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Janes-Blackburn quits two jobs

The woman who had one of the most unusual and controversial combination of jobs in Oak Harbor city government has taken a job off the island.

Krista Janes-Blackburn said many tearful farewells to her fellow employees on her last day of work Friday. She’s been both Mayor Patty Cohen’s executive assistant and the city’s economic development coordinator for the last four years.

“We’re all going to miss her,” Cohen said. “Not only was she my assistant, but she is a dear friend.”

Janes-Blackburn has already been replaced by Mary Owens, the mayor’s new executive assistant. The position’s economic development title has been dropped, though Cohen is hoping to hire a new economic development coordinator someday.

Janes-Blackburn’s dual role and her $53,000 annual salary, plus benefits, has caused some consternation among council members. Several council members feel that her duties as executive assistant have kept her from working to improve the city’s economic development situation.

“We’ve wasted a lot of money on economic development in the last four years,” Councilman Bob Morrison said. “Krista has been vastly under-utilized.”

Cohen agrees. “There was a failure,” she said, “to provide her with the tools needed to do the task.”

Janes-Blackburn was originally hired as an economic development coordinator by former Mayor Al Koetje. She held the same position under former Mayor Steve Dernbach.

Cohen, however, brought Janes-Blackburn upstairs from her office in the planning department to sit at the desk of the mayor’s secretary. Cohen said she wanted to work closely with someone who has a good understanding of economic development. Cohen assigned her the position of executive assistant and economic development coordinator.

Cohen explained that there used to be another secretary-type position in the mayor’s office, so Janes-Blackburn had time to focus on economic development. But the second secretary left nearly two years ago and the council decided not to fill the position because of budget constraints, Cohen said.

That left Janes-Blackburn with no time, Cohen said, for economic development.

Janes-Blackburn said she will be going to work as a project manager for a private development company in Everett. She said she worked as a project manager for commercial projects before coming to Oak Harbor and she “felt a pull to go back to the private sector.”

“It’s been a great eight years,” she said. “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Janes-Blackburn said one of her greatest successes in that time was working with the Island District Economic Development Council to start a farmers market in Oak Harbor. The market is now a popular spot every Thursday afternoon at the site next to the Chamber of Commerce office on Highway 20.

Janes-Blackburn said she’s built “many great relationships” with business people, community members and city staff over the last eight years. “It’s hard to walk away from,” she said.

She also said she’s proud of the work that was done in trying to bring a waterfront hotel or convention center to the downtown area. Though this dream hasn’t been realized, she feels all the effort will pay off someday.

“Giant steps don’t happen overnight in economic development,” she said. “You get there with baby steps.”

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