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Ax falls: City lays off four employees

"The Oak Harbor city administration notified four employees that they are being laid off during a series of carefully planned, solemn meetings with departments Friday.The notification ends weeks of speculation and anxiety among employees. Mayor Patty Cohen announced the likelihood of between six and 10 lay offs last month after the City Council declared a financial emergency in the city. The impending lay offs include two staff members in the police department - neither are officers - a clerical staff person in the fire department and a supervisor in city hall.The city also won't fill a couple of unfilled vacancies, including a planning department secretary and a night-shift firefighter position.In addition, Cohen said she is reorganizing the planning, engineering and building departments - which basically makes up the entire bottom floor of City Hall - into a single, multi-function department titled Permitting and Development Services.In accord with the cautious nature of the day, the city administrators would not be specific about the positions or people being laid off. Cohen held a press release on the layoffs until after the working day was over. Interim City Supervisor Doug Merriman said the layoffs are not final until after he and Cohen meet with the affected employees again next week.Dennis Dashiell, a consultant with the city's employee assistance program, accompanied Cohen in announcing the employment draw down - her term for the lay offs - to make sure communication was open and concerns were answered. He had high praise for Cohen. The city is doing a great job at making it gentle, he said. They are really taking care of their people.The employees facing layoffs were allowed to go home on administrative leave after hearing the news Friday. Dashiell said they will continue having access to the employee assistance program - basically a counseling program - after they leave their jobs. They will each receive an individually-negotiated severance package that will likely include coverage under the city's health plan. In addition, Dashiell says the city administration plans to help the employees find new jobs. He said they are hiring a job-search specialist and setting aside a computer for Internet access.Merriman said the reorganization of the permitting departments has the dual purpose of allowing the city to run efficiently and economically while making the process of getting development permits easier and quicker for customers.In her press release, Cohen writes that the next step is for the city leaders to formulate a strategic plan that will fiscally guide this organization onto a strong financial base.It is my belief that with strong and effective planning we will never again have to cause jeopardy to the employment of out staff, she wrote. "

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