Council to re-vote on Yacht Club lease

A 20-year lease on a piece of valuable city-owned property will come up before Oak Harbor City Council again next Tuesday because of a conflict of interest issue.

The council members agreed last month to renew a contract with Oak Harbor Yacht Club for the lease of the waterfront property that the club’s facility is built on. The club owns the building while the city owns the land. The contract is for $2,575 a year, which covers the tideland lease fee the city pays to the state.

At the time, only Councilman Paul Brewer was opposed to the contract. He argued that the club only benefits a few and the city should get a lot more money for the lease. He was out-voted, 4-1, by council members who supported the lease.

But then at the last council meeting, Councilman Eric Gerber asked that the matter be brought back for a re-vote.

The problem is that former council member Nora O’Connell Balda, who voted on the lease, is a member of the Yacht Club, as is a city staff member. City Administrator Thom Myers said O’Connell-Balda simply needed to state publicly that she was a member of the Yacht Club before voting in order to allay any conflict of interest questions.

“She forgot,” he said. “It was a simply mistake and a real remote interest that (she) would have anyway.”

Myers said he hopes the discussion will “remain germane” to the conflict of interest discussion, but he said the council members are free to talk about whatever they want. After all there are two new council members — Sue Karahalios and Larry Eaton — who haven’t talked about or voted on the issue previously.

The property in question, technically called the Catalina Shores Park, is the land where the Yacht Club building currently sits. In 1982, the city and the Yacht Club entered into a 20-year contract that allowed the club to build a facility on the city’s land, which had been deeded to the city by the Department of the Interior for a public park facility.

Under the old and new agreement, the Yacht Club — a nonprofit organization — has to allow the public to use its facility. The upstairs ballroom at the club, with a scenic view of the water, has became a popular spot for meetings, parties, wedding receptions and the occasional convention. The room holds 173 people and costs $600, which includes a bar and bartender.

Many people have argued that the Yacht Club is a valuable asset to the community and that city officials should support it. Marina Harbormaster Dave Williams, for example, said the club is at the center of Race Week events, which brings hundreds of people to the city each summer for boat racing and fun.

The event, he said, puts “a lot of money into the Oak Harbor community.”

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