviewed in public by two separate panels. One panel will consist of officials who work for the city. The second panel will be made up of citizens.
Finally, the top two candidates will be interviewed by the mayor. He will make the final appointment, but the City Council must vote to confirm his choice.
Neill Hoyson said the city will begin the process of finding a permanent city administrator after the new police chief is in place.
But with all the changes facing the city, nobody can predict when the city will have a new administrator.
Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.