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Oak Harbor's long-time city clerk retires

Rosemary Morrison never intended to stick around Oak Harbor. The former Navy wife figured Whidbey Island would be a pit stop, not a final destination.

“My plan was to move on. My husband’s plan was to stay, which we did,” said Morrison, before adding, “It’s been wonderful.”

On Friday Morrison, 61, spent her last full day at Oak Harbor City Hall as city clerk. It’s a job she’s held through three mayoral administrations and dozens of council changes, including four years when her husband, Bob, sat on the council.

Through it all, Morrison has been organized, thorough and efficient. She’s also managed to offer up a pleasant face to the public, even when people were at their most irritable.

“I really appreciated, especially, her patience at council meetings,” said former mayor Al Koetje, a political powerhouse who headed up the city from 1972 through 1996.

It was Koetje who hired Morrison to be city clerk. He never regretted the decision.

Morrison was a quick study, he said, who churned out minutes from council meetings that gave the public an accurate view of each and every meeting.

“There were very few times we made changes (to the minutes),” said Koetje, who stopped by City Hall on one of Morrison’s final days to wish her well.

“She was honest and dedicated,” Koetje said.

Morrison started her nearly 31-year career at City Hall as a utility billing clerk. She moved on from there to become deputy clerk treasurer, where she learned the basics of accounts payable and receivable, before being tapped to fill the city clerk position.

“I learned the business from the ground up,” Morrison said. “It isn’t done anymore.”

Her successor, Connie Wheeler, 56, of Greenbank, has a background in managing educational programs and was, most recently, office manager for an educational nonprofit foundation headquartered in Mukilteo.

Over the past few days Morrison has helped Wheeler get her bearings in holding down this key city job.

Or as Morrison put it: “Most of the time, the buck stops here.”

Oak Harbor’s city clerk position, which pays from $42,000 to nearly $55,000, is a central piece of city government. Indeed, it’s one of three primary positions, along with a city police chief and legal counsel, outlined in state statutes as necessary to carry out city functions.

The city clerk is first and foremost a record keeper, maintaining all of the city’s public documents. The clerk also is responsible for keeping track of contracts, putting together the council’s agenda, taking minutes of council meetings and handling grant money, among other duties.

More than that, the city clerk is, in many ways, the face of city government. When the public needs something it’s usually the city clerk who digs up the needed paperwork, or knows where a person needs to go.

“I will miss the people, working for the citizens,” Morrison said. “Being able to help them, it’s been my passion. I will miss that.”

But it may be Morrison who is missed most of all.

“It’s traumatic to sit where I’m sitting now,” said Mayor Patty Cohen. “Watching this changing of the city clerk guard post, there’s great anticipation and a sense of loss. What this changeover will mean not only to me but to the city family, which will be losing a member of the team that has been reporting to work for 30 years.”

Morrison’s husband, Bob, ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year against Cohen. But Cohen had nothing but praise for the long-time city clerk.

“She undoubtedly is one of the pillars of this institution,” Cohen said.

However, the clerk position will likely not be the same one Morrison leaves behind. That’s because the city is undergoing a new job classification and salary survey. A consultant is expected to turn in a final report in the next 30 days, Cohen said.

“It was a really good time for us to look at that position. It gave us an opportunity to tweak it,” she said.

The clerk’s financial duties will likely move to the finance department, Cohen said. Council members will have a chance to vote on the move, as well as on a potential part-time position that’s expected to be added to the city’s finance office.

In the meantime, Cohen said she’s encouraging Morrison to enjoy her retirement.

“Go out there and play,” she said.

Morrison said she intends to do just that.

But she still has one final duty.

A man came in asking about the wooden sign along Highway 20 on the south end of town, that includes a listing of many of the city’s clubs and civic organizations. He wants to add his logo to it.

“Right now, I am in search of who owns the sign,” Morrison said.

She intends to find the owner even as she begins her retirement. For Morrison, it seems, there’s still work to be done.

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