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Editorial

"Doug Merriman needs help. But not $105,000 worth.Merriman, who deserves some kind of medal for the job he has done the last several months, is the city finance director who has doubled up on the city supervisor job over the last year, ever since former city supervisor E.T. Silvers was given the boot by Mayor Patty Cohen.Now Cohen would like Merriman to focus on his finance job and find a new city supervisor. The proposed salary and benefit package for this new city manager: $105,000.The mayor makes some persuasive arguments for why such a high-priced position is needed. She says only strong leadership can get the city out of its current financial mess. She says the city needs a fresh set of eyes to look at the city's problems and potential. She says hiring a strong city supervisor is part of a long-range plan to pull the city back from the edge of bankruptcy. Such a person, Cohen says, will make money for the city in the long run. And to find the right person she plans to conduct a rigorous assessment and interview process at the end of this month.If the city weren't in such dire financial straits, it would make sense to find a hot-shot city supervisor and get Oak Harbor on the road to its promising future. But the city's financial picture is bleak. Oak Harbor lost about $400,000 a year in equalization funds from the Legislature in the aftermath of Initiative 695. At the same time, the City Council has said it hears the public's sentiment, and won't raise taxes to take up the slack. So when there's a budget shortfall, and there's no added revenues coming in, something has to give.That's where layoffs enter the picture. If you don't believe the city is in a financial pinch, just ask the six to 10 city employees who will get laid off, probably by the end of this week, so the city can get closer to balancing it's budget for 2001. The money that used to pay their salaries is now needed elsewhere.While the mayor makes persuasive arguments for why a city supervisor is needed, it seems bad timing, at the very least, to take money from rank-and-file employees to pay for a top management position. Now is not the time to hire a high-priced supervisor, not when the city is in cutback mode. A less expensive solution would be more appropriate during the coming year.We applaud Mayor Cohen and Doug Merriman for saving the city a significant chunk of money during the past year by operating efficiently without a city supervisor, and we believe the time will come to hire the best person the city can find to fill the supervisor slot and help lead Oak Harbor into the future.But that time is not now. "

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