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Mayor finds an administrator

The city of Oak Harbor got a full-time city administrator during a special city council meeting Wednesday.

The four city council members who showed up for the meeting unanimously voted to approve Mayor Patty Cohen’s appointee, Thomas Myers. He is the former Arlington administrator and the current interim city administrator for Monroe.

Myers will likely start work in city hall March 15.

Cohen told the council members that she chose Myers after exhaustive interviews because of his strong sense of values.

“Both of us prefer to operate by putting all our cards on the table,” she said, “and not playing games.”

Myers agreed that he is open and straightforward. “To me, the most important commodity I bring to the table is my integrity,” he said.

The city’s contract for city administration is actually with Seattle-based Waldron and Associates, a head-hunting firm that found Myers for the city. Under the contract, the city will pay Waldron $59 an hour for Myers’ services, which amounts to more than $110,000 a year. The contract is open-ended, which means the city can get rid of Myers at any time.

If Myers works out, the city can contract with him directly or hire him as a regular city employee after six months.

Cohen has had a difficult time finding a city administrator who suits her over the last two years. She chose not to hire any of the candidates who came forward after a nationwide search last year. Former Federal Way administrator Ken Nyberg worked for the city for a couple months last summer, but City Finance Director Doug Merriman has filled in as city administrator before and after him.

In addition to pleasing Cohen, Myers definitely has some major challenges ahead of him. The growing city is facing budget problems, even bankruptcy, in the future because of tax-cutting initiatives. At the same time, the city has many stalled projects on its plate, including a municipal pier, a downtown plaza, a downtown recirculation and sidewalk project, the Freund marsh and a waterfront walkway.

In addition, Cohen has proposed her downtown revitalization vision, which Myers will help spearhead. She is also working to make the city a business-friendly place. Several council members have been pushing to annex the Goldie Road commercial and industrial area, which would bring more property and sales taxes into the city. Council members have discussed privatizing the city’s garbage pick-up service.

Myers has experience that may help him. As administrator of Arlington from 1986 to 2000, he managed the city as it grew from 3,330 to over 10,000 people. He said he led the city’s contentious annexation of part of Smokey Point, which brought in “a major increase of sales tax.”

He oversaw the transfer of Arlington’s solid waste system from public to private, which saved both taxpayers and the city money.

Myers said he worked hard to keep businesses in Arlington happy. He didn’t hesitate when he heard that the Bayliner company was planning to leave because the facility didn’t have adequate water and sewer. He convinced the company to stay by obtaining a combination of federal, state, county and city money for fund utility hook-ups.

When asked about the city’s budget problems, Myers said he’ll work with Cohen and the city council to make “critical choices” and create a concrete plan. He suggested that a combination of service cuts, shortening of employees’ work week and possibly a hiring freeze could go a long ways toward balancing the budget.

“Instead of laying off six people, I think we can share the pain...” he said. “I would be willing to share the pain, if that means work reduction.”

Before working in Arlington, Myers was the city administrator of Lake Stevens from 1984 to ‘86. He was a principal planner for an Edmonds consulting firm and a senior planner for a Oregon council of governments before that. Myers has a masters degree in city and regional planning from Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Washington.

When he starts work later this month, Myers says he plans to jump right in.

“I’m going to roll up my sleeves and get to know the council much better and figure out what the plan is,” he said.

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