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Editorial

"Last week’s meeting of the Oak Harbor City Council was not the finest hour of Patty Cohen’s eight-month tenure as mayor.The special meeting of Cohen and the council was called to select a replacement for Rex Hankins, who died earlier this summer from cancer. Eleven candidates applied to fill the position: Howard Thomas, Sue Karahalios, Randy Bradford, Nora O’Connell-Balda, Patricia Gardner, Eric Gerber, Todd Martin, Robert Boe, K.C. Pohtilla, Helen Chatfield-Weeks and James Earl.The councilors used a point system to narrow the field to two candidates, Karahalios and Chatfield-Weeks. While trying to decide between Karahalios and Chatfield-Weeks, the six councilors deadlocked in a 3-3 vote. Mayor Cohen was in position to cast the deciding vote. She chose not to.Fine. Some have questioned the way in which the original field of 11 candidates was pared down, and some believe Mayor Cohen should have stepped up immediately to help choose the final candidate. Up to this point of the meeting, let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But when councilors separated into private conversations during breaks, then butted up against their 3-3 deadlock a second and third time, Cohen remained on the sidelines. The council then returned to its third choice, O’Connell-Balda, and picked her as the new councilor in a 4-2 ballot. Nora O’Connell-Balda will likely make a fine councilor. She is a 20-year member of the city’s Board of Adjustments. She understands Oak Harbor and the challenges that face the city.But Mayor Cohen never cast a vote.As the mayor said after the meeting, she had no obligation to break the deadlock over Karahalios and Chatfield-Weeks. She said she wanted to push the councilors to compromise. “Building consensus was very, very important to me. It was a decision that belonged to the council. They need to feel real strong ownership over that decision.”That’s the problem. The decision to replace Rex Hankins was politically sensitive. Because the mayor refused to enter the fray, the councilors got more ownership of the decision to replace Hankins — and the political flak that comes with it — than they ever wanted. If the mayor had a preference between Karahalios and Chatfield-Weeks, she needed to break the deadlock. If she didn’t want to cast a vote for either Karahalios or Chatfield-Weeks, the mayor needed to state this, so the council could quickly move on to other candidates. During her early months in office, Mayor Cohen has done a fine job pulling together the team at City Hall. She has identified problems and set goals. She has even managed to soothe a city council that has squabbled far too often in recent years. However, consensus for the sake of consensus accomplishes nothing. Strong political leadership involves, at times, standing up for one’s convictions and living with the fact that some people won’t like it.In this instance, Mayor Cohen abdicated her leadership role. We hope she takes it back at the next opportunity. "

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