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Mayor candidates field public's pointed questions

By JESSIE STENSLAND

Staff reporter

Audience members peppered candidates for Oak Harbor mayor and a city council seat with many insightful and sometimes pointed questions about development, priorities, the senior center and a variety of other issues.

The League of Woman Voters organized the Thursday night voter's forum for Oak Harbor candidates who will appear on the primary ballot Aug. 21.

Among the candidates for city council position 1, Clairann Haney set herself apart from her challengers, Bob Morrison and Jim Palmer, on the issues, though the two men promoted their experience in the business world.

The three candidates for mayor — Councilman Paul Brewer, Councilwoman Sue Karahalios and businessman Jim Slowik — had to deal with some tougher questioning from the crowd.

In a question that seemed to take him by surprise, Brewer was asked if he could keep his full-time civil service job at the base and also work as mayor.

Brewer said that it won't be a problem. He said the mayor's position was never a full-time position and he pointed out that the city has a $120,000-a-year city administrator to run the day-to-day operations.

"This is Oak Harbor for goodness sake and we don't need a full-time mayor," he said, explaining that he will work part-time.

Karahalios, who is a retired teacher, said the mayor needs to be free to attend meetings and events that may not fall into a regular schedule.

"You do need to have a flexible schedule," she said.

Slowik said he considers the mayor's job a full-time position and he intends to work only part-time at his car dealership.

"I intend to do all of my job, not just part of it," he said.

A woman in the audience said she watches the council meetings on TV and feels that personality issues impede the business of the city. She asked how the candidates would change that.

Brewer and Karahalios, both council members, were defensive about the issue.

Brewer suggested that mayor and council should go on a "true retreat." But he said he wouldn't "shut down" a member of council for speaking his or her mind. He didn't explain that Mayor Patty Cohen has paused five meetings over the last couple of years because she felt Brewer was out of order — though he feels he was speaking perfectly appropriately.

"We have differences and we should have differences," he said.

Karahalios also defended herself for continually bringing up parliamentary procedure during meetings — to the annoyance of some members — but she said she wanted to protect the city legally. She also agreed that a retreat would be a good idea.

Slowik had tough words for the council. He said he would demand that the council members address him instead of each other during meetings.

"I would demand that we bring dignity and decorum and respect back in that room," he said.

Yet Slowik also got a zinger of a question. A man asked why he walked out of a meeting when he was president of the school board and why he quit in the midst of a term on the board.

Slowik said he quit the board for business reasons. In reference to walking out, Slowik explained that he got upset when "a devil's advocate" on the board — Scott Hornung — was speaking on and on about an issue and made derogatory comments about staff.

"He was over-time and over-zealous," he said, adding that he simply adjourned the meeting and left.

Brewer, however, criticized Slowik.

"As mayor, you have to control a meeting," he said. "You can't just walk out of a meeting because you disagree with the speaker."

Karahalios said "it's a difficult decision." She pointed out that she was at meetings where similar incidents occurred, an obvious reference to Brewer.

"It would be difficult, but I have never left a meeting," she said.

In contrast, the council candidates received mainly questions about specific issues. One of the most illuminating questions was whether they would be willing to support a moratorium on development in the city.

Morrison said he would like to go back to a time before fast food restaurants came to the city, but he said a moratorium just wouldn't work.

"Under GMA (the Growth Management Act), we are mandated to accept a certain amount of growth," he said.

Palmer was also against the idea. He said that home prices would skyrocket if no new homes were being built, making housing even less affordable.

"I don't think there's any way you can tell people not to come here," he said.

In contrast, Haney said a moratorium is exactly what the city needs, citing the failing infrastructure and lack of funds to fix it.

"I do believe we need to stop development and reassess what we are doing," she said. "Not all growth is good growth."

When asked about what distinguishes them from their opponents, the candidates pointed to their backgrounds.

"I'm a new, fresh set of eyes," said Palmer, who is the only newcomer to city politics among the three candidates.

As a certified business appraiser and business counselor, Palmer explained that his job is to analyze businesses and find ways to improve. He said he can bring those skills to the city council, especially by finding more revenue.

"It's about finding ways to improve without raising taxes," he said.

Haney described herself as a multi-tasker who also has a wide variety of experience in business and education.

"I'm a worker. I'm not just a thinker," she said.

Morrison emphasized his "patchwork background" that includes Navy service, management experience with Boeing and ownership of a small business. He pointed out that he, in contrast to his opponents, also has experience in government.

"I spent four years on the city council and I know how to work with state and federal government," he said.

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