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Dates go poorly for city council

A discussion about something as simple-sounding as setting up meeting dates has strained relations between Oak Harbor City Council and the Chamber of Commerce.

During the last council meeting, Mayor Patty Cohen ran into unexpected obstacles when she tried to schedule two meetings for council members before the end of the year — one with the Oak Harbor School Board and the other with the Chamber of Commerce board.

Several council members said they didn’t want to meet with the school board until after the New Year. And several argued that they didn’t want to meet with the chamber at all.

Councilman Richard Davis said the agenda for the meeting with the chamber was “too vague” and he preferred to meet with the board after the city’s tourism consultant, Roger Brooks, submits his plan.

“I think we’re just going to stand around, hold hands and sing kumbayah,” he said, but later added he would agree to meet with the chamber if they presented an agenda with specifics.

Councilwoman Sheilah Crider and Councilman Paul Brewer, on the other hand, argued against meeting with the chamber board in a special meeting. They both said the chamber members are free to get onto the council meeting agenda anytime, so there’s no reason for a separate meeting.

This argument appeared to upset both Councilwoman Sue Karahalios and Mayor Cohen. Karahalios pointed out that the chamber and school board reached out to the council and asked to meet together. She said the council needs to work with other groups in the community and to develop “a common language.”

“I truly think as a council we are making a very negative mistake,” Karahalios said in reference to the decision not to schedule meetings with the boards.

Cohen also cautioned the council. “I would hate to see this body do anything to sever a good working relationship with the business community,” she said.

Both Brewer and Davis, however, said that the council’s meeting schedule was a mess. Davis said he’s “clueless” about what meetings the council is already scheduled to do, pointing to a schedule in his agenda packet which was far from inclusive.

“We need to get organized here and see what we’re committed to already,” Davis said.

As a solution, Councilman Eric Gerber suggested that the council form a committee to work with the mayor’s office to set an agenda for meetings.

The other council members agreed, except for Karahalios, who is the liaison between the the city and school board. She emphasized that the city council members had promised to meet with the school board quarterly but had not met in more than six months. She said she didn’t want to have to make an excuse to the school board members about why the council won’t meet with them again.

“I’m not appreciating going back and representing an organization that not sure what it’s doing,” Karahalios said.

Gerber spoke up and said the council should vote on whether they are willing to meet with the school board, but Cohen cut the discussion off.

“That concludes the discussion,” she said, adding that “I’m willing to carry on with this request.”

Afterward, Chamber Director Priscilla Heistad, who wasn’t at the meeting but heard about it, said she thinks council members may be upset with her for her comments about Roger Brooks. Heistad and other Chamber members were critical of the city council for hiring Brooks, at $48,000, to create another plan to boost tourism in the city’s downtown area. Heistad argued that the money would be better spent on implementing existing ideas.

Nevertheless, Heistad said she’s willing to work with Brooks and the city council. She originally suggested that the council and chamber get together to work things out and “get on the same page.”

“It’s about the end result,” she said, “not whose ego is bruised. It’s about making Oak Harbor a better place, a good place for business.”

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