Oak Harbor City Council hires new attorney

Oak Harbor City Council appoints Nikki Esparza as new attorney. - Photo by Janis Reid / Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor City Council appoints Nikki Esparza as new attorney.
— image credit: Photo by Janis Reid / Whidbey News-Times

Nikki Esparza said she decided to become an attorney at age 6 while watching a 1960s courtroom drama.

But a crush on TV character Perry Mason, a clever defense attorney, was just the impetus of her future career.

“I went to law school because I wanted to make a difference,” Esparza said.

Oak Harbor City Council voted Tuesday to name Esparza, 36, the new city attorney starting Aug. 1.

“This position is giving me the opportunity to serve the public and hopefully make a difference,” Esparza said.

After Mayor Scott Dudley fired two city attorneys in 2012, the Snohomish law firm of Weed, Graafstra and Benson was retained in until a replacement could be hired.

The city has since struggled to find  suitable candidates.

Esparza said she worked as a contract criminal prosecutor for the city from October 2011 through January 2013, and has worked as an in-house prosector since then.

In October, the city decided to implement a plan to transition Esparza to an Assistant City Attorney/Prosecutor position for training in civil law under the mentorship of Grant Weed, who served as interim city attorney.

Esparza’s starting base salary is $98,340, much less than the average amount of about $222,000 per year the city was paying Weed’s lawfirm.

“Ms. Esparza’s performance for Oak Harbor, both as assistant city attorney/prosecutor and during the transition period when her workload switched from criminal to civil law, has been nothing short of outstanding from a legal, intellectual and interpersonal perspective,” city administrator Larry Cort told the City Council.

“After speaking with Grant Weed, senior managers and Ms. Esparza herself, it is clear that she is ready to assume the responsibilities of city attorney for Oak Harbor.”

In contrast to her role as a criminal prosecutor, Esparza’s duties will include advising the City Council, supporting department heads and reviewing contracts and other legal documents, among other duties.

“We are a full-service city,” Esparza said, listing police and fire, the marina, human resources, finance and other departments.

“The range of questions you can get is huge.”

Esparza said she looks forward to the challenge and the variety of topics she will be researching and advising on.

“You can learn something new five times a day,” Esparza said.

Esparza, who has lived on Whidbey Island for eight years, came from Buckley, a small conservative Washington logging town.

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