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New chief hails from Oklahoma

Oak Harbor’s new police chief speaks with the soft western accent of Garth Brooks and old-time cowboys.

Stephen Almon said he plans to leave his home state of Oklahoma — the land of the dust bowls, tumbleweed and something called Sooners — to take his post at the waterside city by Feb. 11.

Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen announced this week that she is hiring Almon to head the police department. The Oak Harbor City Council was scheduled to ratify her choice Tuesday night.

Cohen told former Police Chief Tony Barge that she would not be continuing his contract with the city last fall. Since then, Cpt. Rick Wallace has been the acting chief.

The city advertised the job opening nationwide. The top six of the 48 candidates were invited to Oak Harbor in late November to take part in an assessment center, which is a rigorous interview process.

Cohen said everyone involved in the interviewing process, who were mainly law enforcement and judicial professionals, agreed that Almon was the best man for the job.

“His philosophy and management style seems to be the right fit for the community...” she said. “The needs of the department and the community are changing and evolving. We need a pretty special person and we believe we’ve found him.”

Almon will be making $78,000 a year plus benefits at the head of the 44-member department. He also will be getting a one-time allowance of $20,000 for moving and housing relocation costs.

Almon is currently the police chief in the city of El Reno, Okla., population 17,000. Prior to that, Almon was the police chief of the little city of Guthrie, population 12,500. He spent 20 years on the police force in Wichita, Kansas, in a variety of positions, including patrol officer, homicide detective, lieutenant in narcotics and as a member of the helicopter section. He has a master’s degree in management and a bachelor’s degree in management of human resources.

In an interview Tuesday, Almon said it is the beauty of the Northwest that attracted he and his wife to Oak Harbor. Now that their children are grown, Almon said they were looking to move to a different part of the country — a beautiful, natural place where they will someday want to retire.

“I’ve always been intrigued by the Northwest, though I’d never been there,” he said. “When we visited Oak Harbor we absolutely fell in love with it . . . the views of the mountains and the Puget Sound. We don’t get that here.”

Yet Almon said he also realizes there will be challenges to the job, especially with the budget problems facing all city departments. He said he won’t come in with any plans for immediate changes and he doesn’t have pre-conceived ideas about the department. Instead, he said he will work with the community and the department to address both problems and solutions.

“I’ve always been a team builder,” he said. “It’s not going to be the Steve Almon Show.”

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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