A doctor of philosophy is now officially running the day-to-day operations of the city of Oak Harbor.
The City Council confirmed the mayor’s appointment of Larry Cort as the city administrator during the meeting Tuesday. Cort has been serving as interim city administrator since June.
City Council members and the mayor had glowing remarks about Cort, especially regarding his communication abilities.
“He’s a phenomenal communicator,” Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley said.
“He understands the business we’re in is customer service. He raises the bar on customer service,” he added.
Cort replaces Paul Schmidt, the former city administrator. Dudley fired Schmidt and several other top people in city administration after coming into office in January. The move was criticized by council members, who were upset by the costs associated with severance packages and the lack of leadership at the city.
But Tuesday, the council was happy.
“I think this is the best idea you’ve had all year,” Councilwoman Tara Hizon said to the mayor, earning a round of applause.
Cort will earn $133,00 a year, plus benefits. By comparison, Schmidt was making about $145,000 a year, according to Finance Director Doug Merriman.
If he’s ever fired, he’ll receive a six-month severance package.
Cort has been around the block on Whidbey Island. He grew up on North Whidbey and graduated from Oak Harbor High School. He left the island to pursue a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Washington, a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Exeter in England and a doctorate of philosophy from the University of London.
He later returned to Whidbey Island and spent eight years as town planner in Coupeville and then worked for several years as a senior planner in Oak Harbor. He went on to became the planning director in Langley for five years and returned once again to Oak Harbor, becoming project specialist for the public works department.
Also on Tuesday, the council approved an employment contract with Nikki Esparza to serve as the city’s assistant city attorney. She had been a contracted employee handling municipal court prosecution, but now she’ll become a city employee. She will earn $71,000 a year, plus benefits.
Doug Merriman, the longtime city finance director, received a new contract with the city, which was the same as the old. Under a new city ordinance, existing employees in a management position with contracts more than five years old are offered new contracts. Merriman earns $129,000 a year.
“Since you already called Mr. Merriman fabulous tonight, you kind of ruined our bargaining position,” Cort joked with the council members.