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City staff support Yacht Club lease

The Oak Harbor Yacht Club’s lease agreement will return to the City Council next Tuesday for a decision on whether or not the contract is valid.

It will be the third time that City Council members have dealt with the issue in the last couple of months. This time, city staff is siding with the Yacht Club and recommending that the City Council members not rock the boat by voiding the contract. Instead, staff advises councilors to simply reaffirm the lease contract.

Yet while the staff’s opinion certainly has weight, it will ultimately be up to the council members to decide what to do with the lease, which was passed in December. At least two in the council have said they would like the lease to be significantly changed.

The controversy began at a meeting last month. At the time, Councilman Paul Brewer was the only one who spoke out against the 20-year lease. It was basically a renewal of a previous lease of city-owned land next to the marina, on which the Yacht Club has built their club facility. Brewer questioned the length of the lease and the low fee, which is currently at $2,575 a year.

The lease agreement was passed, but it turned out that council member Nora O’Connell-Balda — who retired at the end of the year — and Harbormaster Dave Williams were both members of the Yacht Club. City Attorney Phil Bleyhl said they both should have disclosed their “remote interest” at the meeting.

Because of the likely conflict of interest, the issue was brought back to council Jan. 13 for a possible re-vote before the council, which now includes two new members. Yacht Club members packed City Hall. Residents and council members spoke both for and against the lease.

Ultimately, the City Council members voted to hold off on any decisions on the lease in order to see if Yacht Club officials would be willing to negotiate.

Mayor Patty Cohen and Councilman Eric Gerber met with Yacht Club officials last Thursday. The club members said they felt the contract is valid and that all the necessary negotiations have already taken place, according to City Administrator Thom Myers. That means the ball is in the city’s court again.

Bleyhl said that a court would not likely declare the contract void because of the conflict of interest issue.

Should the council members decide not to reaffirm the vote on the lease, he advised them to “direct the city to seek a declaratory judgement from the Superior Court to determine the rights of the parties in this matter.”

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

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