Oak Harbor Elks will take over Whidbey Marathon

Members of the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge may have to sprint to organize the next Whidbey Island Marathon after getting off to a late start.

Oak Harbor City Council approved Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley’s decision to contract with the group. Only Councilman Danny Paggao voted against the motion.

Elks member Melissa Riker will serve as director of the city-owned marathon.

Ed Sem, an officer of the lodge, noted the charitable work the group does nationally and locally. Only the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives more in scholarships nationally, he said.

“When this race is successful, the Elks can then turn around and give more back to the community,” Riker told the council.

Tamra Sipes, former director of the marathon, warned council that coordinating the event takes a huge commitment of time and skills only a professional can bring.

“This is a huge undertaking,” she said. “And I would beg you to at least consider someone who could pull this off, especially given the short period of time.”

Earlier this year, Sipes, who’s been director since the city purchased the event years ago, sent an email to the  council urging them to make a decision about this year’s contract as soon as possible. She noted that lining up sponsors and vendors takes up to a year in advance.

Several council members tried to push a contract forward — and emphasized how successful it had become under Sipes’ watch — but Dudley resisted. As mayor, it is his responsibility to decide who will fill the role.

The mayor said he isn’t happy with Sipes’ work and looked into other options.

He said participation steadily declined until this year, when it skyrocketed due to a decision to cut runners’ fees.

As a result, Sipes received a $23,000 bonus for increased participation on top of her $28,000 contract amount. At the same time, the event was a money loser for the city.

The finance director estimates it cost $37,000.

However, it was Dudley’s decision to add a clause in Sipes’ contract awarding her a bonus for increased participation.

Dudley put out a call for proposals to run the marathon and received five responses. He said he chose the Elks partly because the profits will go back into the community.

Wednesday, several council members said they appreciate all that Sipes did to make the marathon a success. Councilman Rick Almberg asked Dudley why he wanted the change.

“Once again, it’s a question of seeing what we can do to continue to improve,” he said.

Thursday, Sipes said she’s concerned about the future of an event she worked so hard to improve. She’s also upset that Dudley doesn’t understand or appreciate all she did.

“Apparently the award I received from the Washington State Festival and Events Association last year placing the marathon second to Seafair and Bumbershoot needs improving,” she said.

“Maybe I was fired because it was singled out as the marathon to run in Washington State on Flipkey’s 50 states of marathons to run. Or maybe it was the press the marathon received in Runner’s World Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine this past year as ‘One of the Best Marathons’ along with other media and international attention.”

“Maybe it was just too successful for the mayor.”

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