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County, city say no to Mac

Mac McDowell knows how to hobnob with the Pentagon brass.

He’s a former Navy pilot, a staunch supporter of the military and a former Island County Commissioner who’s visited the nation’s capital many times to lobby for the interests of Whidbey Island and the Navy base.

But now that’s he out of office, some local officials have shot down proposals for McDowell’s continued help in dealing with the Department of Defense and Washington D.C. insiders.

McDowell offered to serve as the county’s contact to the Pentagon in return for a $300 allowance, but the board declined to appoint him as the liaison, Commissioner John Dean said of a decision made at a Jan. 7 staff session.

Instead, newly elected Commissioner Angie Homola will take over McDowell’s role as the county’s connection to the military.

Homola is uncertain whether or not she will go to the Pentagon in March, as McDowell has for so many years, but she’s already met with Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik and contacted Capt. Gerral David to schedule a tour of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

“We have talked about the BRAC cycle and whether a trip to D.C. would be necessary,” she said, referring to the base closure process. “I will pursue whatever is necessary in light of our budget.”

In addition, Dean may play a role in future county-military relations.

“It’s an important role that the county commissioners get to play and I’d be happy to take part in it,” he said.

At the Jan. 6 Oak Harbor City Council meeting, Councilman Jim Campbell suggested that the former county commissioner’s knowledge of military relations could be an asset to the city during its upcoming March meeting with Pentagon leadership.

“Mac has got a wealth of contacts,” Campbell later told the Whidbey News-Times. “That’s the kind of benefit that I don’t want to lose.”

McDowell confirmed he heard the rumor “though the grapevine” that elements in Oak Harbor expressed an interest in his services.

But McDowell is unlikely to go on Oak Harbor’s payroll as a consultant, said Mayor Jim Slowik. Not with the city’s tight budget.

“The city doesn’t have a budget for consulting,” Slowik said.

“There’s no benefit because the city already has the mayor there,” he added.

Council members Beth Munns and Campbell are also slated to attend the March National League of Cities event in Washington, D.C.

While in D.C., the mayor and two council members will spend a day meeting with Pentagon leadership, during which time Campbell said McDowell’s presence would be an asset.

When asked about the possibility of consulting for the city, McDowell said the word consultant should be used “advisedly.”

“Consulting work is more a labor of love,” he said, adding that if the city were to ask for his services, he would consider doing so on a volunteer basis, for what he called “a $1 a year salary.”

Historically, the mayor and a couple of council members travel to Washington, D.C. each year for the Congressional City Conference, which is put on by the National League of Cities, a group that promotes cities as centers of opportunity, leadership and governance.

City officials from all over the country take part in the seminars and training sessions to improve their understanding and ability to run city government, Campbell said.

McDowell, who has attended the meetings with Pentagon leadership in the past through Island County, became active in Whidbey’s military relations in 1991 — before being elected as a county commissioner in 1993 — when NAS Whidbey was threatened with base closure.

The next round of Base Realignment and Closure could take place in 2015, according to the Department of Defense.

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