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Granddads vying for pivotal seat on Oak Harbor City Council
On paper, the two men running for Position No. 6 on the Oak Harbor City Council are very similar.
Incumbent Councilman Jim Campbell and challenger Skip Pohtilla both had high-level careers involving the Navy. Both are proud grandfathers who chose to live in Oak Harbor after living overseas.
Both men pride themselves on being independent thinkers and chafe at the idea that they’re on one side or the other of the mayor-council divide.
Yet they have significant differences in both style and substance.
Campbell set himself apart from the rest of the council on some controversial issues and branded himself as the “lone voice of reason” on the City Council. He doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind or ask questions.
“I don’t belong to anyone,” he said. “I work for the citizens, not any special interest.”
Pohtilla is all about being positive. He said he refuses to run a negative campaign and won’t say anything critical about his challenger. The closest he comes to criticizing any city leader is saying he hopes that Mayor Scott Dudley isn’t twisting the facts when he campaigns for Campbell and the other council candidates he supports; some people have outright accused Dudley of spinning falsehoods as he talks door to door.
Pohtilla worked for NATO in the Mediterranean during several conflicts and learned to communicate and create consensus among leaders of different nations.
“I have experience working with diverse individuals for a common good,” he said. “As an elected official, I would work with whoever the citizens elected.”
Campbell and Pohtilla disagree about such recent issues as increasing Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce funding, health benefits for council members and allowing beer gardens in city parks during special events.
Campbell said the chamber should continue to receive its current funding, but he wants any increases of lodging tax funds to go to a countywide tourism marketing effort.
Pohtilla said he’s in favor of increasing chamber funding because of the group’s important role in encouraging increased new personnel at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station to live in the city.
Pohtilla said he supports keeping the current health insurance benefits for council members. He said the “small cost” to the city is outweighed by benefit of all the work done by council members.
“They are never off the clock,” he said.
“We’re part-time employees. No other part-time employees in Oak Harbor get medical benefits,” he said. “Why should we be different?”
Campbell was the only council members to vote against an ordinance which created a one-year trial period which allows beer or wine gardens in two city parks during special events, with permission from City Council. He said some families simply won’t go to events if there’s alcohol being served and he hasn’t heard any compelling reason to make the change.
Pohtilla, on the other hand, said it’s a good idea. He points out that beer gardens have been allowed on city streets during the city’s largest festivals and there weren’t any problems. He points out that the police chief said it’s easier to enforce alcohol-related rules at a public event than in a private bar.
Campbell and Pohtilla are in general agreement with some major issues facing the council. They both feel the sewage treatment plant project is going in the right direction, thought Campbell points out that he’s been involved in the complex process since the beginning. Neither of them agree with the mayor’s stance that the project should be paused as other sites are explored further or that the engineering firm should be replaced.
Neither men say they would push for a ban on marijuana businesses in the city, as other municipalities have.
They agree that there should be tough restrictions about where they can be located, but that voters have spoken on the issue.
“I don’t have a problem with someone smoking a joint,” Campbell said.
Both men concede that there’s a perception that Campbell is from the Mayor Scott Dudley’s “camp” and that Pohtilla would be more likely to align himself with the current council majority.
The council and mayor have had a rocky relationship and disagreements over significant issues since Dudley came into office.
They both urge voters to judge them as individuals, not on any perceived alliances.
“I don’t like it,” Campbell said of the perception. “I pride myself on being my own man.”
Campbell said he listens to constituents — he holds weekly “office hours” at a coffee house — and his colleagues and city staff before making decisions, keeping his mind open to other ideas.
Among council members, Campbell is most likely to agree with the Mayor Scott Dudley when there’s disagreements between the mayor and council. Like the mayor, Campbell was against gun restrictions in parks and a proposed ban on hats at council meetings; he defended the mayor’s choice for fire chief and city attorney against critics.
Campbell said he made those decisions because he felt it was right, not because of any personality conflicts or alliances.
In fact, Campbell said he asked Dudley to stop handing out his flyers when he’s campaigning door-to-door for his favorite candidates. He said the flyers might bring up questions and he doesn’t want anyone else to answer for him.
Pohtilla said he feels that the City Council has “generally done a very good job” and he wants to be part of the body. He said he knows the mayor and some council members, but isn’t on anyone’s side.
He said he decided to run against Campbell because his seat wasn’t being contested. In fact, Pohtilla said Campbell encouraged him to run for council after he wasn’t appointed to Dudley’s former seat.
Pohtilla said he’s been involved in a variety of volunteer activities in the community for years and he sees becoming an elected official as “the next natural step.”
“I have no agenda,” he said. “I would be there for the people to vote on the issues for the best interest of Oak Harbor.”
“I support good ideas, no matter who they come from.”
Meet the candidates: OAK HARBOR CITY COUNCIL
Family: Married, five kids, three grandchildren
Education: High school diploma and numerous training courses for Lockheed Martin
Career: Retired as Navy chief petty officer followed by long career in management at Lockheed Martin
Community involvement: United Way, Navy League and a variety of committees through the council
Family: Married, four kids and three grandchildren, one great granddaughter
Education: Bachelor’s in economics and business, master’s in management
Career: Retired from Navy as a lieutenant commander, in construction industry afterward
Community involvement: Arts Commission, North Whidbey Community Harvest, Fidalgo Avenue Pig Roast, Military Appreciation Picnic, Driftwood Day, coach for various youth teams