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Candidates for mayor offer varied views
By JESSIE STENSLAND
The race for Oak Harbor mayor is a contest between two men who are both positioning themselves as the candidate for change and an energetic woman who touts her knowledge and contacts.
Paul Brewer has spent nearly 12 years on the Oak Harbor Council as the original voice of change, as well as a perennial critic of two city mayors. He feels he speaks very loudly for the common people in a city where developers and special interests have too much power. He has pushed for a more open, transparent government and is critical of just about any increases of fee or taxes.
"I pledge to represent you the people," he said. "It's true that a lot of people feel I speak for them."
Jim Slowik is a businessman, a former president of the Oak Harbor School Board and a Rotarian with plenty of support from well-known members of the community including Mayor Patty Cohen. Building and maintaining infrastructure is his top issue. He wants to change the way the city does business, from dramatically reducing the amount of money spent on consultants to working with the council to create a more civil and productive team.
"I have been managing people for 30 years," he said. "I can use my experience in business to effectively and respectfully manage the city and build a team."
Sue Karahalios is a member of the city council, a former state representative and a retired teacher. She seems to have limitless amounts of energy, is omnipresent at events and ceremonies, and is involved in a wide variety of activities, from Big Brothers Big Sisters to Harbor Pride. She promotes her knowledge of issues, her common-sense reasoning and her contacts at the state and federal government.
"I was responsible for delivering nearly $800,000 to the community this year alone," she said.
Paul Brewer is a man with opinions and he's not afraid to share them. He feels that a lot of things have gone wrong over the last 12 years, and as mayor, he wants to change that.
He said the city hasn't adequately planned for a new fire department, hasn't maintained its infrastructure, hasn't controlled growth, hasn't provided living-wage jobs, hasn't communicated well with the public, hasn't spend money wisely, hasn't planned for water storage and hasn't done anything to promote affordable housing.
"In city hall, priorities change monthly," he said. "We have to correct the mismanagement the city has had for at least eight years."
Brewer doesn't just offer criticisms, but has some answers too. He has been pushing for years to create fire impact fees on all new development, so that developers will pay for some of the cost of a new fire hall necessary because of development. He said the city should first "infill" with development before expanding its boundaries. He supports giving incentives to businesses that provide living-wage jobs.
He has a plan for improving public involvement in city government, which includes bringing back the Board of Adjustments, bulking up the duties of the Comprehensive Plan Task Force and better advertising all types of meetings. He has long proposed videotaping council workshops and airing them on TV. If he's mayor, he said he will pay for that out of the mayor's "bloated" personal budget.
Brewer said he gets things done out of pure persistence. He spearheaded an effort, for example, to fill in missing sidewalks in the city, especially near schools, and eventually got his colleagues to agree.
When it comes to the controversial issue of prioritizing non-utility projects, Brewer strongly feels that the long-proposed pier should be at the top of the list.
"We let down all the merchants and let down all the people who gave their time all those years by pulling the rug out from under them," he said.
Jim Slowik has long been known as a leader in the Oak Harbor community. Most recently, he led the successful campaign to build the new stadium at the high school. He touts the accomplishments of the school board in the 1990s, which he took part in including two years as president. That included passing the first maintenance and operations levy in 30 years, starting a hot lunch program and creating many new advanced placement classes.
He has served as president of several important organizations, including the Oak Harbor Navy League, Oak Harbor Rotary and the North Whidbey Lions. He said it's through these organizations that he's earned a great deal of support including financial support from community movers and shakers. He's already raised far more money than any other Oak Harbor mayoral ever has nearly $19,000 so far.
Slowik is critical of the current state of city government; but in contrast to Brewer, he's more likely to point a finger at the city council than the mayor. One of his biggest concerns is the scads of money the city spends on consultants, though he admits they may be necessary when unique expertise is needed.
"The biggest problem is how they handle their budget and where they spend their money," he said. "You can see where the money is slipping away."
The money saved, he said, could be used to actually get projects accomplished.
Slowik sees gridlock among the personalities of the city council. As mayor, he said he will demand a change in behavior, though he points out that the election will bring about a major shuffle in the makeup of the current council.
Slowik is very concerned about the state of the city's infrastructure the roads, sewer, water and storm water lines. He wants to create better plans and take action to preserve and replace the ailing infrastructure, a well as plan for what will be needed in the future as the city grows.
As a businessman, Slowik feels that growth and development in the city is inevitable and can be healthy if it's done right. What he doesn't want to see is the "wrong kind of growth." He points to the Wal-Mart development as an example and says he would also be opposed to a controversial proposal for a shopping mall at the south end of the town at least until the proper planning is done. He said the problem with both developments is that the city doesn't take into proper account the impact on traffic.
Among the list of non-utility projects, Slowik said his top priority would be dredging the marina and the channel to the marina.
Sue Karahalios feels she has the experience, the knowledge and the energy to make her the right person for the job.
"I have proven that I deliver and I do think the voters for the most part want people who can work hard for the good of all," she said. "I'm a worker. I'm a partner. I give time and energy. The community wants decisive leadership."
Her experience with state and federal government certainly distinguishes her from her competition. She served on boards with both the Association of Washington Cities and the National League of Cities. She represented the community as a Democratic state representative for a term. She touts her understanding of the system and her connections.
"The ability to network with other state and local leaders is critical," she said.
For example, when city and county leaders were looking for a way to buy the so-called Boyer property on the north end of the city in order to protect the Navy base from development encroachment Karahalios took it upon herself to contact state leaders. She proposed that the state create a fund to help pay for land purchases around military bases. She said representatives from the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development called her to ask for advice in setting up the framework.
In the end, the city obtained $678,000 from the fund she proposed.
Karahalios also has been involved, in a very hands-on way, in successful efforts to preserve the Roller Barn and build a playground at Fort Nugent Park.
As a state legislator, Karahalios said she was known for being extremely responsive to the citizens, and she continued that on the city council. She's the kind of elected official who returned phone calls immediately. As mayor, she hopes people will call her directly about concerns and she will find the answers.
On the issue of priorities, Karahalios also feels infrastructure should be the at the top of the list. In fact, she claims that she was the original voice of concern about infrastructure.
"We need to make sure we have a plan and replacement procedure for all infrastructure, especially downtown waterlines," she said.
When it comes to the issue of the proposed development on the south end of the city, Karahalios said she couldn't take a stand on it because of quasi-judicial rules and the fact the matter may come before the council again.
But in general terms, Karahalios said she believes development should go inside the city first instead of expanding the boundaries. Yet she said the city should make room for the growing demand for senior assisted housing as the population ages.
Karahalios has been a supporter of the Windjammer Plan to redevelop downtown, though she is willing to let the proposed pier project go by the wayside.
"Windjammer was a good investment," she said. "It coalesced a lot of things from the past and gave us new ideas."