Republican, Democrat view for non-partisan council seat

In many ways, the two women running against each other for a nonpartisan Oak Harbor City Council seat couldn’t be more different.

Sue Karahalios is a long-time public school teacher and a former Democratic State Representative. Clairann Haney is the former secretary for the Island County Republican Party and a strong advocate of home schooling.

Neither has served on the city council. They are running for the seat being vacated by mayoral candidate Bob Morrison.

Karahalios feels her greatest strengths are the contacts in state and federal government she made while serving a term as a state representative. “I have the ability to network in Olympia,” she said. “Having been an insider down there, I know how the system works.”

Haney, on the other hand, said she has long been a “behind the scenes player” in city politics who hopes to take on a leadership role. She said her diversity of life experiences, from working for rural education in Alaska to leading a missionary group to Taiwan, gives her a unique perspective.

“I think I have something to offer the community,” she said. “I have a wide variety of experiences.”

But for all there differences, the candidates have many similar ideas about the issues that concern city government. They agree on the importance of managing growth, which has long been a big issue in city government. They both said growth is inevitable, but there needs to be smart planning.


“I’m not against growth,” Haney said, “but it needs to be done carefully.”

Karahalios said the council should be “proactive” in planning for growth, especially the infrastructure that supports both commercial and residential growth.

In the related subject of economic growth, Haney said the council should focus on retaining businesses and not push too fast to bring larger companies to the city. “We have a lot of small businesses,” she said. “I don’t want to put them out of business with a lot of large businesses.”

Karahalios said the city’s role should be to create a climate that stimulates economic development, but not try to control business development. She said the city can promote economic development, but that it shouldn’t duplicate the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council

“New development needs to pay for a lot of their own load,” she said, “but I don’t think new development needs to pay for old sections of town.”


Both candidates believe there needs to be better communication and partnering between the city council and other agencies and organizations.

Haney stresses the importance of having better communication between business, particularly small business owners, and city government.

“Business needs to be more involved in the process...” she said. “There’s no reason as a community we can’t work together. The city needs to make more partnerships and reach out a little more.”

Karahalios agreed, but added that the partnerships should extend to community groups as well as other local, state and even federal agencies. She proposed that the council should have a joint meeting with the school board, which she believes has never happened before.

“At times we replicate or duplicate things we don’t have to,” she said.

Sidewalk talk

Both women also agree that it’s important for the community to have safe places to walk, but they say the council needs to take another look at the sidewalk policy.

Haney said the city should have higher priorities, like affordable housing, than sidewalks. She agrees with the council’s recent decision to delay sidewalk construction in order to cut costs. She was opposed to an earlier idea to force landowners to pay for installing gaps in sidewalks.

Karahalios is critical of the city council for forcing the school district to construct sidewalks on a very short time line — which increased costs — but then delaying construction of sidewalks by the city to save money.

She proposes that the council hold a town hall meeting to get input from the citizens. “There needs to be open discussion,” she said.

Base closure

When it comes to the future, the candidates believe that possible closure of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station through the Base Realignment and Closure process is the biggest challenge facing city government.

Haney points out that the decisions will be made in the highest level of the federal government and she doubts that anything city officials do will make any difference. Nevertheless, she supports spending a proposed $100,000 of city money on a campaign to keep the base open.

“We need to work together with the base and make an effort, at least for psychological reasons,” she said. “But $100,000 isn’t going to make a difference either way.”

Karahalios said the city needs to make sure it is “networking” with federal officials on the issue, but “proper economic safeguards need to be in place” to protect the community if closure does happen.

“We do a lot of things right,” she said, “but we’re not always good at promoting our strengths. It’s council’s job to make sure we promote ourselves appropriately.”

Clairann Haney

Age: 47

Family: Husband, Calvin, and two children.

Employment: Rural carrier with the post office since 1990 and owner of a home business publishing company. Formerly an office manager for a literature company, employee at a clothing store and employee at the University of Alaska’s rural extension office.

Experience: Member of Island County Republican Party since 1996, secretary for four years. Led a missionary trip to Taiwan as director of Oak Harbor Southern Baptist Women’s Mission. Church liaison to Pregnancy Care Clinic. Founded Christian homeschool cooperative.

Education: AA degree from University of Alaska, classes from Midwestern Baptist College, Bible Baptist Institute and Chapman College.

Familiarity with area: Moved here in 1986.

Sue Karahalios

Age: 54

Family: Divorced, four children, five grandchildren. She raised nine foster children and is raising a niece.

Employment: Taught in the Oak Harbor School District, at the middle school level, for 33 years. Retires next summer. Runs a consulting business.

Experience: State representative for two years, eight-year member of city Comprehensive Planning Task Force, helped start youth soccer, Girl Scout and 4-H leader, member of Partnership With Youth and Girls and Boys Club, on CPS Task Force.

Education: 1967 graduate from Oak Harbor High School, BS is microbiology and biology education from Louisiana State University, Master’s degree from Western Washington, over 100 credits toward PhD in politics and government.

Familiarity with area: Lived here since 1970.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at or call 675-6611.

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