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Chamber, city reconcile on tourism

After a brief period of being at odds with one another, members of the Oak Harbor City Council and the Chamber of Commerce recently got together and waved magic wands. The magic words, it seemed, were “moving forward together.”

At the same time, the council members promised to follow the city’s new tourism consultant, no matter where he leads.

About 15 members of the Chamber of Commerce attended the council’s regular monthly meeting on economic development Thursday night. Several chamber members had been upset with council members for their Aug. 10 decision to spent about $49,000 to hire Seattle consultant Roger Brooks to create a tourism plan for the city.

Chamber Director Priscilla Heistad previously argued that council members should spend the money on an actual project instead of another plan that may end up gathering dust on a shelf like so many other plans. She said many other business folks in the city feel the same way.

Mayor Patty Cohen subtly apologized for the quickness of the council’s decision to enter into a contract with Brooks’ company, Destination Development. She said a few council members met with him and were so enthused that they all wanted to move ahead as soon as possible.

But instead of arguing over the issue, chamber members decided to work with the city and Brooks to ensure that something is actually accomplished this time.

“It’s no secret that the chamber was disappointed that the council decided to hire another consultant,” said Marcie VanDyke, publisher of the Whidbey News-Times and chamber member. “But now that that’s done, we want to move forward. Mostly we want to make sure that this doesn’t end up on a shelf, like everything else.”

George Churchill, local realtor and chamber member, passed out sparkly “magic wands” to everyone at the meeting and asked what improvement they would most want in the city if they could conjure instant revitalization. VanDyke listed the ideas on a board, which included many old ones — a pier, signage, a PBY museum — and a few new ones, like a tourist WOW Wagon at the Keystone ferry.

While Brooks may not come up with any new ideas, Churchill said he has a lot to build on.

“We just love the fact that the council is really on board,” Churchill added.

This sentiment was repeated over and over again by audience and council members. The difference between this plan and all the others that have faltered, Cohen said, is the sense of agreement and energy. “What sets this apart is the legislative energy you have committed to it,” she said.

“We have a body of eight walking together in locked steps...” Councilmember Sheilah Crider said. “We’ve had all these wonderful plans, these great ideas, but we never brought them to fruition. We need to do something about that. That’s what we brought to Roger Brooks.”

Councilman Eric Gerber pointed out that each council person may have their priorities, but Brooks will decide what should be the top priority for everyone to work together to achieve.

Councilman Paul Brewer went ever farther. He said the council members agreed to follow Brooks’ plans wherever they may go. He said they agreed to follow Brooks’ lead even if it has political consequences.

“We may not like the result Brooks comes back with,” he said, “but we’re going to push it. ... Whatever Roger Brooks comes up with, we need to move in that direction.”

In the end, both council and chamber members agreed that the chamber should have more communication with each other, especially in regard to Brooks’ work. They agreed to try to work out a schedule to meet regularly.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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