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Morrison stesses leadership

Oak Harbor City Councilman Bob Morrison announced his run for mayor with an eight-foot banner during the city’s Fourth of July parade. He joins Mayor Patty Cohen and Councilman Eric Gerber in the race that will be decided in November’s election.

Like the other two candidates, Morrison said economic development and diversification is the focus of his campaign. He echoes sentiments that the city needs to have an active economic development program.

But where Morrison differs from the other candidates is that he already has created a plan, which he hopes to present to the city council if he’s elected mayor. He said he has the leadership skills to get the city council to “buy in” to the plan — with some consensual tweaking — and then actually get projects accomplished.

“I have a totally different approach to doing business,” he said. “I have the management skills and leadership skills that are needed. I’m very much goal oriented.”

“It’s a matter of walking in with a plan and a purpose,” he added, “and bringing people together. If you’re going to lead, then lead.”

In fact, Morrison repeatedly stresses that his management style is to be “goal oriented.” He knows the job of being a mayor requires some pomp and circumstance and the ability to preside at public functions, which he said he’s perfectly capable of doing. But he says at meetings and workshops he often gets anxious when officials stray from the agenda and accomplish little. He’s often the one who steers the conversation back on point.

He also points out that the city has a history of not following through on goals. There’s been a plethora of proposals and studies for revitalizing downtown Oak Harbor, for example, but few things ever came to fruition. It’s a trend he wants to end.

“There’s a tendency to string projects out over the years and never complete anything,” he said. “We need someone to come in with a plan and focus on working it through.”

While Morrison isn’t the first candidate to say he has the leadership skills necessary to get things done, he points out that he’s the only mayoral candidate with a management background. If he’s elected, he’ll also be the first mayor who served in the Navy, which he said would be helpful in continuing strong relations between the city and the military.

Morrison was in the Navy for more than 28 years, including 19 years at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. He and his wife, Rosemary, lived in Oak Harbor for a short time in 1966, before being transferred to Guam. They came back to the city in 1971 and have lived in the same house since, raising a son and daughter.

In the Navy, Morrison was an electronics technician and later a maintenance chief petty officer. While he was still in the service and after he retired, Morrison earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in human resource management and development.

After the Navy, he went to work building the wings of 777 airplanes at Boeing. After having valve-fixing heart surgery in 1998, he became a corporate management trainer for Boeing. He was eventually laid off in 2000 and went to work as a consultant writing classroom training manuals for electronic warfare officers at a Navy-related company on Whidbey.

After he was done with the project, he started Video West and the Backdoor Deli, both of which eventually closed. Now he works at the pro shop at a golf course and concentrates on being a member of the city council.

As a city councilman, Morrison is known for being in good humor and cracking the occasional joke. He also seems to be an independent voice who doesn’t align himself with any particular special interest, which makes his positions somewhat unpredictable. “I’m a reasonably intelligent, cool guy,” he said.

Since moving to Oak Harbor, Morrison said he’s always been involved in the community and volunteer activities. He joined the local Jaycees back in the 1960s and ran the first Special Olympics in town. He’s served for four years on the city’s comprehensive plan task force and was chairman for half than time. He’s been active in Harbor Pride, the New Library Placement Committee and is currently the chairman of the Public Transportation Policy Board.

He also has an inside track on city politics. His wife Rosemary, who’s the city clerk, has worked in city hall since 1973. Through Rosemary’s experience, he said he’s learned where the city government’s strengths and weaknesses lie.

“I’ve seen the good,” he said, referring to city officials, ”I’ve seen the bad and I’ve seen the indifferent.”

While he’s keeping his economic development plan secret for now, Morrison said it isn’t just a policy or mission statement. He said it’s a detailed plan with specific goals and projects.

Yet Morrison’s basic philosophies about economic development aren’t so secret. He believes the city has a lot of untapped economic potential. He points to the so-called Hackney property and the proposed Lolbi business park on the north end of the city. He said the city should actively pursue “cottage industries and clean industries” to fill the empty industrial parks.

He also said the city needs an economic development coordinator with the authority to be able to wheel and deal, to a certain extent, in order to lure businesses or retain companies.

“It’s better to give away a dollar in front,” he said,” and get $10 in the back.”

Since there are three candidates for mayor — and possibly more — the candidates will have to go into a primary election that will narrow the candidates to two.

There will also three council seats open in November. They are currently held by Nora O’Connell-Balda, Paul Brewer and Morrison. Brewer and O’Connell-Balda have already said they plan to run again. With Morrison running for mayor, that leaves his seat up for grabs.

Although it will likely be a lively campaign season, don’t expect fireworks between the mayoral candidates. They have each said they respect one another and will run positive campaigns. Morrison and Gerber only offer subdued criticism of Cohen’s economic policies and simply say it’s time for a different kind of leadership. Morrison, in fact, said Cohen has done an “excellent job” of dealing with the city’s budget crisis.

“She inherited a can of worms,” he said. “I would never knock her on the job she’s done.”

Cohen said she welcomes the challengers in the race. “My hope,” she said, “is that we stay focused on electing the right person for the right reasons.”

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

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